UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Spanish Lessons for UK trade unions?

Angie Goga writing for the LSE blog has nailed down the malaise affecting the leadership of trade unions in Spain. Like rabbits in head lights they are stunned by the violence and depth of the attack on workers and public services. The savagery of the austerity measures in Spain are destroying the lives of young workers - 50% (!) unemployment - and those who have lost their jobs see little left of the social security arrangements that might keep their families out of poverty:

Goga identifies the problems - the restructuring of the labour market that left unions behind, the clinging of the leadership to a servicing model that avoids any collective actions, the unions frustrated attempts to keep even a weak `social dialogue` model alive and lastly, the call for General Strikes. On the face of it, shouldn`t General Strikes be a decisive and positive move? It would seem on the surface that calls for one day general strikes should sweep away all the issues and mistakes of the previous decades of slow decline. After all we are in a fight for our lives!

This needs a deeper and more strategic response - based on our objective conditions. Many of the victims of austerity - as Goga points out - are not union members. Governments in Europe don`t appear to have been moved by the General Strikes called by unions.. They see them as protests, as unpopular and pointless to most people outside the union circles. Governments don`t like the protests and they unleash the forces of the state on protesters in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Turkey, but essentially they do not see them as the force that could topple them - simply because the unions continue to appear out of touch. They might fear the General Strike if it is combined with a strong movement of anger and frustration - remember the Arab Spring and Egypt? - and vulnerable to change from below. It's just that unions are not in a position to command forces on this scale anymore in most of Europe. So are strikes no longer an effective weapon?

Whilst Goga is right about the need for unions to put themselves in a different place with regard to young people, communities and politicians, she is however too quick to write off the strike weapon. Mass strikes, coordinated and agreed, that hurt the levers of Government rather than the public, are what we need to strive to achieve. Combined with wider social forces then that might create a social crisis for the austerity parties in the UK. That is a different call for a one day national protest strike. We cannot deliver an ongoing General Strike on the scale that would overthrow the Government in the Egypt style.

The action in Spain appears demonstrates that the Government can ignore the General Strike and the marches. Do we blame the union leaders? Do we blame the members?

So rather than General Strike - our call should be more strikes, more strikes together around issues that are in the workplace. To win our campaign to defend the NHS will take more than coalition campaigns. It will need action on specific changes, a hospital closure, a privatisation, redundancies. This is the democracy and hopefully the wisdom of the union. Leading members is not the same as running ahead of them. Strike in strength where we can with the aim of winning. Success breeds success. Goga`s article is a very good summary of where we are not just in Spain but where we could end up in the UK if we follow the General Strike call at this stage. There is much to be done comrades!