Tuesday, 20 December 2016
A Christmas of discontent
Back in the heady days of the late seventies we had the "Winter of Discontent" as trade unions rallied against the the then Labour government. Like many long haired & bearded youths of the time I marched with my comrades around the streets calling for the downfall of Callaghan. We all honestly thought that the road to socialism was beginning.
We got Margaret Thatcher.
The came the rise of the Labour left. like may Labour members I backed Michael Foot and called for Tony Benn for deputy leader, rallied against the witch-hunt of Militant and campaigned for a Socialist alternative.
We still got Margaret Thatcher.
Arthur Scargill led the miners in a great year long strike against the Tory government's policies on the mining industry. Like others I had miners staying in my home, ran collections. The struggle continued.
We were left with...well you get the picture.
Being radical when you are young is probably a fact of life. I always thought that the term young conservative was a contradiction in terms and yet there many such young conservatives toasting Thatcher.
Then came the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of Communism not only across Eastern Europe but in the Soviet Union itself. The masses overthrew not capitalism but socialism or at least what passed for it in the Stalinist countries.
The left called for renewed struggle but after the demise of the socialist countries still used the same Marxist jargon rejected so decisively by so many.
My years of being influenced by the left were coming to an end and a great weight was seemingly lifted off my shoulders as the world and my perception of it changed.
I like many of my contemporaries left socialism behind.
But that never me me a Tory, even Liberal. A lot of us dallied with the Greens but soon got bored as that party got corrupted by the left of a different and then similar sort.
The lessons of these times had to be learnt.
I changed from being a trade union militant to a trade union moderate recognising that the vanguardism of previous times was not just not wanted by either our members nor by the "class" in general. Unions had a role to play in the never ending conflict with both management & the government of the day, but the real desire of our members for a better deal and fair play as some employers and managers just took advantage.
Revolution? No thanks. We have families, mortgages and don't mind people making money as such just make sure they don't walk over others to do it. A better place in society yes, overthrowing capitalism. Leave it out.
Trade unions have changed since those times. I remain a trade unionist though my role has declined as I head towards retirement but in some small ways have made a small difference in some peoples lives. Without unions we would all be much more at risk.
As Christmas approaches disputes have broken out on the railways, in the Post Office and at airports. Each of these conflicts does have a legitimacy: safety, jobs and pay and rightly the people who work there should be supported. Workers do not generally want to strike and it's not as easy as it used to be no matter what the press tell you.
Yes some unions such as the civil service PCS have been hijacked by the far left but they have never managed to even get half their members out. Others like Unite are used more to back the failing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
However it is up to the members themselves without undue pressure from either the activist caste or the Tory press to decide their actions. Turnouts are low in votes that needs to change but even the current government seems reticent about changing union law given the fluctuating situation.
However we need not just strong unions but responsible ones that actually represent members negotiate and act responsibly. Sometimes their actions will effect the general public. That is the nature of the beast.
But lessons must be learnt from the past. We do not want another Thatcher.
That means change in the Labour Party too. The new generation are idealistic but misguided. They must grow up quicker than my generation did. Our futures depend on it.