The strikes and demonstrations planned for 30 June by teachers' unions and the PCS public sector union are being hyped in a way that follows inevitably the precedent set by the big demonstration of 26 March. After that demo Socialist Worker (2/4/11) headlined with “Magnificent march - now let's strike to beat the Tories” - reporting that all speeches in favour of a strike next time round were greeted enthusiastically.
So the 30 June is the next in a series and leftists are already discussing what the big event after that will be in the autumn. The Socialist Worker headlines read “30 June strikes can turn the tide against the Tory government” (4/6/11) and “30 June: we must seize opportunity for a mass strike” (23/4/11).These items should be put in the context of what they said before the 26 March demo: “A huge protest could give millions of people confidence to fight against every cut and for every job—and to bring down this rotten Tory government of the rich.” And how did the huge protest of 26 March make people feel? Many were impressed by the size of the demo, but deflated when they reflected afterwards on what could have been. Some felt, right from the start, that it might be a pointless procession leading nowhere. Others saw something more positive in the occupation of buildings in the London's West End.
Whichever way you look at 26 March, it was dominated by the unions and their supporters, in the banners, in the speeches, in the way that so much anger and frustration was transformed into a passive stroll. The SWP think it's possible to “Kick out Cameron’s crumbling coalition” (14/5/11) but 30 June is still dominated by unions and, as things stand, based on the proposals of Left and unions, will have no more effect that 26 March.
Also, it is necessary to look a little closer at the idea of a 'mass strike' that might be part of the process of 'kicking out' the government. The Office for National Statistics has released the figures for the number of days' work lost due to industrial action in the 12 months to March. At 145,000 it's the lowest since records in their current form began in 1931. Obviously government statistics exist as much for propaganda as anything else, and they don’t include the significant struggles in schools and universities last autumn. Nevertheless the numbers do reflect a reality – a hesitation faced with the gravity of the economic crisis. Many people were inspired by the student protests last year in Britain, by the social movements in Tunisia and Egypt, and more recently by the demonstrations and assemblies in Spain and Greece, but this inspiration has not yet been transferred into widespread action.
To make anything of the 30 June actions workers need to prepare to go beyond union boundaries, to discuss in advance what could be achieved if workers took control of their own struggles. When it comes to the unions' 'big day', the strike can be extended ‘from the bottom up’ by calling on workers in other unions and sectors to take unofficial action; instead of the usual pre-arranged rallies, we can be thinking in terms of genuine assemblies where everything can be discussed and we don't have to bow down to the slogans of the Left and unions.
The Left talks about 'mass struggles' only to undermine the possibility of their appearance. Any movement today, however small, that starts to discuss the needs of the struggle, the issues and obstacles that face the working class, and the longer term perspectives for the class struggle, has far more to offer than all the big talk of the unions and the Left.