Whenever national strikes have been threatened in this century, ears have been pricked to detect the distant echoes of those in the last one – especially now that there is the prospect of industrial struggle against a Conservative government.‘Industrial’? No, no, Donald, that’s not quite the case here.
None of the threatened strikes are coming from coal miners and the like, are they? They are coming from the public sector.
Some Tory MPs, young enough to have been at primary school during the epic confrontation between Margaret Thatcher and Arthur Scargill's miners 27 years ago, must be asking themselves in irritation: didn't she see off all this for good?Yes, she did. Many new rules were brought in to halt the sort of chicanery and secondary picketing and intimidation that we saw in the miner's strike.
From Peterloo to the poll tax riots, the resilience of the normally phlegmatic Briton has always had its limits. The territory is uncharted.Yes, it has. But what 'ordinary Briton' are we talking about here?
European anti-austerity strikes, such as the one called for yesterday in Greece, could catch on.They could, it's always possible. But I can't quite see it myself. We aren't Greeks. We don't do that sort of thing...
But neither side should assume the unions will be the blunt instrument that forces the Government to change course.He's hit on something here.
… those of us who covered the big national public sector strikes of the 1970s and 80s can remember only a handful that were unequivocally successful, such as the miners in 1974 and the firemen in the long cold winter of 1977-78.And the reasons why are obvious:
As both groups relied, in the face of real physical danger, on an unusually high degree of mutual aid and dependence in their working lives, they had no problem finding the same solidarity when on strike – whether in sometimes violent run-ins with the police, picketing in extreme weather, or facing financial hardship. Both groups had the support not only of other trade unionists but – to some extent – of the wider public.As he points out, that is emphatically not going to be the case this time round:
Whether that last will be as easy to sustain among parents, patients and others hit by the stoppages now being planned by the unions in already hard-pressed services remains to be seen.I don't think it will. The most successful strikes are those that resonate with the public, that call on that great British sense of 'fairness'. These strikes aren't going to do that.
Because they are emphatically NOT about 'fairness', but rather, its exact opposite:
If the most imminent stoppages are about preserving public service pensions intact, they may not be the most popular cause among those who don't work in the public services. If they are against job cuts, reduced services and the Government's management of the economy, can they stay the distance?Are those 'job cuts' also going to be as unpopular as he supposes, though?
Did this strike have the public thinking 'Gosh, we can't have this. Such vital services!' or 'Who the hell are these people and why are we employing them in the first place?'..?
Interesting times ahead...