Saturday, 6 April 2013

McCluskey's "general strike" maddness

The BBC reported that Len McCluskey, General Secretary of the largest union Unite has called for a "general strike" against "austerity measures. The Unite union has submitted a document to the TUC General Council meeting due to be held later this month. They claim that:

"would be a landmark in our movement's recovery of its morale, strength and capacity to play a leading part in a society crying out for credible and honourable leadership".

However they also admit that such a dispute would be open to legal challenge. They are seeking to call the strike via "human rights" legislation" as it would be "political" rather than "industrial". The BBC quotes Marc Meryon of the Eversheds law firm:

"Unions can only organise strike action if certain conditions are satisfied. For example, there must be a live dispute between the striking workers and their employer over an issue such as terms and conditions of employment or working arrangements.
"As such, a general strike held to protest about government policy or a political matter, which is not directly related to the striking workers' employment, risks being unlawful and runs the risk of being challenged by any employer affected."

This places McCluskey in the same "camp" as Mark Serwotka, the PCS General Secretary, the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party.

Currently PCS is in the middle of a dispute over said austerity measures designed to promote a "general strike" but has thus far failed to get any takers. Even the National Union of Teachers, with a similar political make-up to the trotskyist run PCS has declined to join the longed for "co-ordinated action promoted by Socialist Party leaders such as John McInally.

However PCS is obviously incapable of running its own strikes let alone organising a general strike as their so-called "weekend of action" has demonstrated.* More than that the level of participation in the the dispute has clearly declined according to most reports with a distinct lack of enthusiasm amongst the majority of members.

The reality is that the conditions do not currently exist for any kind of general strike regardless of any legal pitfalls.  Left Futures published an interesting analysis of the prospects for such a strike back in January: (

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.
What is more, even the process of having a serious discussion about our preparedness for a general strike is premature, and itself risks showing weakness and division. (my emphasis)

Or as Mike Clancy, General Secretary of Prospect calls it "a dangerous distraction". Prospect along with the teachers union the ATL and Shop-workers union USDAW all remain opposed to a general strike.

How far McCluskey and Serwotka will get at the TUC council remains to be see, but as Left Futures puts it, there is a strong possibility of a self-inflicted defeat that could push back even further the strength of the unions at a time when we could well do without it.

The trouble with Marxists is they forget that the last time there was a general strike, the unions lost. Nothing they say or do suggests any different outcome this time. These "comrades" spend far too much time reading books by dead Russians whose ideas ultimately failed anyway.

Now is the time to start re-thinking the way trade unions and the Labour Party conduct their affairs. The old days are over, time for new ideas.

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