It can't be that often that a Tory minister, anxious to look smart, does something stupid. Can it? I have watched this government with some perplexity, wondering if I have underestimated its cunning, or if they really do think they can arouse the whole labour movement and organised left in unified opposition, and trounce them in a jiffy. Their complacency as they embarked on a structural adjustment programme more extreme in its intended effects than anything accomplished by Thatcher, whether the blowback comes in the form of student protests, riots or strikes, seems extraordinary. Seemingly convinced that they need not offer any material substratum to secure the consent of a viable social bloc for their agenda, they simply turn to harsher policing. Apparently unable to imagine the riff-raff posing a real threat to them and their superior class allies, they forget the old salami-slicing praxis and just revel in the reluctance of their opponents to fight, pushing them around, taking their provocations to indulgent, extravagant new levels.
And just when it seemed that the government had finally revisited the old techniques of divide-and-rule, offering just enough concessions to win tacit acquiescence
from Unison and GMB leaders
while attacking and isolating the PCS, Pickles goes and spoils it all by saying something stupid
that destroys it
. For sure, the deal announced between the government and (some) unions over pensions was awful, so awful that it was a real question whether rank and file workers could be made to swallow it. The government conceded nothing in terms of its bargaining totals, nor the principle issues over which the two sides were in negotiation. Even a moderate, media-friendly Labourite like Sally Bercow was denouncing the agreement as a sell out yesterday. The idea that those who hit the pickets and streets on 30th November were more likely to take such a deal is dubious. But evidently the union bureaucracies who have been most reluctant to fight are now the most eager to call of hostilities and negotiate the terms of surrender. Without the support of union leaders in the big Labour-affiliated unions, getting strike action back on the agenda for the New Year is that bit harder. So, it is only reasonable to infer that Pickles just blew a tactical victory for the government.
The problem now is that the government and the union leaders will be back around the table to patch this up quickly, rush the deal through and make it a fait accompli as soon as possible. Trade unionists are now planning an emergency lobby
of the TUC over this, to go with the emergency meeting
(you should go) and emergency statement
(I invite you to sign). This is a pivotal moment in the struggle against austerity. So much hangs on whether the organised labour movement will even put up a fight. That will make all the different between the vindication of Tory arrogance, and its humiliating reproof.
Labels: class struggle, labour, liberals, public sector workers, strike, tories, trade unions, working class