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Strike – what strike?

13 September, 2012
Brighton

In an afternoon of high drama in Brighton, the TUC passionately debated the ‘practicalities’ of a general strike.

The word in the motion that captured the attention was ‘practicalities’ which can be loosely interpreted as ‘feasibility’, as it has been by the media.

Like a get out of jail card, this term was seen as a chance to kick the idea into the long weeds and not as a commitment to act. But this is an unfair assessment of the debates in the hall because there was not one speaker who addressed the faithful that disagreed with the sentiment and the potential that a general strike would have on the ability of the coalition to sustain the policy of forced austerity.

In a heartbeat, the Tory right condemned the debate and called on the unions to withdraw. A true testament to the potential power that the threat, no matter how remote, a general strike could have on those in power.

What was truly at stake was not the belief that the strike would achieve its objective but the potential that the TUC unions could effectively call members to the picket line. This was only matched by the long term effect that a failed attempt to motivate members would have on the TUC and the individual unions.

The General Strike of 1926 and other national events like the ‘Great Unrest’ of the Cambrian Miners strike of 1910 are an age away and when communications, expectation, work and life were very different.

Now, at a time when even the public are just beginning to wake up to the arrogant and patronising attitude of this Government [witnessed by the recent heckling and booing of the Chancellor], trade unions are in danger of shooting themselves in the foot.

If the recent support for strikes over changes to the pension and reductions in terms and conditions are anything to go by, ‘feasibility’ and the ‘practicalities’ of a general strike may be further away than we would hope and, as the recession continues to bite, going on strike becomes just as big a threat to family incomes as Government policy.

With the Labour party talking up a storm but just as committed to austerity, you begin to wonder what or who is needed to get us out of this mess.

When you enter the conference hall in Brighton, you are greeted by chants from the left of ‘TUC get off your knees – call a general strike’.  On the last day of conference and the day after the great debate, they  disappeared. Maybe they too are now looking into the ‘practicalities’ of a general strike.

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