Monday, 6 June 2011

Anger at GMB signing up to Cable

The GMB's decision to invite Vince Cable to speak at their national conference today was a curious one but – considering the media attention given to Cable's appearance – it can be viewed as a tactical masterstroke.

Although Cable regurgitated familiar soundbites about the need for cuts and the economic mess left by Labour, it was the hostile reaction of the GMB delegates which grabbed the headlines. Government stooges usually speak to economic acolytes at business galas in the City to whoops of agreement and media silence, but – because Cable spoke at a trade union conference – it exposed the anger at government cuts and gave a platform to left-wing economic arguments.

I was at GMB conference for the speech and – although many delegates thought Cable shouldn't have been given the platform – his appearance helps send a message to the outside world that there is a hunger for economic alternatives. Furthermore – with palpable anger permeating the conference centre – it will galvanise the trade union movement into action. Many of the delegates were spitting blood – would they have been quite so vitriolic with a leftie keynote speaker? Hopefully their anger will be transformed into workplace organisation and community activism.

In its simplest sense, Cable's appearance acts as a warning to trade unions. It is a threat that co-ordinated strikes will result in a crack-down of anti-union legislation. But what does it matter about legislation when trade unions are too afraid to strike anyway? The sole weapon of trade unions is the power – or threat – of industrial action. Without it they are ineffective and impotent. If the labour movement allows itself to be bullied out of co-ordinated action then it is admitting defeat. Cable's rhetoric shows the government is running scared; now is not the time to concede ground. His appearance at GMB conference is not a concession to neo-liberalism; it is a catalyst for fight-back and a powerful message to the rest of the country.

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