Friday, 18 December 2009

Ten flashpoints in 2009

Which of these was the most significant? Which of them are a glimpse of what is to come? Which will still be remembered, and regarded as important, in a year's time - or in 5 or 10 years' time?

Please note this is an unashamedly parochial selection, compiled from a UK perspective. I'd be interested for any suggestions for a more international list.

1. The 100,000+ demonstration for Gaza on 10 January: one of the most radical, militant and angry marches I've ever been on, and a reminder of the mobilising power of this country's anti-war movement.

2. The wave of student occupations for Gaza, involving action at more than 30 universities, which constituted the most impressive example of student solidarity action for many years.

3. Put People First and G20 protests: 35,000 marched on 28 March, focused on the issues of jobs, justice and climate, with smaller but lively and highly political protests during the following days. Ian Tomlinson was tragically killed by police towards the end of the City protests on 1 April.

4. Strasbourg's anti-NATO demonstrations followed hot on the heels of the G20, facing an extraordinary and repressive operation by French police. Stop the War contingents from the UK were amongst those protesting.

5. Workers went into occupation when Visteon unexpectedly announced mass redundancies. This raised the spectre of workplace occupations in a way not known for many years.

6. The fascist British National Party picked up two seats in the European Parliament from June's elections, including leader Nick Griffin in the North West of England. Anti-fascists campaigned against the BNP threat before the elections, and have continued to campaign since - including the protest at the Red, White and Blue Festival in August and mobilisations against the English Defence League's racist hooligans. The Euro elections also highlighted the depth of disillusionment with mainstream parties after the expenses crisis.

7. Vestas brought together the issue of rising unemployment with the politics of climate change. A group of non-unionised workers occupied their wind turbines plant on the Isle of Wight. Although ultimately unsuccessful, the militant action carried forward the idea that occupations are the way to resist closures and job cuts.

8. Postal workers took national strike action in the autumn. The leadership ended up selling them short with a shoddy compromise deal, but on the plus side it signalled the potential for mass public sector strikes.

9. Stop the War's October 24 march and rally, including a speech by serving soldier Joe Glenton, captured the growing public discontent with the war in Afghanistan, which is becoming especially pronounced amongst relatives of troops and in the working class communities they come from.

10. Copenhagen's UN summit on climate change was greeted by a wave of protest, in the host city and internationally, with a demonstration of 100,000 or more in Copenhagen on 12 December.


  1. What feels significant at the time can often be quickly forgotten by those who were not there. Of the demonstrations that have taken place in the last ten years even political geeks will have forgotten most of them, even when organisers at the time claim they are turning points or whatever.

    That's not to say they aren't having an effect of course, only that they become forgotten.

    1-4 and 9 are actually forgotten *already* by most people, if they ever knew about them, although of the five I think Joe Glenton will have the most long lasting impact.

    Sadly it will be the BNP victory that we are still taking about in four or five years time and the others will be footnotes for anoraks.

    The power of protest is often not how memorable a particular occasion is but what role it plays in building an ongoing movement, which often ears little relation to the size or significance of the event itself.

  2. The one big event you forget and one of the most significant of the year was the wildcat strikes at Lynsey.

    They were an amazing victory for militant trade union action.


  3. Elinor Ostrom Nobel Win and the continuing success of Aidesep in stopping Alan Garcia trashing the Amazon!

  4. Anoraks?! Don't be so patronising and negative, Jim? There were many on the Gaza Demonstration in January who will NEVER forget the experience; I am one of them.

    That was my first taste of organised state violence and repression, and it will stay with me forever. It was most definitely a milestone in my development as an activist.

    Moreover, I vehemently disagree with your suggestion, Jim; that the anti-war demos are irrelevant. Without such protests, and the effect they have on those who are new to the movement, there would be a far smaller number of politicised people in this country and beyond.

    Anti-war demos succeed in radicalising many people. They are, in these present circumstances, an essential part of the process of building collective consciousness in the working class. Without the anti-war movement and its constant ability to create new activists there would be little ground to build on.

    Besides, it's not really a matter of which event generates the most lingering memory. It's just not very scientific to analyze political history and progress in such a way. Memory is subjective and alters from individual to individual.

    The memory of the class is what matters. And this is constantly being erased by capitalist ideology. Every serious activist ahould be grateful that there are certain "anoraks" who remind people of important points; and who also organise more and more relevant political junctures so that the movement can keep on growing.

    Let's continue to build and support the anti-war movement. It remains the best means of connecting with concerned individuals and generating within those people deeper political ideas.

    That's not to say, of course, that the BNP winning seats in the European parliament, and the protests that that development engendered, was not an important period for the left. It was.

    But we must be careful not to judge the relevancy of political processes by how indelibly they are etched on the mind of the individual.

    For example, a busy UAF activist will obviously remember the BNP electoral success and any subsequent UAF-organised demonstrations more than a university or factory occupation; especially if said activist was directly involved in such activity.

    I happen to have been heavily involved with both UAF and Stop the War this year. But that doesn't mean I am automatically well placed to judge which is more important.

    To reach that conclusion I must have a firm understanding of capitalism and the dynamics of class forces.

    Memories are just a part of the equation. The political significance of events has to be scrutinized more objectively and completely.

    There is no doubt in my mind that the anti-war demonstrations and occupations which occurred in 2009 are more relevant to the future of the anti-capitalist movement than any anti-fascist (or for that matter worker/trade union) activity so far.

  5. Gary, I did say that the people who were on them would remember them (or at least some of them) and I don't know what's patronising about being realistic about what demos are for.

    I said their importance lies in whether they help build the movement, not whether people remember the specific event. I stick to that.

    I did not say they were irrelevant thanks very much, unless you think building the movement isn't very important that is.

  6. I agree with Jim that we need to be realistic about these things and have a sense of perspective. My question about '5 or 10 years time' was deliberately a bit provocative, becuase in fact very few events are the kind of turning points that are significant years later. For example, how many strikes in the last 20 years have been genuinely historically significant? Probably none!

    However, I'd suggest Jim underestimates the Gaza demonstrations. They represented the return of mass Muslim participation in protest after the backlash which followed the July 2005 terrorist attacks. The 10 Jan demo was the biggest pro-Palestine protest in British history and an important news story in the Middle East. It also showed that mass anti-war mobilisations are still possible, as the 'war on terror' is on-going as an integral feature of modern imperialism.

  7. I think the Gaza demos ignited, or rather re-ignited, something in the Muslim community which later carried over into anti-fascist territory.

    Many young Asians gained confidence from being physically active over Gaza. And, having fought back against the British state, these newly politicised people were more than ready to take on the EDL when they began terrorising Muslim communities.

    The movements merge as capitalism chugs along and political events unfold. Many of the people I work with in Stop the War are also UAF activists. What they experience on one demonstration benefits them in another place fighting another cause. Everything is relevant.

    But the anti-war demos have particular significance. They may fluctuate in size; but while the 'war on terror' continues and imperialism remains a fact of political life there will be death and destruction and therefore the potential for large and militant anti-war protests.

    The industrial struggle is lacking. Apart from a few flashes which have excited us all for a short time, there is little to speak of. We must remember that class consciousness is at a low ebb, and strong individualism prevails.

    The challenge for us, before we can build a serious working class movement, is to build collective consciousness, once again, in the class.

    That requires broad coalitions that address basic issues. We must focus on Stop the War and Unite Against Fascism; but we must also attempt to create a united front around the economic recession.

    Such a campaign is essential to reviving the working class and further industrial struggle.

  8. Which of these was the most significant?
    All were significant, in the sense of signifying a mood and a sense of resistance and fightback.

    Which of them are a glimpse of what is to come?
    The Euro elections will not be remembered for “the BNP victory”, which it wasn’t, but for the fact that it…”highlighted the depth of disillusionment with mainstream parties after the expenses crisis…” and hinted at the continued disintegration of Labour as the party of ‘working people’ and the eventual and inevitable building of a different form of political representation…

    Which will still be remembered, and regarded as important, in a year's time - or in 5 or 10 years' time?
    Probably Copenhagen's UN summit on climate change, because it was such a failure!

    But perhaps what will be remembered more than any of these is the LACK of any generalised resistance to the recession and financial crisis of the past two and a half years… Let’s hope that all of the events of last year portend the potential for such a generalised fightback!?

  9. In June I was a little unusual, in my political circles, for foregrounding the collapse of Labour's vote - and wider crisis for the mainstream parties - in my interpretation of the Euro election results. This was in fact a big story, especially on the back of the expenses crisis. There emphatically wasn't a big shift to the right, either to Tories or BNP (with the latter's vote changing little since 2004's Euro elections).

  10. ...and this is why, despite the obvious need to continue to challenge & oppose the BNP and other facist forces wherever they appear, that it can be dangerous to accept Jim's view that "Sadly it will be the BNP victory that we are still taking about in four or five years time..."

    It was NOT a victory... and the real story is the collapse of labourism, combined with deep disillusion in 'liberal democracy' and the capitalists' financial institutions.