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Editorial – Fight for a General Strike

It’s no longer a question of if we need a general strike, but how can we get one.

As 2012 ends and a new year begins the economic, political and social crisis of capitalism continues and even deepens.

Two and a half million people are spending their mid-winter break with little cheer: jobless, broke and harassed until they stop claiming benefits. Young people are bearing the brunt of this crisis.

If the working class as a whole did not cause this crisis, then the youth most certainly are not to blame. Yet a million under-25s are not in education, employment or training. Now Chancellor Osborne wants to rob them of housing benefit, forcing many onto the streets or back into violent homes. And this is supposed to be the Big Society.

Real wages continue to plummet. TUC research has found that an average worker on £26,000 has lost £1,500 over the past three years alone. Supermarket prices for basic foodstuffs are rising steeply, while the big six utility companies have raised tariffs by 7 to 10 per cent.

Privatisation and cuts are the inevitable result of the Tories’ fragmentation of the health and education systems. Isolated and competing against each other, hospitals and schools are shedding jobs, restricting services or closing their doors.

Popular demand
So it was no surprise that over 150,000 workers converged on London on 20 October for the TUC’s march for A Future That Works, with significant numbers also assembling in Belfast and Glasgow.

The most popular slogans on the demo were those calling for a general strike. Earlier in the month the TUC Congress voted overwhelmingly to consider “the practicalities of a general strike”. Well, if this was their first public consultation exercise, the answer was an overwhelming “Yes”.

At the rally in Hyde Park, Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey electrified the huge crowd when he called for a vote: “Who here wants a general strike?” A forest of hands went up.

This indicates we are entering a new phase in the struggle.

Faced with the longest and deepest recession since the 1930s, millions of workers are daunted by the prospect of fighting back section by section. With 2.5 million unemployed ready to take your job, every sector of the economy in dire straits and the government demanding £99 billion of cuts, the chances of winning significant concessions by strike action – usually only for one day and well spaced out – at local or even national level looks increasingly daunting.

But the idea that we should do it all together looks like sheer common sense to increasing numbers. Being part of a huge social movement with all the unions, both public and private sector, involving the unemployed, students and welfare claimants, seems far more promising. Besides, when we are suffering a political attack, a political response – which is what a general strike is – is clearly appropriate.

So we should no longer ask, “Is the time right for a general strike?” but “How can we get one?”

Here’s five things we can all do to help bring a general strike closer.

1 In your workplace and your union branch, in your school or college, argue for a general strike. If you can, pass a resolution in your branch or student union in support of the general strike. Workers Power members have done this in a variety of unions and received enthusiastic support.

Draw up a petition to pass around. This will give you the opportunity to start a discussion, to identify and gather the details of those who agree, and demonstrate to others the groundswell of opinion rising in support.

Shop stewards and union branches can hold meetings to discuss the call for a general strike. Some are doing this on the European TUC’s day of action on 14 November. Students are planning to raise the question on and around the national demo on 21 November.

2 Put pressure on the union leaders. In Hyde Park, Mark Serwotka publicly called on union members to put their leaders under pressure, “including me” as he put it.

All members of the TUC General Council should demand that body votes on a general strike resolution – and votes “Yes”. Union leaderships should “ballot” their members, with a recommendation to vote in favour of such a strike.

Those unions already on board should launch a campaign to popularise the idea, with leaflets, posters and social media tools. If Len McCluskey and Mark Serwotka can tour the country when they want to get elected, then they can do so again to whip up support for a general strike.

3 Build local links. Join together all supporting union branches, put resolutions to trades councils, and link up with the anti-cuts groups, students, the unemployed, pensioners, disabled, anti-racists and other action groups – and form councils of action for a general strike.

Street stalls on Saturday high streets can reach out to those not yet in unions but angered by the cuts. Door-to-door leafleting on estates can likewise find new supporters and activists ready to campaign with us. We should consider holding local demos in the New Year against austerity and in support of a general strike.

4 Support all local and national disputes – strikes, occupations, and protests. Join the picket lines and discuss the call for a general strike.

Where possible, we should try and take solidarity action, whether this consists of raising money for strikers or refusing to cross picket lines. The point is to put solidarity back on the agenda of valid responses to the cuts.

5 Last but not least, we need to form a national campaign for a general strike. Unite the Resistance and the Coalition of Resistance both have national conferences in November, while the National Shop Stewards Network is holding regional gatherings. Let’s really unite!

They should all join forces to campaign for a general strike. It is no use hiding behind the excuse that they have “different policies” – a unity conference could debate and maybe resolve these positions. The point is that a real united front – rather than rival campaigns each controlled behind the scenes by a different socialist group – would attract far broader forces and be capable of more effective action.
New leadership
More important still, it is vital we do not rely on the TUC leaders to campaign for a general strike, let alone to lead one.

Either the right wing, relying on their lawyers’ advice, will block the left and refuse to call a strike, which is what outgoing general secretary Brendan Barber virtually said should be done, or they will find any pretext, such as a court injunction, to call it off. After all, this is how they got out of the public sector pensions dispute last winter.

Only the rank and file members, organised independently of all wings of the trade union bureaucracy, can fight for, organise and lead to victory a general strike.

And when we can do this, we can finally take our rightful place, shoulder to shoulder with our European sisters and brothers, in a continent-wide struggle not only to bring down the governments and EU institutions of austerity, but to get rid of this rotten capitalist system that puts profit for the tiny few above the needs of hundreds of millions.

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