Another Winter of Discontent? Unlikely
For more than 30 years, talk of strike action at the TUC Conference has been greeted by headlines warning about a repeat of the Winter of Discontent.
For more than 30 years, those warnings have proved to be wrong.
This year, they are likely to be proved wrong again.
Unions were stronger 30 years ago
The Winter of Discontent - in 1978/9 - was significant not because it was the high point for days lost due to strikes nor even because it was the only time the dead were left unburied thanks to strike action. It mattered because it triggered a shift in public attitudes to the trade unions which contributed to the election of a Tory government committed to using the law to limit union power.
Voters observed that the relationship between a Labour government and the unions had broken down. The consequences were both visible and distressing - not just those unburied bodies in Liverpool but rubbish lying uncollected in streets elsewhere. All this came after governments of both left and right had tried and largely failed to limit union power.
This set of circumstances is very unlikely to be repeated. The unions are weaker, the laws limiting their actions much stronger and the desire for that style of confrontation is simply not there.
The rhetoric this morning at the TUC was robust - dubbing the government's planned cuts "obscene", "reckless" and "lunacy" and pledging the "fight of our lives" against a "demolition government". However, the plans of most unions are, so far at least, much more cautious. Most union leaders know that they will only win a ballot for strike action if their own members' pay and conditions are directly threatened. They know that their enemies would love to portray the battle ahead as one between unions and the people rather than the unions and the people standing up to the government. That's why the TUC is talking of building a coalition against the cuts in which they hope people will recognise that, in David Cameron's phrase "we are all in this together".
For now ministers are desperate to sound conciliatory, promising to consult and work with union leaders who are expecting to meet both the Chancellor and the Prime Minister in the next few weeks.
What the coalition should fear is not another Winter of Discontent (capital "W" and capital "D") but a winter in which unions, Labour under new leadership and those who fear the effect on their lives and livelihoods form their own coalition against the cuts.