Schools closed, rail services halted, universities stopped and state departments disrupted. Even before Wednesday, it was obvious that workers would show their power in a day of united strikes and protests. It’s the biggest single day of strikes for more than a decade.
There was every sign the hundreds of thousands striking together would give a new impetus to the fight against plummeting pay and attacks on jobs and conditions. And it showed the potential to stop and to defy anti‑union laws.
It’s a big step forward. But the crucial issue is what comes next, because a series of short strikes have not moved bosses nor the vicious Tory government.
Rail and post workers have struck solidly in a series of on-off strikes for more than six months. Yet the bosses have barely shifted.
The strikes have to be longer and bigger. Repeating 1 February on a bigger scale is important, but the central question is escalating the individual strikes.
Activists have to demand further united strikes, but not make their own sector’s strike strategy dependent on what everyone else does. There’s a danger otherwise that for some union leaders “all out together” becomes an excuse to call only token and partial action. General secretaries can play with calls for “general strikes” while strangling their own disputes.
There is a chance that there will be another day of united strikes on 15 March, when the government sets its budget. Already the NEU has said this will be the date of the next teachers’ strike across England and Wales—for two days this time.
The PCS civil servants’ union is likely to call action then, and the UCU university workers’ union has notified dates around this time—although inexplicably not 15 March. New forces could join, such as the firefighters whose strike ballot result was out this week.
And there ought to be all rail—and London Underground—workers, postal workers and the NHS unions involved next time too. They should have been out this time.
That would mean around 750,000 out in March if everyone took action.
But it’s six weeks until then. And everyone knows employers can ride out a single day, however impressive it may be. So this week has to see strikers demand much harder-hitting action. And we need militant, insurgent anti-Tory protests involving climate activists and other campaigners.
We need victories to inspire further resistance, rather than retreats that dampen the fightback feeling. That means confronting the union leaders who are desperately seeking deals. Only by organising extended and indefinite action can workers win what they richly deserve.
As well as building picket lines and marches, strikers have to demand more participation, control and democracy inside the strikes. They should be shaping the action, not passively receiving instructions from on high. That means building rank and file networks inside unions and between groups of activists—with local strike committees.
And politics is essential to successful resistance. Workers must not be divided by racism or attacks on trans people, for example. And we need much better than what’s on offer from Labour.
This week has to be a launchpad for a much bigger wave of strikes, protests and resistance against the Tories and the bosses. It must burst out of the straitjacket imposed by anti-union laws, union leaders and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.
Tory MPs were set to vote new anti‑union laws through the Commons on Monday evening. The proposed legislation requires “minimum service levels” that force workers to scab on their own strikes.
They threaten strikers with the sack if they don’t follow bosses’ demands. And they would hit unions with massive fines for resistance.
The laws have to be stopped—and defied if they are rammed through. The government is weak, divided and rocked by scandal. But they’re hoping to rebuild on the back of attacking workers’ conditions and democratic rights.
There is little hope of beating the laws if we leave opposition in the hands of the House of Lords, petitions and passive demonstrations outside parliament. The way to defeat the laws is through mass strikes and resistance, as was done when anti-union laws were defeated in the 1970s.
We need that method again.
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