Monday, 6 June 2011

Quote of the day...

We are undoubtedly entering a difficult period. Cool heads will be required all round. Despite occasional blips, I know that strike levels remain historically low, especially in the private sector. On that basis, and assuming this pattern continues, the case for changing strike law is not compelling.

However, should the position change, and should strikes impose serious damage to our economic and social fabric, the pressure on us to act would ratchet up. That is something which both you, and certainly I, would wish to avoid.
This is nothing less than an open threat.

As I've previously reported, there is a compelling argument on the bosses' side for maintaining the status quo with regards to strike law. However, with the broad rank-and-file movement that has emerged in this fight against austerity taking hold of the unions' set-piece actions and looking to expand them, there is a growing threat to the status quo. Cable's warning is directed at union bosses: regain control over the workforces you represent, or there will be consequences.

With enough such pressure applied, the union tops will step up to their role as the keepers of industrial peace. We witnessed this in the 1980s, when they left the miners to fight alone and when they reneged on their own commitment to non-compliance with the anti-trade union laws. The history of leadership and bureaucracy is a history of compromise and betrayal.

The pressure of a growing rank-and-filism may delay that betrayal in this instance, as the leaders figure out how to balance keeping enough people onside to keep their subs base against maintaining their place in the social order. But this will not give us much time. Contrary to the reformist left, I do not cling to the illusion that there is merely a "crisis of leadership" which needs to be fixed. Ultimately, the only fix is to leave those who claim to represent us behind before they sell us short. Even without Cable's new threat, the supposed "awkward squad" of union leaders could still derail and demobilise the entire anti-cuts movement by reaching a useless compromise in the current talks in Downing Street. Cable must know this, and his threat is just one extra notch of pressure to play nice.

At the same time, the notion that we can effectively fight the ruling class within the restrictions of the laws they make is once again falling apart before our eyes. PCS saw it when a court victory against Labour simply resulted in the Conservatives moving to force through a change in the law. Now, with the unions finding a way to have mass strikes even under the most restrictive labour laws in Europe, changes are once again mooted.

Two illusions which have provided the biggest obstacles to class struggle are dying before our eyes. One, the myth that what our movement lacks is leadership rather than the confidence to act for ourselves. The other, the idea that we can win within the confines of the law or where statute is restrictive we can reform it.

No doubt, a number of people on the left - not least the parties which offer themselves as vanguards - have a vested interest in reviving those illusions. For working class militants, on the other hand, there is a clear need to step over the dried-up carcasses of those ideas and push for a self-organised rank-and-file which puts solidarity far ahead of legalism. When we have that, Vince Cable's threats will lose all their power.