The Socialist Party and the General Strike By Alan Hunter

10/04/2013 by socialistfight

At last year’s TUC Congress in Brighton a motion was moved and passed by the Prison Officers association and supported by others to examine the “practicality of a general strike”. This policy was promoted and supported by the National Shop Stewards Movement, the industrial arm of the Socialist Party. They favour a 24 Public Sector general strike. This motion is now to be discussed at the General Council of the TUC on April 25, at which the NSSN intends to lobby.

The TUC is inviting two Labour lawyers John Hendy and Keith Ewing to bring proposals on how “Legal general strike” can be organised. Both the NSSN and the SPW are centrist organisations who have full confidence in the abilities of certain Left wing trade Union Leaders like Len McCluskey of Unite, Bob Crowe of the RMT, Mark Serwotka of PCS and Matt Wrack of the FBU.

In fact this is not a serious strike movement at all. In recent times there has been many strike actions and large demonstrations organised by the TUC, UNITE, PCS, NUT and others over pensions, but these protests have not amounted to anything and all of them have being abandoned except for the recent PCS strike which was staged just by one Union.

There is no sense in which a one day 24 general strike legal or otherwise can be organised under these conditions. We as Trotskyist must be very clear on the nature of a general strike. In the Transitional Programme Trotsky states “the whole political situation as a whole is chiefly characterised by a Historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat” [1]. The leadership of the working class in Britain is led by a bureaucratic and reformist leadership who have a history of class betrayal. The purpose of a general strike is allied with the struggle for the conquest of power and the overthrow of capitalism. The centrists in the SPEW are only interested in left reformism and adaption to the left bureaucracy. McCluskey one of the so called lefts and a member of the Labour party is only interested in the return of a capitalist labour government.

If you look at the history of previous general Strikes starting from 1926 you will see that if they are led by bureaucrats they are doomed and ultimately betrayed. The recent 1984-5 Miners strike like the 1926 general strike led to the defeat of the miners. In 1974 when the NUM successfully defeated the Heath government together with the dockers and other workers the result was the return of another Bourgeois Labour Government.

Trotsky in his writings on Britain analysed that a general strike was not a mere protest as practised by the NSSN. “A general strike if it not be a mere protest signifies an extreme upheaval of society and in any event places at stake the fate of the political regime and the reputation of the strength of the revolutionary regime” [2].

This is not the situation because this proposal for a general strike is just another half-hearted protest. The issue here is that we are dealing with centrism and reformism. Trotsky understood both these tendencies in the working class very well: “The main feature of Socialist centrism is its reticence, its mediocre half –and-half nature. It keeps going as long as it does not draw the ultimate conclusions” [3]. Further on Trotsky draws the analogy between a general strike and armed struggle “A general strike is the sharpest form of class struggle; it is only one step from the general strike to the armed insurrection” [4].

Trotsky perfectly analyses the role of trade union leaders and centrists whose role is to belittle, confuse and ultimately betray a general strike and ensure it leads to defeat. “An implacable struggle against every act of treachery or attempted treachery and the ruthless exposure of the reformists are the main elements in the work of the genuine revolutionary participants in the general strike” [5]. The question of state power and its acquisition is posed during a general strike. “The fundamental importance of the general strike is that it poses the question of power point blank” [6].

Rob Williams chair of the NSSN and a member of the SPEW answers a readers letter in the March issue of Socialism Today about the general strike tactic. “But the movement was stalled and defeated by the sell-out of the TUC and Union Leaders like those in UNISON and the GMB” [7]. This is not correct; The SPEW chooses not to single out the lefts who were also responsible for the sell-out and betrayal. Unite was an important factor with the GMB and UNISON in the pension struggle, but the SPEW does not criticise McCluskey or the others because the SPEW are currying favour and are allied with these lefts. Further on comrade Williams directly puts the blame of the crisis onto the working class “Undoubtedly in the public sector where the cuts have bitten deeply confidence has been hit and consciousness has retreated from that heady days of N30” [8]. He further lets the Lefts off the hook by stating “The relative lull in the movement to resist austerity inevitably gives rise to a review of our approach” [9].

This perspective seeks to blame the working class for the crisis and not their leaders. This is a question of leadership and not whether the working class will fight. The working class is a revolutionary class and in this period it will test this leadership out, if it has no confidence in one day protests it will wait and see. That does mean that workers will not fight it means that that they do not trust a rotten corrupt and reformist leadership which has a history of defeats behind it. Most of these protests have only been organised to show that the TUC and bureaucratic leaders are fighting. Both the right and left trade union leaders will betray and the SPEW has attached itself to the coattails of this left bureaucracy, hoping that they will fight and defeat this Con-Liberal Coalition. They are very much mistaken, as I have shown class betrayal, cowardice and class compromise are the hallmarks of this bureaucracy.

Genuine Trotskyists must work to win sections of workers to understand the true significance of general strike and work to create and fight for an alternative revolutionary leadership in the working class. The bureaucracy right and left must be challenged and exposed. We must show those elements in the NSSN who want to seriously fight the bureaucracy and help to overthrow capitalism in a struggle for state power that they need to adopt a revolutionary perspective. Socialist Fight and the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International are fighting for this perspective.

1) Leon Trotsky: the Transitional Programme and the Tasks of the Fourth International

2) Leon Trotsky: Writings on Britain vol. 2 p. 62

3) Ibid. p. 112

4) Ibid. p. 144

5) Ibid. p. 146

6) Ibid. p. 146

7) Socialism Today No, 166 March 2013 letters p. 31

8) Ibid. p. 32

9) Ibid. p. 32.

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