It felt good to be in central London, last Saturday, marching among tens of thousands of workers, with banners and placards, to demand decent wages for all.
It felt like, maybe, this could be the beginning of something - a new start. From now on, we would raise our heads up and no longer allow the bosses and their ministers to get away with murder, by riding roughshod all over our wages and conditions.
Judging from the huge numbers of police who were mobilised for the occasion, Osborne's austerity apparently doesn't apply to police overtime. But then, this can only mean that for Cameron, Osborne and Co, this march didn't feel good at all - which can't be a bad thing! The more they feel the potential power of our collective strength, the more we are likely to stop the rot and force concessions out of them and their capitalist masters.
From deliberate disorganisation....
But if this is to be the beginning of something, we're certainly going to have to shake our unions pretty hard to push them into action. The shambles of last week's public sector strikes shows why.
These strikes were totally disorganised. It was as if union leaders had "co-ordinated" their plans to ensure that the smallest possible numbers of workers would be taking action at any one time.
Nor were the different sections of workers called to take the same kind of action for the same demands. While FE lecturers and civil servants were called out for 24 hours, on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively, NHS workers were meant to strike for just 4 hours on Monday.
After this, they had "four days of work-to-rule" - meaning that they were instructed to take the breaks they are entitled to. Never mind that this is probably the most difficult form of industrial action to take in practice, when hospital wards are acutely short of staff and workers are constantly under pressure from management to rush around because, otherwise, patients would be left high and dry!
... To an outright sell-out
But the worst example of the union leaders' spinelessness during last week was the shameful cancellation by UNISON, UNITE and the GMB of the 24-hour strike which they had planned in local government for the Tuesday.
Just like the strike cancelled by the RMT union in the London Underground, the previous week, this one was cancelled under the pretext that "new proposals" had been made and needed to be "put to the membership". But, of course, as far as union leaders were concerned, cancelling these strikes didn't need to be "put to the membership". Never mind the efforts that members had made, to build them up, nor what they felt about being deprived of a chance to express their discontent! Never mind either, the fact that this was bound to weaken the week of action in the public sector, since local government workers made up its largest contingent. Obviously these union leaders have lost any idea of what working class solidarity means!
In the Underground, there had been no "new offer" on the table regarding the actual job cuts, which was what the cancelled strike was meant to be about. And what "new offer" justified this new mess in local government? It was a 2.2% increase, but from next May only, which is all that workers will get for 2 years! In other words, it was the same original cut in real pay, but packaged differently! Any union worth its salt would have swept it off of the table, as an insult to its members!
Organising to regain the ground lost
The working class can expect nothing from union leaders who are more concerned with their cosy partnerships with employers or with getting Miliband into Downing Street, than with defending our interests.
Indeed, the working class has long lost any control over its own unions. But it won't do, just to give up and leave a free hand to these entrenched leaders. Many sections of workers, like the postal service, have a proud record of unofficial action despite the reluctance of their union leaders, and even sometimes against their outright opposition. This is the tradition that we need to revive if we are to regain the ground lost as a result of the attacks of the capitalist class and their governments, be they ConDems today or Labour yesterday and tomorrow.
Neither the bosses nor these pliable union leaders can deprive us of the strength we have in our hands - our numbers and the fact that our labour, directly and indirectly, produces all the wealth in this society. But our collective strength needs to be organised and this should start now, to prepare for the future battles!