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General Strike Day School

Last weekend, Leeds district Socialist Party hosted an education day school on General Strikes in theory and practice. Attended by 15 people, the day school was split into three sections.

Alicia Blackett, Hyde Park & Headingley Socialist Party

Iain Dalton introduced the topic in the first session, pointing to the huge waves of strikes, occupations and protests developing across the world in response to brutal austerity measures and the corruption and greed of the world capitalist system. He then linked these movements to the 24 hour public sector general strike on November the 30th, stressing the importance and significance of the coming period and the potential for the strike to act as a springboard for further actions of resistance in the future.

We then split into three groups to discuss more specific examples of general strikes in greater depth.

Dave Younger lead the commission on the 1926 General Strike. He outlined the historical background to the strikes before explaining the actual events of the strike. He then went on to explain why the strike was ultimately betrayed, pointing to the role of the right-wing trade union officials and the failure of the Communist Party to put forward a concrete socialist programme of action. Lastly, we discussed the views of Trotsky and the ‘left opposition’ in the Comintern at length. Trotsky predicted the sell-out of the workers by the trade union bureaucrats, and stressed the fact that the Communist Party should have based itself on the numerous workers committees throughout the country, instead of responding to the influence of increasingly bureaucratic Communist International leadership. If they had done this, he argued, socialism in Britain could have been advanced massively.

Michael Johnson explained the current situation in Greece today, highlighting the savage cuts in health and education, as well as huge job losses across the country. He went on to look at the massive fightback that is taking place, with occupations, non-payment campaigns and the movement of ‘the enraged’ throughout Greece. Again, the weakness of the trade union leadership in Greece was examined, particularly the continued support of Pasok. Yet, it is clear that rank and file workers are pushing the leadership into action and into new ares, such as the possibility of disaffiliation from Pasok. It is clear that struggles are likely to continue, but the future remains unclear for Greece.

Ian Pattison reflected on the lessons of the general strike o 1968 in France. 10 million workers, two thirds of the total workforce, were on strike during this period. Crucially, this revolutionary general strike took place not during economic crisis, but during a ‘boom’ period. Workers were willing to go the distance after they rejected big concessions, but the lack of a genuinely revolutionary party led to the ultimate failure of the strike. Workers put their faith in the Communist Party, who didn’t want genuine socialist revolution because it would have threatened the USSR. Nevertheless, the strike showed that with the right tools and a socialist programme, the working class can carry out revolution even in advanced capitalist democracies.

We came back together as a group for the final session of the day. Each commission delegated someone to report back on the key issues discussed to the group as a whole, making sure that every person in attendance had an overview of the questions raised and the lessons that can be drawn from each example.

It is becoming increasingly important to discuss ideas and historical events in the coming period. As the working class moves into struggle, a sound theoretical understanding of the lessons of the past is crucial.