Thursday, 7 April 2011
Stopping the cuts: 6 blind alleys, 6 ways forward
1. Some people say 26 March was a disappointment because it's all very well having half a million overwhelmingly working class people on the streets, but what's really needed is more MILITANCY - mysteriously defined, it seems, by protesting in Oxford Street instead of anywhere else (as if briefly occupying a few shops is more militant than occupying a great chunk of central London for several hours, as those of us on the TUC demo did).
2. Some people say it's awful Ed Miliband was invited to speak in Hyde Park, despite him leading a party which has hundreds of MPs and councillors, many thousands of activists, hundreds of thousands of members, and millions of voters (and if you want to build a mass movement then you use the broad appeal such leaders bring, however empty and compromised their policies may be).
3. Some people say we need a general strike now, indifferent to the fact you can walk into ANY workplace in the country and be struck by the fact that we're really not on the verge of a general strike (but it gives you a distinctive edge on a big demo doesn't it? At least until you notice that a number of other groups are raising precisely the same slogan). And wouldn't it make far more sense to push for co-ordinated strike action by a number of public sector unions - which is realistic - rather than raising a slogan you know fine well isn't going to become reality in the near future?
4. Some people say it's better to have hundreds taking 'direct action' than have a huge demonstration because those trade unions are so 'conservative' and 'bureaucratic' (because we can all agree, surely, that a march of half a million people is a really conservative and bureaucratic thing to do).
5. Some people say we should 'turn Trafalgar Square into Tahrir Square', seemingly believing the Egyptian revolution owed its success to a couple of hundred people dancing to a sound system next to a column and some lions.
6. Some people say we should vote for Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidates in the forthcoming elections, because that will really show those Tories what mass opposition there is to cuts, won't it? (I've been involved in left-wing electoral alternatives before - comrades, it's just not the priority right now).
Rant over. Because there's an alternative: we can get serious about building a mass movement to stop the cuts. A lot of people - once you get beyond some sections of the radical left - know this stuff already. Here's what I suggest we can do.
1. We can continue to build a mass movement in every working class community, using the huge turnout on 26 March as a springboard for defending the NHS, libraries, youth services, day centres and everything else under attack in our communities.
2. We can strengthen grassroots links between unions and the wide range of other groups and individuals opposing the cuts. In the process we overcome divisions, increase co-ordination, and build practical solidarity.
3. We can seek to extend the movement from the streets into the workplaces, pushing for co-ordinated strikes (most likely in defence of pensions) and promoting broader solidarity with every strike against cuts that does happen.
4. We can promote the alternatives to cuts via stalls, leafleting, public meetings, independent media and every other means we have.
5. We can use rallies, protests and direct actions at local level as a way of not only deepening the movement's roots, but also to put pressure on the TUC to call a national demonstration that can be even bigger than 26 March.
6. We can do all the diverse things - from fundraising gigs to public rallies, from street stalls to film showings, from college occupations to workplace meetings - involved in building broad-based campaigning coalitions.
One day, after we've done most of this, we might well have a general strike. We might even turn Trafalgar Square into Tahrir Square. Who will make the general strike? Who will turn Trafalgar into Tahrir? It won't be the people currently hurtling down one of a number of blind alleys, that's for sure.