The TUC “March for the Alternative” is an attempt to put pressure on the Conservative led coalition Government to change the direction of their economic policy.
It is good that labour movement bodies as well as voluntary sector and community organisations are marching together. Realistically, though, the aim of defeating Government policies can only be achieved by a greater level of industrial resistance and much more focused political campaigning.
The Tory led Coalition Government is pursuing an ideological agenda — keeping lax arrangements for bank regulation, cutting back workers’ rights (including recently stopping improvements in flexible working arrangements), rolling back the welfare state — all continuations of the “laisse faire” capitalism that gave us the credit crunch in the first place.
But trade union reaction is, so far, very limited. 26 March can only be the beginning, we need a more strategic and political response.
Though trade unions in the public sector are looking at the possibility of co-ordinated industrial action on the major cutbacks in public pension schemes, this is an issue that only affects public sector workers directly.
The ideology behind the Tory plans (supported by constant media references to inefficient bureaucracy and privileged and overpaid public sector workers) is this — a dismantling of decent conditions of employment for public sector workers as a precursor for the dismantling of the public sector itself. The challenge is for public sector trade unionists to argue against this ideological intent and win over the majority of working people to defend the public sector.
The massive attacks on working-class living standards through job losses, public and private, changes to tax and benefits systems, and the higher prices for necessities will only get worse over the coming year. Progressive trade union leaders need to lead the resistance to this attack on living standards too.
The involvement of a broad coalition of community groups and the voluntary sector will be important, but the commitment of trade unionist to fight cuts and job losses is vital. This is not only because organised labour has economic and political power which it can use through targeted industrial action, but because (imperfect though it is) the labour movement represents working class democracy.
We need to build a truly non sectarian campaign, formally backed by several unions, to take things forward.
A conference called around this aim, and open to all would be a start. We need a broad-based but political coalition against the cuts, left unity amongst socialist groups, and a recognition that the cuts will hit certain groups within the working class harder — disabled people, women, BME and LGBT communities. The demands of such a political coalition can form the focus of community campaigns but also the basis of the policies we should expect from the Labour Party.
Now is the time for focused political demands — putting flesh on the bones of an “alternative”. An increase in political involvement in grassroots anti cuts campaigning led by the labour movement is the best chance of achieving political change.
We need a workers’ government and this can only be built through workers’ democracy.