The Trades Union Congress decision, to hold a national demonstration against the spending cuts to take place over five months after they were announced and on the eve of their implementation is shameful.
Worse, it is scheduled to take place on a Saturday, on 26 March 2011, to avoid any idea that it is a call for mid-week strike action instead of gentle stroll through the streets of London.
The context of the decision announced by TUC leader Brendan Barber on Saturday, makes it an act of betrayal as great as any during its more than 140-year history.
With 500,000 public sector workers destined to lose their jobs as the result of the deepest spending cuts in the history of British capitalism, the TUC and its main members have abandoned any pretence of resistance. The decision to hold a march in five months was supported by the main public sector unions, Unison, GMB and Unite. Since the Spending Review was announced, these unions have stressed that they will not take action against the coalition.
A few hundred yards away, just as Barber spoke, striking London firefighters were on the march. They are threatened with the sack and the destruction of their union. The TUC is leaving the Fire Brigades Union to face destruction on its own.
Talk about the impact on jobs, pensions, wages, services etc - and that's it! It’s not simply sluggish – it’s deliberate inaction behind a smokescreen of consultation, education and protest. The TUC is acting like a focus group for the Coalition, promising to feed back public anger so that the government will "see sense".
On Saturday, Barber spouted pseudo-fiery words against the City rich:
“And the bankers who caused this mess,” he said, “will not be affected at all because the pathetically small banking levy will leave them popping the champagne corks right across the square mile.”
The real intention is to reinforce the fiction, that the Con-Dem cuts are simply “ideological”: "The impact of this brutal, ideological and cripplingly unfair [our italics] austerity will be truly devastating,” Barber told London Trades Councils representatives at Congress House.
In other words, there is no crisis of the capitalist system driving the cuts – simply a few greedy bankers.
And public service union GMB leader Paul Kenny continued the fake war by threatening the Coalition with a loss of votes: "As the plan unfolds and its impact is felt in homes and communities up and down the country, the Tory/Liberal authors will find life increasingly difficult at the ballot box," he said.
Some critics of the TUC want next year’s demonstration brought forward and for unions who want to fight the cuts to organise a one-day public sector general strike. But this is inadequate for a variety of reasons:
- it divides public from private sector workers (who will also lose jobs as a result of cuts)
- by limiting the strike to 24 hours turns a general strike, which has revolutionary potential, into a protest,
- it assumes that the government will capitulate under pressure.
Experiences on the Continent, most recently France, show the opposite is true. Several general strikes have failed to move Sarkozy over pensions. At the end of last week, state forces were used to end blockades of fuel depots while the Senate approved the changes. Sarkozy is not for turning and nor is the Cameron/Clegg coalition. At their backs is the global economic crisis and yawning budget deficits which grow larger by the day.
The strike weapon is limited when the issues are about a crisis of the economic system and the power of the state. Strikes need to be supplemented by wider actions. A revolutionary mobilisation is needed to unite communities in a way that challenges the authority and power of government and the state machine.
A strategy of developing People’s Assemblies offers a real way forward to unite all those fighting the cuts. The urgent need is to expose the treachery of the trade union leadership by campaigning for a transfer of power on to a democratically elected network of Peoples Assemblies.
Paul Feldman and Corinna Lotz
A World to Win