a workshop at From meltdown to upheaval, LARC, 62 Fieldgate St on 11th September
The Tory/Lib Dem coalition is starting to implement its savage cuts in public expenditure. As a response to this anti-cuts campaigns are springing up across the country. This session will look at how communist should relate to such campaigns and what role rank and file trade unionism may play in resisting these cuts.
To facilitate an exchange of views here are some suggested questions:
Reasons for the Public Sector Cuts
Why are governments across Europe pursuing state sector cuts despite the lack of consensus within the capitalist class? Is it that they concerned about the markets response to state indebtedness? Or is it due to a desire to continue with the neoliberal project of privatisation and workfare? Are they in pursuit of a delusion that this project can deliver economic growth? Is this an attempt to reduce the cost of reproducing labour power by suppressing the value of labour power in education, health, welfare services? But if that’s the case won’t it jeopardise consumer-led capitalism?
Composition of state workers and labour process
What are the likely outcomes of any successful imposition of cuts? Further, casualisation and outsourcing? Reduction in pay and pensions? Which state workers will be most affected? Younger workers, older workers, women, men? How will this affect working conditions – more managerial control over the labour process, more technological innovation through ‘modernisation’, longer hours and reliance on overtime?
What forms of resistance are we likely to see within the workplace?
The Welfare State
Should we be defending the ‘welfare/workfare’ state as it is? How do we take the opportunity to call for the transformation of welfare services and at the same time defend against the cuts? Is this the key to gaining support from those who use these services (parents, welfare recipients, patients, council tenants, the unemployed)? How do we defend welfare services when they are premised on a state/client relationship with individualises welfare provision and fragments working class engagement with the state? How do we bring these questions into the anti-cuts alliances? Do we defend all state services including the police and law courts? Should we counteract the mantra ‘public good, private bad’?
What would a victory look like? What would a defeat look like? What strategy is likely to move us towards victory? Is that strategy feasible given the political and economic context? Are there other more realistic strategies? If so, what objectives should we pursue using this strategy?
Are cuts ‘inevitable’ given the current political and economic weakness of the working class ? If so, what is the role of the anti-cuts campaigns? To fight a rearguard action? What would have to happen to move from a defensive to an offensive strategy? How can the anti-cuts campaigns develop a more offensive capability? “Unless we are able to raise confidence and consciousness to produce mass direct action, including mass industrial action, then we will utterly fail, and no demonstration, be it 1 million, 2 million, or 3 million strong, will change that. We need to be honest about that.” Is this true, and if so how can we realistically move towards mass direct action? What lessons can we learn from the anti-cuts struggles in the 1970s and 1980s? What does it mean in practice to argue for workers’ self-management and communism from below in the context of anti-cuts campaign?
Given the weakness of the government coalition and the uneasiness of the Liberal Democrats and the fact that the capitalist class how can we exploit that to our advantage?
Public/Private Sector divide
Given that public sector cuts will have a knock on effect on some companies in the private sector who have a large dependency on government contracts, how do we build alliances with private sector workers?
Organisation and Extent
What is the geographical extent of the anti-cuts groups? How does this compare with groups in other countries – e.g. Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland etc. Who makes up these groups in terms of active supporters? How are they organised – through steering committees, mass assemblies? Do they have structured working groups? What is the role of bulletins, leaflets etc. produced by these groups? What is their content? What is the prospect of linking up groups both nationally and across Europe?
Labour Party and Left Groups
What strategies are being pushed by Labour Party members and those of the traditional Left groups within the anti-cuts alliances? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How do we relate to the Left and to its members? Should we be trying to stop Left groups and trade unions dominating the committees? But if so, who will take their place if they make up the vast majority of the active members of the anti-cuts campaigns?
What strategies are being pushed by the trade unions within these anti-cuts alliances? Who are these trade unionists? Shop stewards, trade union officials? What has been the response of the trade unions to the campaign? What about the TUC? Are the trades councils an irrelevance?
Is this an opportunity to build rank and file movements within the unions? Should we be doing this? What is the character of the National Shop Stewards Network? What should be our engagement with NSSN? How should communists relate to the unions? Should we be developing workplace branches? What is the relationship between workplace branches with rank and file organisations? Should we be encouraging social unionism (that is developing links between the unions and the community) as a method to vitalise the anti-cuts campaings, bringing together workplaces and communities?
Given the previous discussion what tactics ought to be adopted? Demos to pressurise TUC, at Tory Party conference etc. Publicity stunts? Calling for a general strike? Is such a call just such a publicity stunt? Leafletting workplaces and housing estates? Building street by street / block by block campaigns? Is this feasible? Pushing for individual workplace disputes? How are we going to give individual workplaces the confidence to take industrial action? Should we be encouraging anti-cuts candidates in the local elections next May? If so, on what platform would they stand? Should we unite behind TUSC /Respect/Green/anti-cuts Labour candidates? What objectives would such tactics expect to achieve?