this week's Can't Pay Won't Pay meeting in Newcastle was the relationship between local activity and national campaigns. This is part of a broader discussion about how we best co-ordinate our efforts: across different unions, between the union movement and other forces, and linking up different local initiatives.
While it is generally agreed 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 and international political issue, and the key domestic players are Westminster politicians. We need opposition at a national level.
One big national coalition may not be viable right now, but we'll benefit from developing networks that connect local campaigners. At the 50-strong meeting in Newcastle on Wednesday we circulated the draft statement for a national ’Can’t Pay Won’t Pay’ conference, due to take place in London on 27 November. I believe we need local activism which is consciously geared towards also building at national and international levels.
National mobilisations are important. I’m thinking of the protest at the Tory conference on 3 October and (hopefully) a national demonstration on spending review day (20 October), though we’ll need to persist and increase our movement’s power beyond the autumn. It's extremely welcome that public sector unions in the North East - through the very promising Public Services Alliance - are calling on their leaders to organise a national demo on 20 October.
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. An important strength of Paul Mackney's speech in Newcastle was his emphasis on Greece as simulataneously a warning of what we face and inspiration to fight back.
Current events in Europe, most powerfully the Greek example, 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. The European TUC day of action on 29 September is an important landmark for us. Again, the response of unions in our region is hopeful - Unison regional leaders are saying there will be a major protest in Newcastle on the day.
I believe it’s also important for the radical left to shape the political debate inside the campaigns. To an extent, those on the centre-left who accept some ‘need’ for cuts will be drawn in behind more radical forces as a movement develops, but some explicit argument about these issues – within a framework of united action wherever possible – is nonetheless necessary. It's especially likely that the left can provide an effective lead if we develop more national co-ordination, in part because any kind of generalisation normally benefits the left.
It's time to raise our game, to bring the spirit of Greek resistance to this country. The stakes are extraordinarily high, the government is weak, and there’s still - despite the ideological barrage - a deep commitment in the working class to the public service ethos and the welfare state.