I have a photograph back home in England taken in 1978. It is of a demonstration organised by local trade unions in the small town of Trowbridge in Wiltshire, South West England. I was barely seventeen years old at the time, but had just been introduced to Tony Benn, then a former Labour Cabinet Minister, who had tracked significantly to the Left during the 1970s. So there we are marching underneath a banner that reads ‘Wiltshire Against the Cuts’; Tony Benn, the then local Swindon MP, David Stoddart and myself. Next to us is a tall man with a beard who was the Liberal candidate for the upcoming General Election.
Those were the days. Days when Liberals marched with the Labour Party and the unions against Tory cuts.
This Saturday, what promises to be the biggest demonstration since the great miners strike of 1984/85 will take place in central London. Organised by the Trades Union Congress, it is being billed as a “March for the Alternative”. It will be the biggest show of strength yet of opposition to the Coalition Government’s cull of jobs and services. As such, it will get little media coverage unless of course a small group of anarchists try and hijack part of it.
I can’t remember whether Labour leader Ed Miliband is going to be speaking or not. I recall that he promised to, and then backtracked, and then promised to again. This early indecision has nothing to do with his attitude towards the trade unions, which is a positive one, but more a reaction to the deeply hostile attitude to trade unions and the working class in general, which pervades the media from the liberal Left to the Murdoch Right.
As far as much of the commentariat are concerned trade unions are ‘dinosaurs’ led by bloated General Secretaries. They are anachronistic and should not really have a role in public life. For many of the liberal Left commentators in the media, it is all the fault of the unions that they didn’t get their favourite, David Miliband, elected as Labour leader.
Hopefully the TUC is more savvy these days about social media, as the unions will have to spend the next few days thinking of ways to circumvent the inevitable news black out. It is also good to hear that the TUC isn’t just “against”, but is “for”. Now we need to see exactly what the trade union prescription is for public services, jobs and working people.
Of one thing we can be sure, the Labour Opposition’s official position of being opposed to the speed and scale of the cuts is hardly a rallying call. “We would have done it, but not so fast and deep”, has of course been the official mantra for months.
The truth is that we don’t need to be making many of these cuts at all. But since no one is prepared to take on the super-rich, or make those who avoid tax, pay, or ensure that the large corporations actually pay tax, this has become the de-fault position of the Labour Opposition.
It will be up to the TUC, and more particularly the hundreds of thousands who will march through London, to put some backbone into the Labour Party. And if the Labour Party doesn’t find its backbone soon, it will come to be seen as increasingly out of touch.