Wednesday, 15 June 2011

All out for June 30th!

It has now been confirmed that around three-quarters-of-a-million people will be taking strike action on 30 June. There will also be rallies in most towns across the country, student walkouts, and a number of direct actions organised to coincide with the day. Despite the severe limitations of the official action, what happens two weeks tomorrow will have a significant impact on class struggle in the months to come.

The University and Colleges Union (UCU) has already balloted members and taken a first round of strike action, and it will be out again on June 30th. The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) has announced a series of dates around the end of June and beginning of July for action on the London Underground, and they will be bringing the trains to a halt until noon on that day.

Yesterday, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) both returned "yes" votes. The NUT's was an overwhelming 92% and the ATL's an also formidable 83%. For the latter, this will be the first national strike action it has ever taken and this is highly significant as an indicator of the growing level of anger over the government's austerity agenda. The day after the result was announced, the national executives of both unions rubber-stamped the 30th June date, but this was largely a formality. With the level of rank-and-file anger on offer, it would be insane to do anything else.

Today, the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) joined them. Their yes vote was a less impressive, but still decisive, 61%. What is notable, for those arguing against the ballots on the grounds of low turnout, is that PCS got 32.4% of its members to vote, ATL 36%, and NUT 40%. Which, of course, suggests that with higher turnouts support for strikes increases sharply.

But this is merely a point of note. We are not going to get the chance to have a reasoned debate with ministers over the strikes and put our case forward on the same platforms or with the same exposure. Nor should we waste our energy pushing for such a thing. Our society is not a debating chamber but a power struggle, and though we should of course counter the propaganda being put to the working class there should be no illusions that we can convince those in power to reject their own class interests.

What is more important at this point is that we build to generalise the strikes. Leafleting of schools and colleges needs to focus on encouraging student walkouts. Non-union members and support staff need to be encouraged not to cross picket lines, even if this means pulling sickies. We need to see mass turnouts on the picket lines and as much disruption as we can muster. Most importantly, we should be building the momentum to go beyond June 30th. Not just for the even bigger coordinated strikes hinted at for the Autumn, but for a wave of unrest and disruption genuinely built and led from below.

The strikes on June 30th may well be the biggest industrial action in a generation. But no general secretary or national executive can take credit for them. We are here because of the mass anger that is boiling over and because the union movement was forced to respond to grass-roots direct action movements like UK Uncut that exposed them as stale and inactive by comparison. There is no reason that we can't push the struggle much further - indeed, for victory, we cannot afford not to.