Friday, November 19, 2010

...the streets, targeted protest and the ballot box

Last week there was UNISON London Regional Committee in Kings Cross. Regional Convenor Gloria Hanson was Chair.

This was the usual business meeting – minutes, recruitment, motions, training, updates, Regional Council, future meetings, reports, (I gave the London finance report) etc.

There was also an important debate on the trade union response to the Coalition Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). Regional Secretary, Linda Perks, gave a fact filled presentation on the horrors facing London, what has been done so far to oppose and some ideas for the future.

What followed was actually a wide ranging, at times robust but largely constructive debate about how to respond - without any of the normal overt sectarian bitterness and rancour that usually mark these meetings.

The first response was that the violence at last week’s Students demo by a tiny number of protesters “was really great” and “inspiring” – in fact “the answer is on the streets”. Not in official TUC rally’s in Congress House or lobbying. We must bring down this government by mass protests and marches. Remember how the poll tax riot brought down Thatcher. However, we do want to build alliances and work with Councillors and the Labour Party.

My contribution is that we must recognise that we lost the general election. Despite the hypocrisy of the Lib Dems over tuition fees etc - they did promise “Savage Cuts”. The Tories are just being Tories. My view is that the Coalition is vulnerable and by appealing to one nation Tories and non-orange book Liberals, we may be able to inflict defeats and even bring it down by democratic means before 2015.

But the other view on this is that the Lib Dems know they will be massacred if there is an early election and there is nothing they can do but support the Coalition and hope things do eventually get better.

Meanwhile we have got to build and defend the union. It will be a long fight. To survive we must concentrate on increasing membership, our number of stewards and by being organised. Any action must be targeted and achievable. The horror that we now face reminds me of the old saying that the worse day in any Labour Government is far, far better than the best day in any Tory government. We must work together to resist the Coalition, to try and defeat them but our priority must be to return a Labour Government as soon as possible.

NHS nurse, Labour link activist and London SGE Health member, Mike Davey, gave I thought, the most personal and thoughtful response. He felt listening to some of the “Left” speakers that they must live in a parallel world to the rest of us. In the 1980s he went marching and protesting nearly every weekend and that he is convinced that all that noise and activity never even brought about the end of the Tory government by one day nor did it ever save one job. We are weaker now than even then. To him, all this talk of “bringing down the government via the streets” is just plain hot air.

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