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 Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    12 Plath. its 2012 not 1912. The justification for organised labour leverage is vs the owner class. In the public sector thats the tax payer. For FTSE 100 its our pensions. SME's are small/non unionised. Union membership is a small public sector rump. Politically motivated strikes are anti-democratic - most people arent in a union. Unions 'exert their influence over govt' via the labour party.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    8. feedbackloop businesses own the means of production, unionised labour don't. the difference is the obvious power inequality favouring the wealthy. no one likes strikes as everyone loses especially workers, but the only way to bring democracy and consensus is through giving employees rights. the super-rich exert their influence over governments, but it's workers who are the people, not the elite

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    If things have become so bad a union has to strike then they have every right to make that strike as damaging as possible no matter how embarrased it would make our politicians. After all, where is the leverage in taking action that has no effect?

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    The UK is in its twilight days our finest hour long past. Get used to the mediocrity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    @8. feedbackloop
    So the de-unionized last 30 plus years have not been socially damaging?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    3. Plath - whats the difference between unionised labour and a business cartel. The second is illegal whilst the first is a human right (apparently). If you are on the receiving end of either - it feels very much the same. The purpose of labour organisations is to excercise class leverage. Taken to extreme its socially damaging as those of us that lived through the 1970's will remember.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Ed Miliband should do well to reflect on how the Labour party came into existence. He is now doing what the Libdems used to do before they became closet Tories, sit on the fence and wait to see which way public opinion goes. Come the next general election people will not be looking for fence squatters, they will be looking for someone with leadership qualities to rebuild what's left of the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Unions should stick to protecting their members, I strongly support this and think they have an important role in reigning in the excesses and abuses of employers. They shouldn't however get involved in politics except when it affects their members interests, oh, hang on....God this is difficult.

  • 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.

  • 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 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 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 1.

    Exactly what is civil disobedience?


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