By Mark L Thomas
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2233

Push to turn union leaders’ words into action

This article is over 11 years, 5 months old
A number of major union leaders have spoken out about what kind of movement we need to beat the cuts—including the need for strikes.
Issue 2233
If Greek workers can organise successful general strikes so can we. Marching in December 2010 (Pic: Workers Solidarity)
If Greek workers can organise successful general strikes so can we. Marching in December 2010 (Pic: Workers Solidarity)

A number of major union leaders have spoken out about what kind of movement we need to beat the cuts—including the need for strikes.

Len McCluskey, the newly elected leader of the biggest union in Britain, Unite, has laid out a programme for resistance.

He says he stands in full solidarity with the student revolt and condemns police violence against student protesters.

But he rightly adds, “The magnificent students’ movement urgently needs to find a wider echo… The response of trade unions will be critical.”

McCluskey adds his name to those calling for co-ordinated industrial action and a “broad strike movement”—and he says that “we must not let the [anti-union] law paralyse us.”

He calls for unions to link up with local anti-cuts groups to build a powerful and united movement.


And he also fires a shot at Ed Miliband and the Labour leadership’s acceptance of the need for some cuts saying, “‘What do we want? Fewer cuts later on’, is not a slogan to set the blood coursing.”

He goes on to say, “There is no case for cuts at all: the austerity frenzy has been whipped up for explicitly ideological reasons—completing Thatcherism’s unfinished business by strangling the welfare state.”

That’s why the TUC’s “March for the Alternative” on 26 March must be a stepping stone for “giving trade unionists the confidence to take strike action in defence of jobs and services.”

Other leading trade unionists have added their views.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS civil service union, said that the attacks on public sector pensions can provide a concrete opportunity for the PCS, the NUT teachers’ union and the UCU lecturers’ union to take joint action.

Serwotka points to a timetable that might see strikes around the end of April or at the beginning of May.

Bob Crow, leader of the RMT transport workers’ union, called for strikes, demonstrations and “civil disobedience”.

He called for “protests [to] escalate into a popular movement that will match the success of the anti-poll tax campaign”.


The leaders of the three biggest unions—Dave Prentis of Unison, Paul Kenny of the GMB and Len McCluskey—also issued a joint statement pledging to “inspire and support resistance to the cuts”.

This flurry of welcome statements is a sign of a rising mood for a fight back.

In turn it will boost workers’ confidence that there is an alternative to the cuts and that we can resist. But union leaders need to be pushed into turning their words into action.

Talk of co-ordinated strikes was raised at last September’s TUC Congress—it’s time it became a reality.

We need rank and file organisation to pressure the union leaders and act independently of them if necessary.

But as well as discussing co-ordinated action, there must be an immediate fight over each specific cut and attack on workers’ pay and conditions. This is most urgent in local government where councils are set to destroy tens of thousands of jobs and devastate local services.

The union leaders have been good at itemising the scale of the attacks, but they haven’t built resistance.

The hope of some union leaders, reflected in the statement by the “big three” unions, is that sweeping victories by Labour in the Scottish, Welsh and local elections in May will force the government onto the back foot.

This is a dangerous illusion that can provide an excuse not to fight.

And that’s why McCluskey is wrong at another point in his article to dismiss calls for a general strike. The coalition is launching a general offensive on all workers without precedent in post-war Britain.

It ultimately will require a generalised response if we are to defeat their plans—that’s why a general strike fits.

Protest on 26 March

All the trade union leaders see the TUC’s 26 March demonstration as crucial.

The march and rally needs to be significantly bigger than anything the TUC has organised for years.

Organising to build the march needs to be driven through the whole movement.

Every area needs to set up an organising committee to book transport and ensure the maximum turnout.

Saturday 26 March must be a day that raises militancy and gives voice to the growing anger against the cuts—and becomes a launchpad for a massive strike movement.

March for the Alternative, Saturday 26 March. Assemble 11am, Victoria Embankment, between Temple and Blackfriars underground stations, for a march and rally in Hyde Park. For leaflets go to

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance