United walkouts by millions of workers could stop the government’s attacks—so how do we get them?
Massive numbers of workers are set to come together to march this weekend.
As they stream through London and Glasgow they will show the power workers have to take on the Tories’ austerity. But afterwards many will ask—where do we go from here?
Support for a general strike is now widespread. Scores of union branches and many national union conferences have passed motions calling for one.
This pressure led to the TUC conference passing support for a motion to consider the practicalities of organising a general strike. At a Unite the Resistance meeting in London on Monday of this week, workers came together to discuss the case for a general strike.
Frank Morris, a blacklisted electrician, told Socialist Worker, “We need a general strike now—we’ve been running away for too long. The more we run, the more they attack us. Sometimes it’s better to just turn round, and see what they’ve really got.”
Misha, a Unison union member (pc) and nurse, argued against the pressure put on health workers not to strike. He said, “Each time we have raised the possibility of strikes, union leaders as well as managers have said things like ‘But what if it was your mother?’
“Health workers should join a general strike to defend everyone’s mother, father, brother and sister from this government’s attacks.”
The magnificent strike on 30 November last year gave a glimpse of the power workers have, when taking mass action together. Strikes like this can drive the Tories into submission.
Yet despite repeated votes showing the resilient mood to keep fighting, there has been backsliding by some union leaders. There have been delays—and crucially there has not been the escalation of the strikes that can win.
Clara Osagiede is a cleaner in the RMT union. She said, “I’m from Nigeria—where we had a three-day strike and brought down the regime. That’s what we need to do here.
“I don’t see any difference between a robber with a gun and George Osborne in his suit who thinks he can steal our rights like this. There is a battle line being drawn by this government—now it’s time to really fight back and organise.”
Ellen Clifford from Disabled People Against the Cuts told the meeting, “To save disabled people, we have to get the Tories out. But we can’t do it on our own.
“We’ve seen trade union leaders back away from serious action—that’s what happened with Remploy. So disabled activists are calling on trade union leaders to step it up, like we’ve had to. Set a date for a general strike.”
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka reported that after the vote at the TUC, every union is now going to be consulted on their view on a general strike. “We have to seize the moment to maximise the pressure,” he said.
He added that if this doesn’t lead to forcing the bigger unions to call a strike then “in those organisations that still want to fight, we have to try to regroup and take the battle to the other side”.
This weekend’s march can build that confidence to fight back—and it can be a crucial step towards getting a general strike.
The bigger unions are discussing potential action over pay in April. But many workers feel this is too late to wait.
Anna Owens, a PCS branch activist, said the smaller unions cannot delay. “If we want to see that strike, PCS has to be prepared to start it,” she said.
UCU executive member Sean Vernell echoed this. He said, “The demo is important to get the movement that we saw an incredible glimpse of on 30 November back up and running again. We should have escalated.
“A general strike won’t just come out thin air—the momentum needs to built up like we did with 30 June, building up to 30 November. It doesn’t matter if a union is in a minority—the unions that have live ballots need to get the ball rolling.”
Twenty unions grew between September 2011 and September 2012—many of them joined strikes on 30 November 2011. There was a 6.7 percent increase in the ATL union’s membership, 4.9 percent for the NUT and 3.7 percent for the NASUWT.
Across Britain, workers are organising to build the pressure for more strikes. Unite the Resistance aims to bring them together. The organisation includes workers from different unions, as well as those union leaders who do want to see more strikes.
It was part of the run-up to the 30 November strike, organising a national convention of 1,200. Now it is organising a national conference on 17 November, as the question of what happens after the 20 October march becomes more urgent.
Jane Stewart is on the Unite union’s national executive and the steering committee for Unite the Resistance. She told Socialist Worker, “We’re just marching now, when all over Europe workers are striking against the same austerity we face here.
“Unite the Resistance is important because it is about coordinating people across the unions for a plan going forward. We have to take action now.”
Over 40 trade union and community bodies are already supporting the conference with plans to send delegates. Coaches are coming from Leeds, Bristol, Manchester and Sheffield.
Steve West’s PCS Avon branch recently pledged its support. He said, “After 20 October we have to be in a position to pull together those trade union leaders and rank and file activists who do want more strikes. Unite the Resistance’s conference will do this.”
Raise Unite the Resistance’s motion calling for the TUC to name the day for the general strike. Pass the motion in your branch to support the 17 November conference. For details go to uniteresist.org
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