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 33.

    Quote 24
    "Why is nobody asking the question 'why hasn't Len McLuksy been arrested for insighting civil disobedience'?"

    Because despite your idiotic comment, Civil Disobedience is NOT Criminal it is disobeying civic rules and regulations, ie: Not paying your Council Tax, or Parking in a Bus Lane, those are Civil matters not criminal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    There seems to be the usual stratification of any issue into rich v. poor and waged v unwaged.

    If those who constantly carp about the rich paying 'their fair share' when that 1% already pay 24% of all taxes received did a little more homework they'd find the idle and the career benefits ilk cost the rest of us 58% of all government expenditure.

    When has a strike ever actually achieved results?

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    24. Nigel P "Why is nobody asking the question 'why hasn't Len McLuksy been arrested for insighting civil disobedience'?" because civil disobedience means peaceful protest. like demonstrations, sit-ins, etc. it's not the same as a riot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    The unions have for a long time been Britain's Enemy Within. McCluskey's comments merely confirm that their destructive nature has not changed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    There are interesting parallels on both sides. Rich bankers argue that they have a legal right to their huge salaries. Strikers argue that they have a legal right to strike.

    What people are fed up with is the moral infringements. Society needs to start thinking about benefits for all, not self interested interest groups.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    This guy would win a gold medal for being a moaning spiteful killjoy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    17.G4RRY "After 30 years of working I am yet to see one positive thing come out of a Union. This guy should be arrested and jailed just like some of the people on Facebook who suggested a riot" except people have the right to strike, but not to violently loot. frankly your views are fascist. what is it about the minimum wage, discrimination laws and safe working environments that you dislike?

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I get the impression that McCluskey wants to be part of the ruling elite.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    For far too long unions have bullied their way by being representative of the voice of the masses. However, the ballot numbers never seem to add up up to more than those that have political opposition on the basis of hatred, rather than reasoned debate

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Legally called stikes are one thing - calling for 'civil disobedience' is quite another.

    During the Croydon riots in August, some people called for 'civil disobedience' via social media sites. They were traced, arrested, charges and in some cases jailed.

    Why is nobody asking the question 'why hasn't Len McLuksy been arrested for insighting civil disobedience'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Why strike during the Olympics? To ensure maximum embarrassment for our nation. Not for the Tories. Not for the forces of capital. Not for the bankers. The Oylmpics is not their event.

    He should hang his head in shame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    13. feedbackloop not really, everyone obeys the money markets whether labour or tory. labour stopped listening to unions long ago and are just as guilty of union-busting laws which is why membership has fallen. i'm not union, but i believe in pulling people up, not racing to the bottom. the coalition itself is undemocratic; no one expected it. democracy allows for strikes as it's a universal right

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Walk around and press every pelican crossing button you come across.
    Find out what traffic choke points London Council has created (plenty of those I would venture!) and drive in a loop through those choke points.

    Oh how our councils do love their traffic choke points

    Our political elite created this transport misery to start with so lets leverage it to the max during the Olympics

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Perhaps Red Len could stage his own sit-in during the Olympics on one of the Needles off the Isle of Wight. It might have more impact if Alex Salmond came out in sympathy on Ailsa Craig. We'd tell them when the Olympics were over, wouldn't we?

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Can't understand the attitude that the Olympics are an opportunity to extort. If the strikes happen, it'll mean misery and missed events for lots of visitors to this country. Those visitors have not done anything to unite workers, why should they bear the brunt of the action?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    The rise in direct action is because noone is reporting the views of the many. The BMA's reasons why the NHS bill is not fut for purpose are out today - but not a peep here.

    I'm looking forwards to the Olympics, we've bough tickets and have a week off work to watch it. But if the cuts for the disabled and sabotage of the nhs continues I'll be out there protesting/ doing direct action as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    After 30 years of working I am yet to see one positive thing come out of a Union. This guy should be arrestedand jailed just like some of the people on Facebook who naively suggested a riot and ended up in jail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    A tube strike would be perfect
    Public sector workers should also strike, but don't stay at home.
    Get in your car and drive en-masse very slowly around the most critical parts of London
    Or get on a bike and hog all the bus lanes.

    Our wonderful politicians with their dogma created our miserable transport system, so lets give visitors a taste of what its really like to live in Tory Britain

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Feedbackloop 13
    A person in a large organisation is at a disadvantage Vs the organisation. A Union redresses that balance. I have expererienced this when a US based company tried to ride roughshod over our terms and conditions in a takeover the ONLY help came from the Union.

    In this situation a Govt without a mandate is dismantling a welfare state built up over years, who will defend us?


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