1 Feb London demonstration

John Rees assesses the historic day of strike action and mobilisation on 1 February and what’s needed to win

  1. This was an historic day of strike action. The London demonstration was probably the largest protest on a working day since the demonstration against President Trump’s visit in 2018. And this was just a London demonstration and it was overwhelmingly composed of strikers. The NEU was at the heart of this, building on its impressive organising work during the Covid pandemic.
  2. The working-class movement is clearly regaining strength after a prolonged period of retreat which reaches back to the miners strike of 1984-85.
  3. There is so much more at stake than pay. Everyone understands that it’s about jobs and conditions and about halting the destruction of services in Broken Britain.
  4. But it’s even more than this. As the government has made clear with its new anti-strike legislation, it wants to end the current revival of trades unions before it scores any decisive victories. They, like us, know what it means when more than 40,000 teachers join the NEU after they won the strike ballot.
  5. So the stakes are high. Very high. Are the current strategies up to winning this once-in-a-generation battle? Will the ‘one-day at a time’ strike strategy win?
  6. Lots of union members think so, obviously. Wednesday’s demo was supportive of the left union leaders. It’s rather like the early days of Corbynism, with Mick Lynch occupying the place in protesters’ hearts in the same way as Jeremy Corbyn does. Back at the dawn of Corbynism few predicted the problems Corbyn would face, and few understood that more than enthusiasm would be necessary. But there is even more at stake now, and we cannot afford that attitude.
  7. So let’s talk of the unresolved issues. Firstly, this was overwhelmingly an NEU mobilisation with participation from PCS, RMT, Aslef, and UCU. Unite has a capacity to mobilise that should be thrown behind the street protests even though the pattern of industrial disputes they are involved in is different. Unison and GMB leaders have done all too little and it will need serious pressure, from the left-led unions, from the rank and file, to make them react in a half-effective manner.
  8. Secondly, there was little voice for the social movements in the London demo, just the union leaders. But the Tories won’t be defeated without a genuine social movement mobilisation, not just that section of the class that can be mobilised by the unions. We need the whole class mobilised, in communities as well as workplaces, no matter how essential and central industrial struggle has become.
  9. Thirdly, one-day action may well prove ineffective. The government clearly plans to wait out one-day strikes. More co-ordinated, more sustained action will likely be required. Pressure from the rank and file will be necessary to achieve that.
  10. The revolutionary left is the necessary transmission belt through which the tradition of rank-and-file organising can be carried into the newly reviving working-class movement. Few enough of even the militants and activists know about the history of Chartism, or the New Unions, or 1919, or 1926, or the early 1970s, or even the miners’ strike. The gazebo-fraternity of the left won’t be able to fulfil that task. What is necessary is a larger interventionist, not just a propagandist, revolutionary left.

Before you go

If you liked this article, please consider getting involved. Counterfire is a revolutionary socialist organisation working to build the movements of resistance and socialist ideas. Please join us and help make change happen.

John Rees

John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher), ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German) and The Leveller Revolution. He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.

Tagged under: