Yesterday saw one of the first big strikes for about a year, as members of the PCS took action in what the union is promising will be an ongoing campaign of action. The picket lines I visited seemed quite mixed: some of them were fairly lively and well-attended, others not so much. The strike rally in town was so small and uninspiring, it actually managed to make the single day of action last May look good by comparison. And the leftist speeches were read straight off the same script we’ve been hearing at every anti-austerity event for years now: the same fucking promise that “today is just the beginning” that we heard on March 26 2011, and June 30 2011, and November 30 2011, and May 10 2012, and… how many beginnings is it possible to have?
And a glimpse at what the left end of the union bureaucracy have planned: national strike action by the teachers’ unions at the end of June (sound familiar?) and then further action planned “in the autumn term”. If I was a gambling man, I’d say that means late November. To be fair, the PCS are pledging an ongoing campaign of further action, including a half-day walkout in early April, but we’ve been here before, so I’ll believe in that further action when I see it, and not before.
Other than that, the union leaderships – by which I mean the most militant ones, Unison are far too busy making adverts selling themselves as a financial services provider to worry about anything like collective action – seem determined to play out the same old script as in 2011: a Big Day Out in March (TUC march then, PCS strike now). Fuck-all in April. Fuck-all in May. A Big Day Out in June (NUT and whoever else wants to go along with them both times). And then fuck-all again until we get one more Big Day Out in the autumn, swiftly followed by total capitulation.
Oh, and just to top off the retro vibe, I got given a leftist leaflet with the slogan “all unions should strike together against the cuts – TUC should name the date for 24 hour general strike!”, which really could have been recycled from March 2011.
The unions can be trusted to fight austerity about as much as the Labour Party can be trusted to oppose workfare. Luckily, it’s looking like the big issue for this year will be the bedroom tax, which has the potential for independent community campaigns of non-payment similar to those that brought down Thatcher. Those of us who are serious about wanting to fight austerity should make supporting these campaigns a big priority, and where necessary we should challenge Labour’s attempts to co-opt them. There are other struggles that deserve support, such as the ongoing week of action against workfare, which has already been successful in forcing Superdrug to pull out, and local campaigns against the victimisation of union activists – for instance, the successful campaign for the reinstatement of three unionists at London Metropolitan Uni, or the ongoing fights against the victimisation of three PCS reps across the country. But whatever we do, it’s vital that we have to be as independent as possible from the lumbering bureaucracies of “the labour movement”, otherwise we’ll just end up with yet more replays of the same old scene, as the union officials march their ever-dwindling armies out for a day and then back again.