Laurie Penny: This is no time to be timid. Strike!

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The greatest weapon the left has in a time of crisis is its imagination. During the TUC conference in Brighton this week, union leaders called for a general strike. They did not call for one unanimously, but delegates voted with one voice to pursue "coordinated" action across trade unions. The legality and feasibility of a British general strike, the first since 1926, is now being discussed in meeting rooms on the pebbly seafront and in police strategy rooms up and down the country, but on the left, resounding support for mass direct action is still teetering on the tip of our collective tongues.

Since the great union battles of the 1980s – fought valiantly and lost before many of today's workers were born – the narrative of collective, militant action on the British left has been permitted to disintegrate into one of noble but inevitable failure. The mass demonstrations planned for the 20th of October are likely to be large, but they have not yet built the same momentum as those of last March.

The moral case for a general strike is beyond reproach. With the economic and social future of Britain in jeopardy, anybody with a voice to speak for social justice must use it to argue for an ethical duty to resist this government's austerity programme.

This is no time to be timid about our convictions or hesitant about strategy. For the first time in well over a generation, the radical left has both objective circumstance and the momentum of history on its side. Wages are stagnating, unemployment is rising, public sector pensions under threat, the sick and disabled are being pauperised, young people across the class spectrum are being denied any hope of a secure future and essential services are being slashed, and all the while the economy continues to shrink.

The current Government refuses to contemplate a Plan B to drag us out of double-dip recession. In such circumstances, the choice of doing nothing, avoiding short-term risk at the expense of medium-term despair and long-term ruin, is just as active and infinitely more destructive than the choice to strike, to protest, to resist.

"Strike" is a verb. It is an active, urgent concept, and its only real enemy is fear, not just of failure, but of the total shift in cultural narrative that success would require. The British left must learn not to fear its own strength. Leave that to the Tories.