The public sector strike on November 30 will be the largest strike in the UK since the general strike of 1926.Two to three million workers could take part. Unlike our continental counterparts, coordinated strikes of this kind are extremely rare in the British trade union movement. As such, its political importance, if the action is successful, will be much greater than in the continent.Why has it come to this? In a sense, the answer is obvious. 'Austerity' involves the most serious attempt to restructure the economy, to the detriment of working class living standards, in decades. It involves reducing wages and pensions, diminishing bargaining rights, cutting jobs and reducing the bargaining power of labour. Everywhere that these measures have been introduced, whether in Wisconsin or Greece, there has been resistance.Yet, there was no guarantee that the British trade union movement would respond in the way that it has. Decades of declining union composition since the serious defeats inflicted on organised labour – notably, on the miners and the print workers – have left unions in a weaker position.The orthodoxy among trade union leaders since then has been a form of tactical conservatism known as the 'new realism'. This approach involved unions avoiding confrontation in favour of bargaining with the government of the day. Every sign until last year was that the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) would adopt this approach in dealing with the government's cuts, negotiating to mitigate the effects of cutbacks rather than seriously attempting to obstruct them. Indeed, before grumblings from the shop floor scuppered the plan, union leaders had intended to invite prime minister David Cameron to address congress last year. So, what changed?
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
My ABC article explaining the background to tomorrow's strike: