editorial of The Commune
The 26th March demonstration called by the Trades Union Congress is likely to be the largest anti-cuts march yet. Since all cuts in public services are part of the same ruling-class offensive against our living standards, it makes sense that all working people should respond with a united fightback.
Of course, a single demonstration through the streets of London does not embody such a fightback. The protest strategy as planned by the TUC will not exert real pressure on the government. Union leaders hope a show of strength will force more consultation and negotiation over the manner and timing of the cuts. They are no champions of class struggle or meaningful defiance of the Tories.
If the TUC has any political alternative, it is only to help bring the Labour Party back into government, which would introduce most of the same cuts but more gradually. Inviting Ed Miliband to speak to the rally on 26th March has the clear intention of helping Labour to ride the wave of anger at the ConDem cuts, to the party’s electoral benefit.
We know from the experience of the movement against the war in Iraq, and the placid NUS-organised protests against the rise in tuition fees, that even large peaceful rallies are not a strategy to impose defeat on the government. Without substantial economic and political pressure such as a large strike or sustained civil disobedience, the government will feel no ‘moral’ compunction to listen to us.
The exciting step forward in the student movement in November-December 2010 came after the protest at Tory HQ at Millbank. Young people, particularly 16-18 year olds losing their Education Maintenance Allowance, dared to stand up to the police and the government. They showed real anger and desire to resist rather than just trail through the streets in order listen to speeches by NUS leaders and Labour MPs.
However, this militancy was only possible because the student struggles of the winter were a real movement: not just a large combination of people who turned out one day for a protest, but the rising of a section of the population against a government onslaught on their material conditions.
Such a movement cannot just be summoned into existence by union leaders or from outside the working class. General anti-cuts propaganda is important, but will never be enough to create struggle. For this same reason, we should not be too disheartened at the failure of the various anti-cuts campaigns to spark real resistance: this will surely come.
As such, it is quite mistaken to rely on calling the TUC to declare a general strike (whether one day or longer) as is endlessly demanded by groups like the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party. Not only is this hope futile, but it sows the illusion that the only problem is bureaucrats’ lack of initiative. This is ironic after the student movement, where NUS leader Aaron Porter was so marginalised that it became a pointless cliché even to bother to mention his inaction.
Political direction matters, not just tactics. In Greece, Spain and France general strikes met with failure. They lacked any inspired political alternative to cuts and faltered in the face of governments who stood firm. As demonstrated by its entire history, a more assertive TUC would merely be a more constant champion of getting Labour into power.
The TUC march may well have no ‘Millbank moment’. People with jobs at risk are likely to be far more cautious than the student protestors of 10th November. 26th March may, hopefully, play some role in galvanising opposition to the cuts. However, the real impulse for struggle cannot come from A-to-B marches or left groups’ propaganda, but only a movement within the working class itself.