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How do we get European style strikes in Britain?

This article is over 11 years, 5 months old
As activists come together for the Unite the Resistance conference, members of its steering committee set out their views on the way forward
Issue 2329
A vote at the UtR conference last year (Pic: Smallman )
A vote at the UtR conference last year (Pic: Guy Smallman)

‘TUC strike motion opens up a space’

Sean Vernell, UCU

The European trade union day of action this week is an inspiration. It shows the spread of mass strikes as workers confront the austerity agenda.

We got a glimpse of what something similar could look like in Britain on 30 November last year. It gave hope to millions of working people—and not just those in unions.

If trade unions are to be successful they will have to build on this model. Unfortunately last year some union leaders derailed the movement by signing up to the government’s “heads of agreement” deal.

But the 200,000 people who attended the TUC demonstration last month showed that there are still huge numbers out there who want to resist the coalition’s attacks.

And the TUC’s congress passing a motion to “consider the practicalities” of a general strike opens up a space. It gives activists a chance to put the case for that action in every workplace, canteen, staff room and union meeting.

Unite the Resistance exists to try to bring together all those within the unions who understand the urgency of building such a movement.

We are attempting to build a network of workplace leaders, connecting them together on a local, national and international level.

It’s about learning from each other and supporting one another in struggle. It is through these networks that we can ensure every call for action from our trade unions gets the maximum active support.

And at the same time, these networks can also apply pressure, when needed, to union leaders who fail to call effective action against the attacks we face. We have the power to build a movement that can put a halt to the era of austerity.

‘What matters is where we go from here’

Liz Lawrence, UCU

We’re at a difficult stage now. We need an honest discussion about where we are—how to persuade people that resistance is still possible. What matters now is where we are going. People are swamped with workload. Fighting work intensification has got to be central to resistance.

In the UCU we lost a strike ballot, but we’re trying to get a higher education emergency conference in January.

Where we are going has to be about workload and equality, because the government is still clobbering people. They’re hitting poor people and disabled people. Gender and class have to be central to our fightback.

‘We need to rebuild unity across unions’

Max Watson, Unison (pc)

We need to talk seriously about how to rebuild the unity we had last year in the labour movement. We can’t ignore the damage done by the breakdown in unity in the pensions dispute.

But we have to avoid the temptation to split unions into ‘left’ and ‘right’ unions. We’re battling to turn Unison into the fighting organisation we need.

We need to set our differences aside and build the rank and file. We need to move beyond slogans and get motions for a general strike. We need to rebuild to resist austerity, cuts, privatisation and job losses.

‘Let’s turn union leaders’ words into action’

Sue Bond, PCS

In our union we’re calling for protests in November and December, including strikes by some sections such as the Department for Transport.

We are also set to kick off a ballot for national strikes in the new year. This action will be against cuts, privatisation and also the attack on terms and conditions.

There was an argument on our executive during the pensions dispute that PCS could not fight alone. But now all agree the attacks will require PCS to fight on its own if need be.

Unite the Resistance is about actively addressing the crucial question—the need to get organised in every workplace to put the words of the union leaders into action.

Protest against autumn statement

Protests are being planned in towns and cities across Britain on 5 December as chancellor George Osborne unveils the latest round of cuts in his autumn statement.

Already protests are being organised in London and Sheffield. An anti-cuts conference of 100 last week agreed to back protests in Manchester, Liverpool and Lancaster.

Unite the Resistance conference, Saturday 17 November, 11am–5pm, Emmanuel Centre, 9-23 Marsham St, London SW1P 3DW. To book online go to

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