October 20: March Together then Strike Together

Editorial of the Socialist 19 Sept 2012

All forces to the point of attack against austerity

NSSN lobby of the TUC 2012, photo by Arti
NSSN lobby of the TUC 2012, photo by Arti
A rage is building up. How can it be any other way? Every aspect of our lives is under threat – and the people attacking us, the pro-big business politicians, the bosses and the right-wing media, are sitting pretty. We suffer. They get richer.
That anger is bursting out. Faced with cuts to the services and benefits that disabled people rely on, 80,000 people at the Paralympics booed Tory Chancellor George Osborne. This week the booing continued when Thatcher’s name was mentioned at a vigil for the 96 killed at Hillsborough. Expressing the mood YouTube footage shows Liverpool fans singing “there’s going to be a party when Maggie Thatcher dies”.
The Con-Dems should be warned. Among the first expressions of anger in Greece, which has seen a colossal mass movement of the working class against austerity, with generalised strike action at its heart, was jeering and booing of pro-cuts politicians. Since then a prime minister was removed and a government brought down – with the current coalition also on course for collapse.
But the Con-Dems, attempting to hide their own division, plan to carry on making the remaining 85% of their planned cuts. No doubt serious opposition is needed.

Labour ‘opposition’

NSSN lobby of TUC congress in Brighton 2012, photo by Socialist Party
NSSN lobby of TUC congress in Brighton 2012, photo by Socialist Party 
But the ‘official’ opposition is far from providing this. The latest poll from YouGov puts Labour 12 points ahead; hardly surprising given the hatred for the government. In fact the latest British Social Attitude Survey puts trust in politicians in general at only 9%.
Actually Labour has already suffered a ‘booing’ of its own – as well as Labour leader Ed Miliband having a personal approval rating lower than Cameron’s! Asked at the TUCwhat a Labour government would do about the pay freeze on public sector workers Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls explained that Labour supported the freeze. That did not go down well. Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, has previously pointed to the scandal of workers in benefit offices being forced by low pay to claim the very benefits they dispense.
An RMT delegate then asked if Labour would repeal the anti-trade union laws. No. Labour will not be helping or supporting the mass fightback necessary to end austerity.
Even when the government‘s policies appear to be crumbling, a la the Universal Credit, the most Labour can muster is a demand for this pauperising measure to be delayed by a year.
Behind Labour’s poll lead a growing number of people are questioning its usefulness as a defence against cuts and are starting to look for an alternative.
During a debate on austerity at the TUC an RMT member pointed out that fighting cuts also had to be aimed at Labour councils who have pushed through every cut suggested by the Con-Dems. He explained that his union backs the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), an electoral alliance that stands anti-cuts candidates.
The potential for this coalition to be a reference point for the struggle was illustrated when motion 5, the prison officer union’s general strike motion, was moved and seconded by members of the TUSC steering committee, POA general secretary Steve Gillan and RMT general secretary Bob Crow. First into the debate was a third member of that committee (click here for John McInally’s speech).
It was no coincidence that Steve and Bob were also on the platform of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) rally on the first day of the Congress. That rally was part of a lobby building pressure for a 24-hour general strike.

Mood for action growing

The overwhelming support at the Congress for that motion reflects the pressure from ordinary members and activists who want to, and need to, see a powerful fightback. Inspired and then frustrated by the experience of the 30 November public sector strike and subsequent sell-out by right-wing trade union leaders, the mood for generalised action is growing.
Writing in the Independent, commentator Laurie Penny correctly warns: “If the left isn’t taking the possibility of a general strike seriously, though, the government certainly is. Plans have been revealed to draft in the army to fill in the gaps left by a possible 6.5 million public sector and service workers, as well as unguessable numbers of wildcat and solidarity strikers in other industries.”
Her description of what is possible is in line with what the Socialist proposes: coordinating action between public sector unions – pay is an obvious common issue – and calling on all groups of workers with live disputes to link up their actions. But also appealing to every other section of the 99% suffering cuts to support.
The 20 October TUC demo will provide a fantastic opportunity to show the support there is for the TUC to coordinate this action – and if they don’t for the left trade unions to do it. The Socialist calls on all our readers to assist in this campaign. Below is a letter produced by theNSSN.
A motion based on this letter should be moved in every trade union branch, in every trade union meeting, and at meetings of trades councils, tenants associations, student groups, anti-cuts campaigns and every other body we can reach. It should be discussed with neighbours, families and friends. It should be tweeted, Facebooked and blogged about. A petition is available for gathering names in support. See NSSN website for campaign material.
We’re in the fight of our lives. The demand must be that the TUC makes it a matter of urgency to meet, discuss and set the date for a 24-hour general strike as soon as possible after a magnificent show of strength on 20 October. As we go to press Rob Williams, national chair of the NSSN, is meeting with the TUC leadership to say this. Reports next week and online.
A one-day strike must be the first step in a determined strategy against austerity, but it could have a transformative effect on ‘social attitudes’. Working class people will get a glimpse of their potential power and strength as the most significant social force in society and of how the government can be forced out.

NSSN letter

To trade union and anti-cuts organisations,

The National Shop Stewards Network welcomes the overwhelming vote at this year’s TUC Congress in support of the POA motion.
It called for the unions to take “coordinated action where possible with far-reaching campaigns including the consideration and practicalities of a general strike.”
We are proud of our relationship with the POA, RMT and the PCS, who officially support the NSSN. They were prominent in this historic debate.
The calling of a general strike could give hope to millions of workers and working class people in general, that this government’s austerity offensive can be met with fierce resistance from the trade union movement.
Before the start of Congress, the NSSN organised a lobby of the TUC, when up to 1,000 union members support the POA motion.
We now firmly believe that this vote can change the character of the TUC’s 20 October demonstrations in London, Glasgow and Belfast.
Along with the rest of the union movement, the NSSN will strive to help build a turnout that even eclipses the massive demonstration on 26 March 2011.
We will do all we can to get a million people on the streets. But we believe that if the marches are used as a platform to popularise the idea of a 24-hour general strike, we can send a real message of intent to the Con-Dems that, if they continue with these brutal cuts, they will be met with the full force of the organised working class, still the most powerful force in society.
We therefore, call on the TUC General Council to discuss how this motion can be put into practice and to name the day for a 24-hour general strike.
We hope there will be debate and discussion throughout the movement about the next steps to fight austerity.
The NSSN is happy to provide speakers to any regular or special meeting called by your organisation, to explain why we think a 24-hour general strike is necessary as the next stage of resistance.
Please contact us through the above email address or this mobile phone number – 07816134690. The NSSN is also organising a series of regional meetings and conferences over the next few months, details can be found on our website.

In solidarity,

Linda Taaffe – NSSN national secretary
Rob Williams – NSSN national chair

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