Cast your mind back to 14th May 1980, the last time that the TUC general council called a national strike; or as they described it at the time “a national day of action”.
This was called to seek to derail Margaret Thatcher’s proposed laws to weaken the unions.
Frankly it was a disaster, with very low levels of participation; isolating the most militant trade unionists, and in many workplaces there was even hostility stoked up against the shop stewards, from otherwise loyal union members.
My own experience, as a hospital porter in a well organised, and sometimes militant workplace, was dispiriting as only the stewards went on strike, and a handful of us rode in an almost empty coach to London for the march.
Instead of showing the strength of our movement, it did the opposite, showing our weakness; and the Tories gained confidence from it.
Of course, had the action been successful it would have increased the confidence of our movement; but there was a huge miscalculation, and union members are not a stage army that can be wheeled out on demand.
The situation today is possible even more unfavourable. There would be legal problems in coordinating strike actions across different unions, and the level of workplace organisation is fragile, and unconfident.
Of course every mechanism for opposing the irresponsible Tory cuts must be employed, and where appropriate that will include industrial action; but vainglorious calls for more action than we can deliver are a distraction from the substantive debate of how we move actually move forward based upon a realistic assessment of our strength, and the current possibilities.
Of course the demand for a general strike is sometimes a rhetorical embelishment for calls for coordinating strike action over public sector pensions. There are already practical and political obstacles to achieving such coordinated action, and the wisdom or otherwise of such action needs to be discussed and debated in the unions affected. In particular public sector pensions is an issue that would fail to unite private sector and public sector workers; and it is far from clear that the confidence exists for such action.
Furthermore, gifting the government and the Tory press with the spectre of a direct challenge to parliamentary sovereignty plays into their hands, and does nothing to win the argument for action with our members.