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UK General Strike?

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 “Mick Lynch, head of the RMT union, has said there could be a general strike if Liz Truss becomes prime minister and introduces laws intended to make it harder for unions to organise industrial action. Mr Lynch is quoted calling for an “enormous response” if the measures go ahead.” BBC.

Calls for a General Strike, effectively a TUC led Day of Action, have come in the wake of the rail unions’ work stoppages. The Guardian says, “As much of Britain’s rail network ground to a halt, the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union chief, Mick Lynch, called for a general strike in retaliation to ministers’ threats to curb industrial action, warning of “the biggest resistance mounted by the entire trade union movement”.

One of the last acts of Boris Johnson was to make strike breaking by companies hiring agency workers, “New law in place to allow businesses to hire agency workers to plug staffing gaps caused by strike action.

  • Law changed to allow businesses most impacted by industrial action to fill vital roles with temporary, skilled workers
  • Reforms will help ensure crucial public services and people’s daily lives remain uninterrupted by staff strikes
  • Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng: “In light of militant trade union action threatening to bring vital public services to a standstill, we have moved at speed to repeal these burdensome,1970s – style restrictions.”

Challenger for leadership of the Tory Party and the post of PM Liz Truss has promised to extend this scabs’ charter, by effectively making strikes hard, if not impossible, in large sectors of the the economy and public services.

Truss said she would legislate for minimum service levels on critical national infrastructure in the first 30 days of government under her leadership. The pledge would go further than the Tories’ 2019 policy, which promised a minimum service should operate during transport strikes.

The new law proposed by Truss would potentially restrict teachers, postal workers and the energy sector. Tailored minimum thresholds, including staffing levels, would be determined with each industry.

What would be a General Strike against this dictatorial turn?

The word gives the impression of a replay of the 1926 events when some 1.7 million workers went out, especially in transport and heavy industry, in  an attempt to prevent wage reductions and worsening conditions for 1.2 million locked-out miners. But what may be on the cards is probably protest that attempts to be on the lines of the campaign against Tory PM Edward Heath’s Industrial Relations Act in the early 1970s. 12 January 1971 the TUC held a ‘day of action’ in protest, with a march through London. In March, 1,500,000 members of the AEU engineering union  staged a one-day strike.

A few days ago the Morning Star carried this Editorial:

FIFTY years ago today, five shop stewards were released from Pentonville prison in London.

They had been locked up five days earlier, having defied a ruling of the National Industrial Relations Court (NIRC) to cease picketing an east London container depot during an unofficial strike against job losses and the casualisation of labour on the docks.

Vic Turner, Bernie Steer, Conny Clancy, Tony Merrick and Derek Watkins came out through the prison gates, to be hailed as heroes by the waiting crowds.

A militant network of union shop stewards, branches and district committees provided the basis for the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions. In many unions, broad left organisations also helped raise the level of working-class political as well as industrial consciousness.

..

Outraged by the use of naked state power to put trade union activists behind bars, strikes had broken out in ports across Britain, quickly joined by walkouts in other industries. Railway workers and engineers had already taken industrial action in defiance of the law.

The release of the Pentonville Five saved the Tories from an all-out confrontation with a working class which would have included a 24-hour general strike called by the TUC general council. The powers of the NIRC had been shredded. Solidarity won the day.

……

Since that decade mass strikes of this kind have not happened. To begin with Margaret Thatcher restricted ‘sympathy’ or solidarity strikes in 1980 and in 1990 the Employment Act outlawed solidarity work stoppages completely.

There is no ‘right’ to strike in the UK, “The problem we face is of some strikes being unlawful, which means there is no law permitting them, leaving strikers and unions that call such strikes open to civil litigation. ” (from the useful outline by Ian Allinson. When is it illegal to strike?)

“Official strike action, then, is confined, ” You can only lawfully strike against your own employer, while employers are free to divide themselves into multiple legal entities, outsource and subcontract work. The solidarity on which workers have always relied is now unlawful. Instead of any issue in connection with employment, strikes are only lawful if they relate wholly or mainly to a narrow set of issues which exclude issues such as the sale of the part of the business you work for.”

TUC co-ordindated protests have been seen in meetings and stalls run in towns and cities across the country, local (Trades Council) marches and national protests such as this year, “We demand better: March and Rally, 18 June.”

In this context the RMT chose the words ‘coordinated action’ carefully.

If in the UK national solidarity actions that halt work are not given legal protection and are open to challenge in law by employers, days of national trade union action, with strikes as well as protests, still take place in many other European countries. It may be that unions, as the term “coordinated” suggests, are exploring ways of launching these kinds of protests.

Here is one in France (2020) called by the CGT federation of unions, and joined by a number of other groups (Solidaires, la Fédération syndicale unitaire (FSU) mouvements de jeunesse.

Is there space for further action? What kind of ‘general strike’ could happen?

Sharon Graham – General Secretary, Unite the Union

Liz Truss has declared war on the trade union movement and working people.

Let’s be clear, her mad-cap proposals are an attempt to all but ban strike action and outlaw effective trade unions.

This manifesto is nothing but a charter of discontent.

The rights of working people have been put on the chopping block by an ambitious politician, hawking for the votes of a tiny minority.

At the time of a cost of living crisis, where profits are driving inflation not wages, this would be Prime Minister has instead chosen to return Britain’s workplaces to the 19th century.

Unite the union will not bow to threats and any attempt to place us outside of the law will be met with fierce, prolonged resistance.

In the Labour Party the sacking of Sam Tarry for going to show solidarity to RMT and TASSA strikers continues.

Sky: Senior Labour MP John McDonnell says he supports general strike and hits out at Sir Keir Starmer

Labour List Reports,

Sacking Tarry a “severe mistake” by Starmer advisers, McDonnell says.

Katie Neame

Appearing on Sky News, the former Shadow Chancellor said: “I don’t know who’s advising Keir Starmer, but this is a completely unnecessary row that’s been invented, just at a time when the Tories are tearing themselves apart. and we’ve got the maximum opportunity I think to gain an advantage in the polls.”

McDonnell told viewers: “Sam went on the picket, like minister after minister, shadow minister after shadow minister, over the years, in support of workers who are asking for a decent pay rise. It’s a just cause.

“And now we’re told he’s been sacked not because he went on the picket lines, but because he made statements on the picket lines. But what was he supposed to do? Go on there and wear a gag? It’s a silly, silly situation to get in to.”

The Labour backbencher said Labour needs to accept that there will be a “wave of industrial action now”, as unions members are voting “overwhelmingly” for strikes over concerns relating to pay. He declared: “We’ve got to come off the fence and be on the side of a just cause – the workers. I think they’ve got it right.”

McDonnell said he thought Starmer’s advisers had made a “severe mistake” in firing Tarry, adding that they had “dug [Labour] into a hole in the first place unnecessarily, by telling people not to go on picket lines”.

He said: “To dig ourselves into a hole like this, telling people they can’t go on picket lines, was inevitably gonna lead to something like this, a real mistake and division like this.

“I think it’s time to back off and recognise the real issue is what working-class people are going through at the moment which is a terrible cost-of-living crisis. How do we solve it? We back them by getting inflation-proof pay awards to support them. It’s as simple as that.

“So I think mistakes have been made from the very beginning. We need to stand back and actually start trying to secure unity across, not just the whole labour and trade union movement, but across the country overall.”

McDonnell argued that Starmer and his team had “completely misread the situation” and misread the “mood within the labour and trade union movement” and the “mood amongst the general public”.

Written by Andrew Coates

July 28, 2022 at 11:18 am

Truss Versus Sunak: Back to “the Long 1990s”?

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Back to the Long 1990s?

“If, on some level, however abstract, you are never strategising against Empire, capital or the state, then you can be sure that they are strategising against you. You may comfort yourself that ‘there is no hegemony’, but Washington knows that there is hegemony, and News International knows that there is hegemony. What’s more: they don’t care that you don’t believe in their hegemony. They don’t need to hegemonise you to get you cornered: they’ve got enough on their side already. They don’t need you to believe in them to capture you. All they need to do is to organise the space you move in. If you don’t coordinate your singular points of resistance/escape/becoming with those of others, then you won’t have a chance. All of your key coordinates will be determined for you. No line of flight will take you far enough to escape: the world is round, in case you hadn’t heard. “

Jeremy Gilbert. Anticapitalism and Culture: Radical Theory and Popular Politics. 2008.

This Blog can’t say it agrees with Jeremy Gilbert (Website) on every issue, including efforts to turn nouns like strategy and hegemony into verbs. But the cultural theorist and Professor of Cultural and Political Theory at the University of East London, has got some bottle. He talked of the “long 1990s” “a culture in which technological change is accompanied by cultural stasis” a “direct expression and effect of the hegemony of the technofinancial historic bloc”. The Blair years carried on seamlessly with the liberalised economy created by Margaret Thatcher, opening up further the process of globalised production, “flexible labour markets and deregulation ‘to untie the hands of business'” as the Third Way Labour Prime Minister put it.

Like Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, it reflected “the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it a good one”. “Strategising” against Empire, capital and the state, sounds like saying, in simpler terms, ‘even if we don’t have a global answer to this, we won’t lie down and let the bastards trample all over us’. There were others who took an active stand up line. Anti-globalising movements, older readers may recall, launched large protests, from Genoa to São Paulo,  in the first decade of the new millenium, with demonstrations tapering out around 2011.

These did not seem to have much effect on domestic elections in the UK. Conservative David Cameron won against Labour’s more tempered globaliser, Gordon Brown in 2010 and governed as PM with Liberal Democrat support. Yet a few years on the late, and much missed, comrade Fisher saw some cracks in that realism appear with the rise of the anti-austerity movements against the Coalition (Exiting the Vampire Castle 2013).

“One of the things that broke me out of this depressive stupor was going to the People’s Assembly in Ipswich, near where I live. The People’s Assembly had been greeted with the usual sneers and snarks. This was, we were told, a useless stunt, in which media leftists, including Jones, were aggrandising themselves in yet another display of top-down celebrity culture. What actually happened at the Assembly in Ipswich was very different to this caricature. The first half of the evening – culminating in a rousing speech by Owen Jones – was certainly led by the top-table speakers. But the second half of the meeting saw working class activists from all over Suffolk talking to each other, supporting one another, sharing experiences and strategies. Far from being another example of hierarchical leftism, the People’s Assembly was an example of how the vertical can be combined with the horizontal: media power and charisma could draw people who hadn’t previously been to a political meeting into the room, where they could talk and strategise with seasoned activists. The atmosphere was anti-racist and anti-sexist, but refreshingly free of the paralysing feeling of guilt and suspicion which hangs over left-wing twitter like an acrid, stifling fog.

Gilbert saw the long-1990s ending around 2016, “Something ended around 2016, as Trump, Brexit and Corbyn became central topics of everyday political discourse. Ever since the early 1990s, mainstream politics in the English-speaking world had been dominated by the success of the neoliberal politico-economic programme, and a cultural agenda that promoted socially-liberal, cosmopolitan, individualistic values. Theorists had claimed that we were now in an epoch of ‘postmodernity’; even that we stood at ’the end of history’. But the truth is that this was always  just another phase in the long history of capitalism. That phase has ended now for various reasons – such as the rise of social media and ‘platform capitalism’ – leaving us in a turbulent situation characterised by the rise of new forms of politics on the right and on the left: from the alt-right to Corbynism. ” The Long 90s Is Over.

The hopes for wider transformation placed in Jeremy Corbyn as the harbinger of “new forms of politics” ended only a few years later, with the electoral defeat of 2019. The US left national revival had never really got beyond the Bernie Sanders Presidential nomination campaign, suspended in 2020, though some local movements remain. Only in Spain and France have new left groups made an electoral impact, but both in coalitions or alliances with older forces, Unidas Podemos in government with the Spanish Socialists, the PSOE, and the French ‘left populist’ La France insoumise/l’Union populaire, as the largest part of the Parliamentary bloc, NUPES (Nouvelle Union populaire écologique et sociale).

Gilbert argued that that the left’s task is to expand the collaborative, non-capitalist space little by little. In the wake of the 2019 election he talked of domains in which the left should advocate change in, “Each of these is a front on which we must now fight: organising communities and demanding local reforms, while building a local sense of solidarity and possibility; supporting our own left media while openly attacking the right-wing bias of the existing outlets; above all, working to rebuild our unions by any means necessary must be seen as an urgent task for all of us. Each of these is also a major area of reform to which any future Labour or Labour-led government must commit.” This requires a “new hegemonic strategy”, “…a bloc of democratic forces that will include activists, community groups, unions, and other organisations all round the country. There is no getting away from the fact that it will have to include other parties: all of those parties, including the Liberal Democrats, who do not benefit from the right-wing bias of the British press and the British state. This anti-Tory coalition will have to be understood, at a certain level, as an alliance of different social groups and different class fractions all of whom share a common interest in preventing the destruction of life on Earth. But yes, it will also have to take the form of political co-operation between groups and parties that are used to competing with each other.” History is clear: Labour must lead an alliance for democratic reform. 2020.) Judging from his recent writing Gilbert seems to retain his commitment to this strategy.

Such an anti-Tory coalition would be something very different to the kind of left alliance the French NUPES represents, which goes from the radical left, the Greens, La France insoumise, the old Communist Party, to the ‘governing’ left of the majority of what remains of the (not long ago, 2012 – 2917) in power, Parti Socialiste. Being in favour of broadening the left’s appeal, and opening up the electoral system to reform, is not the same as being behind formal, pre-election, agreements with non-left parties. Those of us who have experience of Liberal Democrats in coalition locally (and not just under David Cameron) might recall that the meeting Mark Fisher (above) attended brought together the left, trade unions and local Labour, in large part because of the experience of that Coalition, nationally, and in running the Borough Council of Ipswich. It is also hard to see how the left could form an alliance with the more borders centre-right/centre left Scottish nationalists, to give just another difficulty.

But what of the alt-right, the national populists, the Trumps and the Johnsons? Perhaps while Italy faces a renewed challenge from the far-right  Fratelli d’Italia, egged on by Berlusconi himself, their days have also passed.

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak look far more like the creatures of cultural stasis, a return to the long 1990s, and an attempt to renew the stable pursuit of the era’s globalising, depoliticising, right-wing policies. Truss” The central battleground will be about whether we go for growth and cut taxes, or carry on with business as usual and tax rises,” “I am the tax-cutting candidate who will help squeezed families by reversing April’s national insurance rise and suspending the green levy on energy bills.” She also pledged to bring in an emergency budget to get the changes through quickly and to announce a spending review to “find more efficiencies in government spending”. “In the Daily Telegraph, Mr Sunak wrote that he believed in “hard work, family and integrity”, adding: “I am running as a Thatcherite, and I will govern as a Thatcherite.” “The best way to achieve economic growth is cutting taxes and bureaucracy, and boosting private sector investment and innovation,” he said. (BBC)

Let’s not even begin on the Labour Party….

We look forward to reading this in the autumn (as flagged up by Michael Chessum in his own new book):

Hegemony Now

How Big Tech and Wall Street Won the World (And How We Win it Back)

by Jeremy Gilbert and Alex Williams

Third Tory Debate Gets “Cancelled” by Sunak and Truss.

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Tories Adopt Cancel Culture to Avoid Further Debate.

“Sky News has cancelled the third scheduled TV debate in the Conservative leadership race after Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss pulled out of the event following a bruising set of exchanges in the first two debates.”

Guardian.

“Tuesday evening’s live television debate on Sky News between the Conservative party leadership candidates has been cancelled,” the broadcaster said in a statement.

“Two of the ​three candidates currently leading in the MPs’ ballots – Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss – have confirmed to Sky News that they do not want to take part.

“Conservative MPs are said to be concerned about the damage the debates are doing to the image of the Conservative party, exposing disagreements and splits within the party. Both are very welcome to take part in future Sky News televised debates.”

The far right loved it:

Written by Andrew Coates

July 18, 2022 at 11:47 am