By Maria Exall
Earlier this year over half a million people responded to the TUC’s call to “March for the Alternative”. At TUC Congress on 12-14 September the organised labour movement has the opportunity to spell out what that alternative could be.
The issue of pensions and further future co-ordinated industrial action by public sector unions is on the agenda. Other motions submitted call for resistance in varying degrees to the Coalition Government cuts in the different industrial sectors from health and social care to the arts. But one of the most important things I think the 2011 Congress can do is to unite positive strategies for fighting back with a vision of a real socio-economic alternative.
A motion on economic policy submitted by the FBU says “the free market, neo-liberal model that has dominated for the past three decades has been exposed as a failure; a major change of direction is needed”. The motion, and amendments also submitted,then calls for full public ownership of the major banks and financial institutions and taking back into public ownership key drivers of economic growth and wealth creation such as energy, transport, water and telecommunications.
It is inevitable that the right of the trade union movement will either oppose these calls, or vote in favour but with no serious intention of campaigning for them. There are several reasons for this.
These include the belief that the organisation of the movement is too weak to achieve any of these demands and the general conservatism of most unions’ industrial strategies (it is a remarkably persistent idea, present in both “left” unions and right that we can achieve more by accommodating to employers’ demands than by confronting them). However what is even more deadly is the commonplace view that the policies of the trade union movement on wider political issues cannot be seen to be too far ahead of the parameters of current debate. It is this last reason that has to be tackled directly if we are to have a meaningful alternative.
We need political trade unionism which takes up its place within the public arena without apologising for raising the demands of working people as a programme for the whole country. We need popular arguments against the Tories economic irrationality and lies.
And we need the trade unions to raise these demands of the Labour Party (and if they are affiliated to make the case within the Labour Party).
The 26 March demo could not have been successfully called without a consensus amongst trade unions and an appeal that reached beyond their immediate hinterland. On the day community groups, voluntary organisations, equality campaigners etc. all joined trade unionists on the March. The case for the political alternative cannot be made without this kind of unity — but trade unionists must lead.
The mobilisations of the organised movement against the cuts must also include the political case for the representation of working-class people’s interests. To fight to win you need a political vision.