Unions versus the government


by Daphne Liddle

BUSINESS Secretary Vince Cable last Monday triggered a new round of trade union anger and determination when he warned delegates at the GMB’s annual congress of further draconian anti-union legislation if unions take coordinated strike action against the cuts.

The delegates reacted immediately and angrily to the threats and other unions quickly followed suit.

Cable’s words were a plain declaration of class war. The Con-Dem Coalition has made a mighty attack on working class living standards and is now threatening punitive action if the class makes any effort at a coherent self defence.

The majority of trade unionists — both rank and file and leadership — would rather not get involved in battles they could avoid. But they are turned into militants by the outrageous, unjust and unprovoked actions of the bosses and the ruling class. It is a dialectical process that the ruling class is stoking. The giant union Unite was quick to respond. The same day Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary said: “Vince Cable, as a Liberal, ought to be ashamed of the company he has been keeping. How can a professed liberal seek to crack down on human rights?

“Today’s workers are the sons, daughters and grandchildren of the people who fought for freedom in Europe. Yet here we are today with the obscenity of a British government threatening to deny people the fundamental right to withdraw their labour.

“It is no coincidence that the Government is engineering this fight now. All eyes have been on our comatose economy and the Government’s colossal failure to address this.”

Mark Serwotka of PCS was also quick to respond. He said: “The right to strike is a basic human right. Trade unions already face the sort of restrictive practices not experienced by any other area of the economy.

“Public sector workers are currently facing unprecedented ideological attacks on their jobs, pensions, pay and conditions which will throw the economy into further recession.

“This Government and the bankers who caused the economic crisis are inflicting the greatest damage to our economic and social fabric by cutting public sector jobs, axing vital services and attacking communities. A raft of leading economists believes the coalition’s cuts programme is ill-judged, ill-timed and ill-conceived.”


And Cable’s remarks have spurred on the plans for a co-ordinated general strike on 30th June. At first it was just the PCS civil service union and some of the teaching unions — NUT, ATL and UCU — making a total of over 800,000 workers who could bring schools, courts, ports and Whitehall to a standstill.

Then, at the PCS conference last month McCluskey brought Unite on board. By last Tuesday the Communication Workers’ Union was calling for all out on 30th June.

Committing the CWU to join forces with other trade unions and campaigning organisations in the fight against the cuts, delegates at the union’s annual Conference in Bournemouth unanimously called on the CWU’s leadership to seek to co-ordinate campaigns and strikes with other unions.

Delegates agreed that only strike action on a scale already seen in France and Greece will force the Cameron Government to change tack and urged the TUC to co-ordinate a 24-hour general strike.

Eastern regional secretary Paul Moffat told conference: “We’ve seen cuts on vulnerable groups, youth services, the elderly, the NHS, schools, teachers, education, police officers, prison services and all local services — in fact all areas of state provision and services in this country — without any regard for the long-term consequences.

“These attacks are not determined by mere economic choice but by a clear ideological policy. It will lead to mass unemployment, irreversible damage to public services including Royal Mail and exploitation of ordinary people in favour of the privileged few in this country.”

The RMT transport union also reacted strongly. RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “Cable is effectively telling us that the right to strike is something we can have only if we choose not to use it.

“He is trying to come across as the nice cop of the Con-Dem Coalition, but the truth is that he wants us to sit back and watch as his government destroys our jobs and wrecks our services.

“Working people are under attack as never before and if it takes co-ordinated strike action and civil disobedience to stop it then so be it.

“Britain already has repressive anti-union laws that are outside legal norms and we have to jump through hoops to take action as it is”.