Thursday, 30 June 2011

Miliband: Content Not Working (but not striking either)

Hundreds of thousands of public sector workers did not go to work today - instead they took to the picket lines and the streets to voice their fears about Government plans to cut pensions. It is just the first shots in what is likely to be a long struggle for the future of the public services much of the British population takes for granted to the extent that some won't miss them until they are gone.

I joined a rally in Huddersfield. My own union, Unison, was not striking and as someone working in the  voluntary sector, the dispute does not affect my employment or conditions, but it does affect the community I live in and the services I and others use. So showing support felt important, and it was good to know that not only Green Left and Green trade unionists were out around the country supporting the protests, but our party leader, Caroline Lucas, MP, joined picket lines in her Brighton constituency. "Fair pensions are worth fighting for," she declared yesterday.

A striking contrast indeed to Ed Miliband, the Great White Hope of the tattered remnants of Labour Party progressives. After a leadership campaign last summer in which he portrayed himself as a slightly-more-sort-of-left-of-centre-type-of-guy, Ed has flounced and floundered and finally flunked at the prospect of today's strikes. Ignoring the dreadful lies emanating from the Government about the alleged unsustainability of public sector pensions (the Hutton Report shows that their cost will decline in real terms), Ed declared "These strikes are wrong." He tried of course to slag the Government off as well, saying it has repeatedly acted provocatively and recklessly (Ed's words). Yet he still expects the unions to engage in what is clearly a farcical process of meaningless talks with a Government which has already decided on the outcome.

The Green Party leader was in somewhat less of a tangle. Rather than looking like a frightened rabbit caught in the headlights of the Tory Media, she simply declared her support and took part in the J30 events. While Ed flustered about how Clegg and Cameron would cope with having the kids at home for the day, Caroline Lucas acknowledged the inconvenience, but said:

"This isn’t something I do lightly. I regret the disruption caused by industrial action and think it must only be used in special circumstances – and would urge trade unions to work hard to ensure support from the wider public. Yet when teachers are being expected to pay 50% more in pension contributions, work longer and get less pension when they retire – and when negotiations are failing – targeted and considered action is clearly necessary."

Other prominent Greens also took part - with London Assembly members Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones (who is also London Mayoral candidate) joining the London march and hundreds of other party activists taking time to take part across the country.

Now is the moment for trade union movement (which was fundamental to Ed Miliband's election as Labour leader) to seriously ask itself if it really wants to persist with the shell that is Labour. It is a tired out husk, a brand rather than a belief. The thinning ranks of those with genuine socialist beliefs remain completely sidelined, as we saw when John McDonnell was barred from standing for the leadership last year via a nomination process that would have Putin salivating. Miliband offers a "choice" (for want of a better word) of a different set of managers to the Con Dems, not a different set of values.

The Green Party is a developing but in some respects still nascent force: it is better organised than ever before and has a wider range of values and policies than any of the other parties. What it still lacks in strategy, size and ideology it more than compensates for in its unity of purpose around social justice and environmental sustainability. And in leadership centred on conviction and values rather than soundbites, as we saw in the sharp contrast between the Labour and Green leaders during the last twenty four hours.

In the coming months, while Labour struggles to find a narrative that makes any sense, Greens, already gradually rising in the national opinion polls and at the local elections in May, have an opportunity to make their voices clear in favour not only of protest action, but in setting out the values of equality, justice and sustainability that are at the heart of both the Green Party and trade union movement. They are also values held by most ordinary people in our country. With new action planned for October, Ed's moment may have passed; but perhaps the Green one is finally coming.

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