The Practicality of a General Strike

Len McCluskey appeared to throw down the gauntlet at the Hyde Park rally following last Saturday’s march in London. As reported in the Morning Star:

“When the horrific welfare cuts bite in April the situation will be even worse, but we should take heart from this demonstration because we represent millions and millions of people of ordinary people who want an alternative – let’s go for growth.

“We won’t get what we want simply by asking.

“That’s why last month a motion was passed at the TUC conference calling on the TUC to consult on a general strike.

“Let’s start that consultation here tomorrow. Are you prepared to take strike action to save our communities?” he asked to loud cheering. “Are you prepared for a general strike?”

McCluskey then led the crowd in an impromptu show of hands – and the “motion” was carried unanimously.

“Well, that’s carried. Sisters and brothers have the courage so that we can rise like lions and fight, fight, fight for a better world.”

The sentiment was repeated by Bob Crow of the RMT, Mark Serwotka of PCS and Matt Wrack of the FBU (with some chutzpah given the failure of his union to ballot for November 30th last year, and the general drift towards passivity of the FBU under his leadership).

This call comes in the wake of the vote at TUC Congress in September on a motion proposed by the POA and seconded by the RMT, committing the TUC affiliated unions to “taking co-ordinated action where possible with far-reaching campaigns including the consideration and practicalities of a general strike”.

Previously the TUC General Council had been evenly split on whether to support such a move, and unions such as NASUWT and ATL spoke against the motion at Congress.

Let us be clear that the motion does not call for a general strike, it calls for its consideration and investigation into the practicalities. As Len McCluskey himself remarked at the CLASS fringe meeting at Labour Party conference, whether the practicality of a general strike could satisfy the various General Secretaries of the TUC affiliated unions, is another question entirely!

Before we consider the politics of any possible general strike, let us consider those practicalities.

In 1926, every TUC affiliated union voted to delegate authority to the TUC general council whether to call a strike or not. Nowadays that would neither be legal, nor practical. Each union would need to make its own sovereign decision whether or not to participate. We know immediately that several unions would decline, and therefore the most that the TUC could call would be to coordinate a national day of action, as a coalition of the willing. This is similar to the general strike which took place on 14th May 1980, which was an unmitigated catastrophe.

The practical difficulties grow and grow as we consider them.

According to the Guardian, John Hendy QC, argues that a general strike against government policies – as has happened in Spain and Greece – can take place under the European Convention of Human Rights, which is enshrined by the UK Human Rights Act. And Steve Turner, Unite’s director of executive policy, said: “This will be a political strike. There will not be any ballots and it is our view that political strikes are not unlawful.”

This is certainly a bold interpretation of the law, and one which employers, and the government, would seek to challenge in the courts. For the unions to prevail would require overwhelming political and industrial support from the members for the strike call.

UNITE’s argument is the child of necessity, as the normal balloting process would be utterly impractical. As Mick Whelan, Aslef’s general secretary says: “The practicalities of a general strike are very difficult to deliver”. Indeed, to conduct legal ballots across their whole memberships, in a context where many employers would be looking for opportunities for a legal challenge, would require possibly months of work in getting the records up to date. Furthermore, each union would have to identify a specific issue that could support legal industrial action across each separate employer. But calling a political strike without a ballot would be a huge risk.

To assess whether we could anticipate widespread support for such a strike, it is worth considering the expereince of the disastrous action in May 1980. Density of trade union membership was then over 50%, compared to less than 25% today, and there was much stronger workplace organization, and trade union consciousness. Nevertheless, in most workplace, outside of the mines and docks and a few factory strongholds, only the most committed trade union activists came out in most workplaces, isolated from the majority of the members. May 1980 was a demonstration of trade union weakness not strength, and the failure of the day was taken by the Thatcher government as an indication that the unions were a paper tiger. The reasons for the low turn-out were twofold, firstly sectionalism, and secondly a sense that the strike call had emerged from on high, proclaimed by the union leaderships, divorced from real grassroots democracy.

As Eric Hobsbawm observed way back in 1978, discussing the malaise in the labour movement

In the middle 1960s, there were signs of a real recovery of impetus and dynamism: the resumed growth of trade unions, not to mention the great labour struggles, the sharp rise in the Labour vote in 1966, the radicalisation of students, intellectuals and others in the late 1960s.

… At the same time the trade union movement became more militant. And yet this was, with the exception of the great struggles of 1970-4, an almost entirely economist militancy; and a movement is not necessarily less economist and narrow minded because it is militant, or even led by the left. The periods of maximum strike activity since 1960—1970-2 and 1974—have been the ones when the percentage of pure wage strikes have been much the highest—over 90 per cent in 1971-2.
And, as I have tried to suggest earlier, straightforward economist trade union consciousness may at times actually set workers against each other rather than establish wider patterns of solidarity.

The pattern of trade unionism in the 1970s was sectional militancy, often to defend differentials and stratification within the working class. In so far as there was generalization and solidarity, this was limited to the defence of the broad principle of trade unionism upon which sectionalism depended; paradoxically therefore generalized solidarity was an expression of a confluence of sectional interests. Even in 1980, when the left was far stronger than today, ideologically, politically and organizationally, the call for a general strike against government policy was disconnected from the largely sectional interests of most trade union members, who were interested primarily in their own job, their own family, and their own community. This was compounded by the perception that the national day of action had been called without union members participating in the decision making, and being treated as a stage army. Even trade union members who would follow their own shop stewards unconditionally in a struggle against their own employer were reluctant to participate in a general strike against government policy, because the left had not established a hegemonic oppositional project.

Today, it is simply impossible to resist the cuts by trade union militancy alone, or by political alliances between public sector unions and end-user groups, unless there is a widespread counter-hegemonic belief that the economic and social policies of the Con-Dem government lack legitimacy, and that there is a viable alternative to them.

Angela Davis, a political thinker too much overlooked by the British left, explained this very well in a speech in 2006

“We must refuse to attribute any kind of permanency to that which is, simply because it is.”, or as her mother put it: “This is not the way things are supposed to be, and they don’t have to stay this way

It is the second part of her mother’s belief that was most important. If there is a mass popular movement that represents an alternative, then each minor or localised campaign becomes pregnant with the possibility of generalising, and gaining wider support beyond those immediately affected. In the absence of such a widespread belief in an alternative, then each localised campaign bears with it the danger of competing with others for limited resources.

People will not enter any industrial struggle unless they can envision what a victory would look like. The precondition for generalized industrial action to force a change of government economic policy is a widespread belief that an alternative policy is both feasible and available, which in the British context means the credible alternative of a Labour government advocating a different economic policy. Without this then industrial action will be limited by industrial reality to defensive and sectional actions.

As Labour Party conference showed, while the right wing in the party are on the back foot, they are far from beaten; and the left continues to exhibit organizational weakness. To win the ideological and political battle for a bold alternative within broader civil society requires that struggle to be waged within the Labour Party; and the structures of power and influence means that requires both a footprint within the PLP and shadow cabinet, but also the active participation of trade union leaders. Building a political alliance against austerity is a more urgent task for the unions than industrial action for which the preconditions have not yet been established.

There are real dangers of over-emphasising the prospect of a general strike. I am far from convinced that any of those trade union leaders calling for such action could actually deliver it. Any such industrial action called without a ballot would be highly problematic and prone to failure; and there is a real danger of any industrial action call demonstrating weakness not strength. What is more, many unions, including some who took action on November 30th 2011, would likely decline to participate, endangering the unity of the movement.

The threat to unity is potentially a serious problem, as to force a division over the tactic of generalized industrial action would build a weaker coalition for the left than if we sought to force a division over proposed radical economic policies for an incoming Labour government. Instead of building a broad coalition advocating an alternative economic policy, we could fall into the trap of isolating the left and surrendering the battle for the centre ground.

120 comments on “The Practicality of a General Strike

  1. Good old Andy – always looking for ways as to why things can’t or shouldn’t happen (e.g. pensions struggle, save NHS etc or even socialism itself) but never looking for ways on how things can happen. Glass half full Andy?

  2. Hch: never looking for ways on how things can happen

    No, I explain how it could happen:

    If there is a mass popular movement that represents an alternative, then each minor or localised campaign becomes pregnant with the possibility of generalising, and gaining wider support beyond those immediately affected. In the absence of such a widespread belief in an alternative, then each localised campaign bears with it the danger of competing with others for limited resources.

    People will not enter any industrial struggle unless they can envision what a victory would look like. The precondition for generalized industrial action to force a change of government economic policy is a widespread belief that an alternative policy is both feasible and available, which in the British context means the credible alternative of a Labour government advocating a different economic policy. Without this then industrial action will be limited by industrial reality to defensive and sectional actions.

  3. A couple of observations Andy:

    1)I don’t really see the comparison and detour in your argument with sectional economic struggles, principally over pay, of industrial unions 35 – 40 years ago. More pertinent is the comparison with the attempted general strike of May 1980 you mention – one I don’t remember, have never seen mention of before but I’ll take your word for – as that, presumably, was an expressly political act against rising unemployment, i.e. one akin to talk of a political general strike against austerity today. One crucial difference now and then is public perception of unions. Thatcher was by mid 1980 widely unpopular but the dominant sentiment, even within parts of the labour movement, were that unions were too powerful and weren’t to be heeded. An important strand of sentiment today as I find it, especially amongst young people, is complete indifference towards trade unions. Hence the half-hearted feel when the Osborne, Cameron and the Mail try to drag up the spectre of union bullies etc. It could be that if unions were seen to be doing something significant, something national and dramatic, there could be a revival of interest, recruitment, activity.

    2)It’s not the case that a general strike today would necessarily appear somehow abstract as your article implies. For people who work in the public sector and people who use it, it’s bloody obvious that the level of service is deteriorating constantly through the savagery of Coalition cuts – cuts that are becoming deeper and more apparent. ‘Generalising the struggles’ etc isn’t a difficult leap – unless you’re working with a misplaced comparison of sectional economistic strikes.

    3)The whole drift of your argument is predicated on how a general strike will play out in respect to an alternative Labour economic policy. Well, frankly, some of us aren’t so fixated on that. The key thing in relation to a general strike is definite if inchoate sentiment within and outside public sector unions – and more widely – that on no level are the on gong cuts justified given the role of the banks and so on. I wouldn’t put the level of militancy any higher than that. But I think the Tory justification for austerity of the profligacy of the last Labour government and that ‘we’re all in it together’ in ensuring that future generations aren’t in debt etc, have been largely discredited over the last year.

    In such circumstances, I wouldn’t see a general strike as the only show in town as it were, but I think it’s 1) possible, 2) something worth campaigning for.

  4. You are a brave man for writing this, Andy. Your public isn’t going to like it one little bit. But it needed to be said.

  5. andy newman on said:

    Sam64: More pertinent is the comparison with the attempted general strike of May 1980 you mention – one I don’t remember, have never seen mention of before but I’ll take your word for – as that, presumably, was an expressly political act against rising unemployment, i.e. one akin to talk of a political general strike against austerity today.

    I know this happened, as I took part in it! It tends to be overlooked i) because the TUC called it a “day of action” instead of a general strike, and ii) it was a disaster.

    Sam64: I don’t really see the comparison and detour in your argument with sectional economic struggles, principally over pay, of industrial unions 35 – 40 years ago.

    Well the issue is why are people in trade unions, and what do they want from them. Trade union consciousness is predicated upon defending sectional interests, not upon generalised desire to promote the public good. Generally, it is hard enough to get people to take industrial action even for their own direct workplace issues, let alone political opposition to the government. The comparisn is one that remains germane, I think.

    Sam64: One crucial difference now and then is public perception of unions. Thatcher was by mid 1980 widely unpopular but the dominant sentiment, even within parts of the labour movement, were that unions were too powerful and weren’t to be heeded

    I don’t buy that. My personal recollection was that there was considerable support for people’s own workplace organisation.

    Sam64: An important strand of sentiment today as I find it, especially amongst young people, is complete indifference towards trade unions.

    Not a healthy cntext for a general strike; this in fact acts as confiration of Hobsbawm’s thesis that contemporary trade unionism is mired in economism, and doesn’t aspire to broader political leadership – in which case expecting union members (who are not divorced from that societal context) to play some sort of vanguard role.

    Sam64: For people who work in the public sector and people who use it, it’s bloody obvious that the level of service is deteriorating constantly through the savagery of Coalition cuts – cuts that are becoming deeper and more apparent. ‘Generalising the struggles’ etc isn’t a difficult leap

    How do you explain the much smaller turnout on O20 than on M26 last year then? How do you explain the poor turn out in the N30 industrial action last year?

    Sam64: The whole drift of your argument is predicated on how a general strike will play out in respect to an alternative Labour economic policy.

    People won’t strike unless they think they could win. Therefore an alternative to austerity needs to be available and credible. Developing an alternative policy for government is therefore necessary; since the only credible alternative governemtnis Labour, then surely the objective of any strike action would be to create the context where an alternative government could be formed that would follow the policies advocated by the unions? If not, what are you arguing is the purpose of the strike action?

    Sam64: on no level are the on going cuts justified given the role of the banks and so on

    surely the necessity of cuts or otherwise is predicated upon the current objective state of the economy, and whether or not there is an economic alternatve to cuts, It is not a moral isue, but a practical one. Hence the need to develop an economic policy which gets out of recession without cuts.

    Sam64: In such circumstances, I wouldn’t see a general strike as the only show in town as it were, but I think it’s 1) possible

    Really? Do you think the unions could REALLY deliver a general strike?

  6. andy newman on said:

    SSDO: Your public isn’t going to like it one little bit

    I thought I would sweeten the pill for them by quoting Hobsbawm and Angela Davis!

  7. Robert on said:

    Agreed. There is no realistic chance of a general strike and if it happened it would result in defeat. Sad but true. If it failed in 1926 when the unions were far stronger and when there was a politicised working class in a way that doesn’t exist today what are the chances it could succeed now?

    The left should concentrate on tax evasion; that’s an issue that could resonate with the middle class.

  8. #1 Instead of criticising a position based on one view of how things are and could be at the moment, why not put forward your view of the current situation, and on that basis justify your line?

    What makes you believe that a general strike is a realistic demand at the moment?

    Not wishful thinking and could be, would be and should be, or an attack on the motives of those who question the demand, but an actual assessment of the situation.

  9. Andy – I don’t have time now to take up most strings of the above save one: the indifference of, in particular, young people to trade unions. No it isn’t a propitious basis to launch something as audacious as a mass strike when so many younger workers are employed part time by companies (supermarkets and call centres would be examples) that don’t recognise unions and, even when they do, many workers choose not to join citing, as I heard a student say on Monday as it happens about Tesco where she stakes shelves of an evening, ‘It’s not worth it, nobody else is, I think the union is only for the delivery drivers and I think I’m going to leave soon anyway’. Obviously on a fairly profound level, the fact that there are no longer successive generations of trade unionist recruited automatically on mass industrial apprentices has led to the ‘forward march of labour halted’. But I don’t think ruling out a general strike – or at least counselling against it – over the issue of austerity at this conjuncture is a particularly positive way of dealing with that historic problem for socialists.

    ‘Do you think the unions could REALLY deliver a general strike?’ I don’t know to be honest Andy. My own union voted last week against a day’s strike over pensions. It is a mistake to listen only to the activists, there is the issue of what is achievable. But unions can’t, of course, simply sit back and wait for another Labour government – that would implement austerity lite anyway. There is the issue of ‘If not now, when?’. It could be that a general strike could act as a beacon for action for the very real issue of austerity. And whilst you’re entitled to express your opinion, I’m not sure how helpful it is to argue so forcefully against the very idea – unless you think it’s sure to be counterproductive, a damaging damp squib?

  10. If, as is suggested, we have only experienced one tenth of the cuts that the coalition intend to inflict, and if, as seems probable, this particular capitalist crisis still has some way to go then speculating on the practicalities of a general strike with the present level of political and class consciousness is pointless.
    Similarly, discussing the ‘practicalities’ of such an action within the framework of submission to anti union laws that require prolonged balloting procedures and, under precedent and EU provisions, allow employers endless opportunities for delay and sanctions is a waste of time.
    In British conditions such a challenge to the state always constitutes a threat to the ‘sanctity’ of the law. Experience shows that if workers are convinced, angry or desperate enough then they are likely to disregard laws. Pentonville Five being one case, the spontaneous action taken over Thatcher’s banning of unions at GCHQ another. Similarly, strike action unsanctioned by ballot or union in the Post Office is frequent. In fact, many workers are surprised and outraged when they find that what they regard as reasonable action is constrained by law.
    The question is, what kind of political process can force a change of policy?
    Answer, one that has the support of a decisive political majority and thus constitutes a threat powerful enough to compel Labour support (or decisively weaken the Labour right), force a political crisis of the parliamentary majority or compel a strategic retreat by the ruling class.
    This is not a process that can be wrapped up in the single concept of a general strike but it can be expressed at one stage or another by a general strike.
    It does require leadership of a kind that exists only in rudimentary form in some unions and which the political left is, as yet, unable to provide.
    The fact that some union leaderships are able to talk about action on this scale – and the most active sections like those on the march last weekend are for it – is a positive sign.
    Pessimism about the ‘practicalities’ of such action is the mirror image of ultra left fantasies about it immediate possibility. Both are a recipe for passivity.

  11. andy newman on said:

    Sam64: I’m not sure how helpful it is to argue so forcefully against the very idea – unless you think it’s sure to be counterproductive, a damaging damp squib?

    Personally I realy do think it would be counter-productive; and to be honest I think there is an element of posturing from some trade union leaders, happy to be seen as the most left wing people in the room, but knowing their bluff won’t be called on the issue.

  12. stuart on said:

    Andy,

    It may well be that legal arguments are used to demostrate the ‘impracticability’ of a strike- although I would say that striking in defiance of the law would create a difficulty for a government widely seen as representing privileged interests.

    Much of what you say IMO doesn’t add up. You seem to want a movement to line up behind a left Labour project but then invoke 1980 as an example of failure. I put it to you that the more successful militancy of the early 1970s was organised independent of Labour whereas post-1979 the Labour left was in the ascendancy- but it was a project built upon an over optimistic appraisal of the situation, the belief that a turn to left-wing parliamentary (and local govt) approach can substitute for the difficulties in industry.

    Ironically, you invoke Hobsbawm although he took an opposite position to the Labour left (and Thatcher’s very low popularity in 1981 undermines his argument). He noted the decline in support for Labour and in the supposed power of the manual working class but failed to appreciate the rise of union militancy among previously non-militant groups, workers that had been hammered by Labour when in power (which can of course explain some of Labour’s lost support).

    How much can you deduce from May 1980? In numerical terms, those that came out were similar in number to those that struck in the May 1973 day of action (the public sector was quite well represented in 1980)- in between the two miners’ strikes that defeated Heath. And twice as many struck in September 1982 in solidarity with health workers who were fighting over pay.

    Whether a general strike or other forms of strike go ahead, we should be supporting them and trying to strengthen organisation accordingly, not looking for reasons for backing off. That would have been the position to take in 1980, regardless of the Labour left, regardless of Hobsbawm, and it remains the position today.

  13. andy newman on said:

    Nick Wright: speculating on the practicalities of a general strike with the present level of political and class consciousness is pointless.

    Well Nick, the speculation has been precipitated by a number of trade union leaders discussing it, and the TUC voting to explore the practicalities.

    Nick Wright: The question is, what kind of political process can force a change of policy?
    Answer, one that has the support of a decisive political majority and thus constitutes a threat powerful enough to compel Labour support (or decisively weaken the Labour right), force a political crisis of the parliamentary majority or compel a strategic retreat by the ruling class.

    This is where I agree with you.

    That is why I express concern about those who overlook the necessity to build the political and organisational preconditions.

    Arguing for a general strike now, in the absence of a credible counter-hegemonic project is premature.

  14. ‘Stakes shelves’? More likely stacks! Unless she was putting out over priced plastic Halloween shite!

  15. In general I think Andy sadly has got it right, although I would point out that calling it a general strike is in itself wrong- what it would be would be a public sector one day strike.

    I can’t help but feel that there seems to be some confusion between a tactic, a strike, and a strategy- a comprehensive, cumulative plan to radically alter the political and economic direction and leadership of the UK. Having a tactic as an objective seems to me to be a poor replacement for the lack of clear socialist alternative.

  16. andy newman on said:

    stuart: You seem to want a movement to line up behind a left Labour project but then invoke 1980 as an example of failure.

    I want the movement to line up behind the prospect of a credible alternative government, and an alternative economic policy. If you reject that idea, then what exactly is the strike seeking to acheive?

    stuart: I put it to you that the more successful militancy of the early 1970s was organised independent of Labour

    But the crisis of militancy that engulfed us was due to a failure to overcome the political weaknesses that came with that.

    stuart: Ironically, you invoke Hobsbawm although he took an opposite position to the Labour left (and Thatcher’s very low popularity in 1981 undermines his argument). He noted the decline in support for Labour and in the supposed power of the manual working class but failed to appreciate the rise of union militancy among previously non-militant groups, workers that had been hammered by Labour when in power (which can of course explain some of Labour’s lost support).

    You clearly have no idea what either Hobsbawm was arguing, nor what the views of the Bennite left were

  17. andy newman: Arguing for a general strike now, in the absence of a credible counter-hegemonic project is premature.

    My point precisely. A counter hegemonic project necessarily has many dimensions one of which is the ability of the trade unions to carry through a political strike i.e. to change government policy or compel a change of government.
    There are a lot of problems in this but the decision of the TUC conference to in initiate a discussion on it is a valuable political act in itself.
    But much wider than this is the prospect of a mass mobilisation not only of organised workers but of working people generally and of decisive sections of the middle class, of state employees and even of business people whose livelihoods are tied up with maintaining manufacturing or sustaining consumption.
    This cannot be reduced to a call by the union leaderships although the organised labour movement is the essential mainspring of such a movement especially at local level where we badly need to find an organisational framework for channelling community responses. (The Peoples Charter is the obvious mechanism). We should not underestimate the potential of a decisive lead from the labour movement to draw in non unionised workers, unemployed, students and professionals of various kinds.
    Beyond this is the potential to fracture the existing hegemonic project (just read the Daily Telegraph to see how the fissures are appearing here.)

    Ther is also the question of what an alternative govermental programme would look like.
    http://21centurymanifesto.wordpress.com/2012/09/29/building-an-economy-for-the-people-an-alternative-economic-and-political-strategy-for-21st-century-britain/

  18. Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t we see an upsurge in union membership after N30,last year? I think Sam64 is correct in suggesting that bold initiatives will help to further embolden other sections of the working class to assert their interests and fight austerity. As for Labour, well considering the leadership has come out very publicly in favour of cuts, views unions as a “sectional interest” and is trying to rehash One Nation-ism, I would suggest the hope for a fightback lies elsewhere, at least until they smarten up.

  19. I remember the 1980 strike well. Working in a large retail warehouse in Bristol, I joined the strike along with the full time shop steward. As far as I recall we were the only ones to participate from the entire workforce (although I doubt his action actually qualified as a strike). This was shortly after we had very narrowly lost a national ballot for action in support of a substantial pay rise. I had a good day out in Bristol on the march, and vaguely remember feeling that Thatcher probably wouldn’t last in the face of trade union opposition.

    A week or two later I was called into the personnel office and told that my services were no longer required. As I only had a temporary contract, that was that. As it happens I was on my way to college anyway, so the loss wasn’t great. But it was an early lesson not to mistake one’s own militancy for that of the population as a whole.

  20. I think that the mass of working class people, non unionised, are still at the stage of seeking individual solutions to the attacks they’re being subjected to.

    Andy and Nick are spot on re the absence of a counter-hegemonic project. General strikes, even mass strike action, can’t just be pulled from a hat. They have to reflect a definite confluence of material conditions, favourable balance of forces, and most importantly consciousness. The first of these conditions exist, the other two do not.

    This is why the actions of groups such as UK Uncut have been so important, having an impact way beyond their actions and their size. They have played an outstanding role in making tax avoidance and evasion a major political issue, identifying what is a pressure point in the structural inequality that exists in British society in a way that the TU movement has not, even with all their resources.

    Stepping outside the conventional and legal forms of struggle in the way UK Uncut has, on the one hand has shown up the relative impotence of the unions and the legal constraints they are under, and on the other hand pointed to where the ‘one percent’ is most vulnerable. Even the new language of the Occupy Movement – ‘we are the 99 percent’ – has deepened class consciousness more than the unions have since austerity began.

    Surely the key priority now has to be finding ways for the unions to join up with these movements and help carry them forward.

  21. Dem O'Cracy on said:

    I am pleased to see Andy putting this piece down, to invite wise and hopefully careful reflection.

    The risk of arguing for a position that might very well lead people into defeat is a serious matter and one which I think any serious socialist – of whatever shade or stripe – should be prepared to engage in.

    In fact, I’d go as far as to say that anyone who has never been involved in trying to organise their trade union branch, let alone to try and persuade others to strike after a successful ballot should be careful about joining the clamour for a ‘general strike now’ – unless you are prepared to acknowledge that it is generally hard work and looks a lot harder once away from central London on a nice autumn day.

    If we want to discuss ‘economistic’ issues, wouldn’t a campaign against utilities, price rises etc be more effective? Get a grassroots community campaign going, draw in workers in the call centres, then the consumer groups and an offensive using direct action and the media?

    This could raise the context we are in quickly and imaginatively. Think of UnCut, Occupy and the actions against WorkFare have already “achieved” – in terms of publicity etc.

  22. A good File on 4 programme on Radio 4 tonight about the privatisation of public services and what a financial shakedown is involved. Our friends Carillion got a mention (one hospital seems to have saved £900,000 on a £12 million budget by getting shot of them). The problem is getting the figures as all the claims of the great savings being made are obscured behind ‘commercial confidentiality’. Where figures have been obtained and public finance accountants have gone through them the rip-off and deterioration in services that follow are self-evident.

    The programme took it’s findings to Margaret Hodge MP who chairs the Public Accounts select committee – lots of tut tutting but surely there should be some proper scrutiny over how public money and assets are being handed over with no accountability or questions asked. The Labour party should be raising merry hell over this – this asset stripping is often not even delivering on its own terms (saving the taxpayer money). And the public sector unions have to get their heads around stopping the rot before there is nothing left to defend. Surely this is a campaign focus where unions could start to build local activity (with local people seeing their services deteriorate and democratic control, limited though that is, being replaced by commercial decisions by private companies) and try to build some confidence among its members that industrial action is a viable option to stop the onslaught.

    Just been told that our service is to be privatised (in all but name). The mood is pissed off but resigned unfortunately and the local union branch have effectively said there is nothing that can be done (to be fair, they can’t magic action from nowhere but their downbeat response ain’t going to help). And the more these attacks succeed the danger is the more resigned we get rather than angry or determined. The mood in my workplace in the run up to last November’s pensions strike was ‘fairly’ upbeat, not champing at the bit necessarily but positive. But nothing effective was done following the strike and what little optimism existed where I work has withered. Most people don’t think the union are serious or have any strategy for resisting the attacks on our conditions and privatisation of services. We can’t afford to wait to see if Labour get elected next time (even if we believed they would oppose austerity in any meaningful way).

    This probably sounds more negative than I hoped it would be but I just feel that building some meaningful campaigning and industrial action has got to be a precursor to getting a national strike off the ground (against my instincts). But – I believe the situation could change quite quickly so we should be flexible and prepare to change pace and raise the bar if the circumstances fit. It’s not just our side that is weak and we should not forget that. There seems to be a reasonable prospect of this government imploding given that they seem to fuck up everything they touch. And if that happens that could open up new possibilities (and hopefully something better than just getting EdM into Downing Street).

  23. Its chicken or egg time folks.
    Do we need a mass popular political programme in order to take action? Or will there be no development of this programme* until we begin to take action? It is only when we strike or occupy the streets that the idea that there is a working class majority with demands begins to feature in political or media discourses at all. Before the Labour Party begins to debate these questions, there will have to be wave upon wave of grassroots struggle continually raising our demands to the surface of polite political discourse. (*By ‘programme’ in this instance I mean a set of ideas held by a substantial section of society that articulates their hopes and beliefs towards a popular working class-led solution to the crisis).

    Andy N is right to say (or imply) that we need to build a new mass popular left wing counter-hegemonic project – and that the lack of this consciousness is the key to the lack of militancy today. I’d expand this point to claim that in the past mass social democracy / labourism / stalinism provided the working class with a worldview which underwrote its capacity for even its most sectional and economistic militancy. When these bankrupt and obsolete political imaginaries finally collapsed twenty or so years ago, this massively reinforced the already inflicted defeats on the workers movement here. This political imaginary, whilst it held the working class together, also held it back. This social democratic political imaginary circumscribed the parameters of militancy, dooming us to long term defeat in the 1970s, as the working class was unable to unite society in a counter-hegemonic response to the crisis of the old mode of capitalist – of the keynsian / fordist regime of accumulation or ‘organised capitalism’. Such a response from our side would have moved beyond wage militancy to include things like democratising the welfare state, overthrowing its old paternalistic forms in favor of participatory forms. But stifled within the old parameters of an authoritarian and paternalistic social democracy, we surrendered the initiative to the right, and Thatcher triumphed.
    Whilst lessons from the past are instructive, they have their limits. The 1980 events Andy mentions were part of the ebb tide. The workers movement had risen in the 1970s and failed to articulate an alternative direction for society. Our side was on the way down – and a new ruling class ascendency, united around a strategy of reorganising the the world of labour and capital through unleashing the forces of neoliberal globalisation / financialisation was underway. The ruling class had it’s mo-jo back together again, and was rising. This was unlike in the early 1970s, when their old regime of accumulation was shattering, and a new one had yet to be formed. In this interegnum between the end of the fordist and and the beginning of the financialised regimes, between around 1968-1974, the left and the workers movement could win battles – and had a chance to shape history.
    And now? This is not the early 1980s. The ruling class are now still entering deeper into crisis and division. In the 1980s they had bottomed out, regrouped and were fighting back. ‘Our side’ is still just fragments of potential, not even a ‘side’ yet. But you cannot just start from looking at one side in the class struggle – you have to look at the relationship.
    This point is made only to block invalid inferences from previous historic conjunctures. But I agree with much of Andy’s tone of caution here. Can a ‘general strike’ come out of this historically weak and depoliticized movement? Maybe the paradox we work with is this: We now see the inverse of the crisis last time. Now, the workers are atomised beyond sectionalism. Working class sectionalism (of all kinds) was not overcome by socialism and solidarity, but by neoliberalism, commodification and atomisation. What happens after this, when capitalism starts to fail, at ever deeper levels? In this situation of neoliberal atomisation, it is the general morally charged issue that can crystalize a mass movement. This happened briefly on Feb 15th 2003. Thus it is by framing the issues in a general way, making a call for a general mobilisation beyond the sectional appeal of pensions or pay, that can summon people today into a collective force. The Trades Unions can bee the backbone of this – but they need to be the tribune of all the oppressed and exploited, all those who feel conned and ripped off by the crisis. In conclusion – the Trades Unions should build for ‘days of defiance’ – where the general public can articulate its discontent. A simple slogan best suited for the moment would be ‘Save Our Services – Tax The Rich!’. As others have said, we need mass mobilisation against the rich elite tax dodgers – on a scale far beyond UK uncut – but on the scale of N30 2011 that only the unions can generate.

  24. #2 “The precondition for generalized industrial action to force a change of government economic policy is a widespread belief that an alternative policy is both feasible and available, which in the British context means the credible alternative of a Labour government advocating a different economic policy.”

    So effective extra-parliamentary action is unthinkable until the Labour Party have the right policies. We need to wait for Ed ‘Gramsci’ Milliband to come up with a ‘counter-hegemonic project.’

    Pessimism of the intellect. Pessimism of the will. Pass the razor blades.

  25. Barry, just another nudge: If you’d like to write a companion piece/counter to Andy’s piece, teasing apart differences and tactics and where we should start from, I’ll be happy to publish it here. I’d love to read you above the fold as well as in the comments.

  26. redscribe on said:

    It’s factually incorrect to call the ‘day of action’ of May 14th 1980 a ‘General Strike’. It was never promoted as such by the TUC.

    There was actually a similar TUC ‘day of action’ in the summer of 1984 during the miners strike – cannot remember the exact date – and it was not treated as a general strike by the TUC either. It was purposely meant to be all things to all people, like May 14 1980.

    At the time [1984, that is] I was in a fairly well-unionised workplace and was one of a minority who did treat it as a call for industrial action – the bosses did not victimise those who did so precisely because they were afraid that this could provoke a wider wave of industrial action.

    Objectively, a general strike is posed by what is happening now. The left-wing of the trade union bureaucracy has noticed that and is making noises about the necessity for a general strike.

    However, the subjective factor of class consciousness and political militancy in the bulk of the working class does not exist, as yet. So those who are sounding a cautious note on this have a point.

    It cannot be taken for granted that, for instance, a joint strike by public sector unions in the absence of some larger class vision will necessarily overcome that. There needs to be a wider class vision with real roots.

    There is a tailism of the left bureaucracy by those who blithely assume that just because Bob Crow, Mark Serwotka, or even McCluskie, (whose union does have considerable weight in the private sector, but it is doubtful if he could deliver a strike of those workers), speaks of a general strike one is rendered immediately possible. It ain’t as simple as that.

    Furthermore, if you know your history, particularly of the General Strike of 1926, you will know that when push came to shove, the TUC lefts: Purcell, Hicks, Cook, etc, provided a left cover for the central TUC leaders and helped to sell the betrayal of the General Strike to the working class.

    The ‘lefts’ can be regarded as a weathervane of moods in some sections of the advanced working class, but they do not have a strategy and are also likely to be treacherous in practice, however honourable their subjective intentions. This is not a question of individual moral worth, but of class dynamics.

    If there were a dynamic revolutionary socialist movement that could put forward a coherent vision and programme, that would be the weapon of choice to resolve that contradiction. However, that does not exist as yet either.

    The idea that Ed Miliband’s Labour Party is in any sense the solution to that absence is pretty surreal, however. Everyone knows that on gaining office, they will continue many of the government’s attacks, albeit with a modified tempo a la Francois Hollande. That is a recipe for waiting forever and eternal passivity.

    We need a socialist movement that can offer a coherent alternative to capitalism as it is experienced today, which can go out and popularise the demand for a general strike among the mass of the working class. It may be that the experience of a failed general strike misled by the left bureaucracy could eventually create more ideal conditions to bring such a movement into being, but that is not the experience we want for the working class.

  27. On the chicken or the egg, change comes through struggle, in nature through natural selection and in human progress through conflict. If people are sat on their arses watching deal or no deal or stuck on their latest Iphone or whatever then no amount of left programmes will work.

    So let us call for a general strike and let people totally ignore it. This won’t damage us, we couldn’t be more damaged anyway. We have to be like a dog with a bone. Let us struggle on behalf of others (like Jesus) until we can get noticed and divert people away from their consumerist obsessions. To do this we need grand gestures and we need to have thick skins. If you are not prepared for one failure after another then go home now, you are no use to the struggle.

  28. andy newman on said:

    redscribe: It’s factually incorrect to call the ‘day of action’ of May 14th 1980 a ‘General Strike’. It was never promoted as such by the TUC.

    You have made a mistake here, fomalistically fetishising words over substantive content, for the reasons I discuss in the original article, 14/05/80 was a “coalition of the willing”, and was therefore not specifically promoted by the TUC as a general strike; however most major unions did call a one day strike on the day. This was before the days of mandatory postal ballots.

    IIRC, the day of action during the miners strike was substantially different.

    redscribe: Furthermore, if you know your history, particularly of the General Strike of 1926, you will know that when push came to shove, the TUC lefts: Purcell, Hicks, Cook, etc, provided a left cover for the central TUC leaders and helped to sell the betrayal of the General Strike to the working class.
    The ‘lefts’ can be regarded as a weathervane of moods in some sections of the advanced working class, but they do not have a strategy and are also likely to be treacherous in practice, however honourable their subjective intentions. This is not a question of individual moral worth, but of class dynamics.
    If there were a dynamic revolutionary socialist movement that could put forward a coherent vision and programme, that would be the weapon of choice to resolve that contradiction. However, that does not exist as yet either.

    This is just all just boilerplate ultra-left verbiage. blah blah blah

  29. andy newman on said:

    jack: So effective extra-parliamentary action is unthinkable until the Labour Party have the right policies.

    The Party does not need to have adopted the correct polices, but there needs to be a credible prospect of a government which does have an alternative economic policy; that means that the prospect of the Labour Party adopting such policies does need to be on the horizon. That is a necessary precondition of creating a crisis of legitimacy around the Con-Dem economic policies.

  30. andy newman,

    reply to post 17,

    The call for a general strike presents the opportunity to put the question of workers’ struggle on the agenda in such a way as to create a fusion of the economic and the political- it can enable socialists to intervene in what can become a ‘counter-hegemonic’ force. To that extent, this development is to be welcomed.

    From what I can see, Andy’s intervention is designed to encourage pessimism over class struggle (for which he will win support) whilst taking the opporunity to promote his new found enthusiasm for Labour. To call this ‘counter-hegemonic’ is unhelpful and misleading. Andy seemed to become supportive of Gordon Brown’s turn towards some state interverntion in the face of global economic crisis. Firstly, this measure, far from being counter-hegemonic, was an attempt to rescue capitalism from itself. It was in the interests of the capitalist class. So Brown had argued a decade and a half earlier, before becoming Chancellor, that tax, spend and borrow policies were would face discipline by ‘the market’. His conversion only came about when the ‘market’ wanted intervention. Hardly counter-hegemony. In fact, the Labour party and, for that matter union leaders, form an important layer for the ruling class to draw upon in their attempt to maintain ‘hegemony’.

    And I still maintain that Andy’s attempt to use the 1970s and the 1980s to bolster his case lacks any historical credibilty. Andy says he wants an ‘alternative economic strategy’. So did the Labour left around Benn in 1980, the year he cites as being particularly disastrous. As is well known, Bennism was trounced by the Labour right. Within a short period many of Benn’s followers had abandoned such a strategy. And the Labour right was given every encouragement by Hobsbawm- whom Andy enthusiastically invokes- much admired at the time by Kinnock. Hobsbawm along with Stuart Hall talked of the need for a ‘broad democratic alliace’ (which meant shifting right to embrace middle-class liberals) to counter Thatcher’s ‘authoritarian populism’. In fact an analysis into voting patterns into what was a very bad general election for Labour in 1983 actually undermined the arguments of Hobsbawm on how the working class was voting. But his intellectual intervention did much to encourage the victory of Labour’s right wing.

    So what Andy’s position amounts to is to dampen down class struggle (which could start to create real counter-hegemony) now, but to then encourage action at a later stage around support for Labour, despite its terrible history which I suspect Andy would have condemned not long ago, and despite the fact that Labour is very much a part of capitalist hegemony.

  31. andy newman on said:

    stuart: Firstly, this measure, far from being counter-hegemonic, was an attempt to rescue capitalism from itself. It was in the interests of the capitalist class.

    Your position seems to be like somone trapped in a burning building, but refusing to phone the fire brigade, becasue that will benefit the landlord.

  32. andy newman on said:

    stuart: And I still maintain that Andy’s attempt to use the 1970s and the 1980s to bolster his case lacks any historical credibilty. Andy says he wants an ‘alternative economic strategy’. So did the Labour left around Benn in 1980, the year he cites as being particularly disastrous. As is well known, Bennism was trounced by the Labour right. Within a short period many of Benn’s followers had abandoned such a strategy. And the Labour right was given every encouragement by Hobsbawm- whom Andy enthusiastically invokes- much admired at the time by Kinnock. Hobsbawm along with Stuart Hall talked of the need for a ‘broad democratic alliace’ (which meant shifting right to embrace middle-class liberals) to counter Thatcher’s ‘authoritarian populism’. In fact an analysis into voting patterns into what was a very bad general election for Labour in 1983 actually undermined the arguments of Hobsbawm on how the working class was voting. But his intellectual intervention did much to encourage the victory of Labour’s right wing.

    This is a mangled, mis-remembered, and presumably never understood account of what happened, closer to caracature than any coherent political account.

  33. The sad fact is that Bennism and the Militant idiots helped to keep Thatcher in power.

    If Labour had elected Denis Healy as leader rather than Michael Foot it’s possible Thatcher would have been out in 1983. It’s certainly far less likely that the SDP split would have happened and Thatcher almost certainly wouldn’t have got a landslide.

  34. red mole on said:

    What is missing from the article and the discussion is any recognition of the fact that well supported general strikes have been organised in other European countries in recent years. I accept that there are major hurdles to trying to organise a legal general strike in the UK, but I’d be most surprised if trade unionists in other countries don’t have a lot of hurdles in their way also.

    The most significant lesson of this, in my view, is that public sector workers in other countries who are faced with similar problems (year after year of austerity and cuts) have shown a willingness to come out and support calls for openly political strikes.

  35. andy newman on said:

    Robert: If Labour had elected Denis Healy as leader rather than Michael Foot it’s possible Thatcher would have been out in 1983.

    In truth, both the politics of the centre left and the centre right were undergoing simultaneous crises. There was an exhaustion of the traditional right, as the progressive social policies advocated by Crosland and others required economic stablity and growth that coould not be sustained.

  36. stuart on said:

    andy newman: Your position seems to be like somone trapped in a burning building, but refusing to phone the fire brigade, becasue that will benefit the landlord.

    Are you saying that if the tax payer throws money at firms in the form of bail out that is a ‘good’ thing but if the firm avoids paying tax that is a ‘bad’ thing? Are you being entirely consistent?

  37. Stuart, don’t you think it’s consistent to believe that? If a government decides to bail out a company it’s not automatically bad – for example, a truly popular government might bail out companies and take stakes in them. Governments can come under popular pressure and can be directed.

    But a company avoiding tax is doing a direct, deliberate social and moral wrong, and is acting outside of society in a way that we are powerless to challenge directly.

  38. stuart on said:

    andy newman: In truth, both the politics of the centre left and the centre right were undergoing simultaneous crises. There was an exhaustion of the traditional right, as the progressive social policies advocated by Crosland and others required economic stablity and growth that coould not be sustained.

    This is the Crosland who imposed austerity on local councils by declaring the ‘party’s over’. Why would things be any different, based on any attempt to use the state in the way that Crosland envisaged, in the present economic climate?

  39. #40 I think the point is that if the banks had failed, the resulting mess would have had a very unfortunate effect on the lives of working class people.

    The government stepped in to stop that happening. It had a responsibility to do so.

    Obviously it would have been better if the banks had been nationalised, but it would clearly not have been better if suddenly loads of people were faced with the problem of having no money.

  40. stuart on said:

    tony collins: If a government decides to bail out a company it’s not automatically bad .

    I’d be careful about arguing in that way. If you say bailing out a company is not automatically bad then perhaps we shouldn’t pursue them too vigorously over their tax. Same end result. Better to demand nationalisation rather than throwing money at private firms IMO.

  41. Stuart has a point. The anti-tax Right has long argued that over-zealous taxation of “wealth creators” is an obstacle to growth. Indeed, economists like Milton Friedmann have argued that firms have an obligation to avoid tax,for the interests of the business (and it’s employees) and the shareholders.They are equally shrill about the need for public money in times of crisis,of course.
    The previous Labour administration had ,arguably, one of the most loophole-ridden tax systems in this country’s history and even when they were forced by circumstances to nationalise (eg,Northern Rock,railways)they were practically falling over themselves to try to sell these assets back to the private sector.So, when an ostensibly left government chooses to throw billions into bailing out businesses rather than nationalising them,then, yes, this is a bad thing.

  42. If only about one in forty members of TUC affiliated unions attended the demonstrations on Saturday… but actually a much smaller percentage than that because of the number of retirees, children, unemployed and students it hardly indicates that a general strike is possible.

  43. Its idiotic to pretend that “left bureaucrats” are holding back baying millions of socialists keen to get out on strike to stop this government from ruining the country. I wish that was the case. But to argue that all we need to do is to declare a general strike tomorrow is a none starter-especially when made by students with no job, or family to support, or made by those who have no experience of organising in the labour movement.

    Yet it is also wrong to automatically rule out an examination of the practicalities of coordinated strike action. Sure you can argue that we are not currently in the position to organise an all out general strike tomorrow-I agree. But unless the labour movement intervene significantly, at some stage, we will not see an end to austerity.

    Sure we should be building better links with people like UKUNCUT and be better propagandising about the tax avoiding wealthy, but to dismiss the central role of the trade unions and concentrate solely on tax campaigning smacks of the worse kind of defeatist euro argument.

    It is highly likely that an examination of the practicalities of a general strike would conclude that we need stronger unions, with massive recruitment campaigns and better relations with community groups and people like uk-uncut.

    Yet having some kind of target might give a sense of optimism.

    Many ordinary-especially young-people at the moment are angry, if not outraged about politicians, the media, the rich tax avoiding elite, about society in general, but this sentiment is also accompanied by an equally powerful sense of powerlessness.

    It is in organising these people, helping them discover the sense of power and confidence that accompanies successful labour movement campaigns, that is fostered by organisation and standing up for your rights and the rights of those who live and work with.

    Perhaps a campaign of organising for a general strike, supporting coordinated action where we are strong and translating these struggles into the wider struggle for homes, jobs, public services and, community might be what is needed, if accompanied by admitting that we are weak in many areas and need to redouble our efforts into recruiting those both in and out of work and organising.

    Its about projecting enthusiasm about collective struggle and fighting for a viable alternative to different shades of pro-austerity politicians unwilling to confront the rich.

    Such a campaign requires a lot of hard work and its aims are unlikely to be achieved before years of struggle. But it is something worth fighting for. Unless there is some target to reach beyond defensive battles and support for slightly lesser evils, the trade union movement will continue to shrink into irrelevance, the daily mail will continue to dictate the terns of political debate and the rich will continue to profiteer and plunge the country into further mess.

  44. jim mclean on said:

    I know a lot of people suffering due to the attacks on benefits and changes in the system. These are being implemented by members of the PCS. What support will any strike get from the majority of people who are being hit the hardest,little. We often read on this site that Labour are as bad as the Tories in implementing cuts. We are told that the TUSC will oppose such cuts. Why not call for members of the PCS to refuse to implement sanctions. Why not call for a boycott of ATOS and of the Work Programme within the PCS. Now that would draw in the most excluded members of society and gain support more than a General Strike.

  45. I’d be careful about arguing in that way. If you say bailing out a company is not automatically bad then perhaps we shouldn’t pursue them too vigorously over their tax. Same end result. Better to demand nationalisation rather than throwing money at private firms IMO.

    Stuart that’s a really dishonest thing you did there – quoting the first half of my sentence, when I went on to say that a government that is genuinely popular might bail a company out and take a stake in it. In other words, there’s nothing *in principle* wrong with a government giving a private company money. Do you really think that in current circumstances, any government is just going to take back corporations without any kind of compensation? In Venezuela, maybe, but not here. Any nationalisation will involve the government paying out large sums of money, either in paying off debt or buying out shareholders.

    I really cannot fathom how anyone can disagree with my assertion that bailing out a company “is not automatically bad”, and how someone supposedly politically sophisticated can go on to say that an extension of my point is that perhaps we might not want to collect tax of those companies.

    It’s a complete non-argument, Stuart, kinda proved by the fact that you asserted it without anything to back it up.

    Look, it’s simple: A government can be turned by public pressure. Thus, government bailouts aren’t automatically bad, cos a popular revolt could get a progressive government to bail out really good, productive businesses and take a stake in them as a move towards nationalisation. How can you say one needs to be careful arguing this? It’s pretty much axiomatic. A corporation might be turned by public pressure, but only if it hits the bottom line, and only at the level of consumer boycotts etc. Our goal is to push our governments to represent our interests – and thus there are going to be times when we want governments to bail out failing companies. I can’t see why you think this means we might believe this would lead to going easy on tax evaders/avoiders.

  46. Again Jim, the first test of this is, could it happen? What chances is there of getting a majority of PCS members to boycott the changes and refuse to implement sanctions?

    Cos what you’re talking about there is effectively an indefinite “industrial action short of a strike”. It would have to build up and up, otherwise the government will wait it out until it can start using the law against the workers. So we’d need a pretty big campaign, one that really got into communities and got people out supporting benefit claimants.

    OK what’s the chances of that? Do you think we’ve got a realistic chance of making “don’t cut people’s benefits” a rallying cry that will get public support and solidarity action behind those PCS members? I’d love it to happen but we know it’s only gonna happen if it’s part of a wider campaign, because the attacks on benefits claimants have been so successful, there’s widespread support for benefits sanctions. A boycott of ATOS could be excellent – but again, you risk leaving a relatively small group of workers completely exposed and at risk. You need something stronger here.

    The one test we’ve got to keep setting on SU when we think about what to do next is, “can we actually do it?” – that’s why I can’t stick the Jimmy Haddow “what we need is a mass nationalisation and public works programme” type comment, which isn’t grounded in anything approaching reality.

    I think we need loads of campaigns; I’m a big fan of the tax avoidance campaign because it would connect with so many people – and would bolster PCS members, whose union might then feel emboldened to really fight back on behalf of claimants, who may then fight within their communities for dignity and better rights, and who may join in serious, combined action with communities, workplaces and other centres of social life, which may give people the confidence to fight the library closure at home, the pay freeze at work, the police brutality on the demo and the tax avoider in the supermarket.

  47. jim mclean on said:

    I know my proposals above were unrealistic, on purpose, just to get people to consider abandoning the One Trick Pony act of a General Strike. Firstly the left, like the free marketeers have already done, must learn to operate in real time. Surely it is not beyond the capabilities of a well sourced left think tank to be operating on a full time basis with the sole purpose of deconstructing neo con proposals. If the Politicians say we shall do “A”, the left should be able to give a rapid response in answer to any proposals pointing out the negative “B” side of the proposals. Think things out better, what the main difference between November 2011 and this year. Little to do with militancy, last year’s one day effort was a family day out with the Christmas lights of Oxford Street and Santa in the shops. As I pointed out elsewhere this rally was held at a weekend when there was a full league programme, and not a bad day for the golf or fishing. The reality is that the turnout in Scotland was embarrassing , time to think outside the box.

  48. #50

    True Tony, but i think where Jim has a point is that the political current dominant in the leadership of PCS condemns and castigates Labour politicians and Labour councils for not adopting. “No cuts” position, which would in fact be both unlawful and politically unrealistic.

    However the PCS leadership do not turn the same logic on themselves.

  49. I think an ATOS trigger might be if a PCS member had the guts to go public and give an interview with journalists supplying them with hard evidence about how ATOS operates, how it is increasing the risk of suicide against vulnerable people and how it is certain that ATOS have been given targets to drive people off welfare regardless of whether they really are fit for work. Then when ATOS sacks them and threatens never to give them a reference the union could organise a strike. If the person concerned was respected by their fellow workers there might be a very good chance of winning support for a strike.

    If a strike is not feasible another possibility might be a sort of work to rule policy – simply encourage people to refuse to declare on the form that X is fit for work when they know quite well they may not be.

    Also consider getting hold of incriminating documents and leakig them to the press or if you want to be really radical bug an ATOS managers’ meeting and send the tape to a sympathetic journalist.

    Incidently I hate the Mail as much as anybody but there’s a journalist called Sonia Poulton who’s been writing articles about ATOS and who hates these welfare reforms as much as I do.

    I think even quite coservative people might be revolted if they knew what’s actually happening. Even a diagnosis fo mental illness or severe disability wont necessarily protect you from being declared fit for work by the WCA regime. I suspect a fair number of Tory voters would be revolted by that.

    Both a union support for campaign against tax avoidance and campaign to expose what ATOS is doing to the most vulnerable would be more likely to do serious damage to the Right than attempts at a general strike.

    If the public mood shifts significantly to the left a general strike might be something to think about but for now it’s a distraction frankly.

  50. robert p. williams on said:

    Well I went on the march, but no thanks to my union UNISON.
    They didn’t even let me know the march was happening and as far as I could tell, did nothing to promote it.
    Yes, coaches were organised. But I only knew that from my SP branch meeting.
    I don’t know about other areas, but there was very little done to build for it around Swansea.

    Little is done to build for the march and then the result is used to blame the workers….
    But it is the full timers who have failed to carry through in an effective way TUC policy.

    Some of these useless wastes of space in my union have got the words “There is no will for a strike” tattooed on their arses. I think they must mutter it in their sleep.
    This is a shame as there are many decent members in UNISON who can lose heart with this sort of thing.

    I mean, what would have been wrong with a bit of leafleting, or even the workplace reps telling the rank and file about it.

    Honestly, I know it can be a struggle…. but then that is why they call it… um … … Struggle. !!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKQcx1jzn4k

    !!!

  51. stuart on said:

    tony collins,

    Regardless of how the argument about tax avoidance and bailouts is framed, I would support any campaign against tax avoidance. It is the kind of campaign that can generate its own momentum based on class feeling and notions of fairness.

    However, at a slighty deeper level, I think it’s harder to oppose tax avoidance consistently if you think handing out money to big business is ok some of the time, in whatever guise. And I know that many on the left have traditionally supported state subsidies for firms, however I think that is simply wrong. The fact is big business is constantly lobbying government over financial concessions or corporate welfare and always getting a sympathetic hearing. As socialists we should oppose concessions to capital. Why are you against tax avoidance? Because of fairness? But even if everyone paid all their tax it still wouldn’t be fair. I’m against tax avoidance because I’m against concessions to capital and in favour of concessions to labour- that’s why I support strikes against capital.

    But as I say, a campaign against tax avoidance is worthy of support regardless of the above.

  52. Stuart I don’t really disagree with you, but I think we can get to a point sometimes where the principle becomes a block to doing something.

    I chose my words carefully – I don’t support paying money to private companies, but I also don’t think it’s automatically bad. For example, the alternative to the bank bailouts would’ve been the collapse of the economic system. Now, in the absence of a counter-hegemonic project or any deep movement, that would’ve been a disaster for the working class, a real disaster. So, bailing the banks out wasn’t bad on principle. The execution was, of course, bad – we’d have wanted to see nationalisations and so on. But there was no realistic prospect of that happening, so we had to simply accept that the bank bailouts weren’t bad.

    That’s all I’m saying. It’s the intersection between goals and dreams. My goal is to improve the material conditions of the working class. My dream is to see the replacement of capitalism with socialism. So, I have to accept, and perhaps sometimes support, what seem like pro-capitalist steps.

    I work for London Underground. The PPP was a real scam, where the PPP consortium contracted its constituent parts to deliver the projects, massively ramping up prices. This led to Metronet building up a >£2bn debt. It then collapsed.

    The government refused to bail out the debts – so the debt was subsumed into my employer, which then cut its budgets, reduced safety standards and slashed jobs to recover the >£2bn. I would’ve supported the taxpayer paying that money, not on narrow sectional interests, but cos the money was gonna be paid regardless, so it would’ve been fairer to spread the load around.

    Remember the simple difference: Nominally, a bailout is the decision of a democratically elected government. Tax avoidance is a corporate, narrow decision made by the rich to stay rich; it has, and can have, no progressive element. There’s a vast difference in both principle and in practice between the two.

  53. The issue in respect of failing companies is that we oppose the view that jobs and socially necessary production or services should be at the mercies of the free market. We want an economy that is as far as possible under social control.

    How that is best achieved is algebraic- dependant on all kinds of variable factors.

    We also want those who make huge profits not only to be liable for taxes from those profits, but to insist that the state enforces those liabilities.

    The two issues are not necessarally the same because the companies that would be the main targets of a campaign on the tax issue will by and large not be failing companies, as such companies will not generally be making huge profits and/ or may not be offenders in respect of tax avoidance.

    On Stuarts point about not wanting to make concessions to capital, my view is that while capitalism as an economic system exists there will often be times that it is necessary to make concessions. The nature of such concessions will depend on a huge range of factors, not the least one being who holds government and ultimately state power.

  54. Tony/Vanya,

    For me this debate can demonstrate some of the limitations of a single-issue campaign around tax (not that I oppose it as it has a progressive quality).

    Socialists IMO should intervene in such a way as to highlight the problems of capitalism as a system or a totality. A campaign around tax doesn’t really do this- the hard truth is that even if we are fortunate enough to force firms to pay more tax they will simply make up the loss in other ways, price increases, job losses or whatever.

    If we again look at capitalism as a system we see that the other side of bank bailouts was cuts. It just meant that the system carried on exploiting workers who immeditely faced even greater attacks on living standards. The bailout could only be regarded as in any way ‘good’ if it led to workers opposing the cuts effectively and demanding that state intervention is designed to benefit the majority not the minority.

    So in both cases we cannot just look at one form of activity in isolation, we have to look at it systemically. So when some union leaders talk about general strikes, we as socialists should be getting behind such an idea as it ‘generalises’, it increases the chances of people drawing general conclusions. It is a really backward step if our response is to talk down strike action and replace it with something that, for all its strengths, fails to address the problems at the core of the system.

  55. Stuart I do think you’re missing the point of the ideas behind the campaign.

    We want to improve working class consciousness – we want workers and communities and students and everyone to feel confident about fighting back. So far, we’ve done it through the normal traditional methods, isolated strikes and demos. Clearly it’s not working, not one bit – there is clearly no move towards greater militancy or a greater ability to engage people. It’s not working. People don’t feel connected to it.

    So if we want to do as you say, we need to create the terrain to do it. And that’s where the campaign comes in. Give people popular expression to the anger, and you open up the entire argument about capitalism.

    But I fear that the end result of what you’re saying is, we do nothing until people are militant enough. I disagree – I think that class consciousness is at such a low level, we’ve got to be really imaginative and think differently about how to engage people. And getting trade unions to put mass resources into such a campaign can lead people to precisely the point you want to get them to.

    Cos right now, I’d say most people agree that capitalism is the problem – and then they go home, tired after work, and think & do nothing more about it. Except those who are moving to the right, of course – right-wing campaigns know how to tap into the popular mood. We should watch and learn.

    If we can show some local, energetic ways to win, involving people’s unions, we can wake people’s anger up to the point where the feel they must intervene, must understand the system.

    I think you believe that we’re talking about a campaign with a fixed, single objective, and I think sadly you’re stuck in a very blinkered model of how to develop class consciousness.

    We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about how to win against austerity. Marches aren’t doing it. Union militancy is incredibly low, and your own comrades will tell you that they really struggled to get people out on strike (one SWP member I know was the one who pointed out the fact that almost their entire workplace came in during a strike – thus, even the most advanced sections of the class haven’t got the right outcomes yet). So, how do we raise morale, raise consciousness and raise militancy? Let’s try it this way – cos if we are successful, we will be able to intervene on many more levels in many different arenas, and not only be able to point out the problems of capitalism, but make people believe that they have a role in overcoming them.

  56. andy newman on said:

    stuart: Socialists IMO should intervene in such a way as to highlight the problems of capitalism as a system or a totality. …If we again look at capitalism as a system we see that the other side of bank bailouts was cuts.

    This is an utterly propagndist argument, that could equally well have come from the SPGB.

    Are you arguing that the banks should NOT have been bailed out? A position that would have lined you up with the most fruitcake parts of the libertarian right.

    Socialism is about subordinating the economy to conscious political direction in order to better satisfy human need.

  57. Stuart- When a capitalist makes a loss in one part of their operation they will try to make up somewhere else.

    So we shouldn’t fight for higher wages because this may lead to higher prices? We shouldn’t support a fight to keep a factory open because the company may close down another factory elsewhere.

    Make them pay the minimum wage? They may try and do the job with less staff and lay people off.

    Etc, etc.

  58. stuart on said:

    andy newman:

    Are you arguing that the banks should NOT have been bailed out? A position that would have lined you up with the most fruitcake parts of the libertarian right.

    I do not believe that workers should pay for the crisis. So if a lot less was handed to banks but what followed was workers paying for a crisis caused by bankers then that would not have been good (but that doesn’t mean I accept the limitations of your question, I present an answer based on an understanding of class conflict). If what followed was workers taking action in such a way as to make bosses pay, that would have been good.

    Either way, I would in the above scenario support protests against bank bail out because they strengthen the left (by highlighting how society is characterised by class division and conflict). I would support protests against bank bail out for the same reasons that I support protests against tax avoidance, I’m against hand outs to corporations. Neither bank bail outs nor tax avoidance, despite claims to the contrary are not, as you put it, about ‘satifying human need’.

  59. stuart on said:

    Vanya:

    So we shouldn’t fight for higher wages because this may lead to higher prices? We shouldn’t support a fight to keep a factory open because the company may close down another factory elsewhere.

    Yes we should fight for better wages for the same reason that we SHOULD oppose tax avoidance. But you are right to make the generalisation, we should always look to generalise from what begin as single issue or sectional struggles.

  60. stuart on said:

    tony collins:
    Stuart I do think you’re missing the point of the ideas behind the campaign.

    The bit the troubles me particularly is that it seems to be an attempt to undermine the talk about general strike. I don’t think anyone is saying that strike action is easy to achieve or that they will definitely happen. However, when the situation has been reached where union leaders are having at least talk about it, this is not the time to talk it down. We should be using this as an opportunity to build towards it, pressure the leaders, encourage those less active or those who waver half way, strengthen work place organisation in general. One thing we do know is that attacks at work will continue.

  61. Stuart you’re doing that thing you do all the time. You’re using only what-ifs and not really dealing with the arguments people are making.

    Given the political, class and economic reality, who should’ve paid Metronet’s £2bn debts? The result of “no bail out” was, the workers and passengers paid it. So by opposing a bailout, you’ve ensured that workers paid for the crisis in the PPP.

    This conversation is similar to when the rest of us ask “ok so what should we do about the police *right now*?” – there’s no point retreating into theory. You’ve made explicit connections between bailouts and tax avoidance, and you’ve still not responded to my points about one being democratic and the other not, which is surely where we can intervene?

    For example, a mass campaign against tax avoidance could not only ensure a higher tax take, it could lead to the implementation of new laws, could open up the whole argument about who the government should fund, and could help to shape a left alternative answer to the question of taxation and public control.

    In answer to the question about whether you think the banks should *not* have been bailed out, you’ve simply said you would support protests against the bailouts. On that specific issue I agree – if we’d been able to hold mass protests, those bailouts could’ve been accompanied by some kind of state control. But boy, would we have to be years away from where we are now.

    You’ve got to answer those questions about *this* world. If you want workers to listen to you, you can’t just say what you hope for the future. You’ve got to try to shape “common sense” right now. Kevin’s point about “the rich and the rest” could be the start of a reshaping of the debate. But first you’re gonna have to have answers about what needs to happen right now.

  62. The bit the troubles me particularly is that it seems to be an attempt to undermine the talk about general strike.

    A few of us are probably bending the stick a bit, because we really think the talk of a general strike is so absurd, it’s damaging to the movement. I don’t believe union leaders are seriously having to talk about it, but if they are, then our points become even stronger: Promise what you can deliver. The left, especially the SP, keeps banging on and on about a strike that can just be conjured up. We’ve already seen how weak the strikes have been, so we need to do a LOT of work to build the confidence of workers.

    We all believe in action from below. But we’re spending too much time focussing on the people at the top. Not you, I mean the SP and even people in my own union.

    I think I’m now confident in saying that the majority of the organised far left is completely disconnected from reality when it comes to the organised working class and the mood/confidence. So, you’re right that I am attempting to undermine certain things regarding the general strike call: I’m attempting to shake people out of their disconnection from reality. A slogan of “all out, stay out” last year was so unhelpful, it made the people who raised it look stupid. And similarly, there are plenty of union meetings in pubs where SP members are talking about a general strike – but none of them have the bases at work to organise it.

    I want that disconnect to stop. Calling for a general strike is the easiest thing we can do right now. I think people would do well to really pay attention to what Andy says about day to day trade unionism in a not-very-militant area. It’s absolutely exhausting trying to keep disputes going in this environment. We need to up our game massively, not just keep putting out empty slogans.

    I’m fairly confident when I say that if we engaged people in the sort of campaigning we’ve been talking about here, a general strike would be 10 times closer and 10 times bigger than if we focus on “the general strike” as the next thing we need to do.

    I guess I think this talk of “general strike now” is a retreat from the tough work we need to do.

  63. andy newman on said:

    stuart: We should be using this as an opportunity to build towards it, pressure the leaders, encourage those less active or those who waver half way, strengthen work place organisation in general.

    Who is the “we” in this sentance? And does the category embraced by “we” actually have the capacity and influence to do those things?

    It is necessary to start with an objective assessment of the balance of forces.

  64. tony collins,

    That is a very useful bit of info, Tony. This is another area that can be used to hammer the Condems; their mismanagement of the NHS and the flaws in their reforms.

  65. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    I don’t know if it’s this site only or it’s a symptom of a wider political culture, but there is this attitude of “no we can’t”. General strikes are near-routine in some parts of the world, and don’t in themselves herald the Revolution. Yet it seems to be considered unbelievable utopianism to have one in Britain 2012.

    Then again, a few years back at the start of the meltdown, a notorious profiteer’s window was broken, and I remember left discussion lists, perhaps including this one, dissolving into a flurry of anguished discussion about “individual terrorism”. The ruling class must be reeling in panic…

  66. Mark Victorystooge, it’s as if you’ve drawn a conclusion (“there is this attitude of no we can’t”) and are assuming that there’s evidence to support it. You haven’t read a single thing any of us have said. We’ve all been talking about the best ways to build for one – our problem is the “we’ll say it and it’ll just happen” stuff that so much of the left has fallen victim to.

    We are simply saying, take a look around you, and think about the levels of militancy needed to mount a *successful* general strike. See anything resembling a good chance in the near future? No, of course you don’t – so let’s find different ways to build that militancy.

    There is no “no we can’t” attitude on this site. Your post has nothing to support it, and in fact is part of the problem: You castigate others who have put a lot of time in to discussing how we build working class confidence, but you offer nothing yourself. You just assert that we believe it is “unbelievable utopianism” to have a general strike. You don’t even have to read what we’ve said particularly closely to know that you’ve completely misread what we’ve written, in order to fit your own conclusion.

  67. Mark Victorystooge:
    I don’t know if it’s this site only or it’s a symptom of a wider political culture, but there is this attitude of “no we can’t”. General strikes are near-routine in some parts of the world, and don’t in themselves herald the Revolution. Yet it seems to be considered unbelievable utopianism to have one in Britain 2012.

    Then again, a few years back at the start of the meltdown, a notorious profiteer’s window was broken, and I remember left discussion lists, perhaps including this one, dissolving into a flurry of anguished discussion about “individual terrorism”. The ruling class must be reeling in panic…

    Mark. Can you show the evidence for the organisation on the ground, in factories, in communities for a General Strike? Or are you one of those old fashioned lefties from the micro groups on the left that believe ‘if the call is made workers will respond automatically’?

    General Strikes pose the question of power. Which class runs society. Obviously you are confident that the proles are organised enough to stuff the bosses! Sorry mate but that not the picture on the ground!!

  68. jim mclean on said:

    I am beginning to wonder if some comrades actually know what a General Strike is? The withdrawal of labour from most if not all industries until such time as the demands of the workers are met. It is over 80 years since the last one in the UK. It lasted nine days. A day of action, or a series of such days does not constitute a General Strike. With the majority of the UK workforce non unionised where is the base. I do not see any mention of the Power Unions in these discussions, without them, don’t bother. One may as well propose that we all hold our breaths until we turn blue unles Davey Boy gives in.

  69. #77 No a general strike can be for a defined period. I believe the ones they have in parts of Europe often are.

    Alos in 1984 the (Millie dominated) Broad Left Organising Committe called on the TUC to call a 24 hour general strike for the miners.

    I remember it well because although not a millie by then I supported the demand and got nicked for flyposting for the lobby of the TUC.

    When I wouldn’t tell them who I got the posters and paste off they threatened me with special branch!

    I also remember Alan Thornett at a public meeting criticing the Millies for not calling for an all out general strike.

    Those were the days.

  70. Nick Parker on said:

    Hang on a second, there seems to be a weird consensus here suggesting that November 30th was really badly supported. Can commenters clarify why they argue this? It certainly flies in the face of the experience of myself and many others who I know! I thought N30 was incredibly well-supported and an inspiration.

  71. It’s about where we should be, and where we were in March, and where we’re gonna need to be if we’re gonna mount any kind of fight back, more than 2 years since the Tories came in, and just on the edge of losing the NHS forever. In that context, the demo was a problem – a massive drop in numbers (which, yes, I accept means we have at least 150,000 people who might be up for a fight) and a lack of momentum in many unions, with no real answers about what we do next.

    As a demo in and of itself it was brilliant. In its wider context, it was a backwards step.

  72. stuart on said:

    andy newman: Who is the “we” in this sentance? And does the category embraced by “we” actually have the capacity and influence to do those things?

    It is necessary to start with an objective assessment of the balance of forces.

    By ‘we’ I meant socialists, those opposed to the system that gives us austerity. I post some figures from 30/11.

    http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=26890

  73. stuart on said:

    tony collins:

    Calling for a general strike is the easiest thing we can do right now.

    I think you are mispreprenting the terms of the debate here. Who is saying a general strike is an easy thing to deliver? It is as if you have to pretend that your opponents in the debate are saying this in order score points.

    The reality is the opposite to that which you pose. It is a lot easier to encourage activists to campaign against tax avoidance than to invest time and energy in doing the necessary work in the workplace, organising around the goal of workers taking action directly against their employer and against the government (and Ed Miliband’s insistence on trade unionists accepting cuts makes it a lot harder still). Of course, a few union leaders talking about general strike is not by any means the same as seriously building for one, it could just be a way of trying to sound militant, we have to be aware of that. But the only way that we can effectively turn back the tide of attacks is through action by workers, that is why despite the obvious difficulties primary importance should be given to this area of work.

    The proposition that unions should move away from strikes and instead put their efforts into a single issue campaign around tax has come from Mark P. But then Mark P has it seems for decades sought to undermine the idea that workers should be regarded as the central agency for fighting against the system.

    A campaign around tax avoidance, at the expense of building towards strikes, would be a softer and easier option to pursue. It would please the likes of Mark P. But it would also please those who are pushing the austerity programme at the expense of workers, including Ed Miliband.

  74. Stuart I personally would distinguish between whether a general strike is easy to call for and whether it would be possible to achieve one.

    I am all in favour of a feasibility study as per the TUC position, and if evidence is presented at any given time that the popular mood is sufficient to make it a realistic prospect, then it’s worth talking about seriously.

    But these things have to be based on a real groundswell of mass consciousness, not the subjective propaganda of an isolated, marginalised and fragmented far left whose view of reality is based on how their theories tell them the world is, rather than the other way round.

    And the fact that people hold high office in the trade union movement is not necessarally protection from some of that isolation.

  75. I think you are mispreprenting the terms of the debate here. Who is saying a general strike is an easy thing to deliver? It is as if you have to pretend that your opponents in the debate are saying this in order score points.

    Stuart did you even read the words you quoted? God, your inability to discuss things honestly really pisses me off. You’ve just argued against something I never said and don’t believe. Stop accusing me of pretending that people are saying things, when a) this entire fucking thread is full of me talking about the practicalities, and b) I NEVER EVEN SAID ANYTHING ABOUT DELIVERING A STRIKE BEING EASY.

    I can’t debate with someone who so consistently fails to argue in good faith.

  76. Stuart I personally would distinguish between whether a general strike is easy to call for and whether it would be possible to achieve one.

    That doesn’t matter to Stuart. Me talking about “calling for a general strike” apparently means that I said a general strike is easy. Gah.

    Vanya – you’re totally right, I read November but saw October.

    I’d better answer it then:

    Nick, you said there seems to be a weird consensus here suggesting that November 30th was really badly supported.

    *sigh once again someone arguing with something that wasn’t said. The point about the strike is that in some areas it was awful. Strikes are always going to be patchy, and we’ve discussed a lot about how great the strike was in some areas. But I’ve discussed what people have actually told me – that the only people on strike were the people on the picket line, maybe 6 people. That doesn’t mean I said, or that there is a consensus that it was “really badly supported”.

    Can we get that cleared up? No one thinks it was “really badly supported”, except that in some areas it was really badly supported. That might not matter, except for the ease with which people are calling for a general strike – and remember, during that very strike last year, the SWP used the slogan “all out – stay out”. If you’re gonna use such a slogan, you’d better know you can back it up.

    That’s the context for people’s comments about the strike Nick – that in and of itself it might’ve been great, but in terms of a benchmark from which we can draw lessons about the militancy of the working class, what it shows is how much work we have to do to even get an idea of a (falsely named) “general strike” going. If there was a one-day widespread set of strikes called, without a serious amount of mass campaigning, it wouldn’t move us foward. “All out – stay out” was a slogan used by one group, and “general strike now” is being used by another, neither of which has any ability to deliver anything real on the ground.

  77. Vanya:
    Stuart I personally would distinguish between whether a general strike is easy to call for and whether it would be possible to achieve one.

    Of course it’s easy to call for a strike but that’s not really what the debate is about or at least it shouldn’t be. It’s about whether those of us on the left see organising in the workplace against the attacks as necessarily central to our activities.

    Mark P has for many years sought to steer people away from this brand of politics. He continues to do so. The far left cannot deliver mass strikes or create ‘mass consciousness’ but their interventions can help up to a point.

    Nobody is saying that strikes will be easy to organise or that consciousness inevitably points in that particular direction. But Andy and Mark P are trying to suggest that evidence demands that we shift the focus away from the harder task of workplace organisation to the softer terrain of campaigning against tax avoidance.

    But their eviidence is at the very least questionable. The figures for the recent march against austerity, whilst down on the previous year, was comparable to that in 1990 against the poll tax (generally seen as crucial at the time). Around 2.6 million struck against the assault on pensions on 30/11. Andy cites May 1980, when around one million took strike action against the Thatcher government, as being disastrous (open to question) and occurring at a time of higher union consciousness.

    There are certainly inconsistencies in their arguments. That does not mean that strikes will be easy to deliver but it certainly doesn’t mean that we should shift the focus away from the very important need to fight the government in the workplace.

  78. tony collins:

    Stuart did you even read the words you quoted? God, your inability to discuss things honestly really pisses me off. You’ve just argued against something I never said and don’t believe. Stop accusing me of pretending that people are saying things, when a) this entire fucking thread is full of me talking about the practicalities, and b) I NEVER EVEN SAID ANYTHING ABOUT DELIVERING A STRIKE BEING EASY.

    I can’t debate with someone who so consistently fails to argue in good faith.

    Excuse me. This is what you wrote at post 69..

    ‘I want that disconnect to stop. Calling for a general strike is the easiest thing we can do right now. I think people would do well to really pay attention to what Andy says about day to day trade unionism in a not-very-militant area. It’s absolutely exhausting trying to keep disputes going in this environment. We need to up our game massively, not just keep putting out empty slogans.’

    I took that, quite reasonably, to be a caricature of MY position hence I chose to address you in that way. I rejected the charge that I was simply calling for general strike. Surely anyone who reads our exchange would see it that way.

    For the record, I offer a link that explains the position taken in ‘Socialist Worker’ after Saturday”s march.

    http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=29858

  79. Jellytot on said:

    @90The figures for the recent march against austerity, whilst down on the previous year, was comparable to that in 1990 against the poll tax (generally seen as crucial at the time).

    The numbers and militancy of Poll Tax March in March 1990 represented the apex of that campaign while the attendance at last Saturday’s march marked a measurable decline, thus comparisions are invalid.

    It’s the politics of the ill-informed to suggest otherwise.

  80. stuart on said:

    Jellytot: The numbers and militancy of Poll Tax March in March 1990 represented the apex of that campaign while the attendance at last Saturday’s march marked a measurable decline, thus comparisions are invalid.It’s the politics of the ill-informed to suggest otherwise.

    So what conclusions can be drawn? The anti poll tax campaign was led by the far left in defiance of the Labour establishment. It was heavily denounced by Kinnock and Hattersley. The momentum was built in spite of their ‘leadership’.

    Workers did respond to the call to strike over pensions last year in large numbers only to see the unity wasted by union leaders making separate settlements. But it is wrong to conclude that workers are not prepared to take action- only that there is a lack of confidence in acting independently of leaders. If leaders are talking about strikes (for whatever motive) now is not the time to oppose them or talk them down.

  81. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    Jellytot: @90The figures for the recent march against austerity, whilst down on the previous year, was comparable to that in 1990 against the poll tax (generally seen as crucial at the time).The numbers and militancy of Poll Tax March in March 1990 represented the apex of that campaign while the attendance at last Saturday’s march marked a measurable decline, thus comparisions are invalid.It’s the politics of the ill-informed to suggest otherwise.

    True, March 1990 was the apex of the anti-poll tax campaign. It was also, as I remember, quite violent. There was a lot of “infantile” and “ultra-left” behaviour. But the Tories were actually scared, and ditched Thatcher not long after.

    Are they scared now?

  82. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    Vanya: …and therefore?

    The fact that holding one in Britain seems to be considered dwelling in the Land of Cockaigne tells me, at least, something about the lack of militancy in this sceptred isle, compared to elsewhere.

  83. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    Ian: Mark. Can you show the evidence for the organisation on the ground, in factories, in communities for a General Strike? Or are you one of those old fashioned lefties from the micro groups on the left that believe ‘if the call is made workers will respond automatically’?General Strikes pose the question of power. Which class runs society. Obviously you are confident that the proles are organised enough to stuff the bosses! Sorry mate but that not the picture on the ground!!

    I know it isn’t the picture on the ground. The lack of roots and militancy of the left and the labour movement has been something the ruling class in Britain has been able to count on, since at least the 1980s. But what concrete steps has the left taken to address this situation?

    I have also spent an extensive amount of time abroad and there has often been a greater willingness to both strike and protest than is the case here, although it is true that some places are just as stagnant as the UK.

  84. #93 The poll tax campaign was not ‘led’ by the far left.

    The far left was arguing for what people could see was the obvious thing to do anyway.

    When you have evidence that this is how enough (and that’s a lot of!) people feel about a general strike (assuming you have defined clearly what one is and what its actual goals and demands are), then reference to the Poll Tax is relevant.

    Btw, I’m sure nobody is ruling out strike action against cuts in and of itself.

    I don’t even think Mark P is saying this, and if he is I don’t agree.

  85. Can't Pay Won't Pay on said:

    “#93 The poll tax campaign was not ‘led’ by the far left.

    The far left was arguing for what people could see was the obvious thing to do anyway.”

    Of course it was led by the far left. A numerically very small far left managed to organise a campaign from street level groups, to local near riots at town halls, through to the national demonstration.

    The overwhelming majority of participants weren’t far left obviously and most had no political ideology beyong a feeling of unfairness. But they did have a willingness to get up and fight.

    That willingness to fight, or lack thereof, is at the heart of the argument here about a general strike but to deny that in the poll tax campaign it *was* given effective organisational form and direction by the far left is utter nonsense.

    Leadership matters but can’t substitute for what people are prepared to do themselves. That’s the issue here – no need to rewrite history to support your view on whether that self-activity exists at the moment.

  86. #99 Yes I was convinced at the time that I was leading a mass of people.

    I also used to think flogging daft newspapers full of crap that nobody was interested in was a good idea and that people bought them to read rather than get me to stop annoying them.

    I even thought my Christmas presents were delivered by a bloke with a white beard and that a wierdo in a gold lame tracksuit was only interested in kids so that he could make their dreams come true.

  87. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    My recollections of the time make me think post no.99 is right. The radical left gave an organisational expression to anti-poll tax sentiment that might have been lacking if the left had not been there. The Labour Party cashed in on anti-poll-tax sentiment at the ballot box, but Labour-run councils implemented the poll tax and actually jailed some non-payers.

    I can be hard on the self-designated Marxist left, but I think on that occasion it got it right. And it is just as well that the temptation to wait for a Labour government was resisted, because the Tories scraped back in in 1992.

  88. Robert on said:

    Labour will not deliver on anything unless the pressure from their left is as great or greater than the pressure on them from the right.

  89. lone nut on said:

    “The fact that holding one in Britain seems to be considered dwelling in the Land of Cockaigne tells me, at least, something about the lack of militancy in this sceptred isle, compared to elsewhere”.
    And what percentage of the work force would you say was involved in these “general strikes” elsewhere?

  90. Uncle Albert on said:

    99: “Of course it was led by the far left.”

    Then they must have been operating covertly in my town. Sure, we had the protest marches, petitions, demonstrations and all the rest. But there were no paper sellers, no long-winded speeches, no scruffy student types banging on about workers. Instead, just a representative selection of local people who, even to this day, have refrained from declaring their far-left affiliation.

  91. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    lone nut: “The fact that holding one in Britain seems to be considered dwelling in the Land of Cockaigne tells me, at least, something about the lack of militancy in this sceptred isle, compared to elsewhere”.And what percentage of the work force would you say was involved in these “general strikes” elsewhere?

    I see. Because the British don’t fight back against austerity, it must be the case that nobody else does, either?

  92. #106 I think it’s been fairly clear for a long time that certain countries in Europe have a more combative tradition of protest, particularly in terms of workers’ struggles than Britain, and this has certainly been clear in relation to the current austerity offensive.

    But I have to be honest that I’m unaware of the numbers in absolute or percentage terms that tend to be involved, including when the action is given the characterisation of a general strike.

    I’m not sure whether LN was asking a loaded/rhetorical question, and trying to make a point (you obviously do), or asking a genuine question.

    Whichever, the answer would be interesting.

  93. jim mclean on said:

    The British are fighting back against austerity but are wary of the politicalisation of that fight by the left. They ask why should Labour be exempt from the criticism and why should they benefit from the protests. So much of the work is being done outside the normal TU route by pressure groups. When disability rights groups work against the cuts they do knowing that the campaign against the disabled was initially Browns baby. He certainly learned to implement the radical theories of the 70′s in his attack.

    RULE 12: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions. (Alinsky)

  94. lone nut on said:

    “Because the British don’t fight back against austerity, it must be the case that nobody else does, either?”
    Don’t know, you tell me. Is it the case that a “general strike” in a country where 7-8% of the workforce is unionised, in 3 or 4 rival confederations, necessarily represents a higher level of mobilisation and consciousness than, say March 26, 2011 in Britain?

  95. Vanya: When you have evidence that this is how enough (and that’s a lot of!) people feel about a general strike (assuming you have defined clearly what one is and what its actual goals and demands are), then reference to the Poll Tax is relevant.Btw, I’m sure nobody is ruling out strike action against cuts in and of itself.I don’t even think Mark P is saying this, and if he is I don’t agree.

    Mark P’s views are expressed in the thread linked below, see post 7 and later posts. He seems to be encouraging people to turn away from strikes and marches, for example.. ‘the key campaign target to the exclusion of almost anything else should be tax avoidance’.

    http://www.socialistunity.com/open-thread-on-tuc-marches-in-belfast-glasgow-and-london/

    For me, the situation is one where the ruling class are having to make relentless atacks on worker living standards. This will create immense anger and bitterness amongst many, to at least be seen to remain relevant union leaders will have to respond in some way- hence they will try to reflect the anger by making noises about strike action. But of course there is a world of difference between talking about general strikes and actually campaigning for one seriously.

    Given that, the choice for socialists is to either take their cue from the leaders and tap into the anger- or denounce the idea of strike action as a waste of time. The official goal of any strike is bound to be some kind of reformist plea, something like ‘change economic policy to one of growth’. Any such event is bound to contain a large degree of uncertainty. In the 1926 general strike there was a lot more support than expected, it was a bureaucratic strike that was in danger of getting out of hand. It was abruptly called off but the rank and file activists could not effectively challenge the leaders. In 1968, there was a a routine one day strike in France that did get out of control of the bureaucrats. You may see that these are not valid comparisons. I would agree that at the current time, people’s ability or confidence in challenging leaders is very limited (even the mass picketing witnessed in 1972, which resulted in victory for miners pay and freeing the jailed dockers did not lead to any real longer term political gains for rank and file activism). However, I would also say that it is wrong for Mark P to use the ‘numbers’ argument to argue against strike action, it was for that reason that comparisons with the poll tax march were made and, for that matter, the strike numbers of 30/11 were considered as they cannot be said to be low by historical standards.

  96. andy newman on said:

    stuart: the strike numbers of 30/11 were considered as they cannot be said to be low by historical standards.

    Sorry, the turn outs on strike on N30 were indeed low, and suggested that in local government in patricular further mass industrial action might be unsustainable.

    As I have suggested to you before, do some FOI requests to a few councils, and see how many staff they deducted a days pay from. Very low indeed in most places, and in the NHS almost vanishingly smal participation.

  97. andy newman,

    Whilst there will, as always, be disputes over figures, you are using a ‘low numbers’ argument against further strikes. You refer to the ‘disastrous’ May 1980 episode as if to issue a warning against further action. But in September 1982 around twice as many struck in support of health workers.

  98. stuart: Whilst there will, as always, be disputes over figures, you are using a ‘low numbers’ argument against further strikes.

    Well Duh!

    Clearly you are someone who has no practical responsibility for actually getting people out on strike, otherwise you would not be so dismisive of the assessment of grassroots activists.

    I don’t see how there is much dispute about figures, if you FOI the local authorities, and hospitals and ask them how may staff they had to deduct pay from due to strike on N30, then these uncontestable figures are very low. Surely this is not in dispute, unless you think that councils paid significant numbers of people who were on strike?

  99. stuart: You refer to the ‘disastrous’ May 1980 episode

    Politicaly it was a disaster, because it led the Tories to think that the unions were a paper tiger; industrially it was a disaster as shop stewards were exposed as not being able to rely upon support from their members.

    Interestingly, your desperation to argue for strike action now is leading you to revise the positions that the SWP itself had at the time.

  100. stuart on said:

    Andy Newman:Interestingly, your desperation to argue for strike action now is leading you to revise the positions that the SWP itself had at the time.

    At the time the SWP placed primacy on the need to strengthen workplace organisation rather than focus on joining the Labour party and trying to influence it from within. If you were in the SWP at the time you would have been arguing that. But now you stress the importance, above all, of working in the Labour party. This would explain your desire to play down whatever is happening on the industrial front.

  101. Jellytot on said:

    @115If you were in the SWP at the time you would have been arguing that.

    The curious thing about being in parties like the SWP is that you have to propound policies that you, personally, disagree with. Doing this year after year, decade after decade must affect one’s psyche. It’s a form of psychological masochism.

    @115But now you stress the importance, above all, of working in the Labour party. This would explain your desire to play down whatever is happening on the industrial front.

    When has support for activity on the ‘industrial front’ and support for the Labour Left ever been mutually exclusive?

  102. andy newman on said:

    stuart: If you were in the SWP at the time you would have been arguing that.

    Actually I was in the Labour Party, I left the SWP in 1980, due to their disastrous inability to see the strategic necessity to join Labour at that time.

  103. stuart on said:

    Jellytot,

    I think psychological masochism applies to those on the Labour left who should have realised a long time ago that the party is- along with the trade union bureaucracy- an important part of capitalism and that, as a result, the leadership can never be left wing.

    Furthermore, if someone wants to rise to the top in the party they have to move right and they have to denounce any militant action on the ‘industrial front’.

  104. stuart on said:

    andy newman: Actually I was in the Labour Party, I left the SWP in 1980, due to their disastrous inability to see the strategic necessity to join Labour at that time.

    How did you end up in Respect?

  105. andy newman on said:

    stuart: How did you end up in Respect?

    Not that it is very interesting, but I rejoined the SWP after the miners strike