Friday, July 18, 2008
Much as one may wish that strike actions were not so brief and the period between them so long, there is evidently something bigger percolating away here. The rate at which public sector workers are opting to fight the government is not just a manifestation of reviving industrial militancy in the most unionised sectors of the economy. It is poison for the government's electoral chances, who are now positioning themselves as the class enemy of some of their key constituents. Yet New Labour is so wedded to this policy that it is trying to defend a heartland Glasgow seat with a mountainous but threatened majority with a candidate who will not say a single word of criticism about the policy, preferring to rely on contrived prolier-than-thou credentials. Clearly, the SNP would have to fight a serious battle to take the seat, but the difficulty for New Labour is that its voters won't turn out to match their standing in the polls. The union leadership is evidently still hoping to force a change of policy with this rank-and-file pressure as an added bargaining lever. They know the governing party is short of cash and will be tapping them for it, just as surely as they know they will provide it unless the members force a decisive break with Labour. Despite the calamitous state of would-be alternatives for the time being, the scale of the government's attack on workers is likely to intensify moves in that direction. Absent a viable national alternative, funding may well tend to be distributed in a more fragmented fashion with some even going to the Liberals (yech, can you imagine?).
The opposition, despite its venomous hostility to trade unions, is keeping relatively quiet about this. In fact, it is bigging itself up as the party of the poor. Not only that, but when David Cameron made his lousy statement about absentee black fathers, he got the backing of a selection of 'community leaders' (how I hate that phrase and everything it implies), who said that the Tories were more progressive on social investment than Labour. This probably doesn't forebode an upsurge of working class conservatism as in 1979. After all, the Tories are concealing their agenda, not aggressively propounding it as the way forward. But with every passing day and every new action by the government, which has never seen a bungled attempt at right-wing 'populism' that it didn't like, it becomes more and more obvious that Labour voters are going to stay at home in droves, repelled by the government and unafraid of the Tories. New Labour is about to discover the true meaning of the phrase 'things can only get better'.