Why Labour members should join a picket line on Thursday….
One of the worse kept secrets in politics is that this current wave of strikes is about so much more than pensions, something that holds true for both sides. Of course, that is the immediate flashpoint but on the one side we have the governments plans to asset strip the public sector to the bare bones and on the other side is the unions last, desperate stand to preserve some kind of social relevance and influence. So, while being aware of the substantive issue, and the fact that even on this the unions are substantively correct we also have to be aware of the broader contexts. We also have to bear in mind that the balance has been shifted far too far against the labour movement to the point where it is even objectively damaging to capitalism and long-term capitalist interests for this pattern to continue. The system is pregnant with social anarchy and falling profits created by cripplingly low wages, high debt and inflation which is consuming even the merger advances that manage to be scrabbled through. It is these conditions which will drive increasingly bitter and last-ditch attempts to resist and drive more people to what is seen as a last resort, especially by those taking the action.
If the government win, the public sector, the services which so many people depend on will be destroyed. The pension proposals are the Trojan Horse designed to break the last bastion of organised resistance to this and decimate the unions in their final hinterland of power. It is time the unions stopped shying away from politics; stopped letting people like Ed Miliband tell them that politics is the thing that he and the Labour Party does. Why? Because they have the capacity, despite the polling, to turn and win the debate on public services. I suspect strongly that feelings the public sector is ‘too big’ etc, etc are soft media-led opinions. Were services to start falling away I think that people would like the practice less than the theory of a smaller public sector and being more reliant on the hit-and-miss of the private sector. However, the inability of the unions to make their case independently is a product of their dependence on Labour and its leadership. They actively connive in Labour being their political wing and therefore naively assume Labour will make their case for them.
It wont. Ed Miliband’s comments that strikes should be the ‘very last resort’ show a fundamental ignorance of the fact that these actions are the very last resort. Ed, like the rest of the Labour leadership, lives in a Westminster bubble hermetically sealed off from the real world. Were he to be stronger, were he to legitmaise the unions position, he would actually shorten the industrial dispute he seems desperate to avoid by lending them much-needed political muscle in their negotiations and the unions dialogue with the public. His position is a reckless abrogation of his responsibility as the titular ‘leader’ of a movement, not a Party, to articulate that movements concerns and issues and one that encourages, not discourages the drive to strike. How, if he cant even perform this basic function, can he expect the country to believe he will behave any better in being their mouthpiece?
Slowly realisation is starting to dawn that Labour, in it’s leadership at least cannot be trusted to even give the unions a fair and balanced hearing. However, that realisation may not come quick enough for it to play a role in this battle which, strategically speaking, is one of the most important for over a decade. When it comes to communicating their case to the wider public, the unions need to take a leaf out of the politics book and realise that this is key to a successful campaign.
If the unions win it will rock the government right back on its heels and its whole agenda will start to inevitably fall apart and it will face more hostility from its own supporters; public infighting in the government will become more viscous and the opportunities for opponents of this unelected and undemocratic oligarchy will multiply vastly. So, Labour members should join a picket line on Thursday confident that both their principles and strategic self-interest as members of the opposition Party are both best served by offering the unions full and unconditional support to whatever is necessary to win this fight. We should stand firm with the unions offering them solidarity and whatever political and logistical support they need and better represent the Labour Party than its current leadership does.