What should the unions do?
Mark Serwotka has been the latest trade union leader to rattle the Coalition’s bars today. He warned of the ‘inevitability’ of strikes if the Coalition continues on its current course. One would hope Serwotka is now regretting his intemperate attacks on Labour during the election campaign. Bob Crow and others have been making similar noises this week; Crow’s presentational problem actually obscured some sensible remarks about involving community groups. Meanwhile, the Coalition tends to make threatening noises about tightening anti-strike laws and one is left with the impression of two tigers circling, spoiling for a scrap.
So, what should the unions do? They certainly should seek to reach out beyond their boundaries to community groups and, in fact, to all those effected by the savagery of the Coalition’s cuts. All told those effected consist of the vast majority of the population so the divide and rule avenue pursued by Thatcher during her assault on the unions is less open to Cameron and Clegg. In fact, the possibilities for extensive unity against this government across a wide social spectrum are very real; this is one of the things that gives me hope the outcomes of these battles will be different.
However, to achieve this feat the unions must master the language of appealing across the divides that exist and they must do this themselves because they must remember the media under no circumstances is their friend. In particular, the internet and social networking provides them with possibilities to cross these divides both linguistically and literally. Labour must remember that while it exists independently of the union movement it is still intertwined with it; in so many ways the fate and its political opposition to the government is to a degree dependant on the fate of the unions fight on the ground. Chiding the unions like Andy Burnham did is therefore to strike a discordant note. While the banners may sometimes differ we must remember the general line of march remains the same.