Barry Biddulph attended the public launch meeting of the Sheffield anti-cuts campaign.
I attended the Sheffield anti-cuts campaign public launch meeting on, Wednesday 24th November, at the Novotel Hotel. The Campaign has the support of PCS, UNISON, GMB. CWU, NUT, and NUJ trade unions. However, only about 250 people and eventually about 300 were present out of the huge public sector workforce in Sheffield, showing the weakness of the trade union left and the lack of mass support, particularly for the SWP, and the Socialist Party. Although the two groups’ members were prominent in the meeting and among the speakers. The speakers were Marion Lloyd, Socialist Party, speaking for the civil service union, Ben Morris speaking for the SWP’s Right To Work Campaign and Bill Greenshields, of the Communist Party of Britain, speaking for Peoples Charter. Attendance would have been far less had a number of young students, fresh from the demonstrations, not been present. Here is my view of the meeting and some notes of the main points made by the speakers, to give a flavour of the politics of the platform.
Firstly the interim steering committee, whoever they are, we were not informed, organised the meeting as a rally for people to listen to long speeches from the platform which is the culture of the Socialist party and the SWP. It should have been a meeting for the people from the floor to debate and discuss how we organise against the cuts and on what political basis. But the organisers left very little time to debate from the floor and seemed to expect a resolution drawn up by a handful of people in the PCS DFE Branch to be agreed with little or no discussion. The resolution was not given out at the outset of the meeting, so it was difficult to read it and contribute. But the chair did ask for amendments, which I am not sure the unelected steering committee expected.
I managed to speak first to suggest an amendment. I suggested that any campaign committee should be elected from the meeting. The resolution simply expected the meeting to agree to an unelected and unnamed steering committee. This committee should not simply represent the trade union left, but should represent the wider community outside trade union constraints. This amendment was seconded by a number of young people, who did not appear to be a part of the trade union left. Another speaker then complained the resolution did not cover the attacks on council tenants. Another speaker said the steering committee should have a housing officer on the committee, another said some tenants were needed. One of the few none white faces, who I think works in housing, said that the meeting should campaign against the immigration caps to get the support of the ethnic minority communities and so on. This proved too much for the SWP and SP members who had sat through the speeches without saying a word. They started to loudly heckle the speakers from the floor with shouts of “let’s get on with it”, “enough talk!”, “lets just do it!”, “we don’t need all this, I need to go home for my dinner.”
The undemocratic form of the meeting was unable to channel the energy and intelligence of the people in the room. The chair desperately tried to control things by giving everyone assurances that their concerns would be addressed and representation on the committee would represent every organisation. Commune members should not hold their breath for an invitation. Many made the point that not everyone was in an organisation. We were asked to trust the committee. No votes were taken as people began to leave the meeting including myself. The chair had already told me elections were not practical. The chair was guided by the loudest voices which were the SWP and SP members.
The politics of the unelected committee could be boiled down to two basic points: get behind the TUC and make it a one million strong march. The top down organisation of the Trade unions and the SWP and Socialist Party can reflect the tops of the official labour movement, but cannot reflect the democratic aspirations of those who will experience the cuts. The aim is not a million strong march but a million organised in their communities and workplaces. The politics of this campaign will mobilise people behind the official movement and their campaign for a fairer capitalism, but not a campaign from below to transform capitalism in the fight against the cuts.
Campaign Rhetoric from the platform.
Marion Lloyd (PCS and SP)
There is something we can do about the cuts.
We can go on strike.
workers are moving into struggle.
The young are aware of what is happening.
The message is the cuts can be defeated.
Our role is to give confidence to the class.
Explain the alternative.
The Alternative budget ( trade union campaign Fairer society or fairer capitalism -Keynesianism.)
Nationalise the banks
End tax avoidance of the rich to sort out national debt.
let’s get one million on the streets for the TUC March
let’s have a local demo.
no cuts jobs and services.
Ben Morris (Right to Work, SWP)
Unite on what we can agree.
work now for TUC March
turn the mood
organise a coach for TUC march
Demo against the LibDems’ conference Sheffield in March.
Organise ballots for strike action.
joint action needed.
come out on Strike the same day
let’s join the student occupation after this meeting.
Bill Greenshields (CPB and People’s Charter)
Collective power is what we are about.
show them what democracy looks like (!!)
financial crisis an opportunity for us.
debt levels have been higher before.
welfare state built when heavy debt after the war.
debt excuse to attack the class.
They want a cheap pool of labour.
Unemployment is a breeding ground for racism.
we are not all in this together.