All out on 15th March. All out on 15th March.. Source: Counterfire

Sustained and coordinated strikes are needed to win while the priorities of war-mongering must be challenged

Joint strike action on 1 February showed what is possible. On a day when half a million struck, teachers, lecturers, civil servants, train drivers, and their supporters came together in a festival of solidarity and resistance.  Tens of thousands of strikers marched together in the biggest weekday demonstration in London since Trump was in town. Thousands more marched and rallied up and down the country. 

Everywhere, the mood was confident and combative, everyone sensed the power of this kind of solidarity-on-the-march and you could feel the widespread support for the strikes. 

On that day, it was clear to millions that these disputes are about much more than pay, they are a rebellion against decaying services, appalling working conditions, and the priorities of a government that is breaking Britain.

In the days that followed, various establishment politicians started to question whether the government was sensible to take such a hard line against the strikers. They were spooked by the size of the protests, the support for the strikes, and the growing political generalisation. 

One day of coordinated action, however, was never going to be enough to win. The 1 February needs to be followed up, joint action needs to be broadened and extended. The NEU teachers’ union has called a strike and national demonstration on Budget Day, 15 March. This is the perfect opportunity for another massive day of coordinated strike and protest.

To make sure this happens, rank-and-file workers are going to have to push for it in all the unions that have live ballots. There remain serious problems in the strike movement, however impressive it is.

Most union leaders are still relying on the tactic of the one-day strike to win, and despite the fact that the various fights have so much in common, they are still mainly being fought as separate, sectional struggles. 

This makes no sense. A series of one-day actions strung out over months is much harder to sustain than all-out action, and it has much less impact. Over time, separate, one-day strikes can erode popular support, turning the strike wave into an irritant rather than an inspiration. 

Running the strikes as separate campaigns increases the danger that the government can pick off groups of workers one by one with slightly improved offers that remain well below the rate of inflation – still effectively pay cuts. 

The joint strike day on 1 February showed how coordinated action is much greater than the sum of its parts. It builds cross-union solidarity and generates a sense of power and purpose to which the wider public can relate.

We urge all trade unionists to do everything they can to turn 15 March into another great day of national action, this time involving even wider layers of workers. A model resolution is available to put to your union meeting or trades council calling for participation.

There are other important tasks for the movement. One is raising strike funds. As the strike movement continues, more and more workers will be running into financial difficulties. Solidarity now means digging deep. Non-striking union branches should be voting donations to strikers. Collections can be taken around workplaces. Local fundraising events can raise lots of money, but also help to spread support for strikers.

It is crucial too that we address the political context. The government is deeply divided, shot through with sleaze, and has no answers to the multi-level crisis in society. It is not surprising that it is one of the most unpopular governments in living memory. 

This should give us confidence. It is clear, however, that at the same time as attacking the unions, it is determined to drag the country further and further into the war in Ukraine. Boris Johnson’s hand was behind the political theatrics of President Zelensky’s appearance at parliament. But Zelensky’s calls for more tanks and for fighter planes to fight Russia were applauded across the political spectrum and publicly backed by Prime Minister Sunak.

Britain is now the number-one champion of escalation in Ukraine. As the politicians know, this kind of escalation would take the West to the brink of open war with Russia. The Tories don’t care about the Ukrainian people. Ukrainians have been the first casualty of this war, but Johnson and Sunak are prepared to risk confrontation to bolster the position of ‘global Britain’, and to try and generate war fever at home. They calculate that this is one issue that can restore their political fortunes.

Making anti-war arguments and building the anti-war movement has never been more important. That means coming to the ‘Peace Talks Now’ demonstration on 25 February but also fighting for an anti-war position in every union branch in the country. 

We must also be on guard against far-right attempts to whip up hatred against migrants. Violent extremists like the Patriotic Alternative have been organising protests outside hotels and hostels housing asylum seekers around the country. Our movement needs to be clear and bold in opposing these racist outrages and defending some of the most vulnerable in society.

The task we face is to turn the strike wave into the most militant possible challenge to a crumbling government. That will require building solidarity and organisation at the rank-and-file level and putting socialist politics at the heart of the movement. All the pieces are in place for the most significant advance in working-class struggle in years. Let’s seize the time and make sure 15 March is both a staging post and a spur for further combativity. Forward to the picket lines and see you on the streets.

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