The TUC trade union congress meets from this weekend in the context of an onslaught of cuts from the Tory government. The key question it faces is how to respond to government attacks.
And the signs are not great. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber told Director, the magazine of the bosses’ Institute of Directors, about his approach to the government.
He explained, “My hope is for genuine engagement with unions. It is important how decisions are made as well as what decisions are made.”
He insists that striking is a last resort.
“A strike is when industrial relations have failed. The generality of industrial relations is people working together constructively so a strike is not something to take lightly.
“I prefer to see problems resolved without the need for difficult clashes because they do damage to everybody.”
On the other hand, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said last weekend, “This is a clear resounding message.
“We will not tolerate the attacks on our public services—we will unite and fight to defend them.”
Which is all well and good, but begs the simple question—when?
The TUC is expected to call a national demonstration against cuts in the spring. But the cuts will have hit hard long before then.
There is a war going on but far too often, it feels like only the other side is actually fighting.
There are some small signs of life. In the run-up to the spending review, due on 20 October, the TUC and the Unite union are holding a rally in Westminster Central Hall on Tuesday 19 October.
The North West TUC has a lobby of the Liberal Democrats conference.
But there needs to be an urgent shift to meet the scale of the onslaught against public services by the government.
That means building organisation on the ground to increase the pressure on the union leaders to call action.
And it means being ready to act independently if they won’t.
The closing of the London Underground by tube workers this week shows the potential to fightback.
There is a real opportunity to organise workers, campaigners, students and pensioners together into serious resistance against the cuts.
A key date in this process is the Right to Work protest at the Tory party conference on Sunday 3 October.
A large angry demonstration can increase the pressure on union leaders to call the action we need.
NSSN lobby of TUC general council, Sunday 12 September, 12 noon, Manchester Central Convention Complex. Details www.shopstewards.net