By Nicky Dempsey
The battle over austerity is moving into a new phase. Encouraged by talk of recovery a number of disputes have broken out across a wide variety of sectors, on pay, jobs, pensions and against privatisation.
At the same time Cameron and Osborne have begun to argue that austerity will remain in force over the long term, at least a decade or more. In part this is an effort to set the agenda ahead of the 2015 general election and dare Labour to break from the pro-austerity consensus. But there is a real material reason for perma-austerity. As the latest GDP data show, profits have not recovered at all and are nowhere near the level required for firms to voluntarily increase their investment. Since the purpose of austerity is to restore profits the policy will continue.
The combination of an upturn in union struggles and increasingly dire threats from the government has raised the stakes for all union disputes. Trade unions in general and the UNITE leadership in particular have become part of the ‘enemy within’ for an increasingly beleaguered Tory Party. The Tory hope is that appealing to the worst aspects of British society, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-union sentiment they can shore up their support and win back former voters who have defected to UKIP.
This strategy will not deliver an election victory for the Tories. But that is unlikely to prevent it being pursued vigorously. Just as the tactics of the INEOS management at Grangemouth were a new, more vicious form of austerity so the Tory leadership’s political offensive will intensify. A key part of that will be the demand that Labour’s leaders condemn strikers or take action against trade unions. The most important of these is that Labour severs its organisational link with the unions.
In these circumstances the approach of the left should be very obvious. In fact they are the ABC of solidarity. Socialists and other progressive forces need to defend trade unions and their leaderships when they come under fire from the bourgeoisie. The sometimes important discussion about how to win any given dispute is subordinate to the aim of defending organised labour as a whole.
The People’s Assembly has launched a campaign of ‘Hands Off Our Unions’ in defence of the right to protest and to strike. The initial letter can be signed here. This is just the first step in what seems sure to be a prolonged campaign in defence of our unions.