16 June 2011

Fighting together, not fighting each other.

The first real challenge from unions to the Tory cuts agenda will be mounted on June 30, after a decent set of industrial action ballot results from the education unions. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers polling 83% on a 35% turnout and the National Union of Teachers 90% on a 40% turnout.

This has been followed by a solid (if slightly less emphatic) declaration of intent from PCS members where  61% have voted to strike on a 32.5% turnout.

The lines are now drawn for what will inevitably be the first of many set-piece industrial confrontations of the Cameron era.

Both the PCS and NUT have form for militancy to varying degrees. The PCS is held up by many on the left as the model trade union and certainly the commitment by the national leadership to backing members in struggle by threatening, and in some cases taking, industrial action cannot be faulted. The NUT is seen by most of the teachers I know as the union most effective in the education sector.

But for the ostensibly moderate ATL to move into the arena of taking action is a big step and clearly one that will worry and focus government minds, however much they may protest otherwise. It is already harder for the government to pin this on a handful of militant reps hell-bent on confrontation and dragging their reluctant but subservient memberships out with them like a scene from Carry On At Your Convenience.

The hysterical propaganda machine of the bosses has predictably gone into overdrive, with commentators aplenty bleating on about the cosseted public sector employees who apparently get so much more than their poor, hard done-by comparitors in the private sector - without ever once suggesting the way forward would be to improve the pay, terms and conditions of those same workers in the private sector.

This notion has, however, become an issue that must be challenged head on. Many individuals do spout forth on the topic, usually hidden behind internet screens, envious of the mythical 'gold-plated' pensions and other alleged benefits of those working in the public sector. This shallow, spiteful and individualistic criticism can undermine the confidence of those taking action, even if most of the critics don't have the nerve to actually challenge strikers in the flesh.

There's also the issue that many members of other larger public sector unions like Unision and the GMB will be watching on to see if they should  follow on into action later this year, If June 30 is to lead the way to a larger industrial challenge to the unprecedented government attacks, the action has to prove to both the naysayers and the fence-sitters that striking is not only possible, but more importantly effective.

The union's reps and full-timers will now be on the ground building up and giving confidence to many people striking for the first time. This will be a learning curve for many officials, reps and rank and file members.

That's why the best thing for fellow trade union and political activists to do is to turn out on the pickets, take along some food and drink, make donations to funds, and above all let strikers know they are doing the right thing and you support them. They are going to face a sustained barrage of media propaganda and internet-masturbator hate campaigners trying to do them down on the day, so every boost they can get will be welcome.

I'm proud that my own union is fully behind the action.

We need to tell people that, once upon a time, we fought together to win what we have. But that in recent years, more and more we have been fighting each other. June 30 can see us begin to fight together again.

1 comment:

Miles said...

"That's why the best thing for fellow trade union and political activists to do is to turn out on the pickets, take along some food and drink, make donations to funds, and above all let strikers know they are doing the right thing and you support them."

Absolutely spot on Loz.