London 2012 Olympics - if not strikes, then protests?


Mirror, mirror on the wall - who's the strongest of them all?

Re-read the whole of the Guardian's excellent interview with Unite's Len McCluskey and that's the question you sense he's asking.

The headlines understandably focussed on his musings about strikes during the Olympics.

The interview as a whole, though, reflects not the strength of the leader of Britain's biggest union but his angsting about his relative weakness.

It combined familiar frustration with the legal constraints on unions, with admiration for protest movements like UK Uncut, Right to Work and Occupy.

"Direct action is a fantastic thing. It is becoming the hallmark of this world that we are living in, people coming out and taking direct action.

"Look at UK Uncut... I'm amazed and delighted at the type of action we've seen from the students.

"We've got all these companies not paying taxes, and UK Uncut - a bunch of young people - said this is ridiculous, we are going to go and protest.

"Now they have a network where they can bring it about at the snap of a finger."

Unite has already linked up with UK Uncut and Right to Work. Perhaps we were all focusing on the wrong question yesterday.

McCluskey may have been musing less about strikes during the Olympics - no doubt the bus drivers he represents will, as the tube and train drivers have done, manage to secure some sort of Olympic "bonus" - and more about protests.

"People have to understand that we are fighting for our heritage here. Our parents and our grandparents, having defeated fascism in Europe, came back determined to build a land fit for heroes.

"They gave us the welfare state, the National Health Service, universal education. All of that is being attacked.

"I, for one, am not prepared to stand by and have my children or grandchildren say to me: 'What did you do when this was being taken away from us?' When you say 'what can we do?' and (ask me about)... the likes of the Olympics, I'm calling upon the general public to engage in civil disobedience... if there is a protest, then the purpose of protest is to bring your grievances to the attention of as many people as possible".

Ed Miliband was swift to condemn McCluskey's call for strikes during the Olympics yesterday. So too were MPs close to Unite.

How will they react if Unite joins forces with protest movements to disrupt the Olympics or, at least, to ensure that visitors to the UK this summer do not simply come away with memories of sport, the Union Jack and red buses?

PS. There was an interesting discussion on this very subject on the Today programme this morning with Labour MP John McDonnell and my old colleague and veteran union watcher Nicholas Jones.

Nick Robinson, Political editor Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Exactly what is civil disobedience?

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Ah, what infallible logic - Hosting the Olympics was a bad idea so let's strike and make it worse!

    On a separate note, people protesting against the Olympics are missing the point. The problem is not hosting the Olympics, it is hosting them with an intention to outdo all previous Olympics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    everyone has the right to withdraw their labour. according to the United Nation's International Bill of Human Rights. i support my fellow workers. we shouldn't let the government tear down people's standard of living or sow division between workers for the benefit of businesses and the wealthy. everyone deserves a job and a living wage. as members of society the rich should pay their fair share!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    When there is no longer a mainstream political party promoting a fundamentally different political view to the establishment's, the only way of expressing your dissatisfaction with life in Britain today is through protest and, ultimately, civil disobedience.

    It was civil disobedience that brought about much social change in this country against the interests of the establishment

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    The continued homogenization of the major political parties is likely to have ramifications in the future. As people become more and more disenfranchised with attacks on the NHS, the Welfare State and local services, public support may ebb towards smaller, more radical parties which could be potentially catastrophic. The Unions could play an important part to halt this but they'll need to adapt.


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