Will a general strike change anything?

23 Oct 2012

Almost half a million people marched against government cuts on March 26th 2012. Seven months later, another quarter of a million people were demonstrating on the streets of London, Glasgow, and Belfast against the coalition’s austerity programme. The Trade Union Congress (TUC), which represents fifty-four trade unions and over six and a half million people, called for ‘A Future That Works’ because they feel that our politicians have failed to face up to long-term economic problems. Working people, unemployed people, disabled people, young people, students, pensioners, trade unionists, and people who work in all professions have been out on the streets calling for the government to stop what it is doing and listen. 


But this hasn’t worked so far. Numbers of marches, rallies, sit-ins, and strikes have not made politicians listen. Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), has called for a general strike. Bob Crow, General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), has called for a general strike. Len McCluskey, General Secretary of UNITE the union, has called for a general strike. 

Brendan Barber, General Secretary of the TUC said austerity is causing enormous damage to the economy. “There have been cuts in public services, people are worried about their jobs, there has been a squeeze in living standards – all this pain to reduce the deficit and it has demonstrably failed.” If the TUC calls for a general strike, where six and a half million people would walk out of work for a day, would it change anything? Would the government listen?

In 1926, the TUC went on the only general strike Britain has ever seen. Over two and a half million workers walked out of work for nine days. It failed. The impact of a general strike now would be very different and very large. Teachers would walk out of schools, nurses out of the NHS, firemen and women would leave their stations, and civil servants walk out of all government departments. Britain would effectively come to a halt. If people really cared about their society, why would they be prepared to hurt it in such a way? These people work in Britain’s vital services; if they aren’t there to do their jobs, then millions of people will be left to fend for themselves.

We all understand that we live in a ‘Big Society’ now and everybody has to suffer. Even if it means working until you are 68, accepting lower pay, accepting cuts to those vital services that support us when we are ill or teach our children the skills they need to find a job (of which those jobs are being cut too). These six and a half million people don’t just represent themselves; they represent all of us and our needs. Any cuts to services they face, we all have to face together. (There are people who are not facing them with us, which I have mentioned in previous articles.) 

The demonstration in March called for people to ‘March For An Alternative’. When Ed Miliband spoke at that rally seven months ago, it was clear that the Labour Party was not the alternative. That message was reinforced last weekend when he was booed by the crowd at Hyde Park. People are starting to feel that the Labour Party is not a viable opposition or an alternative to the Coalition. It would seem that working people, the plebs, are going to have to fight against government themselves.

I marched for ‘A Future That Works’ this weekend. I didn’t see people who wanted to destroy their society by striking against it. I saw people of all ages (the youngest I’d guess was a few months old, the oldest in their eighties), people in wheelchairs and with walking sticks, people of different nationalities, people who represented a range of unions in all aspects of our society, and people who don’t belong to unions. People do not want to go on a general strike, but if it means that we will be listened to, it may be the only and necessary option we have. 

By Soila Apparicio

The ‘A Future That Works’ website: http://afuturethatworks.org/

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