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Our battle plan to beat the Tories

THE TORIES are preparing for a wave of strike action – they are starting to reveal key elements of their plan to break our unions’ resistance to the cuts, writes Richard Brenner


First before Christmas the Tory press revealed that minister Francis Maude heads a secret cabinet committee to prevent a general strike and break it if it happens. Then Lib Dem traitor Vince Cable dared to threaten the GMB union, at its conference, with a new set of anti-union laws if workers use our right to strike. Then in the midst of negotiations over pensions, the government dropped a bombshell. In a calculated insult Lib Dem Danny Alexander announced the government will force men to work three more years and women eight more, and will reduce the value of pensions and hike employee contributions. Not to be outdone, Education Secretary Michael Gove appealed to parents to break the teachers’ strike by crossing picket lines.

Key elements of the Tory plan become clear. Threaten legal restrictions and up the ante in negotiations to frighten union leaders into backing down. And, if we go ahead, then mount a scabbing operation, turning people against one another to try to weaken workers’ resolve.

Miliband’s cowardice
Labour leader Ed Miliband has now issued a disgraceful statement against the strike action on 30 June. Despite being elected Labour leader only thanks to trade union votes, Miliband says the 30 June strike shouldn’t happen, because “I don’t think the argument on public sector pensions has yet been got across”.

What a nerve. He’s done nothing to help the unions explain why the government’s attack on pensions is unjust. And he’s done nothing to back the most important argument – that all the cuts are unnecessary, that all of them are designed to make the working class pay the price for the crisis, and that the bankers and the rich could be forced to pay, not the workers and the poor. On the contrary he and his shadow chancellor Ed Balls say they won’t oppose all the cuts and would make cuts themselves if in power, just more slowly, to clear the deficit within eight years, not four.

Waiting for Miliband and Balls to win an election would be a fatal strategy. Even if they won in three years’ time, it will be over the ruins of our pensions, of affordable higher education, of the NHS and of another 1.3 million public and private sector jobs. And of course, if the Tories win and break our unions in the process like Thatcher did, there’s no guarantee Labour would win the next election anyway. The labour movement would be demoralised and the Tories could get in for a further one or even two terms like in the 80s.

Fighting talk
No wonder anger is growing so much in the workplace and across the union movement. We can see that in the huge majorities for strike action on 30 June. The PCS has adopted a motion calling for a one-day general strike. And the CWU adopted the call at their conference in May.

So union leaders are having to speak out and sound more militant. Admittedly TUC general secretary Brendan Barber still sounds for all the world as if he’s dealing with a minor inconvenience rather than a historic assault on the living standards of his seven million members. But those union leaders who unlike Barber are actually elected by workers are feeling the pressure.

Dave Prentis, the leader of public sector giant Unison, was until recently the most reluctant of the union leaders to call for action. He said on 26 March we should just ‘march in our thousands and vote in our millions’, and that was his sole strategy. But now, just before his union’s annual conference, he changed tack.

Prentis called for an ‘unprecedented’ wave of strikes, referring to the general strike of 1926 and the miners’ strike, but added that unlike the miners “we are going to win”. He criticised one-day strikes because they are ‘not enough’ to force governments to back down.

What should militants make of this? On the one hand Prentis is right – one-day strikes are not enough. Just look at France and Greece – they’ve held 10 general strikes in Greece over the last 12 months but without staying out indefinitely, the government has clung to power.

On the other hand, Prentis’ rhetoric is hypocritical. He was criticising one-day strikes as if he wants to be more radical – but in fact it’s probably an excuse given his union is not joining the tremendous day of action on 30 June.

So let’s hold him to the statement – let’s hold all the union leaders to any militant speeches they make. High on rhetoric and low on promises as they are, let’s raise the call loud and clear: Union Leaders, TUC: Call a General Strike to Bring Down the Tories.

Pressure from below
Some will say, ‘why call on those sell-outs to act?’ To them we reply, millions of workers still trust their leaders and are mobilised by them, as we saw on 26 March. To fail to call on the leaders to act is to let them off the hook.

Others say we don’t need a general strike because we can make do with coordinated actions. This means unions all ballot around their own legal disputes and strike at the same time, without taking solidarity action with other workers which is against the law.

Sounds good – until you look at it more closely. If our disputes are not united, if we don’t say ‘we’ll all stay out until we all win’, then the Tories and employers can settle with one section to take them off the battlefield. And in fact this is what has happened with the tubeworkers just before 30 June. In the face of three days of threatened action including 30 June, Transport for London backed down in a dispute over victimisation of union members. A great example that the threat of strike action can win results. But also an example of how the bosses can concede to one section temporarily to weaken coordinated action.

Others say the slogan for a general strike should not be raised because workers ‘are not ready’. First answer: ‘how do you know?’ Unless you campaign for it, you’ll never find out.

But the second answer is the killer. ‘Without a general strike we won’t win.’ So it’s time for militants and socialists to stop debating whether we need a general strike, or is the working class ready for the slogan, or ‘I’d love one, but…’, or what if, what if and what if? There is only one question left about the general strike worth discussing and that is: how are we going to get one?

We need to raise the call for union leaders to put their money where their mouths are and call a general strike. But we’d be mad if we waited for them to do it. And even if they did, they could always sell it out after a few days – like the TUC did in 1926.

So we need to move fast to organise the strongest possible coordinations of workers across the unions and across the regions so that we can take control of the action, so we can push forward to a general strike and so we can control it until the Coalition and their cuts lie shattered at our feet.
One way is to convene mass meetings in every city and elect coordinating committees at them. Another could be to occupy the squares like in Spain and Greece and use mass assemblies to elect our own action councils. Still another way might be to federate all the local anticuts committees that have sprung up across the country into a great democratic All-Britain Anticuts Federation. There are many ways, but one way or another, this must be the perspective if we are to have a chance of winning.

Finally, we need an army of militant workers and youth committed to that perspective and out there agitating for it in every workplace, every school, every college, every estate, and every campaigning group. That means political agitation, and for that we need a political party. Every union branch, every campaign, every socialist organisation that wants this to happen needs to come together. We need a great political convention to draw up, debate out and adopt an action programme to beat the cuts and then form a New Anticapitalist Party to fight for it.

Forming a new party is crucial, not just to help us organise our resistance better, but to provide a political alternative to the mainstream pro-capitalist parties, who are busy arguing over how deep the cuts should be, not whether we should have them at all. If you agree with these perspectives and ideas then you should get organised and join Workers Power.

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