A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Breaking the unions is their aim

The three parliamentary parties offer a choice of serious, severe or savage public-service cuts. The only real choice is whether they hit us straight away under the Tories or a little later as promised by new Labour - unless we organise right now to defeat that predictable attack. This is the challenge facing our unions. Meanwhile, anything goes in terms of education policy as long as the result is fragmentation and competition between schools - and another step towards full-blown privatisation. We know that there won't be cuts to that growing part of public funding that goes straight to the private sector. That's what politicians mean by "protecting front-line services." PFI rocket-boosted academies, "Swedish model" free schools, more faith schools, independent trust schools, "parent power" voting out head teachers, parent-run schools, "increasingly independent chains of schools" run by "accredited status providers" and so on and so on. These dangerous "policies" would all lead eventually to turning education over to the "powerful and predatory entrepreneurial interests" identified by Education International. We're now facing an all-out offensive against the gains made by working people since the end of the second world war, including state education.

These gains were made at a time of widespread demand for change. In Britain, the Labour Party's landslide represented a real groundswell for social justice. Nationalisation and public ownership were widely celebrated. Outside Parliament, the trade unions and other workers' organisations were growing in strength - a trend to be sustained for the next 30 years or more. Then came the counter-attack. The Thatcher regime was determined to break organised workers and to reaffirm the rule of profit throughout the economy and politics. Wherever workers resisted, they saw the full force of the state used against them. Strikes were deliberately provoked on employers' terms. And the anti-union laws sought to nail our trade unions down.
When asked what she was most proud of achieving, Margaret Thatcher famously replied: "New Labour." Certainly the ruling-class offensive has continued since her time. The laws are still there. Tony Blair made the attack on the public sector his very own mission - and Gordon Brown has meekly adopted it. To turn our public services into a source of profit the ruling class will have to break the unions. And it is setting out to do exactly that. British Airways is just a start.

The assault on workers will accelerate after May 6, particularly but not solely if the Tories win. This cannot be beaten back if we just stick to simply doing our best to defend our own patch. First, unity within and between unions is an absolute necessity - a top priority, not a "choice." Yet teaching unions are disunited, seeing each other as "competitors." Continued competition and fighting for members is not a "strategy" - it's a recipe for disaster. Second, if we are to respond successfully to the government's tactic of fragmentation, we need to have informed, united and organised members in every school and strong workplace organisation in all services. Third, we need to stop avoiding the issue of the use against us of the most anti-working-class, anti-union laws in Europe. Of late, big majorities for action in the required ballots are being cynically overturned by the use of the courts. Could there be a clearer illustration of the unjust class nature of the law? Fourth, we need a big picture of the struggle ahead. Not just the defence of an individual bullied teacher, the defence of a school from Ofsted, the fight against an academy, not even the defence of the whole of education on its own, important and vital as all these are.

We must show that education, public services, jobs, pay and pensions are under threat from the same class that uses our money to bail out bankers, that is destroying the environment, that promotes the widening of the wealth gap, that ships jobs abroad, that fails to meet "targets" on child poverty, that creates a growth in homelessness, that leaves young men and women unemployed or in McJobs and that launches wars around the world. We need a strategy for success, not just the tactics of protest. That's why the NUT supports the People's Charter - to show that there is an alternative and that we can achieve it, to unite the trade union movement with all struggles for justice and progress. If we are to defeat this ruling-class offensive, we need to commit to a tough struggle - but a struggle that will allow us to look up and see a future based on the common good rather than dog-eat-dog competition, based on real need, not individual greed.

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