How we can create an “All Together Movement for Change”
On Wednesday the phony war will be over and we will know the extent of the governments cuts programme.
The approach adopted by the coalition, for which it has no electoral mandate, represents much more than an attempt to restore the public finances and is being driven forward as an ideologically motivated attempt to re-cast the role of the state and the way that public services are provided.
At our Congress in September, trades unions and the TUC committed to opposing the cuts, not because unions are deficit deniers but because we think that the coalition programme will damage not revive the recovery; increase unemployment rather than create jobs and impact disproportionately on the vulnerable and least well off.
But not only are unions and the TUC opposing the cuts we are saying loud and clear that THERE IS ANOTHER WAY; that there is an alternative to the coalition scorched earth strategy; one that will both address the deficit AND grow the economy. We believe that the deficit can and should be addressed over a longer period of time than that proposed by the coalition. We believe that there should be a fairer balance between cuts in public services and taxation in reducing spending and increasing revenues. And we believe that those who caused the crisis in the first place, the banks, should make more of a contribution; a small ‘Robin Hood’ tax on bank transactions could bring in billions per year.
Just as significant a development at Congress was the way in which unions and the TUC set out how we would go about opposing the cuts and promoting the alternative. Within the TUC’s ‘All Together for Public Services’ campaign a clear emphasis is placed on joining service providers with service users – teachers with parents, lecturers and students, nurses with patients, carers with the cared for – to create out of a clear and existing community of interest a coalition against the cuts that is active nationally, regionally and locally. This approach echoed opinions expressed by myself and other TUC colleagues previously.
So what do unions and other progressive organisations have to do to actually create these alliances and turn an identification and acknowledgement of common cause or concern into an active and effective campaign force?
The first thing unions need to take into account is that these coalitions can be formed in and around a number of communities. As well as the obvious place based communities of people who live or work in the same geographical area, there are interest based communities of for example those using and/or providing public services and identity based communities of people with for example a shared faith or ethnicity.
Amanda Tattersall, an Australian academic and activist has researched a number of progressive power coalitions in the US, Canada and Australia. Her work provides unions and other progressive organisations in the UK with a set of guiding principles for building our own power coalitions that can achieve social and political change as well as strengthening the participating organisations.
The first principle is to go for quality not quantity with regard to the number of partners and resist the temptation to create coalitions that Tattersall describes as ‘a mile wide and an inch deep’. Too many partners increases the possibility that the coalition is united only by what it’s against rather than also what it’s for. In the context of the cuts, where at the moment most of the public regard them as necessary, advocating an alternative ‘better way’ will be essential.
Secondly, there has to be leadership commitment that is genuine and demonstrable. This includes national, local, community and workplace leaders who should take responsibility for building relationships across the coalition, developing strategy and decision making; ensuring that the coalition has both an air war and a ground war capability.
Thirdly, participants need to be careful to get the balance right between the coalition serving their own internal and external self interests and the wider public interest/community objective. For unions, this will involve developing a dual sword of justice and civic pillar role that reaches beyond the workplace and negotiating with partners what Tattersall calls ‘mutual self interest’ – the identification of discrete but shared interests. The campaign against Academies and the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme involving teaching unions and parents is proof that mutual self interest can be used to develop effective campaign coalitions here.
Finally, power coalition participants need to plan for the long term. The coalition government plans for the cuts programme to be implemented over the life of the current parliament so unions and partners need to create a campaign capability that can endure.
As my colleague at the TUC Nigel Stanley makes clear in his blog post over at STRONGER UNIONS’ sister blog Touchstone, public opinion on the cuts despite a general softening of support remains generally in favour. As the cuts become real I believe that this will change but unions and those with whom we have common cause need to help this process along and take advantage when soft support becomes hardening opposition by following the principles set out above to create a new All Together Movement for Change.