This is a guest post from Andrew Burgin & Kate Hudson
Events themselves are driving us towards greater European cooperation. In the context of the social, economic and political catastrophe that is facing much of Europe, this increasing cooperation – of trade unions, left parties and social movements – must be understood as an urgent necessity, not as a luxury or a diversion from national struggles.
Against a backdrop of daily protests across the continent on a gigantic scale, the ETUC has issued a call for action that is set to impact on the movement in Britain in an unprecedented fashion. Such ETUC calls are usually disregarded here. They make no impact, even amongst those most willing to look above the parapet of strictly British concerns. But the modest resonance of the recent ETUC initiative is indicative of both the scale of the crisis we are all facing and of the increased receptiveness to the necessity of cooperation with our brothers and sisters in struggle across Europe.
Last week the ETUC called for a day of solidarity action across Europe on November 14th, ‘including strikes, demonstrations, rallies and other actions’. It follows the decision of national trades unions in Spain and Portugal to co-ordinate strike action on that day, which have since been joined by unions in Greece, Malta, Italy and Cyprus.
Far from being a routine call to be met with routine indifference, this call opens the path for unions throughout Europe to take solidarity action in support of the general strike action in the southern European countries. It presents an opportunity to take action that is appropriate and possible in any local and national context, to feed into a powerful continent-wide expression of refusal, of resistance, and a demand for pro-people alternatives.
Clearly we cannot expect the same forms of action in each country. As Die Linke central committee member, Florian Wilde, argued at the recent Europe against Austerity conference, on the 21st October, the economic crisis and the response to it by the youth and the working class is proceeding in an uneven way in different European countries.
Whilst the ruling class has used the crisis to expedite the destruction of all social gains in health, education, welfare and employment rights achieved in the post-war period, the path and the speed of the destruction of these gains varies from country to country. Equally, what is possible in each country depends on the state of the working class movement as well as the pace of the onslaught it faces.
We have seen the intensification of the general strike as a weapon by the working class, combined with mass action against austerity and new waves of social struggles expressed by the indignados and occupy movements. These developments are of great importance.
Yet although throughout Europe many millions have been mobilised, nowhere has it so far been possible to push back the austerity offensive and assert the interests – and politics representative of the working class – on a governmental level.
Greece has seen the most widespread action against the onslaught of capital, with 20 days of general strikes over a three year period. It is at the cutting edge of the austerity offensive with the disintegration of everyday life a lived experience by millions. Greece also stands as the country closest to the achievement of a government which will reject austerity, defend the people and advance their interests. The tragedy here is that while the left – through the SYRIZA party – stood on the threshold of political office in June 2012, the failure of other left forces to join them in a workers’ government has thrown open the door to extreme reaction – a door already prised ajar by the policies of the Troika.
There can be no hiding from the appalling events already taking place in Greece as the Golden Dawn fascist party has gone from 0.23% of the vote to 12% in the most recent polls. They have infiltrated sections of the state and have organised themselves as a paramilitary force which now attacks the immigrant community, the left and other progressive forces. Anti-fascist activists now face beatings and torture at the hands of the fascists.
We must not stand idly by and allow this to happen, unchallenged. Solidarity work with the people of Greece must be a top priority for the trade unions and the left throughout Europe. And it is much hoped for and expected. As Greek trade union leader, Giorgos Charisis, said at the Europe against Austerity conference, ‘We need an internationalist coalition of the working class. Britain has a tradition of international solidarity. We take for granted you will extend it to us and we look forward to it.’
The message is clear, from the people themselves, and also repeatedly from our television and computer screens: we cannot have business as usual, either in the trade unions in Britain or in the wider movement. The consequences of inaction are too terrible to contemplate, either on a political level, or on a human level.
November 14th, with its potential for the co-ordination and intensification of struggle across Europe, offers the possibility of being the spark to ignite a generalised offensive against capital to reverse the defeats being inflicted on the peoples on a daily basis.
Whilst Britain, for a variety of reasons, has not yet achieved the level of mobilisation seen in other parts of Europe, it has nevertheless seen mass demonstrations against austerity. The TUC ‘March for the Alternative’ in March 2011 was the largest trade union mobilisation this country has seen, with more than half a million taking to the streets. It followed from a radicalisation amongst the student population emerging from a campaign against tuition fees and it fed into a struggle to defend pension rights.
The second TUC march ‘For a Future that Works’ on the 20th October 2012 was smaller in size but with more than 150,000 marching was nevertheless significant and was marked by a hardening of the anti-austerity message from a significant section of the trade union leadership. Three general secretaries called for a general strike at the demonstration rally and others referred to the TUC congress resolution to explore the practicalities of organising such a strike.
General strike is, for many reasons – legal, historical and political – not on the current agenda in Britain in the same way that it is across much of Europe. Apart from anything else, we have the most draconian anti-trade union laws in Europe, designed to avoid anything other than the most localised, workplace specific strikes. But take action we must, and in solidarity with the struggles taking place in Europe on November 14th. It may be that some unions can take co-ordinated strike action on that day and that such developments are already being considered. This would be no mean feat to achieve and it would be a major step forward for the struggle, in Britain and Europe.
Nevertheless with much of southern Europe on the verge of general strike action even the most modest solidarity action here in Britain would be of enormous significance.
Every initiative taken by the trade unions and wider movement, whether symbolic or of greater practical solidarity, must be supported. November 14th presents us with an opportunity that must be seized.
Andrew Burgin and Kate Hudson
28 October 2012