Persistent shouts from activists demanded a “general strike” and to “name the day”. These were heard in the final plenary of the People’s Assembly in London, which was attended by 4,000 activists, as Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, was speaking. He deflected this pressure to Mark Serwotka of the PCS, who was speaking last and who supports a general strike, to deal with that question.
No wonder impatience is growing. On September 2012 the TUC Congress approved a motion from Prisoner Offices Association stating that: “The Congress accepts (…) taking coordinated action where possible with far reaching campaigns including the consideration and practicalities of a general strike.”
Most unions who voted for the motion have done nothing so far. For twelve months they have made speeches in a few meetings but have not sought to organise anyone who wants to fight for a general strike.
In June the national conference of Trade Union Council called for a lobby of the TUC Congress of 8 September to demand a general strike. The unions calling call for a general strike include the RMT, PCS, POA, BFAWU and others however not Unite nor Unison.
The People’s Assembly did agree to organise a national day of civil disobedience on 5 November. Unions behind the People’s Assembly include Unite and the teachers NUT.
All unions who support the 5 November actions should turn it into one of nationally co-ordinated strike and community action.
The NUT is organising a national strike day in the first and third weeks of November.
All strike actions should be co-ordinated with 5 November and in the evening Guy Fawkes can be replaced by the policies of the government and images of David Cameron.
The FBU, RMT and CWU are taking strike action now, either nationally or in a number of sections over cuts in jobs, wages, conditions and closures. Taking national action, and even local action, if it is strongly organised, can push employers back but without the united action of unions and communities the austerity policy of the government cannot be stopped.
On 22 July the Liverpool University UCU started a ballot for industrial action against attempt by management to impose a contract on all support workers without a maximum number of hours and without proper payment for over-time that is worked. They are using the threat to issue redundancies, to dismiss and then re-engage on the detrimental new contracts, to try to force through these changes.
This dispute is of national significance and if lost will show a green light to employers in education and elsewhere.
Any retreat by union leaders will lead to further and deeper attacks by employers.
The only way to unify the local and national disputes over public services, contracts, jobs and the fight against benefit cuts is with a general strike.
The attacks continue
Since the beginning of the world economic crisis in 2008, which erupted over the US mortgage subprime crisis, and especially since the sovereign debt crisis in Europe in 2010, national governments of the EU have imposed plans of unprecedented attacks on the workers’ living conditions by the destruction of the so called welfare state.
The economic crisis has turned into a social war; people face poverty, hunger and even death, as a consequence of catastrophic cuts on health systems and social services.
Britain is one of the main European imperialist countries and faces a savage onslaught from the coalition Con-Dem government, which is destroying our hard-won gains, public services and is strengthening anti-immigration policies. The Labour Party backs the austerity policies and pledge to continue them.
The Institute of Fiscal Studies states that “in April 2011, average real hourly wages were 4 percent lower than they were at the start of the recession in April 2008.”
To this we should add 730,000 public sector job losses. This is just what the capitalists are seeking, to make the workers and poor pay for the crisis. But it is just the beginning.
The IFS has pointed out that government spending plans will mean further cuts of £33 billion in the first three years of the next parliament.
Working class and youth want to fight
There is a need and a will to fight back and defeat this social war against the people, as was demonstrated when half a million people marched against austerity in 2011, by the two public sector mass strikes of 30 June and 30 November, and the explosions against police harassment, racism and unemployment in August 2011.
And it is clear by the fight against the Bedroom Tax leading to impressive local demonstrations.
There is also pressure for action from the union rank and file, who repudiate Labour’s policy of supporting the cuts, forcing union bureaucrats like Len McCluskey to argue that the Labour party should “give hope to people and something different from the austerity programme that the government is pursuing.”
McCluskey has his eyes on the 2015 election, but there is no time to lose, workers want to fight now.
The Union bureaucracy only negotiate
Unfortunately, the public sector general strike on 30 November 2011 was not followed up with more action because trade union leaders decided to negotiate with the government and postpone new general industrial actions.
But the leaders of the largest unions, Unite and Unison, only consider the practicalities of making deals with the capitalists and government, and in practice help them to manage the crisis – thus preventing the working class from decisive actions against the cuts.
It is time for a general strike
Workers now face challenge – how to go further than November 2012 and unite all the union and community struggles in one fight. This is the only way. If we continue fighting separately and divided the capitalists, the Con-Dem coalition and the Labour Party will feel more comfortable to manoeuvre, to divert and to defeat our demands. If there is a strong and firm sectorial fight, they can concede local demands, but are always able to maintain their whole plan of destruction of the welfare state and the workers’ rights.