The Socialist 12 September 2012
Build a 24-hour general strike
We can stop this austerity
Build a 24-hour general strike
Paula Mitchell, London Socialist Party secretary
What a fantastic moment. Chants for a 24-hour general strike rang out along the Brighton seafront, as sun-seeking families lined the route of the National Shop Stewards Network march and applauded.
We saw a glimpse of how millions of people can be lifted out of the anger and fear engulfing them and transformed into a force that can change it all.
The trade union movement, organising 6.5 million workers, would be a mighty force if it acted in concert. Imagine the effect if all the schools, all the council workers, all the firefighters, all the government staff and NHS workers, out on strike and taking to the streets, were joined by all the train staff, power plant workers, builders and electricians, and by cleaners, factory and shop workers.
That would have enormous power. And just imagine the effect that would have on workers not in unions, on unemployed people, young people and families. There could be a rising up of all those people hit so hard - and to be hit even harder yet - by pay freezes, benefit cuts, tuition fees, the closure of youth centres, the decimation of essential services and so on, and on, and on.
At the moment many see no hope. What can we do when our housing benefit is cut, our tax credits are cut, and the landlord says he's going to put the rent up? When the queue at the food bank gets longer, when the queue for every low-paid zero-hour contract gets bigger? Save the Children showed that the poorest children bear the brunt of the recession and cuts, losing out on hot meals, new shoes, birthday celebrations, school trips.
What will it mean? More riots - the cry of the dispossessed? More people turning to the far right in despair?
Strength of unity
But now, with the talk of a general strike, all that fear and struggle can be gathered up, organised, and made powerful.
And it can be given a voice. A new poll, reported in the Guardian, shows that by a wide margin people in Britain think we need to "fundamentally change the way our country and economy works". They're right!
It doesn't take much imagination to work it out. How about, instead of £800 billion 'owned' by big corporations sitting in the bank doing nothing, we use it to employ young people and all those public sector workers who have been made redundant? Instead of the government giving money to the banks, for them to sit on, refusing to loan, the money is used to build houses, re-build schools and re-open youth centres? Instead of the rich getting richer at our expense, we could plan, using the enormous wealth lying idle, for the benefit of all of us. Democratic socialist planning is not such a great leap of the imagination.
A 24-hour general strike won't sort all of that out in one go. But it would be so momentous that it could really dent the cuts programme, it could lead to the toppling of this weak government, and it could transform the ideas and the hopes of millions - if we can do this, what else could we do...?
Following the above article being written, the TUC's 2012 Congress voted to support Motion 5, proposed by the POA prison officers' union which calls for a general strike against austerity.