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.