By Tim Hardy
No one can negotiate without the power to compel negotiation… To attempt to operate on a good-will rather than on a power basis would be to attempt something the world has not yet experienced.
Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals
We all know how meaningless the government’s listening exercises are.
Lansley held a listening exercise on the NHS – then ignored it and pushed ahead to open up our health service for privatisation as originally planned.
The coalition held a consultation on criminalising squatting – then when 90% of respondents said it was a bad idea, tore up the results and pushed the changes through – with full support from Labour – by tacking them onto another bill.
What kind of negotiations can you have when one party refuses to listen?
The coalition has no intention of honouring the contracts made with those who perform the most vital roles in our society, the public sector, but they are still scared.
The sneering millionaires in the cabinet have been dismissing strike action for months, lobbing insults from behind a carefully placed frontline of Liberal Democrat MPs, but that is just bravado.
As far as the coalition are concerned, the negotiations are a necessary pantomime to keep up a pretence of democracy. No wonder, Maude thought that strikes should be reduced to 15 minutes; to him and his colleagues, they should be a symbolic gesture, nothing more. A demonstration of the power of public sector workers terrifies them.
Even now the coalition are trying to use industrial action as an excuse to do what they were planning to do in the first place; tacitly admitting that the strikes have an effect even while their leader blusters and lies and pretends today’s actions were “a damp squib”.
The Tories would have us believe that the rich are different than you and me and for this reason should be given everything they need to further increase their wealth, from free labour to stack their shelves, through tax exemptions on their profits to massive bail outs when their risks don’t pay off.
Everything in our society that stands in the way of the profits of these few must be sacrificed: welfare, pensions, hospitals, rights, education. Two hundred years of social progress must be destroyed just to keep those that fund the Conservatives happy.
But behind the public school braying and jeering from the front benches, behind the constant reiteration of the gospel of capitalist realism by the BBC, is the nagging awareness that when workers withdraw their labour it exposes the real source of the wealth of the powerful and explodes the lie used to justify their special treatment, the lie that the super rich do not rely on anything beyond their own heroic willpower when in reality they are the biggest welfare queens around.
Behind the bullies’ swagger is fear: fear that the lies are beginning to look more and more transparent and that even the escalating, systematic abuse of power by the police to quell protest will not be enough to keep the people quiet forever.
Nobody ever wants to go on strike. But direct threats to their power are the only language the government ever understands. The coalition is never going to do anything out of the goodness of their hearts.
In an article that the Sun refused to run, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber wrote:
We know the strike will cause difficulties today, and we regret that. But it’s proved to be the only language the government understands.
I’ve been leading talks with ministers for months. But they were going nowhere. It’s only when we called a day of action that government started to move. Ministers should listen carefully today to their staff, and get stuck into trying to reach the fair negotiated settlement that unions want.
As always, most of the media are totally on-message, the Sun refusing to print something so reasonable, the rest repeating government propaganda without question.
Yet even in the face of this torrent of misinformation, the majority of people back the strikes today.
They understand that the Tories only serve their own corporate paymasters and recognise that a race to the bottom harms everyone.
Today is a step, like March 26, like June 30, towards people finding their voice again and realising that we are not helpless.
Ordinary decent people have had enough. Nobody is standing up for our interests while those who bankrupted the economy are still enjoying the high life. To negotiate takes power and while the few have the money, the many have the numbers. As long as we stand together, we cannot be defeated.