Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Let Gove whinge, this dispute should be militant

I hadn't been planning to return to Lisa Ansell after my post on her attitude to the word "scab." Some ideological chasms cannot be breached, and some liberals - though she rejects the label - aren't for turning. Still, her latest post on tomorrow's strike action provides a good excuse to make a point.

She is responding to the fact that Michael Gove has spoken out against militants "itching for a fight." However, whilst there are some valid points to be made about how Gove is framing this dispute - which I will come to - she chooses instead to argue that "the left" (as she dubs it) framing the action as militant will only "undermine action of a couple of million people." In essence, she sees the same problem as in the "scab" debate - dinosaur leftists trying to hijack a protest in the name of social democratic fairness.

However, to refer to militancy as "bollocks" which will undermine the strike misses the point entirely. As does the notion she espouses elsewhere that this is about sending "a message" because taking strike action "is one of the last ways to affect democracy." This only serves to reduce the strike to a protest, at which point we might as well keep the day's pay and do an A to B march instead.

Aside from anything else, the very point of a strike is that it is disruptive direct action. It is the act of workers exercising their economic power and shutting down production, the outcome of the dispute hinging on the balance of power between the strikers and the bosses using scabs to keep the wheels turning. This isn't a matter of opinion, but basic economics. Thus, when he says that those striking want schools closed and the inconvenience and disruption that goes with it, he is objectively correct.

Where he is wrong is in saying that it is the union bosses who are "itching for a fight." As I've written elsewhere, though they talk tough now the leaders of the trade unions aren't here by choice - it was the anger and, yes, militancy of their members that brought them to this point. As soon as the trade union leadership can get away with making a deal without provoking too much of a backlash, they will. Until then, they'll keep pumping out the rhetoric in order to maintain the pretence that they are anywhere approaching militant. So rather than "none of Union bosess mentioned" framing the fight as militant, "for good reason," they all have - and falsely.

Ansell will no doubt take issue with my suggestion that it is trade union members who are being militant here. However, bear in mind that militant means being combative in support of a cause, and that she herself admits that strike ballots came "after a year of their members begging" and that "many have fought and waited for this action." That, to me, implies a militant membership demanding that the unions put up a fight.

And far from undermining the struggle, such militancy is a necessity if we are to win it. I have previously detailed what comes next if the government win this battle, and god knows that the slow and lumbering response of the union bureaucracy has failed to stop the wheels turning - whilst militants such as the Guildhall cleaners who took wildcat strike action and the Sparks who've outflanked their own union from below have been much more effective. If that's just "bollocks" which will undermine us, then sign me up for being undermined.

We cannot vote away these attacks on the working class. Protest marches and "sending a message" may rally people but it doesn't hurt the state or the bosses. We need massive and continued disruption by broad sections of the working class if we're going to get anywhere. So instead of being ashamed and conceding the word to the likes of Michael Gove, let's be proud of our militancy and embrace it. Hell, let's demand more.