Monday, 13 September 2010

Government's Plan to 'Divide and Rule' TUC

Francis Maude’s appearance on the Today Programme – timed to coincide with the TUC conference in Manchester – is another example of the Tories’ ‘divide and rule’ strategy. Maude declared that the TUC and government should “form a real partnership” and promised that “we’re not going back to the days where there’s a complete stand-off between the trade unions and the government”. It sounded like an enticing olive branch from the Cabinet Minister – but look closer and the rotting branch is riddled with woodworm.

The Tories have already tried to ‘divide and rule’ the public sector by rolling out cuts across government departments. Public sector action is undermined by a combination of hope and fear: hoping that your job will be protected and fearing that if you fight for your job then you’ll be the first to go. All this is exacerbated by the obscenely high number of people on short-term contracts. In my local Jobcentre Plus, 60% of frontline staff are on fixed –term contracts. No-one has been given any indication that their contract will be extended – but as long as the uncertain prospect of renewal exists, people are incentivised to carry on regardless. Before they know it, it’s too late.

Maude’s revelation is a tactical masterstroke by the government. Firstly, it is a cynical attempt at making the Tories appear more reasonable than the unions. Evoking stark images of the 1980s – particularly when the Tories were to blame for most of the mess – is misanthropic scaremongering at its worst. Secondly, it is a carefully timed pre-emptive strike to undermine trade union solidarity. The trade unions remain restricted by Thatcherite legislation which prevents sympathy strikes, but today the TUC backed a proposal to co-ordinate future action.

In order to defeat the government, however, it is imperative that the campaign courts public sympathy. The latest government move is a shrewd attempt to fragment the trade union movement and demonise potential strikes. The TUC and anti-cuts movement must be equally shrewd in their response. The fight against government cuts requires physical mobilisation – co-ordinating trade unions, voluntary organisations and community groups simultaneously – but most of all it requires intellectual mobilisation in order to generate public support.

Protest itself is not enough because the conservative establishment will react against it. In order to win both the intellectual battle and public opinion, we must champion a realistic alternative to the government’s cutting agenda. We need to show that cuts aren’t simply unjust, they are deeply illogical and represent an inefficient way of dealing with the deficit. If we really are “all in this together” then we need to demonstrate how taxing banks and hedge funds won’t just help deal with the deficit, it will create a more egalitarian society.

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1 comment:

Labour Left said...

Further to that, any movement needs to transcend trade unions, community groups and voluntary organisations. In the first instance, cuts in the public sector will cost people their jobs but in the second instance the cuts in frontline services will have an effect on members of the public. Therefore, the movement must incorporate the public as well because they're the ones who will struggle without services.

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