Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Welcome news as TUC passes motion to consider a general strike

A motion posed by the Prison Officers Association calling on the TUC to consider calling a general strike and passed today at TUC conference is a reflection of the growing anger at the government's slash and burn agenda. It follows Len McClusley's article in the Guardian last week speaking of more coordinated action from unions, and the vote by the NUT teachers union in support of further action over pay and workload.

Some trade union leaders, such as Chris Keates from the teaching union NASUWT, have voiced concern at the passing of the motion, claiming a general strike could alienate support of the general public. Mary Bousted of the ATL said it might simply play into the hands of the right-wing anti-union media. I would argue, however, these statements show that some of our union leadership are behind the mood of ordinary working people in this country.

Firstly, let's just look at last year. The 26th March demo was the biggest trade union demonstration this country has seen in decades. The 30th November strike involved around 3 million workers, and some towns and cities recorded their biggest demonstrations - ever. It had the highest participation of women workers - ever. Secondly, over the past year, we've had more clear examples of what austerity means; Greece and Spain are a glimpse into our future if the government's austerity agenda remains intact. And so far we've only had 20% of the cuts. It's quite simple: ordinary people cannot cope with any further cuts. More importantly, the crisis wasn't made by us, and yet we're being made to pay the price, and the causes of the crisis are not being addressed. The government, with its recent right-wing reshuffle, simply wants more deregulation, more privatisation; in short, more of what got us into the mess in the first place.

There are also good reason why unions should support the call for more coordinated action. Unions that participated in strike action last year increased their membership as a direct result. People join unions when they see those unions are prepared to defend their interests.

We should of course be aware that at the moment there is nothing inevitable about coordinated action or a general strike. The good news, however, is that we don't need to just sit back and wait to see if a general strike is called. Union members can put motions to their branch, committee or conference congratulating the passing of the motion and calling on the TUC to name the day. You could try petitioning in your workplace over the same issue. This can all be done when organising to build a maximum turnout for October 20th.

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