London 2012 Olympics - if not strikes, then protests?
- 2 March 2012
- From the section UK Politics
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.