By most accounts yesterday went well (the Prime Minister begged to differ, but then in the words of supreme political commentator Mandy Rice-Davies, “Well he would, wouldn’t he?”). The strike generated a reasonable amount of support from the public who – unlike the Tories – seem to have gotten over the strikes of the 70s and 80s and accept that this strike was fair and that the Government’s proposals are not.
The question is what to do now. How can the unions build on that public support and transform it into a change of policy that makes a real difference to their members? What can they do now that doesn’t lose hard won public support, but keeps the pressure on the Government?
It is my sense, that what they should not do is threaten individual strikes by the disparate unions that came together yesterday. That would dilute the power of their message of unity. Yesterday, it was definitely the unions who were all in it together, not the Cabinet of unfeeling, unempathetic millionaires. Maintaining this, and building on it to form a longer-term alliance with the public, is their best hope of rattling Cameron enough to get what they want.
Doing this should not preclude more action days, but they should remain well planned, joint and focused affairs. They should again be well sign-posted to allow the public to plan around them, and they should be infrequent enough not to diminish their power and message, but frequent enough to keep up the pressure.
Yesterday’s marches were also superb. I was at a conference all day, but the images flooding onto my phone were of families and friends standing and marching together. The ‘Big Society’ were on the streets yesterday. But if the numbers start to diminish, that will be seen as a sign of weakness. Again careful planning should be made both to continue to keep in line with the public and keep the pressure on.
My advice would be that every union striking should consider that their next day of action should be a day of volunteering. Perhaps at one of the more than 2000 charities threatened by the Tory cuts. A day on the streets and a day in communities seems to be like a good way to win the publicity battle as well as keeping pressure on the negotiations. It will also help stymie some of the worst excesses of the reporting we have seen from the less respectable end of Fleet Street.
Unions are already well rooted in their communities. But a coordinated, national day of union giving could be the ideal way to finally dispel some of the myths of union “barons” and “pampered” workers the Tories like to perpetuate. It will have the same economic effect as any other strike, while also directing the resources of strikers to helping those equally left vulnerable by the Tories continued mishandling of the “recovery”.
Yesterday I was proud to be a union member. I fully support all my fellow members from Unite and all the unions in their struggle to protect their member’s rights from Osborne’s targeted tax. If we continue to fight while continuing to innovate, we could win. There remains power in a union. But we must harness it well and unleash it imaginatively.