building a movement against cuts

by Steve Ryan

So , the cuts continue, and every day new tales of slash and burn emerge from London Fire Brigade through the NHS to the Ministry of Justice.

The Left claim that this is the worst attack since the 1970s: depressingly the response is very far from that of the 1970s.

The 1970s were probably a heyday in union power and influence. A powerful network of shop stewards committees, a politicised work force and a responsive TUC  led to significant victories and successes from miners’ strikes to the release of jailed activists such as the Pentonville Five, dockers imprisoned for ‘contempt of court’. Trade union membership was at an all time high.

The influence of far left groups was also high and membership way above that of today.

2010 however sees low union membership, a TUC that is in hoc to New Labour as are the big unions such as UNITE whose leaders played down strike action this week , even saying cuts were needed!

Whilst the more radical PCS and RMT are calling for action at the TUC this is unlikely to be supported.

In the meantime the left as always revert to type , calling demos to pressure the TUC into doing something, anything…

Pretty grim is it not? Well yes, with little fight back from union and labour movement leaders, few anti cuts groups springing up, it does look bad.

However, all is not lost. The fact is that anti cuts groups ARE springing up as the scale of the cuts hits home. As the cuts begin to bite this process will quicken. Similarly workers are beginning to sense what is coming after a languid summer, This at some stage will turn to anger, not just with the government but with union leaders, especially if some unions DO take militant action.

The ConDem coalition is clearly weak as well, with clear splits showing and the Lib Dems in turmoil.

So what should communists be doing?

Clearly anti-cuts groups need initiating in as many communities as possible, and as these grow they need to federate as with the anti-Poll Tax movement. This will allow co coordinated actions, stunts etc. these groups MUST be non sectarian, horizontal in organisation and inclusive but militant.

Leaflets need to be prepared outlining the attacks and how we fight back. This will need patience and hard work as bit by bit the class gets what is happening.

It means stunts and actions to highlight the effect of the cuts , who is responsible and why the rich should pay not the working class. Take this fight to constituency offices, Conservative clubs, banks,  and, yes, support the demos outside the LibDem and Tory conferences.

It also means the slow but important task of building strong rank and files in the unions, linked with local communities, anti-cuts groups etc. If union leaders will not act we must. Workplace bulletins are imperative in this work.

As the struggle develops this autumn opportunities and initiatives will arise. As they do communists should be developing the argument for a permanent change to a society based on workers’ self management and communism from below. they should also be operating these principles in practice wherever they are engaged whether in the unions, anti-cuts groups etc demonstrating the practice as well as the theory.

This is a hugely important time, and reinvigorated libertarian left has a key opportunity to help a successful and mass fight back . Equally, if it is mishandled the movement is facing a massive defeat which may discredit it for decades.

3 thoughts on “building a movement against cuts

  1. Cheers for the article.

    It certainly is pretty dire; but nobody predicted ’68. Rebellion spreads quicker than forest fires.

    Partly we need some strong analyses from the Left. It isn’t enough to say: “The rich must pay for their crisis!”. This slogan hasn’t caught on overmuch. The people aren’t dumb; they want real answers. Real answers means real analysis.

    Recently this was raised during a talk by Costas Lapavitsas on the Eurozone crisis. He worked with a group that produced an analysis of the Eurozone crisis with a focus on Greece: They then went touring the circuits spreading the word, and there’s even a rough, but more readable, summary been set down by that rag, the socialist worker:

    The power of hearing Lapavitsas’ talk was that it’s analysis gave an answer to that vital question: “what is to be done?” Afterward, though this was England and not Greece, we were – everyone of us – ready to take to the streets that instant. Plainly, we need more of this.

    Of course, it’s not just about “answers” and research. Organisation-wise, you’re right: small anti-austerity groups are springing up all over – but they desparately need to build solidarity networks. I’m a PG student, and its like a microcosm of the broader situation. Small groups across the county are springing up in the midst of NUS and UCU’s complete immobility. They need to abandon the trade union bureaucracies unless they can very quickly affect a coup and repossess the means of mass-protest from which they are now thoroughly alienated. These groups need to grow on campuses, and they need to link up with each other, but beyond this they need to recognise that their experience is common to a whole range of public and private sector workers, and forge links beyond academia.

    Jees, I’m tired. Sorry if it’s been rambling.


  2. The “successes” of the 1970s were mainly in defensive struggles. They were based on the militancy and independence of the Shop Stewards’ Movement.
    Unfortunately the thinking was that militancy was sufficient to defend the working class — a mistake that was carried through into the miners’ strike of 1984. Remember that the political outcome of these struggles were Labour governments!! There was no attempt to build an alternative to the Labour Party or TUC leadership of the working class. Then we had Denis Healy’s collapse in front of the IMF and the advent of Thatcher who consciously smashed the Shop Stewards’ Movemnent by breaking up the industrial base. We are living with that legacy.

    In the Anti-Cuts Campaigns we will have the same ideological battle. The main tendency will be to re-elect a Labour government — and this will include the Left Groups as in the 1970s. In my view the cuts are a conscious attempt by the ruling class internationally to discipline the working class even more, drive down living standards and privatise the public sector — as coming from the IMF diktat.

    Riots and militancy will not be enough. We have to have a political strategy.

    Dave Spencer


  3. I agree with Dave: rioting is not revolutionary in itself. We need very quickly to generate analysis of the real problems that have so far prevented successful and united action.

    Plainly neither the Labour party, nor an alternative political part, nor unions are the answer to this problem. Such bodies merely serve to present real alienation in the guise of agency.

    It’s Castoriadis that I’m reading at the moment; and his main contribution to radical theory/praxis is to insist that the question of revolutionary theory/praxis remain open, and constantly in focus. We can’t rely on “economic laws”, or upon a now-outdated understanding of class-organisation or of the proletariat. We need to look in depth at the question of what revolutionary activity must mean today. And fast!

    Of course, this doesn’t exclude practice, organisation, confrontation – theory and praxis aren’t separate; moveover, we need to act now and will learn through acting. That is, if our project is worker’s autonomy, and not merely strengthening bureaucratic unions.

    Beware of Bureaucrats and Manipulators!



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