Off your knees, comrades

Trade union banners beside Parliament Square during demo
Trade union banners beside Parliament Square during demo © Donnacha DeLong

I’ve given a couple of talks to student occupations recently and I’ve reused a line John McDonnell used at an NUJ meeting recently. The trade union movement has been on its knees, the students are showing us how to stand up. They are an inspiration.

Many trade unionists have said similar things – in official statements like the NUJ National Executive did – or in person at events or meetings. But what are we seeing on the ground?

There were some signs of real solidarity between the trade unions and the student movement – there were a handful of union banners amongst yesterday’s demonstrators and members of the UCU, RMT and other unions got kettled with the students.

But it needs to be a lot bigger. Imagine how different it would have been if, at some stage during the day, a phalanx of FBU firefighters had come down Whitehall, with hundreds of CWU posties coming over Westminster Bridge. Maybe even some of the toughest POA members descending from Victoria Embankment and many, many more RMT members than there were (and there were RMT flags in evidence in a couple of places both inside and outside the kettle).

Union banners and flags later on outside the kettle on Whitehall
Union banners and flags later on outside the kettle on Whitehall © Donnacha DeLong

Maybe much of the media would report the whole thing in a more balanced way if there was an NUJ bloc of well-known journalists who were there in solidarity; not just working like most of us were. And how much better would the demo have been if PCS members in Parliament had come out demonstrating behind the main police line?

If we’re imaging, let’s go all the way and imagine URTU turning up in their trucks and driving up Millbank en masse (slowly, of course, I’m not suggesting they should run over the TSG).

The cops would find it far more difficult to recklessly block and beat protesters like they did yesterday if they were facing the assembled membership of the UK’s radical trade unions. Would they kettle firefighters and prison officers the same way they do students and school-kids?

Just expressing solidarity is not enough, comrades, next time we need to be there and make the product of my imagination a reality.

(Note: the above-mentioned unions and others are all members of the non-party affiliated Trade Union Co-Ordinating Group, other unions would also be welcomed!)


Author: Donnacha DeLong

Originally from Dublin, Ireland, Donnacha DeLong is an NUJ activist, journalist and online communications consultant with more than 20 years' professional experience.

8 thoughts on “Off your knees, comrades”

  1. That would have been bloody terrific! The union turnout was really paltry despite vocal support beforehand. There was one UNISON banner as well which I was glad to see but only a few people gathered around it. Come to that where was the IWW? I’m sure there where some wobs there, but no visible presence. Anyway let’s hope it won’t be too long before the scenario you’ve described becomes a reality.

  2. Too right. Pusillanimous.

    Donnacha, can the NUJ at least contact the TUC asap and object? I read on the Workers United blog at Red Pepper mag that TUC Congress voted for joint union action to support students 2 months ago but the Council said no.

    It’s a disgrace. That council should be sacked. What are trade unions for if not to stand shoulder to shoulder with the sons and daughters of Britain at a time like this? Must we send children out on the streets of Westminster to face trampling by horses and the horror of police beatings, children as young as 12, youngsters still in their teens, while we sit in warm rooms drawing up motions? Is that what trade union struggle is meant to be? Getting kids to do the dirty work?

    That’s not how Solidarity kicked the police state out of Poland. They got off their arses and if the gates were locked, they climbed over.They didn’t make their CHILDREN do their fighting for them while they read resolutions in comfort, in a warm room.

    Off your knees, indeed. This is the same old evil money-grabbing people-crushing Tory game, and we’re watching it happen and not lifting a finger to organise because the TUC Council said no. Cry shame.


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