Thursday, 1 December 2011

Huge turnout for Nov 30 shows new developments in activity, and some political mistakes

Huge turnouts in rallies and marches across Scotland have given the lie to those politicians who have been accusing union leaders of bullying and intimidation. In Glasgow and Edinburgh march and rally attendance topped the 10K mark in each city. Glasgow had to put on an overflow rally meeting to cram ‘em all in. IIn Edinburgh the sight of SNP MSPs joining ConDem MSPs going through union picket lines inspired double the ‘permitted’ number of marchers to cram into the square outside the parliament and listen to an equally inspired Rodney Bickerstaffe demolish the attempts to divide public and private sector workers. “If one person has a leg cut off,” he said does that mean everyone has to have their leg cut off, because it’s not fair?”.  
Rallies and marches took place across Scotland. In Kirkwall, Aberdeen, Moray, Inverness, Motherwell, Dundee, Falkirk, Dumfries, Glenrothes, Paisley, Livingstone. At all of them organisers were reporting double plus the numbers expected. While an estimated 300,000 took strike action in Scotland, around 30,000 also went on marches and rallies, picketed and gave other support.
In Glasgow ‘UNISON have filled the gathering point on their own!’ tweeted the PCS. The demonstration started at 12.30pm and the last got moving at 14.15pm! Those who could get in to the Barrowlands heard UNISON’s Scottish Secretary, Mike Kirby point out that “It could cost this country up to £15 billion to support the millions of private sector workers who have been locked out of saving for their retirement."
A number of commentators watching the rallies have been struck by the changing nature of the strikers. Trade unionists, they were certainly, and angry they were too, but they were not the traditional ‘middle-aged male’. Mike Kirby and Dave Prentis both pointed to the key role being played by women in leading the strikes, and others including the president of the National Pensioners Convention, Rodney Bickerstaffe noticed the high proportion of young people involved in the action. Many of the strikers were involved in their first industrial action, and some of the unions taking part - especially small clinical professional bodies - mark a new development, never having taken strike action before.
Are we seeing a new generation of activists taking the  lead? It is maybe too early to say that this marks a significant shift in the levels of collective activity in the young, or in women, or that there is an ‘arab spring’, but there is certainly something in motion that political and trade union leaders ignore at their peril.
The political fallout from the strikes will be interesting, given the  new numbers of activists. My old colleague Dave Watson has blogged about the position here in Scotland and I think his analysis is sound, if a little easy on the major tactical errors made by the Scottish Government. Yes there are very good trade unionists in the SNP ranks, but they are more than outnumbered by their backwoods colleagues. First Minister, Alex Salmond, who rejected union calls for a suspension of the Scottish Parliament, was booed when his picture was held at the Glasgow rally. 
The ConDems in Westminster, too, have seriously misjudged the mood of the nation. Opinion polls and media straw polls for some time now, have been showing increasing support for the strikers, and Tory ministers like Francis Maude and Danny Alexander have been thrashing about trying to find a tactic to demonise trade unions. Now Cameron’s pal, Jeremy Clarkson has let the cat out of the bag. Calling for strikers to be shot in front of their families, is exactly the logical conclusion of Tory government and Daily Mail vitriol. Not that Cameron will be pleased by his dinner pals intervention. The Tories - instead of going on the offensive - have had to spend the day distancing themselves from their fascistic supporter. The BBC too (not for the first time) have spent the day digging themselves deeper into a hole. One does wonder what it would take for the BBC to actually address the damage this presenter is doing to them? As it is they flounder gracelessly making ‘apologies’ that compound the felony.

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