Danny Alexander yesterday upped the ante in the governments battle with the trade unions and predictably the unions today responded. It does indeed seem that we are on the cusp of a big wave of industrial action. The first thing that needs to be done is, as a Party, we need to look beyond the immediate issue and at the real agenda behind this battle. It is part and parcel of this governments quest to dismantle the public sector for good an all; to do so it has to break the last bastion of resistance – the still highly organised and unionised and workforce. It is, like the governments economic policy, purely ideological in its motivation no matter how much ‘rationalisation’ verbiage you dress it up in.
Therefore, you cannot arbitrarily separate this battle from the one over reforms to health and education. If the unions force major concessions, the whole reform agenda looks decidedly ropey – if they don’t the steamroller continues apace. So, this presents Labour with a choice – to take sides or to not take sides. No doubt Ed Miliband will continue his cotton-candy finger wagging at all strikes. In doing so, he will be doing a fundemental disservice to Labour, the unions and the electorate.
His position is predicated on the false assumption that this government is interested in reaching a negotiated settlement – it isn’t. Under those conditions there is no middle ground – you have to make a choice, do you side with the governments crusade or are you with the people resisting it, not just narrowly in terms of defending their own conditions, but also more broadly in saving what is left of the public sector for those who depend on it. This is the irony of the leaderships position is it claims to be speaking in the interests of service users while failing to recognise the fact that if the unions are not successful there will eventually be no service left for these self-same people. If it’s leadership won’t take a stand, then Labour as a Party must and give the unions the support they need in this struggle – because an injury to them truly will damage us all.