Wednesday, 22 September 2010
Are trade unions ready to lead the fightback?
Before I went on holiday two weeks ago, I noticed a couple of developments in the fightback against the ConDem economic madness that seemed potential steps forward. They were the There is an alternative conference called by UNISONScotland on 4 September - and the launch of the STUC’s There is a better way campaign on the 10. Both these developments seem to me to be important because they are, firstly, part of a plan to coordinate the fightback, and secondly, show unions attempting to reach out to include service users and local communities in this campaign.
It is crucial that unions are the main centres around which this struggle will coalesce, as they (for all their weaknesses) probably are the only credible forces left in this country who can resource it. Political parties are seen to be either, too small or extreme and hence ineffective, or part of the establishment - and of course most mainstream ones are tainted with the fallout of the expenses scandal.
Community-based campaigns - while key to ensuring the campaign is as broad as it must be - are however for the most part single-issue (or at least sectional) in their interests, and - while they can include some big organisations - many are too small to resource major campaigns. Wider ‘Civic Society’ - local councils, and other public bodies, likely to be the main targets of the Cleggameron - are likely to be too focussed on their immediate financial problems to provide wider leadership, although attempts should be made to bring them into campaigns when possible.
Interestingly on either side of my break, two other sources also noticed this potential role of the TUs. The Sunday Post (known for its sympathy towards unions) ran a front page lead on how taxpayers are paying for trade unionists to have time off to do their work. This was based on FOI requests to public authorities - probably by the Tax Dodgers Alliance, which has been venting its fury on TUs for pointing out the biased and inaccurate nature of their claims about public spending. While the stats were in fact, nowhere near as sensational as the paper would have liked (I reckon two full time secondments to look after over 4,000 ambulance staff working 24/7, 365 days a year is not something anyone can seriously object to), this should be seen as the start of the kind of attacks on Trade Unions that we will increasingly see, coming from right wing commentators and campaigners. The Right has identified where the main arguments against the neo-liberal cuts agenda will be coming from.
Also, in last Sunday’s Herald, Iain MacWhirter also focussed on the ability of TUs to lead an opposition and build the kind of broad-based campaign, that has been their role in the past (Scotland United; Anti-Poll Tax etc). Although the piece was not very positive and lacked up-to-date details of the kind of TU campaigns highlighted above, it did at least point to the vital role that they can and should play in this vital campaign.
The signs are that this is beginning to happen. The STUC ‘Better Way’ website http://www.thereisabetterway.org/ has some very interesting information - check out their ‘Distinguished Deficit Deniers’ for example - and shows important successes in reaching out beyond the unions themselves. This has to happen to ensure that the campaign is not seen as ‘vested interest’. The Tax Dodgers and others will try and paint it this way. The next main event is the Demo in Edinburgh on the 23 October. Get all your organisations to build for this as the next step.