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TUC: Harnessing Public Anger on the Cuts

For anyone who has followed the labour movement over the years, today’s demonstration of unity at the TUC in Manchester has been remarkable. Almost without exception, from left to right, public sector and private sector, manual workers’ unions to professional associations, the quietly spoken to the high octane tub thumpers, the message has been the same.

The spending cuts being prepared by the Con-Lib coalition are unnecessary, ideologically motivated and threaten a new slump, as recognised by a growing spectrum of expert economic opinion. They will be resisted by the broadest campaign coalition the unions can muster: on the streets, in parliament, locally and nationally, bringing together service users and providers, and where possible and necessary, through co-ordinated industrial action.

So says Seumas Milne in the Guardian and he is right. The only visible dissent was Jim McAuslan of BALPA and, more bizarrely, Les Bayliss, Unite assistant general secretary and the Right’s candidate for Unite general secretary (who as well as opposing the use of strikes against the cuts promised that, if he were elected, “there will NEVER be any strikes called over Christmas“). Harriet Harman, addressig the TUC as Acting Labour leader, added to the mood of unity:

We will not be silenced by the right wing characterising protest as undemocratic… Trade unionists have the democratic rights to protest. We will not be deterred by suggestions that this is illegitimate – it is perfectly within the law.W e will not be cowed by accusations that this is irresponsible and putting services at risk – the very opposite is true.”

The reason for the unity was the recognition that, at present, we have failed to convince the public that there is an alternative (not least because Labour fought the election accepting that cuts were necessary). Although most people oppose the cuts to the services they use or provide, there remains a view that cuts in general are necessary (though the Coalition’s cuts may be “too deep and too fast“). What differences there are between union leaders are about tactics not objectives – principally they’re about the use of civil disobedience which Bob Crow, amongst others, says is an honourable tradition, legitimate and necessary.

Why did that difference not disrupt the unity of the day? Because civil disobedience in this campaign will rise up from below, in people who are angry about the threat to their services and their jobs. This campaign does not need organising by the TUC, it needs coordination to ensure that strikes, when they happen, are as effective as possible, and civil disobedience is channeled into forms which will maximise public support. This will be a bottom-up campaign: the Left’s task is to make sure that it is effective at a local level and that it is fully support by Labour’s leaders.

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