The second half of 2010 has been marked by a fierce assault on public services from a government of millionaires. In response, a promising anti-cuts movement is emerging. But many people on the recent demonstrations are asking: where are the unions? I want 2011 to be the year where this question is answered definitively, with unions placing themselves firmly on the side of active and innovative campaigning.
The union movement today is different to that of the early 1980s – the last time we faced such an attack on the public sector and the welfare state. Membership is barely over half what it was, and anti-union laws constrain us. This is a reality, but does not fatally undermine the potential for resistance.
The UK has a higher trade union density and membership than France. And while some suggest there is something “un-British” about the French street mobilisations, the student protests and the high-street tax justice protests have challenged that. Direct action is being organised by a new generation of activists, radicalised by gross injustice.
We must not let this passion dissipate. Trade unionists live in households and communities with young people, with those on welfare, with pensioners, with people suffering in both the public and private sectors. I have consistently said not a single penny needs to be cut and not a single job should be lost. The cuts are not economically necessary; they are a political choice.
We need unity. This is obvious, but it becomes controversial when concrete proposals are made. To build unity, you cannot accept that someone else’s job is expendable or that someone else’s rights should be lost. Unity requires solidarity – whether for students, pensioners, welfare recipients, or for public or private sector workers. I do not want to see a pick’n’mix approach to our opposition to the cuts, between “good” cuts and “bad” ones. This position is backed up with an economic case, published in our pamphlet, There is an Alternative.
People are rightly aggrieved that while they work and pay taxes, many wealthy individuals and companies do not. The Treasury loses an estimated £120bn annually from tax evaded, avoided and uncollected. The fact that the tax justice campaign has moved to the streets is a reflection of the confidence that there is an alternative, and that these unfair cuts must be resisted.
This mood of resistance is essential if we are to see mass and co-ordinated industrial action. Legal barriers do confront unions, but in 2005, PCS with many other unions co-ordinated strike ballots over cuts in public sector pensions. Despite anti-union laws, the solidarity existed to work together.
In 2011 it seems public sector pension cuts might again be the issue around which trade unions unite, and both the NUT and UCU have already indicated they will consider balloting for strike action in the spring – and my own union has already written to the government to let it know its changes to members terms and conditions will not go unchallenged, legally or industrially.
Some will ask what we hope to achieve by going on strike. It’s simple: without it, the government won’t negotiate. This is an ideologically driven government committed to making working-class people pay for the crisis. The more of us that stand up against cuts, the more difficult the government will find it to do this.
If we want a future with fair pay, decent jobs, security in retirement and a welfare state, now is the moment for trade union members and everyone to shake off their chains and rise like lions.
via The Guardian.