anti-cuts: room for concern and room for hope

Steve Ryan reflects on the progress of the anti-cuts campaigns

As we move towards spring and towards what is being billed as the biggest demo for years on 26th March, now is perhaps a good to time to reflect on the anti cuts “movement “ and where it is going.

So far it has looked very good. Hundreds of cities and towns now have anti cuts groups. There have been a series of demonstrations, events, public meetings stunts etc. Anyone who uses social networking sites will not have failed to be aware of this. It looks rich and diverse.

Before Christmas the student protests galvanised the movement with a series of imaginative demonstrations and occupations. There have been strikes, for example, the London Underground  and Department for Work and Pensions, and currently the UCU lecturers’ union is balloting over pay. Couldn’t be better. Could it?

Well yes, actually. There are clear signs that the movement is stalling.

Firstly, despite the hundreds of demos etc. it is clear that still the anti cuts message has not permeated through the activist level to the public. Most of the activities have drawn some new layers in, but hardly in droves, given the scale of the cuts.

In the unions, the response has been mute with actions called off. Even the so called ‘awkward squad’ union leaders seem unable to make a decisive decision for action, let alone joint action. Also the response for calls to action have been lukewarm. The recent ballot in PCS on the Civil Service Compensation Scheme (CSCS), whilst overwhelmingly won,  attracted a mere 32% turn out on what  was seen as a key issue,

Also the anti cuts movement is still not united. The main reason for this is, as always, the depressing number of ‘organisations’ set up to ‘lead’ it. Coalition of resistance seems the biggest, but thee is the SWPs right to Work  initiative as well. Very depressingly, the Socialist Party have cynically used the reasonably successful National Shop Stewards Network to seek to control the anti cuts groups. This has split the National Shop Stewards Network, leaving the SP in full control.

One big issue with the anti cuts groups is that they are very good at knowing what they are against – public service cuts, Vodafone etc. – but the alternative to this is ill thought through, and often non existent. Many workers do not, for example, see bringing down the ConDems as that great if the alternative is Labour who, lest we forget, started all this in the first place. Unions like PCS have some good albeit reformist ideas around tax justice, and the 1 million green jobs campaign has some merit.

However, a Greek-style resistance is not yet with us, let alone Egypt or Tunisia. Why?

Firstly the cuts, severe though they are, are taking time to permeate through to the various layers that are affected. A public sector job goes and the effect is clear to the person losing their job, but the knock on effect to the community, services and local economy takes longer to hit home. As such the resistance is fragmented, a strike here, a student protest there, but nothing yet to unite everyone affected into a mass movement

Secondly, the unions are passive. Too many see the way forward as holding out til the ConDems collapse under their own contradictions and usher in Labour. This has led to some of the big unions accepting pay cuts for jobs rather than fighting back. Clearly we cannot wait for this. However this attitude is compounded by a lack of clear intent from the more “left” unions. PCS is , for example, determined to unite and fight, but seems unable to focus on how and instead jumps from issue to issue, CSCS scheme now, pensions then, rather than grasp the nettle that the issue is jobs and services. Also, the organisation of the Left within the unions is, frankly, weak. Most left groups are nothing more than election machines with little real reach into the rank and file. This has meant that most workers do not feel confident to act, yet alone autonomously.

Thirdly, the arguments against the cuts are not inspiring. Many, when polled, believe the cuts are necessary. Actions against Vodafone etc. are fine, but have no real effect other than a bit of conscious raising about tax, there is little said about the fact that such events are an inherent part of the system we live under, capitalism, that the alternative is far more radical than some more staff for HMRC (welcome though that would be) or putting people to work in sustainable industries.

So then, we’re all doomed? Of course not. In recognising the weakness in the movement we seek solutions.

The anti cuts movement does not need controlling, but it does need focus. A loose federation or network, based on a horizontal structure, recognising the autonomy of each group, is urgently needed to co ordinate actions, share ideas and best practice and as a sounding board and to give support.

A real alternative needs to be thought through. This means bringing together all the positive ideas , tax justice, green jobs, etc into a manifesto of some kind. This would be though a start, as it has to be seen as directional demands. The real argument that now needs to be constantly and patiently explained is our libertarian communist one. There needs to be far more positive intervention on this basis , showing that there is a real vibrant alternative to the current system. This also means comrades demonstrating this in the way they organise, act etc. Building the new world in the shell of the old is not just empty rhetoric but a necessity. We need to build so that people have confidence to undertake occupations, rent strikes, direct action over services.

This also means taking the argument to those affected. Standing around leafleting in town centres is OK, but wouldn’t it be better done in the estates, villages etc?

In the unions comrades should be actively arguing for co-ordinated strike action. Moreover, all comrades should be making sure they build their local branches and , where the time is right, building rank and file organisations. Or pushing the broad lefts beyond simple electioneering. Where comrades are in non unionised areas: unionise!… using the IWW in particular.

Finally, keep going! It is hard and frustrating work, but for all that has been said the signs are there. The protests over selling of woodland attracted tens of thousands. The monthly anti cuts demo in Liverpool has doubled in size. Unions are talking and some are taking the opportunity to ballot. The cuts are starting to hit hard from jobs to libraries. March 26th will be crucial as will the Cardiff demo on 5th March against the LibDem and Conservative conferences. If as communists we keep on with the above and more, maybe, just maybe, our Tahrir Square is there for the taking.

 

9 thoughts on “anti-cuts: room for concern and room for hope

  1. “A real alternative needs to be thought through. This means bringing together all the positive ideas , tax justice, green jobs, etc into a manifesto of some kind. This would be though a start, as it has to be seen as directional demands. The real argument that now needs to be constantly and patiently explained is our libertarian communist one. There needs to be far more positive intervention on this basis , showing that there is a real vibrant alternative to the current system.”
    What’s the point in making these social democratic demands? The ruling class knows its economics; it’s not like we’re going to persuade it to adopt a different program. Much better to campaign on concrete class issues than drawing up an alternative (capitalist) program.
    Or is it because libertarian communist demands are utopian and not appealing to the average worker? I hope and presume you don’t think that. I’m a communist, as are you, and I don’t think fellow communists should be arguing for social democracy. A simple opposition to cuts, without aligning to any ideology (calls for tax justive, green jobs, etc. amount to an ideology) is more effective than uniting everybody in some kind of program which stinks of a ‘left unity’ style project.

    Like

  2. I’m inclind to agree that this continually asking for a better deal, a green agenda and a fairer tax system will lead nowhere. Even if the establishment agreed to all these demands we would still have a capitalist exploitive system. Much better to be honest with the people and state your desire to bring down the capitalist system and see a co-operative, mutual aid system built in its place. Continually pushing for and showing strategies for achieving the alternative type of society rather than trying to get a better deal out of our lords and masters, after all that is what they are if we have to continually ask for more.

    Like

  3. my argument was that there should be directional or transistional demands . Especially now the class is not as politicised as it was. Such demands are ones workers could get behnd, but of course dont solve the problem which starts to allow workers to ask ..well what does…? we should be argiung for revolution yes , but it needs to built

    Like

  4. Perhaps we have missed the boat. When the crisis arrives our ideas should have already been on the table, when people start to look for answers if you haven’t got your ideas out there then they will not be taken up. The building for revolution should be taking place all through the good times as you and I know, in this system, the good times never last. We must now continually put forward the alternative, to discuss the cuts, where they should fall and how deep, is to legitimise the cuts

    Like

  5. “my argument was that there should be directional or transistional demands . Especially now the class is not as politicised as it was. Such demands are ones workers could get behnd, but of course dont solve the problem which starts to allow workers to ask ..well what does…? we should be argiung for revolution yes , but it needs to built”

    That seems like giving revolutionaries a didactic role, as well as being unrealistic in terms of how consciousness develops, in my opinion.
    It imagines that we give demands (which we don’t actually think are anything remotely like our ideal) to the class; they accept them, and then we can give more and more radical demands until they become communists. Sorry if I’ve misinterpreted you, but this seems like the consequence of what you’ve said.

    I think that seems like quite a vanguardist conception of the role of the revolutionary. It’s also just unrealistic; consciousness doesn’t come from revolutionaries revealing the truth to the rest of the class, it ebbs and flows in struggle. Also, we as communists are not independent of that ebb and flow – we are just a section, albeit more politicised, of the working class. Our views will no doubt be shown to be wrong on some things, and change and so on.

    Why don’t we, rather than teaching the rest of the class step-by-step, engage in honest dialogue and advocate what we actually think, rather than something which is actually just nicer capitalism?

    Like

  6. I for one would not for a moment see my role as giving instructions to any section of the ordinary people, nor do I see myself as having the “grand plan”. People come at problems and struggle with a myriad of ideas and strategies, all I was meaning was that we have to have ours out there on the table, before and during that struggle, or they may never see the light of day. I don’t believe that in struggle the only answers that emerge will be socialist, it would be great if that was the case. There are other ideas and beliefs fighting to shape society and they also fly the flag of change. Yes struggle is fluid and can morph in any number of directions and there is no guarantee which philosophy will win the day. All we can do is continually put our ideas forward in the good times and in the heat of struggle, as part of that struggle, and hope the outcome will be to the benefit of all.

    Like

  7. if we say the working class is not as political as it was we must remember that this politics was organisationally mainly labourite and stalinist so the fact that these politics have gone is in a sense a good thing.Although these politics still live on in the larger left groups in one form or another. See the CPGB position on the labour party as a reflection of this. One of the reasons why the anti cuts movement has nor reached deeper into the class is the the SWP and SP tactics in going down old channels and revitalising the old labour Movement. Clinging on to Trade union officialdom,focusing on trade councils working with labour councillors who say they do not want to cuts but no choice cannot help it and so on.The failure to sink local roots and build links out sideTrade Union structures. And the one sided stress on demos and action with no attempt to draw up a political alternative. We have had this before in the anti Iraq war movement the one big demo that we transform things for ever- or not. Transitional demand are vanguardist in this sense the self appointed leadership decides what the class is ready for politically or rather the point of departure or assumption is the class is not yet ready for life without capitalism and requires an indirect and drawn out introduction of half measures by their political guides. Trotsky’s transitional demands were reformist demands,but the claim was they would amount to revolutionary demmands in sum total, due to economic collapse, were every economic reform would have revolutionary implications-or not. The fairer capitalism slogans handed down to the big demo and the movement can only take us away from the direction we want to take.In sheffield it has been noticable the lack of political culture of the SWP and SP and there inability to debate and discuss. The open e mail list has seen passionate discussion but only between myself and the greens. A new layer has been drawn into the campaign so the local demo’s and meetings are larger than previously but only shallow compared with the potential.

    Like

  8. The people must decide which direction they take, all we can do is to be part of that struggle being active and entering into debate with our ideas. Nobody knows the spark that starts the fire, and the direction of that fire is equaly difficult to predict.

    Like

Comments are closed.