Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Our turn to have our say

Well, what a great day. I don't have an awful lot to say about the strikes themselves. Hundreds of thousands of public sector workers took action, shutting down facilities all over the UK. Against some of the sillier claims by the press, the action was extensive - over 90% of PCS members were out in some departments - and the numbers on the streets large. I was privileged to take part in a march of some 30,000 people through the streets of London this lunchtime.

My day began on a picket line at a local FE college.

The picket was well attended, lively, and succeeded in persuading several students not to enter the building.

Later on, I joined in the march to the rally at Westminster.

The rally itself was packed out. A particular highlight was the level of militancy in speakers from the, historically ultra-cautious, ATL, bringing home the level of radicalisation that has taken place in response to this government. Several speakers stressed the importance of not allowing the Government to get away with a divide-and-rule strategy, but of instead arguing for decent pensions for all workers, whether in the public or the private sector. Above all, there was a consensus that this excellent day of action will not be enough in itself. In order to beat the ConDems on pensions, let alone on the austerity measures more generally, we need a concerted and co-ordinated series of strikes, involving Unite, Unison, and others, in the autumn.

Mark Serwotka summed it up, "Three quarters of a million today. Four million in the autumn".

These are not simply idle words. A strike of that size can happen, and it has to happen. Here are some suggestions for doing your bit towards making sure it does:

  • Talk about your support for the strike with collegaues, family, and friends. If you were out on strike, or involved in solidarity actions, talk about these.
  • Start arguing within your union branches for strike action in the autumn, co-ordinated with other unions. Pass motions in support of this. The case must be made for setting a date for action now and sticking to it.
  • If you are a Labour Party member, do you bit in opposing Ed Miliband's betrayal of public sector workers by expressing your support for strikes here.
I'll be posting on Miliband himself after a coffee break. But let's not let him dominate the day. This was our day, and the start of something very big indeed.

Ed Miliband attacks workers - attack Ed Miliband!

"When the facts change, sir, I change my mind. What do you do?"

Thus Keynes. And he had a point.

Less than a week ago, I argued that, in spite of his backsliding on party democracy, the left should still support Miliband's leadership. Since then the facts have changed, and I have changed my mind. Specifically, Miliband explicitly advocated scabbing on today's strikes, and added insult to injury today by writing a response to his intra-Party critics. Apart from demonstrating his inability to write in paragraphs, this piece bought straight into the Tory line that negotiations are ongoing. Talks are still taking place, that is true; but with an agenda entirely set by the Government, they do not deserve to be dignified with the term "negotiations", any more than striking workers deserve to be betrayed by a Labour leader.

So I've changed my mind. The time is right for the left to oppose Miliband's leadership. There is an honourable and well-founded tradition in our movement of regarding scabbing as a particularly damaging fault, a point-of-no-return. We cannot credibly argue for the use of the Labour Party as a channel for workers' demands whilst supporting a man who - as was made clear today repeatedly - is widely, and rightly, viewed as a strikebreaker. Merely attacking the leadership isn't nearly enough, of course: as I pointed out in my post, the malaise at the top is symptomatic of a right-wing backlash that requires a response. None the less, withdrawal of support for the Miliband leadership now has to be part of that response.

So, let's get to it. And right now, let's make it clear that Ed is out of step with the movement, by signing up to Owen's statement here.

Don't mourn for Hari, organise against liberalism

I've been a lax blogger of late. Coming soon a series on the left's visceral hostility to religion, and why it's a bad thin, as well as a piece on the culture of the picket line. What you will not be getting from this blog is anything on the deserved downfall of vile bigot Johann Hari. Some things are just too easy.

This having been said, it is worth asking why so many leftists have flocked in recent days to the defence of the plaigirising hack. Why was there such a widespread feeling that one of our own was under attack? Some folks suggested that this was a right-wing attack on a campaigning journalist - such things certainly do happen, but it does seem to me that the ultraleft Deterritorial Support Group is an unlikely channel for Toadmeisteresque reaction. The sad truth is that entire sections of the left, especially the younger parts of it, are enamoured with cultural and political liberalism. Hari, for all his moralising bleeding-heart advocacy of a clinically secular world being tugged into the future by the locomotive of Progress, for all the disempowering elitism and suppressed class-basis of the politics implicit in this outlook, was saying things a lot of people on the left wanted to hear. And this is far more of a problem than a few dodgy interviews.

This charming man

Ooh, I've had a reply from John Cryer:

When I entered parliament that morning there was no picket at any of the entrances I looked at – which was three.

The PCS said they were putting pickets on all entrances bar the Tube which I assumed meant it would be acceptable to enter at that entrance.

I would also point out that there was a debate that day caused by me. If I had failed to be there I would have let down my constituents. I would further point out that I went out of my way in Business Questions to defend trade unions. The PCS must be living on another planet if they imagine it’s a great idea to give Tories and Lib Dems a free run on a day of public-sector strikes.

I would also be obliged if you could forward this email to Mark Serwotka with my mobile number which is ************* so he can explain to me why his union followed such a ludicrous strategy. And you can refrain from sending me vaguely threatening emails – if you think that sort of behaviour will intimidate me in any way whatsoever then you know nothing of my history.

Yours etc,

John Cryer

"Vaguely threatening"? This man seriously needs a summer break.