For real industrial action (opinion)

February 11th was the TUC ‘Day of Action’ at least in Yorkshire and Humberside and the South East – not that you would have noticed unless you were in the know.

Strike for the day… or an hour… or take whatever action seems appropriate’ or ‘give a day’s wages… or an hour’s…’  – yes, the usual watering-down of calls to action that we have come to expect from the TUC. It’s the usual waste of people’s militancy: days of token action, a waste perfected during the health-workers’ dispute when the surge of solidarity felt by working people for these workers was squandered in regional days of action whose only result was a lost day’s pay. 

The February day of action was doomed to fail for many reasons. Its terms were deliberately left imprecise to allow the lowest level of involvement, fostering the ‘I did my bit – I gave an extra quid to the miners’ attitude. 

It was also called without any significant publicity or preparation. Where were the thousands of posters calling for action? Where were the mass meetings? 

All we got were some grubby leaflets, vaguely urging some kind of action, from SERTUC or Yorkshire and Humberside TUC. Who the hell are they? What relevance do they have to the shop floor? 

As it was, only the most militant workers took any action. Certain pits held mass pickets with the help of miners support groups from other towns, and power stations throughout the North were also picketed. 

But this is only a fraction of the support present in the working class for the miners. How can this support be mobilised by a body as remote from workplace practice and as hostile to industrial action as the TUC

In the here and now an all out general strike call from the NUM ignoring the TUC, could move workers to action. A strike call independent of Trade Union bureaucracy and vigorously advertised could meet with success. 

But the events of the last year underline that for the future we need to forge a new unionism, militant and independent of political parties, solidly based on a rank and file movement. 

In February 4,000 Spanish workers in a single city, Vittoria, came out in sympathy when three militants were imprisoned. The sort of unionism we have in Britain couldn’t manage to call out 4,000 in the whole country on February 11th. 

Models for a unionism which can inspire workers to militant action exist. It’s time to look to this syndicalist tradition and learn from it in Britain today. 

Guy Cheverton 

Direct Action March 1985