During a rally addressed by Jeremy Corbyn’s closest allies at Labour party conference, the MP Laura Smith called for a general strike.
Speaking to a packed hall at an event at the The World Transformed fringe run by the Socialist Campaign Group, the MP for Crewe and Nantwich was given a standing ovation when she called for industrial action in the absence of a general election:
“Comrades, we must topple this cruel and callous Tory government as soon as we can. And if we can’t get a general election,” she told the crowd, “we should organise with our brothers and sisters in the trade unions to bring an end to this government with a general strike.”
— Rob Powell (@robpowellnews) September 25, 2018
The room stood up and erupted in applause – including her fellow speakers on stage, who included shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon, shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood and the MPs Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Dan Carden, Chris Williamson, Cat Smith and Emma Dent Coad – all of whom apart from Burgon, Greenwood and Carden had already made their speeches.
“If we can’t get a general election, we should unite with our comrades in the trade union movement and bring an end to the government with a GENERAL STRIKE”: Crewe and Nantwich MP Laura Smith gets an absolutely wild standing ovation @TWT_NOW pic.twitter.com/uXMPtJtJLc
— Anoosh Chakelian (@Anoosh_C) September 25, 2018
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell and shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey had also previously addressed the rally but had left the stage by this point.
Smith has a majority of 48 in the seat she won off former Conservative minister Edward Timpson last year – a tiny margin that she referred to in her speech.
Her idea for a general strike if Labour is unable to secure a general election will come as a surprise to both the party leadership and its members, who came to a very carefully worded agreement earlier in the conference to keep the prospect of backing a second referendum on the table in the absence of a general election.
The last time a general strike took place in Britain was in 1926, when the TUC called on its 1.7 million members to walk out in solidarity with coal miners who were facing reduced wages and longer working hours. It lasted nine days until the TUC was defeated. Labour won the highest number of seats at the following general election in 1929, but failed to win an overall majority.
While general strikes aren’t banned per se, it would be illegal for workers to strike en masse in a general protest against the government under current trade union laws.