Reflections on the 26th of March

Steve Ryan reports on the TUC’s March 26 ‘March for the Alternative’ demonstration.

The 26th may well turn out to be a turning point in the anti cuts movement.

Firstly as an event it was an undoubted success. Up to half a million marched, sang and chanted their way in lively procession from Embankment to Hyde park. The march clearly attracted many thousands who had not been on a demo before, many who had pulled back from political activity and were pulled back in, in short this wasn’t the usual suspects.

It clearly rattled the establishment. Vicious attacks appeared in the right wing press, including misquoted opinion polls to suggest the marchers were in a minority ( in fact the opinion polls for the last 2 weeks show the reverse is true ).

Facebook and twitter later showed how proud and pleased those on the march were with the day.

The day was of course also notable for the events in the West end and later Trafalgar square/ The “violence “ is now being denounced by left and right .

What was it thought? Some symbolic property was trashed. Frankly, good. The rich must not be allowed to play with our jobs, pensions etc and think all we will do is march. The events in Trafalgar were exaggerated, this writer witnessed some of it, a party was turned into a fight by heavy handed policing. Look at the blogs especially the more unaligned and thoughtful to get the truth of this.

Some thought does need to be given to direct action in such circumstances it is true. The events in Oxford st caught up a number of first time marchers who were upset and distressed though as many thought it was great when they saw what had happened, Nevertheless care must be given to innocent bystanders who are sympathetic in future. We need people onside not put off at the first hurdle.

How now does the anti cuts movement, move?

Many of the Trade union speakers spoke of strike action, co coordinated or otherwise. This may not happen, if it does, until June earliest, although there are a number of disputes that will start before then. For example 80.000 PCS members in different departments are currently balloting for action, UCU are out and other fights are on the horizon.

The royal wedding, May day etc give significant dates for actions, marches and demos.

In short, its time to up the ante. The anger is clearly building. More and more workers are being drawn to the idea of fighting back.

This means finding ways of expressing that anger. Petitions, demos, marches, lobbies’ allow for people to get involved at their own pace.

In the meantime, every effort should be made to seek opportunities for strikes, go slows, work to rules, general industrial disruption. Workers should be involved in this through assemblies, car park meetings, workplace bulletins. Pressure must be built on the union leaderships to act, whilst building the confidence of rank and file workers to take the initiative. There is a way to go yet with this, but it must be built.

Leafleting and stalls must reach out away from city and town centres into the estates and villages to build on the frustration and anger clearly shown on Saturday, mass meetings again are vital.

There must also now be no reluctance to engage politically with people. As communists we must be honest and clear where we stand. It was interesting how receptive the marchers were to the chants and slogans, why not then serious political anaylsis?

And yes direct action must continue to take the fight to the bosses, bankers politician’s and their hangers on. We must not be afraid of this, it works.

In other words moving out of the success of 26th of March means building a broad movement, mindful of the differing levels of political awaking out there. Patience, innovation, determination are needed.

Saturday was important. It should be a building block for the fight back. Lets use it wisely and ensure it is.

17 thoughts on “Reflections on the 26th of March

  1. yeah, lots of honest questions in that report. and critiques UKUncut without
    damning it.

    ”Ed Miliband gave an appalling and dishonest speech where he made out the suffragettes, anti-apartheid and civil rights movement didn’t arson, bomb and shoot their way to victory but instead, probably just went on boring marches and then voted for the previous government to come back and fuck them more gently.”

    ”Increasing this artificial difference, each group afterward then claims to be the ones doing the real political activity but in reality these things are no more or less political than each other. WHY, for example, is smashing the Ritz more politicised an act than marching from A to B?”

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  2. Try to focus away from mocking everything TUC unions politicians do to what ordinary workers thought of the day…mostly they liked it and felt a collective about it. This is not the 70s , most workers are de politicised…but the cuts agenda is getting people talking, thinking and yes marching…some quicker than others. Thats why we need to recognise the positive from such events and seek to build on it. To simply sneer which frankly some of the libertarian stuff does, detaches us from the class and achievies nothing.

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  3. yeah, fair enough Steve. I didn’t think that report I linked to was sneering though…

    “This is not to say that Saturday was entirely crap. We may have followed pre-existing narratives but we did it big time. The march was huge, depending on which unreliable source you believe it was probably between 400,000– 500,000 people. This is not to be downplayed – this may have just been a petition with feet, but it was a vast number of people rejecting the current Big Story that ‘these cuts are necessary’ and, likewise, ‘we’re in this together’. A massive turnout from around the country certainly suggests a level of anger and anti-apathy. What is harder to extrapolate is how angry, and how critical the crowd are. Apart from the one line sound bites from the newspapers we still do not really know what these 500,000 people think.”

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  4. and i took this question (WHY, for example, is smashing the Ritz more politicised an act than marching from A to B?”) as the writer rightly asking for more dialogue between people engaged in different tactics so that a mutual detachment/incomprehension doesn’t develop.

    the article also makes the point about how black bloc tactics can alienate. certainly a lot of people on the march can’t afford – in all the senses of the term – to smash things up and occupy and risk arrest. some people have that luxury and can write blogs about it (see the guardian and new statesman for endless accounts by activists saying ”i was a political prisoner on saturday”).

    so, no sneering.

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  5. I dont’t think the march rattled the establishment. The lefts focus on action and marching, with the alternative to cuts capitalism, blurred and undefined, simply gave credibilty to the TUC Message of change the governments mind or vote Labour next time. A family day, without anger, to hear the keynote parliamentary speaker Ed miliband, who preaches a slower tempo to the cuts . This cannot be building anger. The TUC is part of the establishment anyway.

    Its not the 1970s so workers are not influenced to the same extent by state socialism or social democracy and stalinism. That is as much a plus as much as a minus. Although the politics of the Socialist party and the SWP keep such traditions alive in their own small way.

    Again it is not entirely clear what to make of comments about, putting pressure of the Trade union leaders and at the same time building the confidence of the rank and file means. The perspective of putting pressure on Trade union leaders is usually a substitute for a rank and file strategy. And the report seems remarkably confident about what ordinary people and innocent bystanders think.

    The march is hardly a turning point. Think of the poll tax riots in London in comparison. It might result in a turn down given the sole focus by some anti cuts groups on the big demo rather than the big alternative socialism and communism.

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  6. I agree with Steve Ryan. Although the article linked to in the firs comment carries many useful points, to say “This is not to say that Saturday was entirely crap” is full of negative overtones (was it just 90% crap?).

    Many people marched for the first time, like my neighbour, who was exhilarated by the feeling that there are many other people out there who object to the cuts, that she is part of something bigger.

    It can go either way but the first mass political activity in a decade is ummm… a good thing!

    We need to build on that positive feeling while having the conversations about what it will take to defeat the cuts for real. Before the disillusionment sets in. I’m hearing lots of mixed feelings out there: “The cuts are awful/but inefficiencies need to be attacked” or “why did the rioters have to spoil it/but it will probably take a riot for things to change.”

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  7. As communits we have political perpectives and convictions about an classless alternative to capitalism. This informs any assessment of a political demonstration. To reduce everything to mood and numbers leaves marchers as foot soldiers of someone elses political agenda. In this case the TUC and the Laour leadership. The problem with the two million strong anti war march which was less than a decade ago was that it left no mass political or social gain for revolutionary politics. It was all build the numbers and therefore build the mood. politics or the revolutionary alternative will somehow be generated later. In this case, you think Conversations about defeating the cuts for real will come later. But conversations about defeating the cuts for real should start with the activity. Without alternative politics the activity will lead nowwhere or be directed away from a Communist or socialist alternative. people do have mixed feelings, But they also have mixed views or contradictory class consciousness. We have to engage the views not just the feet. Hence critical assessment.

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  8. Hi,
    I am not sure about your claim that ‘the establishment was rattled’. How do you know? The fact that the right wing press went mad again, doesn’t say anything about the establishment. And what do you mean by ‘establishment’? But thanks a lot for this report! :-)
    I see the ‘black block’ tactics as a child of the TUC passive politics over so many years. Smashing shops and banks is an expression of despair over the stuckness of the social and labour movement in this country. It’s the opposite extreme to the impotent tradition of the peaceful mega-marches. These both extremes need each other and mutually feed in each other. It’s like one human being split in two separate halfs, one with supressed anger and one venting the anger out, blindly. Both inefficient and hardly a threat to capital. But to understand who is responsible for this situation is much harder that describing it! Even in countries with much stronger and militant labour movements in Europe the workers are losing out, so there must be more powerful forces at play than just the weakness or ‘sell outs’ of the TUC or the detachment of the radical Left. As if we are just always chasing a wrong target…

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  9. i appreciate all these comments, but i did give some practical steps we can take as well. we need tos tart doing a bit more rather than philosophising, after all the world has been interpreted , the point is to change it. The ground for libertarian communists/marxists is pretty thin, there is an ideal oppurtunity to fill it with ideas , many of which will resonante

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  10. The demo basically shows that the strategy of the TUC and the Labour Party is succeeding up to this point. The TUC held the demo as a means of control of the anger of public sector workers and the working class which relies on public services. Essentially you can have your demo then go home and accept your redundancy notices and watch your services and living standards being dismantled. At the same time the chief implement of control, Miliband was allowed to actually address the crowd. Miliband and Labour agree completely that the working class should be made to pay for the crisis and in councils up and down the country are implementing the attacks on living standards. Worse due to the lack of any political alternatives Labour looks set to benefit from workers voting against the cuts and ConDem attacks. The ruling class and its mouthpieces would have been far more worried had the crowd from the demo refused to allow Miliband to speak either by drowning him out or throwing stuff at him etc. as a principal agent of the enemy. That plus some signs of a building political alternative to both Labour and the ConDems – all of whom can in many ways be regarded as a single party the differences between them are so miniscule – would have been a step forward. Unfortunately occupying a few shops, smashing up a few banks and the occasional fight with the police is essentially an extension of the letting off steam that the TUC and Labour wanted rather than any serious political challenge to them and their masters.

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  11. That may be so Matthew, but it’s not the case that if the TUC didn’t organise a demo, there’d be a massive wave of industrial action in its place, is it?

    What Steve is highlighting is the reaction of ordinary non-politico marchers on the day; and how that enthusiasm can be used to build something more effective.

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  12. indeed, there is a big audience out there as yet untapped. For example just been to a King Blues gig in Wrexham, packed with people i have never seen on demos etc singing along to the streets are ours and cheering anti fash and anti cuts stuff…..lets be clear some of em might avtually mean it and want an expression for it,,,,educate, agitate, organise…

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  13. Yes, I agree with Jake; It really can go either way… There is nothing inherent within marches or direct action which unequivocally necessitates a victorious or failed attempt by the working class to have our demands met. What’s important now is galvanizing the energy felt by all and formulating a useful strategy to ensure the feelings of frustration, dissatisfaction and anger at the government do not dissipate now that we have gone on one march. Although it is hard to believe the TUC will establish a truly socialist representation for the working class in this struggle against the government’s bogus plans to “save our economy”, considering the TUC are bureaucratic counterproductive on their own for our movement; but they do not have to be. We have to unite and not fall victim to the ruling classes’ oldest trick in the book – divide and conquer! We need to leave quarrels and disagreements of the left within the left and not let the media catch wind of any of us slagging the other’s tactic off.

    I was in a local meeting the other night that was compounded of anarchists, trade unionists, and et al. and i was quite saddened to hear the members of the trade unions denouncing the individuals and the groups who on the day of the march acted violently as we apparently diminished the credibility of the demo. Now whether the “violent” actions were “good” or “bad” again depends on how we on the left organise around it; and of course how we respond to it. If we split and blame each other then this is quite palpably the most demoralising and detrimental position our movement can take. If we do not want to lose the fervent energy and anger of the working class that day the last thing we should do is fracture more!

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  14. Matthew was making the point that the TUC and labour party agenda makes makes mass industrial action less likely. The “politics” of mood and numbers does not challenge or pose an alternative to TUC and Labour party ideological Hegemony.

    Often, ordinary workers or a concept of ordinary workers is counterposed to politicos or revolutionaries and their politics.

    Bahar says the TUC does not have to be part of the establishment or the state to be more specific. But the history of the TUC since 1868 shows it is not part of the fight against capitalism. if you do not openly criticise the TUC and labour party leaders you will never be part of the fight from below against capitalism.

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  15. On that last point I’d agree with Barry. The current issue of the paper says “we don’t need the TUC” – and quite right. Practically, we have no way of uniting with the TUC because their entire programme is hostile to ours. We believe in strikes being controlled from below, they believe they should be controlled from above – or, better, not happen at all. We need to criticise them because if workers believe that the TUC will save them – or even be neutral if they try to save themselves – they will be sorely disappointed.

    This is a great point though – “whether the “violent” actions were “good” or “bad” again depends on how we on the left organise around it; and of course how we respond to it.”

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