Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Len McCluskey is right

Yesterday, Len McCluskey called on his trade union colleagues to discuss coordinated strike action to stop the government's 'austerity frenzy'. He also called for a coalition of resistance to unite trade unionists, students and service users. It makes sense to me. How else can an ideologically inspired attempt to destroy the welfare state be stopped without resistance on the broadest possible scale?

But some of the reaction to his interview has been very revealing.

Government officials weighed in with new threats to tighten anti-union legislation. They suggested that a legal strike should only be possible if a majority of union members vote for it, regardless of whether they chose to take part in the ballot or not. The double standards are breathtaking. This is a government that nobody voted for, in an election in which 35% of the electorate did not feel inspired enough to vote at all. Yet this is apparently a mandate to destroy the welfare state, and millions of jobs along with it.

The Guardian’s editorial wasn’t as threatening. It was just pathetically abusive, portraying McCluskey as a trade union dinosaur, misty-eyed with nostalgia for the 1970's. This is the same Guardian that advised its readers to vote for the Lib Dems, without which this Tory government would not exist. Perhaps they have resorted to Daily Mail-style clich├ęs out of embarrassment. In any case, they offer no way of reversing this Tory agenda. In typical Guardian style they regret its excesses, appeal for a middle ground, and then conclude that resistance is futile.

Len McCluskey was certainly right to praise the way the student movement has shaken up this government. The heat has been turned up, and I suspect Vince Cable’s statement about walking out of government if 'pushed too far' over the cuts is directly related to it.

But students alone won't be able to reverse the government’s agenda. For that, we need a movement of similar militancy throughout the rest of society. We are not there yet. Many people still think the cuts are ‘necessary’.

Len McCluskey is right again that the unions, much weaker than they once were, are still uniquely placed to unite workers with users of public services, and the rest of the community, into a formidable alliance.

With unemployment predicted to hit 3 million in the coming year, a 20% increase in VAT on the way, and the public still to become fully aware of the assault upon the NHS, a fall in support for the Con-Dems is predictable. But without pressure being applied, on as many fronts as possible, the government could still emerge unscathed.

Len McCluskey is stating no more than the obvious truth when he says, “It is our responsibility not just to our members but to the wider society that we defend our welfare state and our industrial future against this unprecedented assault.”