The momentum created by the last TUC London march was palpable, more so the strike action to defend pensions. But the transformation of this political momentum against the government into appalling negotiated settlements with many union negotiators and General Secretaries desperate to put a brake on members’ anger, took the wind out of the sails and demoralised lots of new younger union members and veterans alike. If unions couldn’t fight for jobs, pay and pensions, which in the public sector in some large unions they clearly did not want to and couldn’t, what could you do next? Have another march, it’s what we do. But marches without engaged disciplined determined action beneath them are marches into thin air. And marches after defeats make you look silly because you haven’t understood the scale of your defeat.
True the TUC and some larger unions have clear alternative economic strategies on paper to rescue Britain from the current madness, but their acceptance of another three years of unconstitutional rule by an un-elected government shows the dwindling Trade Union imagination, resources and organisation are at best out of touch and a thing of the past, and at the worst a real show of incredible naivety at the government and employers’ strategy.
October 20th is turning into a clear indication to the employers and City of London of our weakness as an organised class. We are no longer organised to protect the workplace, we go on marches and protest. There is a real danger that even with a massive turnout this march will make the Movement look like a spent force. Employers in both the private and public service sectors are cutting through jobs and skills and services like a dose of salts and three more years at this pace will only further weaken the will to fight and a dangerous turning away from union and workplace organisation. Even the Remploy struggle has come and gone with the government’s objective of getting rid of 1,500 workers over the summer largely achieved and a great and well organised highly symbolic manufacturing and public service has largely disappeared. That the trade unionists there were both highly class conscious and also had physical and mental health issues just made them more open to attack. It also made them fight alone largely with no defence from the movement as a whole. Shall we march to celebrate this great act of solidarity?
Those who think that the TUC can create and galvanise mass co ordinated action have always misunderstood the role of the TUC as acting as the fuse and pressure valve on class struggle. Each union has to fight like never before to save jobs, increase pay and restore proper pensions. People are giving up fighting for many reasons, one of them is that no one is giving a really strong lead with several obvious and notable union exceptions – POA, PCS, NUT, UCU, RMT, Bakers, NAPO and some others. Even the non TUC affiliated Police Federation and the BMA shine more brightly in some of their work to defend members than many TUC affiliates. The GMB, UNISON and Unite which are so determined to waste money on resurrecting, resuscitating and reforming and rebuilding and restoring and recapturing the Labour Party, showed in their attitude on the pensions dispute that they put the Parliamentary timescale and the needs of aspiring MPs and Ministers before their own members. And the TUC’s role in this was well known, as was the state’s.
October 20th will be inspiring of course, but only if workers dig in and save jobs, strike for pay, extend collective bargaining, restore pensions and see through the wretched EU which stands so much behind the blitzkrieg against us. It would help if unions focused there anger on the main enemy the City of London and organised a march there one week day.
Neoliberalism’s shock and awe tactics almost stretch trade unionism in its previous social democratic form to its limits. Unless they adapt they will collude, perhaps unknowingly, in an ever more frightening anarchy. in which even fewer will turn to the unions for assistance. The complacency, return to empty protest and ageing profile of the Unions is now very worrying indeed.