The opening few minutes of the video below contains interesting comments on the call, coming from some on the far left, for a general strike. Alex Callinicos, leading Socialist Workers Party member, has re-iterated this call in a Comment is Free article. He is responding in this paragraph to Unite leader Len McCluskey's call for co-ordinated strike action:
'McCluskey highlights a special meeting of the TUC general council in the new year "to discuss co-ordinated industrial action and to analyse the possibilities and opportunities for a broad strike movement". That sounds good, but a lot more than discussion and analysis is needed, particularly since McCluskey disparages "general strike now" rhetoric from the "usual quarters". What other logic does "co-ordinated industrial action" imply except that of a general strike? And can the coalition be defeated unless the concentrated power of the entire organised working class is brought into play?'
This is odd. Callinicos has a background in the same political tradition as me, and knows fine well (like I do) that a general strike is qualitatively different from co-ordinated strike action. He also knows a general strike is at present very remote from the current popular mood and level of combativity in the union movement.
A general strike would require the entire trade union movement to participate. Furthermore, it would have to pull in millions of non-unionised workers plus students, unemployed people and so on. It would unite public and private sectors, unionised and non-unionised. It would pose a massive political challenge to the government and the state. It would involve setting up community and street-level groups to ensure provision of essential services. And so on.
Anyway, John Rees articulates the arguments here, so I'll leave my own comments at that. This talk was the introduction to a Counterfire public meeting on 11 December. Also see James Meadway's 'What next for the student revolt?' for ideas about the relationship between current student protests and the trade unions.