RMT general secretary Bob Crow, Unite leader Len McCluskey and civil servants’ union PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka have backed a general strike. TUC delegates voted last year to look into holding a general strike in 2013. POA assistant general secretary Glyn Travis, whose union pushed the motion, said he was “upbeat” about the discussions so far. It is clear though that those trade union officials are talking about a one-day token gesture, a glorified day of protest, rather than a revolutionary challenge for power. Even if union executives were to set the wheels of a strike wave in motion, the rank and file would be woefully unprepared for it. The strike would be seen by many as simply another day’s pay lost. The government would have little to fear from a 24-hour stoppage and it would just be a matter of "business as usual" the next day.
The Chartists in Britain were the first raised the question of a general strike. They called it a National Holiday and the Holy Month. In the writings of James Connolly and Tom Mann it was syndicalism and industrial unionism that would express the power of the workers at the point of production and by the general strike take over society. It would also provide the framework for the future workers’ republic.
In the case of the preparations for a General Strike in the UK in the period 1919 – 1921 despite the detailed planning, several hundred local Councils of Action were formed, a National Council of Action formed by the executives of trade unions and organisations affiliated to the Labour Party was called to arrange a general strike. plus extensive support among workers, the trade union leadership of the day were able to sabotage the entire project. When the circumstances had changed and the previous preparations had disappeared, the 1926 General Strike was relatively easily defeated with long-lasting set-backs for working people. The Greeks and the Spanish have had a number of general strikes recently. What has been accomplished and what are the lessons? Austerity has continued, if not intensified, despite those general strikes.
The very question of such a momentous stage in the struggle against capitalism, needs lengthy discussion and the clear presentation of the successes and failures such strikes have had. For if such an idea is not already being widely discussed and absorbed among the organised and unorganised workers it has little chance of occurring. Plus if it has not become widely accepted by the majority that such a step is possible and practical, its consequences could be self-defeating. People will not enter any industrial struggle unless they can envision what a victory would look like and hold a belief that an alternative policy is both feasible and available. An ill-prepared or poorly supported general strike could be an enormous self-inflicted defeat for the working class. Empty sloganeering gets us nowhere. If we are to build towards a general strike, we need to lay foundations in every workplace and every community and we need to ensure that no one is under any illusions that this will be an easy fight.
Importantly, it should be noted that 24 hour general strike would be evidence of the potential power and organisation of the working class and the level of organisation beforehand that would be required to make it a carrying it off a success would indicate a rise in political consciousness to independently organise. But after 24 hours everyone would have to go back to work and the question would be "What now?" An indefinite general strike to challenge for political power in one form or another? Who really believes the working class is currently in a position to issue such a challenge and prevail?
It is simply impossible to end capitalism by trade union militancy alone. Engels wrote to Laura Lafargue (Marx's daughter) "whenever we are in a position to try the universal strike, we shall be able to get what we want for the mere asking for it, without the roundabout way of the universal strike" As Luxemburg asserted: "In reality the mass strike does not produce the revolution, but the revolution produces the mass strike."
Our aim is not a general strike but advancing the organisation, consciousness and power of the working class movement which will require an effective potent working class political party, built on solid foundations of the workers themselves, and confident of the success of the practical and achievable objective of socialism.