Thursday, 29 July 2010

Further thoughts on cuts, alternatives and resistance

Resisting cuts is the central political priority of our time for a simple reason: implementing the cuts is the number one priority for the ruling class. The crisis is deep and our rulers have opted to launch a full-blown assualt on the public sector and welfare state.

If they get their way, it will have a massive effect for decades to come. And it will alter the balance of forces in their direction. This will weaken the Left, the labour movement and the working class. The stakes could hardly be higher.

If we're going to defeat the government's cuts agenda we need, ultimately, to move beyond meetings, rallies, protests etc. But that doesn't mean neglecting, or downplaying, the urgent and important need for specific shorter-term tactics which can protect pay, services etc. Such tactics can also strengthen the general combativity of our side.

They are not ends in themselves, but are geared towards larger goals. Crucially, they should be assessed on the basis of how successfully they increase working class confidence and self-activity (not just through industrial action but across a range of forms of resistance).

We will need militant mass strikes as an integral part of successful resistance. In the long term anything less will be inadequate. The current problem is that the labour movement is in poor shape and simply settling for repeated calls for more strikes would - for the Left - be a recipe for passivity. The important short-term task is to consider what we can do and where we are likely to have an effect.

The coalition is weak and is in danger, through the breadth of its attacks, of provoking generalised resistance. We need to maximise the opportunities open to us for promoting co-ordination between trade unionists and other constituencies. We need to also raise socialist arguments, and outline radical alternatives to the status quo, in the context of united defensive action. These things shouldn't be juxtaposed to each other.

There are a number of important arguments the Left needs to project to a wider audience. It is crucial we raise awareness of where there is spending that should be cut. That principally means scrapping Trident and ending the occupation of Afghanistan, both of which would save billions. This should go hand in hand with insisting no cuts are made to public services, benefits, or the pay and pensions of public sector workers.

We should be saying a number of other things too. The Sunday Times Rich List revealed the 1000 richest people in the UK had increased their collective wealth by £77 billion in one year. Increasing taxes on the super-rich, plus collecting the taxes the rich avoid paying, is essential.

That, in turn, connects with the bigger issue of 'who pays for the crisis?' The government is forcing the majority to pay for a crisis generated by a tiny minority, who escape unscathed - they keep on taking their bonuses and making their profits.

We need to remind people of where this all comes from - a systemic crisis originating in the financial sector, not the public sector. Speculators and bankers, not public sector workers, are responsible.

It's also worth us pointing out that severe cuts are damaging to economic recovery, largely due to their suppression of consumer spending. We should also demolish the myth that slashing the deficit is some kind of urgent necessity. It certainly isn't. The ConDems' approach is a choice.

I don't believe current policies are primarily driven - as many on the Left argue - by ideology. Their policies are rooted in the nature of the crisis, and the demands of business and the City to protect their interests and instead make the working class pay.

However, there's an acutely ideological dimension to what's happening. The Tories want to permanently erode the welfare state and reduce the public sector, persuading us that 'private is best' and normalising market ideology in the public sector.

There's a battle of ideas ahead. What we have in our favour is that there's still allegiance amongst working class people to the values of the welfare state and public service. Most people haven't bought into the ideological myths espoused by the Westminster establishment.

Mobilising opposition to the government, e.g. through the demo at the Tories' conference on 3 October, co-ordinating local campaigns and strengthening national frameworks, raising political slogans which challenge the 'There is no alternative' official consensus, orgainising rallies and public meetings in order to develop coalitions and project the key arguments - all these are urgent tasks for the Left.

Also see HERE.


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