Sunday, 14 November 2010

Mark Serwotka: "occupation is a legitimate form of protest"

Today's Observer reports that Wednesday's Millbank protest by students 'fuelled belief on Labour's left and among unions that direct action will bring results'. The article - see HERE for the full version - quotes a number of trade unionists, NUS leaders, Labour leftwingers and protestors, including Unite's Len McCluskey and PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka (pictured).

'The issue of strikes and co-ordinated action has split the leading candidates in the election to become general secretary of Unite, the result of which will be announced next week. Whoever wins the post – arguably the most powerful in the history of UK trade unionism, following the merger of the Transport and General Workers Union and Amicus – will have a key role in determining how the entire union movement responds.

Les Bayliss, a moderate, argues that co-ordinated national strikes are not the answer. Instead he says there should be local, peaceful campaigns that will win public support and win the argument. "We need to box clever," he said.

His main rival, "Red" Len McCluskey, a former supporter of Militant in the 80s, has rather different views. "My experience is there is no such thing as an irresponsible strike. Workers take action because they genuinely feel there is nothing else they can do."

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said yesterday the anger shown by students was encouraging. "To me the fact that there were 50,000 students showed that people are not prepared to lie down and accept it."...

The TUC has been arguing in recent weeks about how to co-ordinate action, and has decided to hold a mass demonstration against the cuts on 26 March next year. But many in the movement believe public anger will erupt before that in many parts of the country.
Serwotka says it is not just about individual policies, or the effects on particular groups, but an anger about "politicians telling lies". He says he is against violence, but not against many of the tactics used by the students on Wednesday. "I do think that occupation is a legitimate form of protest," he says.

Recalling the epic struggle of shipyard workers on the Clyde in 1971, when plans to close the yard and axe 6,000 jobs were successfully thwarted, he said occupation had "a very proud history".

That kind of language suggests that last week's scenes are likely to become a more familiar sight than ministers would like to believe.'


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