This week Ed Balls has ruffled some feathers on the issue of a general strike. It seemed as though he was broadly agreeing with the centre-right that the TU movement needed to mature.
Mr. Balls stated that if the unions were to strike, they would be falling into a trap set by George Osborne, created to blame the slowdown in the recovery on the strikes rather than the policies. These comments are not only extremely patronising, but loaded with more than a hint of populism.
The main motivation for stabbing the TU’s in the back is self-interest. General strikes are seen by politicians as an unpopular concept with the electorate and for Labour to be associated with these movements could mean a backlash against the party at the next election. The problem is therefore essentially one of cost vs benefit. Would a general strike be more conducive to ending these draconian cuts to the public sector?
Well, this is something that in theory must be taken at face value as an emancipatory action, an outpour of emotion and solidarity the likes of which have not been seen in the UK for nearly 90 years. The answer must therefore be a yes and that is due to the other side of this dichotomy. This side being, would a Labour government be prepared (or even want) to reverse the Con-Dem policies?
Essentially, the answer is a resounding no. Labour were prepared to cut, though in a more measured and sensible way, and in doing so would also have incurred the wrath of the unions that created the party. The union strikes are the last line of defence against the savage cuts, and completely necessary to show a united front amongst the workers of the UK. The public are not stupid. They know that these policies are going to hurt the poorest. Union strikes will not change that and if anything, could motivate former Lib-Dem voters or even Conservative voters to unite behind those who serve the country day in day out, the true heartbeat of the nation.
Understandably, the trade unions are upset with Labour. Balls does need to jump off of the fence and support the grassroots of the party, and show the electorate that there is a left leaning, viable opposition. Until he does so, he and Miliband are playing straight into the hands of Cameron and his argument that the Labour Party is under a weak leadership. Failure to do so will also confirm the pub talk favourite, that politicians are all the same and that there is no genuine difference between the three main parties.