The coalition government is remarkably incompetent, but Cameron and Co are also remarkably good at propaganda. How on earth have they managed to create the absurd convention that workers and their trade unions should only go on strike once negotiations are over? This notion permeates most of the media comment I have seen, with Jon Soper and the like suggesting that the trade unions are "jumping the gun" and so on. Would they, for example, suggest that a boxer going into the ring should not strike an opponent with their left or right fist, or even not strike them at all until the final bell?
Trade unions are under a great disadvantage in disputes because they are driven to use their industrial power openly while governments and employers can hide behind the kind of rhetoric - and mendacity - that government ministers are employing. To suggest that workers should not strike while negotiations are ongoing - and subject to all kinds of delays and deceits - is barmy. The public sector unions need to demonstrate now their resolve and to show the government how much they can damage it in the future, or they might as well give up. They are also, as Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, has argued in the Guardian (Monday 28 November), delivering a "rebuke" to the government and the political class it represents for privileging the banks and hedge funds at the expense of the rest of us.
Cameron is plausible, but occasionally lets slip the sheer class arrogance and ignorance that his demeanour usually conceals. It may be his undoing. Last Saturday for example the Guardian ran a series of questions to him from a cast of notables, among them Polly Toynbee. She asked a reasonable question based on the IFS prediction that child poverty would rise steeply under the government's policies and what measures would he take to fulfil his pledge to reduce child poverty. He avoided the question in reply, showing no concern for the misery that would ensure among poor families, no appreciation of the scale of that misery, and ending with a tart ad feminem remark: "There are many things I can do in this life, but making Polly happy is not one of them". It is of course not a question of making one person happy, but thousands of children happier.
I shall be on the demonstrations tomorrow.