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PORTSIDE  December 2010, Week 4

PORTSIDE December 2010, Week 4

Subject:

Unions, Get Set for Battle

From:

Portside Moderator <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Sat, 25 Dec 2010 13:37:17 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (128 lines)

Unions, Get Set for Battle

We must join students in a broad strike
movement to combat attempts to strangle the
welfare state

By Len McCluskey
Guardian (UK)
December 19, 2010

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/19/unions-students-strike-fight-cuts?INTCMP=SRCH

Britain's students have certainly put the trade union
movement on the spot. Their mass protests against the
tuition fees increase have refreshed the political
parts a hundred debates, conferences and resolutions
could not reach.

We know the vast rise in tuition fees is only the down
payment on the Con-Dem package of cuts, charges and job
losses to make us pay for the bankers' crisis. The
magnificent students' movement urgently needs to find a
wider echo if the government is to be stopped.

The response of trade unions will now be critical.
While it is easy to dismiss "general strike now"
rhetoric from the usual quarters, we have to be
preparing for battle. 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.

Early in the new year the TUC will be holding a special
meeting to discuss co-ordinated industrial action and
to analyse the possibilities and opportunities for a
broad strike movement.

The practical and legal hurdles cannot be dismissed.
Thatcher's anti-union laws, left in place by New
Labour, are on the statute book for just these
occasions. But we must not let the law paralyse us. The
bigger issue is winning working people to the
conviction that the cuts can be stopped. It is vital to
rebuild working-class confidence.

Unless people are convinced not just that they are
hurting - not hard to do - but also that there is a
coherent alternative to the Cameron-Clegg class war
austerity, then getting millions into action will
remain a pipedream. That alternative needs to be one
the whole movement can unite around. A key part must be
a rejection of the need for cuts. "What do we want?
Fewer cuts later on", is not a slogan to set the blood
coursing.

So I hope Ed Miliband is going to continue his welcome
course of drawing a line under Labour's Blairite past,
in particular by leaving behind the devotion to City
orthodoxy, which still finds its echo in some
frontbench pronouncements that meet the coalition's
cuts programme halfway at the least.

I would argue there is no case for cuts at all: the
austerity frenzy has been whipped up for explicitly
ideological reasons - to provide the excuse for what
the Tories would have loved to do anyway, completing
Thatcherism's unfinished business by strangling the
welfare state. If the deficit is seen as a problem - it
is not high by either historical or contemporary
standards - a positive growth and tax-justice programme
should be the main means of addressing it.

Trade unions need to reach out, too. Students have to
know we are on their side. We must unequivocally
condemn the behaviour of the police on the recent
demonstrations. Kettling, batoning and mounted charges
against teenagers have no place in our society.

It is ironic that young people have been dismissed as
apathetic and uninterested in politics - yet as soon as
they turn out in numbers they are treated as the "enemy
within", in a way instantly familiar to those of us who
spent the 1970s and 1980s on picket lines.

And we should work closely with our communities bearing
the brunt of the onslaught. That is why Unite has
agreed to support the broad Coalition of Resistance
established last month, which brings together unions
and local anti-cuts campaigns from across the country.

The TUC's demonstration on 26 March will be a critical
landmark in developing our resistance, giving trade
union members the confidence to take strike action in
defence of jobs and services. These are Con-Dem cuts,
and this is a capitalist crisis. An attempt to blame
Labour local authorities for the problem is a shortcut
to splitting our movement and letting the government
off the hook.

That doesn't mean Labour councils should get off free.
There are, alas, Labour councillors embarking on union-
bashing under cover of cuts, something we won't
tolerate. Labour needs to understand that any social
alternative to the present misery needs strong trade
unions. And this is the moment when we have to prove
ourselves.
___________

Len McCluskey is assistant general secretary of Unite the Union

___________________________________________

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