Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Mark Serwotka at Ruskin College (05-02-13)

Serwotka at Ruskin:
The Coaliton - dangerous for

Many thanks to Mark Serwotka for taking the time out to speak to a large gathering of staff, students and visitors tonight, and to my colleague for Peter Dwyer (tutor in radical economics for organising the event). Although I am far too old and cynical for hero worship, Serwotka automatically gained a thumbs up from me when he kicked off his speech by stating how important that his talk, the trade union response to austerity, was taking place in the UK's historical 'college of the labour movement'.

Indeed, having just recently spoken at the infamous Westminster School (educator of the likes of Nick Clegg) Serwotka was clear that Ruskin was a place for the 'ideas and debates' which are key to the way we promote working class interests - welcome words indeed.

His talk whilst wide ranging was fascinating in that it fell naturally into much of the territory that Ruskin's international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS) programme falls. His analysis of the current failure of pockets trade union leadership to take a decisive position on the 2012 TUC motion on a general strike was a case in point. For some, he argued, the call for a general strike was an attack on democracy. I agreed with his own position, which is that much of the Coalition's policy is the actual site of anti-democratic practice, the academies programme being a pertinent illustration of this.

The sense of urgency behind the TUC motion is felt palpably my many in the movement as it reflects what Serwotka referred to as the 'perfect storm' of economic crisis, with the poor and unemployment at the sharpest end of its impact, and frontal assault on trade unionism via the attack, for example on facility time.

That PCS will take a principled lead here is without doubt, my major concern however is the leadership of the remainder of the movement. Those who follow such things will know that the unified trade union front on public sector pension reform dissipated soon after the November 2012 action when the government succeeded in fracturing this coalition by offering different trade unions different deals.

As the impact of Coalition policy widens and deepens however, it is becoming increasingly difficult for reactionary elements within UK trade unionism to maintain a mantle of 'no to austerity' without providing a definining sense of what this alternative is, and in what way this provides a radical alternative to government economic and social policy.

So, the next 12-18 months in the UK will be defining for UK trade unionism, and as the period when the build up to the next general election starts. By then we will also know what a general strike, if it comes, means in this context - it is all to play for.

In Solidarity


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