Within the trade union and labour movement, we know that this Government is busy doing everything it can to wreck the country. Ok, they may not see it like that but from where I’m sitting there is no other explanation for their unashamed attacks on the NHS, employment rights, comprehensive education, pensions, the list could go on.
But sitting in our red-flag-flying-fortresses recognising this government for what it is doesn’t achieve anything. It doesn’t stop them in their tracks, doesn’t stop the stealth privatisation of the NHS, doesn’t stop people who have worked for a company for 729 days from being dismissed with no explanation given, and doesn’t stop pensioners having to work until they drop.
The reality is that there simply aren’t enough of us for that. The Labour Party has almost 200,000 members and there are around 6.4 million in the wider trade union movement (with, one would hope, significant overlap between those two). Compare this with a voting public of over 45 million, of which over 17 million voted for the coalition parties.
#Oct20 needs to be about reaching out to everyone. Not just union members and their families. As long as we can be pigeonholed by the press and this government as rabid, out of touch revolutionaries, we will never win the popular argument.
But it is important to note that in terms of the popular argument, we are making progress. Brendan Caffrey talked about some interesting improvements in the public’s perceptions of trade unions from the British Social Attitudes Survey in his blog for UnionHome on Tuesday. If our movement is to grow in terms of members and influence, we need these trends to continue.
Like many of you, I was at the #March26. What really moved me was not the sheer number of people, although that was staggering, but the breadth of people who were there. Standing in Hyde Park at the end of the March as people continued to stream in past me, I saw trade union stalwarts, grandparents with their grandchildren, young groups of friends, and a vicar leading a church group. It meant something to be part of this.
But we’re in danger of killing off this nascent consensus that the Coalition’s course of action is a bad one. Certain elements within our movement, emboldened by recent progress, are seeking to accelerate the movement’s action. Whilst talks of a general strike may play well with those who have the loudest voices amongst the union membership, we need to remember that if the movement as a whole is going to succeed, we must not just be talking to ourselves, but articulating our message of a fairer future with growth boosting policies and meaningful investment at its heart to the wider public.
The media are waiting to pounce. Their cardboard cut-out clichés of industrial strife and trade union barons who no longer exist are ready to fill the front pages. Are significant sections of the media likely to be against us regardless of what we actually do? Of course, but we should at least make their lies about us being unrepresentative of society as hollow as possible.
As I said near the beginning, numbers are not on our side, but that is changing. #Oct20 gives us in the trade union movement another opportunity to tell people that there is an alternative to the age of austerity we are sinking in to; to show that we are speaking for all workers in this country; to stand up for all those struggling because of the policies of this Coalition. It gives us the opportunity to speak indirectly with millions of potential members, showing that who we are, what we say, and what we do are relevant to their lives.
This was also posted at UnionHome