Sunday, 27 June 2010

Cuts: what weapons do we need to fight back?

Jim Jepps has written an interesting piece on anti-cuts strategy, prompted by discussions at yesterday's's bloggers' conference organised by Liberal Conspiracy. I was also there and was heartened by how keen most people were to discuss the left's approach to resisting cuts, and by the widely-felt desire for a serious campaign of opposition. I agree with most of Jim's comments, and I think it's worth re-posting the bulk of his article:

'What we need to articulate in a more accessible form is the case against cuts, which is broadly a debate between the economics of Hayek and Keynes, certainly in the mainstream of the debate. However, in 'our' camp we have three different approaches to this question. First we have the approach that the cuts are too deep, too soon, but deficit reduction along these lines is inevitable. These people want to slow the cuts, and ensure they don't hit critical services.

Second we have those who oppose cuts as a deficit reduction measure on the basis that we can use equality and growth to combat the crisis. Savage cuts will wreak the economy, at a time when we should be investing, boosting jobs and raising extra funds from progressive taxation and schemes like the Robin Hood tax. These people argue that cuts full stop are bad for the economy, that laying people off as the dole queues grow is a recipe for a vicious cycle of decline.

Lastly we have anti-capitalists. This group steals arguments from the other two but essentially places the blame for the crisis on the economic framework itself and seeks to challenge that in a more fundamental way. Splenetic venting about bankers and fat cats is part of that, but it actually goes far further. The crisis was not caused by Leaman Brothers or Freddie Mac but the priorities of a system where profits come before people, and the millions come second to the millionaires.

Actually many people are mix of the three, but I think the categories stand.

How to find a unified voice then? Well it's not as tricky as it sounds as long as you don't expect everyone to sing from the same hymn sheet all of the time.

As of right now there are probably hundreds of campaign groups set up, formally or informally, up and down the country to defend local communities against specific cuts. All these groups will be alliances and, on the whole, they are an embryonic eco-system of resistance. Bloggers can be part of linking those campaigns, putting them in touch with each other and creating a more conscious movement against the cuts.

Those campaigns will be providing the arguments on the human cost of the cuts, these are useful for us all to remind us what we are fighting for. What that network of citizen journalists and campaigners should be doing is providing a digestible economic alternative that shows not just why cutting public services in dangerous and painful, but also why it is the wrong economic strategy. They can also provide resources, some fun some serious and weighty, that are useful campaigning tools that can be used and adapted across the country.

To my mind this approach needs to be supporting those resistance campaigns from the bottom up, rather than attempting to create a national army of clone campaigns under the auspices of a central command. I don't think that will work and it's not necessary because those community groups are already springing up 'organically'.

The left Keynsians and the anti-capitalists (I hope you forgive the crude generalisations there) can actually unite pretty easily on this and the wet left who think cuts are being managed poorly will find it harder to fit into that framework than they will when they become involved in the local campaigns to defend specific services. We can't play to the lowest common denominator so they'll just have to catch up.'

I only have two caveats about this. One is that Jim doesn't mention the trade unions - I'm sure he recognises they have an important role, but we need to be explicit about the need for co-operation between the unions and the campaigns he refers to.

A strong anti-cuts movement can encourage trade unionists to take strike action, which will be vital to defeating the government's policies. And those campaigns gain more weight from the unions' involvement.

Secondly, while I agree we need local grassroots campaigns - and to a certain extent these will emerge independently - we will also need a national movement to develop. The cuts programme is a national political issue, and the key players are Westminster politicans. We need opposition at a national level.

A national coalition may not be viable right now, but we'll benefit from developing networks that connect local campaigners - and national-level action, such as mass demonstrations in London or a protest at Tory conference on 3 October, will be essential.

Indeed, we might even link up with campaigns and unions elsewhere in Europe, as both the austerity drive and the resistance to it are international phenomena. Current events in Italy, France and Greece may indicate the direction of resistance here - and it will be important to forge international solidarity with strikes and mass protests in those countries and elsewhere.

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