by Daphne Liddle

THE TUC has opted for a general strike — but only in principle. Delegates voted in favour of a motion tabled by the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) calling for an investigation into the practicalities of holding a one-day general strike at the TUC’s annual conference in Brighton last week.

This is a cautious, compromise measure after heavy lobbying, especially from the National Shop Stewards’ Network (NSSN) for a general strike to follow the planned national demonstration against the disastrous Con-Dem Coalition austerity programme on 20th October — just five weeks away.

Others, those close to the Labour Party leadership, opposed the idea of a strike.The Labour Party leaders who spoke at the TUC, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls predictably claimed it was not what the public wanted.

Miliband, speaking at a dinner with the TUC General Council, said: “It’s what’s happening in our economy that makes so many people angry with the Government. The question is how best to get them to change course? The public doesn’t want to see strikes. Nor do your members. Nor do you.”

But few set much hope in the prospect of the Government suddenly seeing the error of its ways and changing course — especially when the greedy millionaires who govern us are doing very nicely out of cutting everyone else’s living standards.

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls was jeered and heckled by delegates on the conference floor on Monday when he began by sympathising with the suffering that the Coalition has imposed on workers in Britain, and claiming that he understood why they could not sit back and wait for a general election for Labour to get in. But he made that less likely to happen by telling themthat Labour would also impose a public sector pay freeze, jobs cuts and most of the rest of the austerity measures.

Unison delegate Liz Cameron was cheered when she asked Balls why he was supporting the pay policy of the Tories, which had led to a wage freeze for millions of public sector workers.

PCS national president Janice Godrich also won a big cheer when she told Balls she found his response on the pay freeze “extremely disappointing”.

The unions pushing hardest for industrial action are PCS and the teaching unions NUT and Nasuwt. These are the same unions that were at the forefront of last year’s battle over public sector pensions that led to a one-day public sector national strike at the end of November.

Unfortunately some union leaders, including Dave Prentis from Unison, let the momentum drop by lengthy deliberations on the Government’s weak offer of a deal and the broad unity of the fight was lost.

The only way of preventing that happening again is for rank and file union members to step up the pressure on their leaders and make it clear that if they let their members down again they will be sacked.

Responding to Balls’ speech PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the Shadow Chancellor had “wasted an ideal opportunity” to oppose the Government’s cuts.

Serwotka said: “By refusing to condemn the government’s public sector pay freeze Ed Balls wasted an ideal opportunity to show genuine support for the alternative to the cuts.

”It is a complete fallacy that there is a choice between either saving jobs or boosting pay. To get our economy back on its feet and ensure living standards are not driven into the ground, we need both.”

The teaching unions NUT and Nasuwt are already set for a programme of strike action starting from 26thSeptember against further cuts in pay, pensions, jobs and increased workloads.

The inquiry into the practicalities of a general strike should not take long, not as far as the legal aspects are concerned anyway. Leading union lawyer John Hendy QC has already done an in-depth study.

The anti-union laws from the Thatcher and Major governments outlawed strikes against Government policy. But since then Britain has signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights, which is linked to the International Labour Organisation.

And that upholds the right to withdraw labour in days of action against government policies adversely affecting workers.

Steve Gillan, leader of the POA, which proposed the idea, said there had to be a “robust” response, adding: “It does not mean we will have a general strike tomorrow, but we should have that in our armoury, because this Government is not afraid or embarrassed to do what it is doing to society.”

The important thing now is to build mass support for the 20thOctober mass demonstration that will give unions members, from the bottom to the top, confidence to go for strike action that will shake this increasingly wobbly Coalition.