The TUC shouldn’t play games with the General Strike slogan

September 11, 2012 at 2:17 pm (capitalist crisis, Johnny Lewis, Marxism, socialism, solidarity, TUC, unions, workers)

“On the same ground of abstract, unhistorical methods of observation stand those today who would, in the manner of a board of directors, put the mass strike in Germany on the calendar on an appointed day, and those who…would be a prohibition of ‘propaganda’ eliminate the problem of the mass strike from the face of the earth.

“Both tendencies proceed on the common purely Anarchist assumption that the mass strike is a purely technical means of struggle which can be ‘decided’ at pleasure and strictly according to conscience, or ‘forbidden’ — a kind of pocket-knife which can be kept in the pocket clasped ‘ready for any emergency,’ and according to decision, can be unclasped and used” – Rosa Luxemburg, ‘The Mass Strike, The Political Party and The Trade Unions’ (1906).

 Rosa Luxemburg

It’s certainly good to see delegates to this year’s TUC talking about co-ordinated action over public sector pay, as well as the joint NUT-NASUWT commitment to joint “action short of strike action” over pay, pensions and conditions. The Unison motion, yesterday, calling on the TUC to give “full support to all groups of workers in the private or public sector who take industrial action against cuts or attacks on pay, jobs, pensions or conditions of service and co-ordinating unions taking strike action” was backed by all the major unions and carried almost unanimously: excellent!

But today’s motion from the POA (Prison Officers Association), calling on the TUC to  to consider “the practicalities of a General Strike” is, frankly, a ridiculous excercise in empty posturing and ‘resolutionary socialism’ at its worst. It actually commits the TUC to nothing, while acting as a distraction from the real work that needs to be done in building for more limited co-ordinated action. Which is why such fake-left poseurs as Prentice, Crow and Kenny will back it. Anyone who needs convincing of the utter irrelevance and vacuity of this motion should have a look at the ‘arguments’ used to support it, here.

Much the same objections apply to demands upon the TUC to call a “24-hour general strike.”

As Rosa Luixemburg explained in the excellent pamphlet quoted at the top of this post, the general strike (“mass strike”) is not a slogan to be played with, or a “technical” device to be “decided” upon at will by the leadership of the trade union movement. What our movement requires at the moment is patient rebuilding and regroupment around carefully identified, necessarily limited, objectives. The general strike puts the possibility of the seizure of state power on the agenda. Does anyone seriously think that’s where we’re at right now? Actually, the wording of the POA’s motion makes it clear that they don’t really think a general strike is even a remote possibility at the moment, and it’s noticeable that their general secretary Steve Gillan, writing in yesterday’s Morning Star, doesn’t even use the words “general strike,” but merely says “we should consider all our options.”

The general strike is an immensely valuable and potentially revolutionary weapon for the working class. Its potency must not be undermined by foolish, empty, fake-left posturing. Serious people in the socialist and trade union movement should read Rosa.

LATE NEWS: apparently, the General Council has decided to support the motion, which rather confirms my case…


  1. representingthemambo said,

    Great piece. Absurd, and harmful posturing. They are going to make the labour movement look utter fools making suggestions like this. Give me serious right-wing trade unionism over this any day.

  2. Ed Balls at the TUC « Representing the Mambo said,

    […] As Shiraz Socialist absolutely correctly point out, the correct response is not cheap sloganizing, which is what some of the union leaderships are doing right now, presumably in an attempt to keep a lid on the anger that is building up. We are not in a period when demands like a general strike are serious ones. […]

  3. Andrew Coates said,

    It would useful if people with Blogs, including Shiraz, begin publishing reports about the moblisiation for the TUC 20th of October Protest. This is one: I think that a one-day national protest strike has its uses, but there are obviously problems (legal and organisational) about one.

  4. Jim Denham said,


    We will, indeed, start publicising 20th October.

    We’re not against a one-day national protest strike: but it’s not the main priority, and it’s not a general strike.

  5. John said,

    Although presumably if it hadn’t supported the motion, that would have confimed your case as well…..

  6. Johnny Lewis said,

    The proposition that the POA motion was fake-left posturing is self-evidently true. If the general council had refused to support it, that wouldn’t have changed my assessment one iota. But their support for it just goes to show how empty and irrelevant the motion is.

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