The annual congress of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) on 9-12 September passed policy to support “co-ordinated strike action between unions over pay and pensions”.
These strikes would take place over both the public sector pay freeze and the work-longer-pay-more-get-less pensions reforms against which unions struck on 30 June and 30 November 2011.
That the TUC has passed policy supporting co-ordinated strike action is undoubtedly positive. The fight now is to progress from fighting talk from union leaders towards a real campaign based on a comprehensive industrial and political campaign around specific demands, fought to win. We don’t want this promise of co-ordinated strikes to be used to fob us off for now and make us wait for what turns out to be another series of disconnected, one-day strikes.
Unison’s Dave Prentis is already in the press declaring the start of the “fightback”. But we’ve been here before. At his the 2011 Unison conference, he promised an industrial battle on the scale of the 1926 general strike to defeat the pension reforms, before manoeuvring to keep his union out of the 30 June action (and then selling a shoddy deal to his local government members, while ignoring his NHS members’ mandate when they voted to reject the government’s “final offer”). The pace suggested by Prentis, who sees the 20 October demonstration as “a launchpad” for strikes in the new year, is not encouraging. Action is needed now, not in six months’ time.
Simply applauding militant rhetoric from union bureaucrats or even simply calling on them to deliver, will not do. The job of socialists is not to wait until the bureaucracy seems to have a good idea, and then lobby them to act on it.
Our job is to build up consciousness, independent organisation, and confidence in our own strength amongst rank-and-file workers so we can fight to impose a winning strategy in the coming battles.
Congress also passed a motion from the Prison Officers’ Association, which commits the TUC to “considering” the “practicalities” of a general strike. The debate was positive, and the focus must now be on the hard work of building up the rank-and-file strength in workplaces, and local and national co-ordination, without which no such strike is possible.
Also at Congress, a motion from the RMT that advocated British withdrawal from the European Union was defeated — a positive sign for those wanting to push internationalist politics in the labour movement.
Labour’s wealth tax?
On 6 September, Ed Balls announced that he would support a permanent tax on high-value properties.
The latest move by the Shadow Chancellor seems less a response to Solidarity's criticism of the Labour Party last week and more a tactical ploy to split the governing coalition.
Although Balls rejected Nick Clegg's proposals for a temporary one-off tax levy on the super-rich, his policy idea closely resembles Liberal Democrat business secretary Vince Cable's suggestion of a “mansion tax.” According to the Independent, Balls “said he would be happy to discuss what he called Mr Cable's 'serious' proposal for a high-value property tax” and he has subsequently followed up this initiative with an overture to Cable to quit the government and join with Labour to implement a “Plan B” to austerity.
In 1903 Ramsay MacDonald agreed a “Lib-Lab” pact with the Liberal leader Herbert Gladstone because the nascent Labour Party had not yet been born from the Labour Representation Committee. Experience showed that it was not just a tactical ploy but formed a sequence in a pattern of class collaboration, again with the Liberals and then, in 1929, with the Conservative Party too.
Just as it did then, “Lib-Labism” now in its modern-day incarnation cuts against the growth and development of independent working-class politics.
The Labour Party must provide more than mischievous politicking and offers of a life-raft for the sinking ship Liberal Democrat.