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Is this our last chance to unite the resistance?

By Jeremy Dewar / 02 September 2013

David Cameron broke off his fourth summer holiday in an attempt to stampede parliament into supporting military action against Syria. But Ed Miliband, whom the Tories had taunted with being “weak”, turned on him and soon it was the Bullingdon boy who looked weak. So will Ed Miliband’s Commons triumph be followed up by Labour changing tack and supporting resistance to austerity? Not likely!

Labour

The party’s conference this month will hear reports from the policy review, headed by Jon Cruddas, a supporter of Blue Labour, the right wing faction that advocates discrimination against migrant workers, cutting off benefits for the long-term unemployed and the replacement of the welfare state with volunteer-run services in a move reminiscent of Cameron’s Big Society.

While the results of the review are not yet known, the conference session on benefits is entitled “Something for something”, a tacit acceptance of the Tory argument that the one million who cannot find work after a year are “scroungers” getting “something for nothing”.

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has made it clear that, if elected, Labour would keep to the Coalition’s planned cuts for at least two years – despite the party’s official rhetoric that the cuts are damaging the recovery.

Ed Miliband has failed to support any action against cuts and denounced the big strikes to defend pensions in 2011. He is setting out to reduce union influence by making union members opt into individual membership – a move leaders say will massively reduce Labour’s membership and income. This is all part of further eroding the working class character of the party.

Unions

Last year’s TUC passed a motion to consider the “practicalities of a general strike”. Whenever union members were consulted, they replied with a resounding “Yes” – notably last October in Hyde Park when Unite’s Len McCluskey called for a show of hands.

So where is the commitment today? Unite’s written response to the consultation says lamely, “It is not about setting a date for such a strike now,” and instead proposes a Jarrow-style hunger march and a “Carnival against the Cuts” next summer.

The words “general strike” do not get a mention on the order paper; the nearest we get are the usual calls for “coordinated strike action”, “civil disobedience” and “mass industrial action”.

Of course we support such motions and must do our best to see them implemented. But coordinated strikes, centred on multiple trade disputes in order to duck the anti-union laws, have inevitably ended with unions settling separately when the more right wing leaders pull the plug. That’s why the general strike remains a central slogan; it is the best way to launch a political attack on the government, bring it down and stop all the cuts.

The truth is the general strike motion embarrassed union leaders by last year. They want to forget it ever happened. Why? Because they do not believe that workers have the right to change government policy and bring the Coalition down – or rather, they fear the prospect of it.

From below

However, there are clear signs that workers are still prepared to fight to defend their jobs, living standards and dignity.

National strikes look likely in education, the fire brigade and the postal service. If we can coordinate these struggles – both nationally and locally – then we can deepen Cameron and Clegg’s hole and drive home our advantage.

Local strikes have already broken out over a number of issues. Postal workers across the South West have walked out over workload and victimisation, while strikes at Crown Post Offices are set to resume. Bakers at Hovis in Wigan are striking against zero hour contracts, and there are strikes against council pay cuts from Stirling to Brighton.

All these workers need active solidarity: no crossing picket lines and funds to encourage them to strike harder and for longer. Local anti-cuts groups and people’s assemblies can help provide that. By electing strike committees and demanding rank and file control of their disputes, workers can ensure they decide when to strike, for how long and whether any new offer is sufficient to call off their action.

If we can succeed in linking up disputes and building solidarity, we can put the general strike back on the agenda. But we need to do more than this. There is a deep crisis of leadership in the labour movement, political as well as industrial. Labour has shown that the Coalition can be beaten but we cannot rely on them to defend us against austerity.

That is why we need a new mass party of the working class, one that campaigns for:

• Mass strike action to bring down the coalition

• A rank and file movement to transform the unions

• People’s Assemblies in every town and city to coordinate and lead the resistance.

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