London Olympics – a time for union action?

CWU Youth Chair, Ryan Case argues workers must understand that our rights are more precious than any sporting event
by - 12th March 2012, 17.13 BST

This summer will see the Olympics come to London for the first time since 1948.

Obviously, things have progressed since that time, but the backdrop is similar – both Olympics are in the middle of a time of austerity.

In 1948, London was still reeling from the effects of the Second World War. This year, the UK is reeling from the ongoing effects of the banking crisis and now the Tory austerity cuts.

The Government is keen for the world to see that London is a vibrant city, with opportunity and a strong future.  We often hear how these Olympics will showcase the nation.

But something’s missing.

There’s nothing highlighting to the world the very real pain being felt by millions across the country.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey recently made a comment which has been picked up by the media.  In that Len said that the Olympic would be an opportunity for the Unions to raise the profile of their message by holding action during that time.

Unsurprisingly this was immediately condemned by the press and the government.  In fact, some people called him a traitor and said he should be deported.

They then added that it’s a shame that we don’t have an empire still so we could do that.

But, why does this make him a traitor?  Should we treat the Olympics as any different to anything else?

Unions exist to further the rights and terms and conditions of the workers that they represent.  At the present moment in time the Olympics provide the unions with a different way of achieving their goal.

I’m sure that there are many union members who will be attending the Olympics, but I’m sure they’d prefer to maintain or improve their working rights, than have a few weeks of sport.

At the same time, private companies are using the Olympics to further their goals.  Massive sponsorship deals are resulting in millions of pounds worth of revenue for them.  Why can’t the workers benefit too?

And, this isn’t the first time that union activity has resulted in claims of treason.

During the Falklands War between April and June 1982, there was industrial action by the ACTT Union.  This time though it was their general secretary Alan Sapper who was accused of being a traitor.  The anti-war stance of the unions and the strike at the time were portrayed by the media to be a stance against the country.

Far from it, they were purely attempting to secure their jobs against an employer (the government’s Central Office of Information) which before the war had threatened them with redundancies.

So, as much as the media will scare people into thinking that any action would be wrong for the country, the media and the workers should understand that our rights are more precious than any two week sporting event – no matter how important that is.

This article was first published on the CWU Youth website http://www.cwuyouth.org/view-blog.html?blog_id=274