The TUC’s recent call for a mid-week day of action was a response to pressure from the rank and file – and pressure from the rank and file is needed to make it happen.
Twelve months ago, the 2012 TUC Congress passed a motion from the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) calling on the unions to consider “the practicalities of a general strike” to halt the Con-Dem austerity offensive. Yet talk of a general strike remained just that for our leaders – just talk. If we leave the decision for the day of action voted for in Brighton to the same people, then we will get the same result.
But as last month’s 50,000 strong demonstration at the Tory party conference in Manchester showed, whenever unions have called on their members they have answered in their tens of thousands.
This even more true at a local level, where grassroots activists have not sat back and waited but, faced with threats of imminent closures, have sprung into action. At Lewisham Hospital, 25,000 demonstrated in January and eventually forced a judicial review and a temporary halt to the wreckers. In Stafford, 50,000 people mobilised in April to save their hospital, followed by 20,000 marching the day before the national demo in Manchester.
So if the rank and file does respond to calls for action, how can we overcome the divisions within the resistance, above all the hesitancy or outright sabotage of the union leaders?
We can use the People’s Assemblies that are being planned right across the country, not as rallies for celebrity speakers and not just to “share experiences”, but as places to argue and decide on the strategy we need, both locally and nationally, to stop the government’s demolition of our services.
We can create local delegate-based councils of action, meeting regularly, to coordinate and lead the resistance. We can form rank and file movement in every union to democratise them, to recruit the unorganised, working with the union leaders when they fight and without them when they do not.
We can demand the TUC leaders who voted for a mid-week day of action name a date and unite the ongoing and planned disputes – teachers, postal workers, firefighters – into a veritable strike wave, from which an all-out indefinite general strike to bring down the coalition can be put firmly on the agenda.
We need to unite unions, students and youth organisations, and immigrant communities, to oppose and halt the marches of the English Defence League and British National Party, both by mass mobilisations and by effective self-defence for all who come under attack from them.
We need to set about building a new working class party with an active membership, not just an election machine, organised and recruiting in every workplace and community, and we need to win it to a programme that is openly and boldly socialist, anticapitalist and revolutionary.