As tumultuous world events like the uprising in Ukraine, the direct democracy movement sweeping Bosnia, the Syrian civil war etc etc grab your attention, you may have missed a momentous announcement by the Trades Union Congress here in Britain. There is to be a mass demonstration in – wait for it – October!
Yes, in eight months’ time we are being invited to march through London to a rally in Hyde Park. Not on a weekday because that might involve people going on strike (God forbid) to take part. No, as usual, we will all walk calmly through the centre of the city on a Saturday afternoon.
There, if you care to stay for the rally, you will hear speeches from TUC luminaries and probably Labour leader Ed Miliband. They will be standing under the banner of “Britain Needs a Pay Rise”. Not workers, you notice, but “Britain”.
Stirring stuff, eh?
It wouldn’t be so bad if it was billed as an anti-government action, to condemn the ConDems for slaughtering living standards in the wake of a capitalist crisis workers are not responsible for. But no, “Britain Needs a Pay Rise” is actually demanding that everyone gets a share “in the recovery”.
Far from opposing the wretched Coalition, this is actually buying into their claims that a “recovery” is taking place. In fact, as even George Osborne has had to acknowledge, any “growth” is driven by debt and the housing market. In fact it resembles a new bubble waiting to burst along the lines of the 2008 calamity. As the 1930s song goes:
I'm forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air,
They fly so high,
Nearly reach the sky,
Then like my dreams,
They fade and die.
Back to the TUC on October 18 and its general secretary Frances O’Grady. She says in the call-out for the demo that “hard-pressed families across the UK must be beginning to wonder when the tough times they are experiencing will ever end.” Actually, just as many are wondering whether the TUC will ever get off its bureaucratic backside and lead some real resistance.
The real value of average wages was falling before the recession and they have declined more rapidly since 2010. Pay-day loans have soared and many people have loaded up their credit cards to pay for essentials like shopping and housing costs. And where was the TUC (and Labour) while all this was happening?
O’Grady rewrites the history of the last four years when she claims that “during the dark days of recession, workers accepted that their pay might have to be frozen or even cut to save jobs”. No! The TUC alone accepted that terrible position, even though member unions opposed the government’s policies.
At the TUC Congress in 2012, for example, the leaders of Unison and Unite threatened a general strike against the public sector pay freeze. TUC leaders killed that proposal stone dead. As hundreds of thousands of jobs were culled by local councils and other public bodies, the TUC sat on its hands.
Instead, we have the ritual of the annual demo. This year’s will be the fourth in a row. A chance to let off steam by marching around town and then going home. No wonder the turnout has declined year-on-year.
Meanwhile, Miliband is pledged to continue ConDem austerity should his One Nation Labour win the 2015 election. This includes retaining the present public sector pay freeze. His latest wheeze is a plan to give employers a taxpayer subsidy to pay the “living wage” (which is actually a subsistence wage).
So when O’Grady tell us that “the time has come for Britain to get a pay rise” she reduces a pressing need to a fatuous slogan. For her information, countries don’t get pay increases, workers do. That’s why people formed unions in the first place and in 1868 came together to launch the TUC. For the present leadership at Congress House, all this history is bunk.