By Phil Dickens.
No matter what happens on the day, the 26th March
is going to be a watershed in the current struggle against austerity. The day has great potential, and a myriad of pitfalls. But if it is to mark the crystallisation of a movement, a mass rebellion, it will be despite its organisers, not because of them.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) finally called a national demonstration
in October. This was not of its own initiative, but after much agitation and lobbying
by trade union activists and groups such as the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN). And even then, all it could bring itself to do was declare that in five months they would march from one part of London to another – a considerable time after the cuts had started to bite, and with absolutely no promise of follow-up whatsoever.
However, despite rather than because of the TUC, March 26th is now the focal point of upcoming struggles. With anger over the cuts still bubbling following on from the student riots and the UK Uncut actions, and trade unions mobilising members for the event across the country, the numbers in London look set to far eclipse the 50,000 at Demo 2010.
As I said in a previous post
, “this could go a number of ways depending on the militancy of the crowd and the willingness of the TUC stewards to do the police’s job for them.”
That latter point, however, has now been confirmed by a PCS comrade who attended a regional TUC meeting yesterday. She tells me that they are planning to have three types of steward for the event. Full-time officials will be running the show on the day, in itself a sign that they don’t want things scuppered by anybody loyal to the rank-and-file over the bureaucracy, and there will be dedicated transport stewards.
But the ones doing the dirty work will be the “route stewards,” whose job is to ensure people stick to the set route and – in the words of my comrade, who is not an anarcho-syndicalist or a member of any other “hard-left” tendency – to “prevent any sit-down protests or direct action.” In other words, the TUC organisers are absolutely determined that this will be a passive and uncontroversial march from A to B, and at the end we will hear some people spout rhetoric about exactly the kind of civil disobedience they are actively curtailing.
If this goes ahead then, just as here in Liverpool
, it will demonstrate just how out of touch the TUC and union leaders are with their own membership. But it could also completely demobilise the thousands of people looking to challenge the government’s agenda. They will go home utterly deflated, and believing that there is nothing they can do in the face of the attacks on our class.
This is nothing to do with individual leaders, but with the very notion of leadership within a top-down bureaucracy. When the only “leading” you do is through example, then you can be as radical as you like. Indeed, that is what makes your reputation and gets people following you. But if you are in a formal position, then there are a myriad of pressures upon you which have the effect of moderating and pacifying even the most radical of people. Aside from the fact that the perks that come with it give you interests oppositional to those of your members
, there is the responsibility to maintaining the organisation even to the detriment of the class of people it supposedly represents.
Thus, those who want to see the March 26th event emulate and eclipse the militancy of Demo 2010
, which gave birth to the present spirit of rebellion, face a battle on two fronts. If such militancy occurs, the task will be to overcome attempts by the police to contain it within a kettle, and channel it into effective direct action.
But there is also the need to break down the barriers presented by the “route stewards,” ordinary trade union activists who will – believing they are acting for the good of the movement – containing and limiting the protest for the police. Not by battering through them (though in the end this may become neccessary) but by making them realise what is happening and persuading them to do what stewards should be doing – facing the police, and acting as both a barrier against and a forewarning of attack from the forces of the state.
I will be in London on 26th March, and I sincerely hope that it proves to be the catalyst for an untold and unstoppable wave of working class militancy. But I am under no illusions that there are many barriers to that, including the immovable bureaucracy of the labour movement itself.
Coalition MPs on their very handsome salaries sat securely in the hallowed Palace of Westminster cobbling together a vote to trap young people in a future of eternal debt or low wages, whilst students and workers were raging in their anger up and down the country. Thousands upon thousands took part with rough and ready placards pulling no punches; endless chants and homemade shields to protect themselves from the police.
Many people are now making complaints above police behaviour to the IPCC, however a workers independent inquiry could expose more and propose appropriate punishments to those who gave orders to brutalise a new generation whose futures are being stolen from them.
As the first phase of the campaign draws to a close many students will be mulling over what to do next. An important place to debate this issue will be at the National Shop Stewards Network Anti-Cuts Conference on January 22nd in central London. Hundreds of rank and file trades unionists with local anti-cuts campaigns across the country will be there. Activists and leaders from trade unions that have shown a fighting lead like PCS, FBU and RMT will participate. We welcome students, to attend and take part. Lets make the ‘students and workers, unite and fight’ chant an ongoing practical reality. http://tinyurl.com/372uupq
Sat 29th January sees the long awaited TUC action on Youth unemployment which PCS members put forward at TUC in Sep. Sadly it has been called as an indoor rally, so PCS are now organising a March on that day to feed into the rally. All welcome to support and attend.
1200 Heinz workers in Wigan are to strike for 24 hour for an improved pay offer. Messages of support to Ian at email@example.com.
Medirest Staff at Southampton General & Amersham & Wycombe Hospitals took 48 hours of strike action. http://sabmw.weebly.com/meetings–events.html
Clitheroe Grammor School Lancs members of NUT/NASUWT took strike action against express academies.
ALSEF – Massive vote for strike action by LU Train drivers on boxing day. On the 23rd London Midland ASLEF will also be on strike. http://tinyurl.com/3y5dux7
PCS urge YES vote in ballot open till 14th Jan http://tinyurl.com/34ep3yy
This week also saw RMT protest at City Hall about 800 job cuts, a CWU rally that burst out onto the streets after Billy Hayes CWU leader also talked about being kettled on the 24th Nov with Students and other workers. Up and down the country actions took place to profile the horrendous Welfare and Housing benefit cuts. And this is apart from the ongoing meetings and lobbys organised by anti cuts alliances up and down the country. Students are also reviewing how to develop campaigns now the government vote has gone through and further actions and protests are being planned. Many occupations short and long continue, they welcome visitors.
Anyone up for helping out in our communications team? Local, National or Regional input welcome, updating on our facebook or providing content on our main website? Our likes page is becoming more useful to input short links on a day by day, sometimes hourly feed. Please join it and invite others to join and make use of it. http://on.fb.me/fNkaIo
National Shop Stewards Network.
We have waited for weeks now to see if the TUC will adjust it’s position and call trade unions to support the students fight against the fees and cuts, the silence as predicted is deafening.
After the hideously inaccurate and biased media reporting of the December 9th student mobilisation in the capital, we feel moved to make a direct appeal to all trade union members in Norfolk and beyond.
We can no longer sit and wait for the TUC mobilisation in March 2011 while young people are being beaten to the floor by the Metropolitan Police. The time to act is now.
We urge all Trade Union members to travel to the next national student protest in London when the date is confirmed. Look deep into your consciences, the time for solidarity is now.
Inaction is no longer acceptable!
NSSN Banner on December 9 March: March with the NSSN banner from ULU, Malet Street, London at 12 noon Thursday 9 December
Our students are fighting to defend education for all- join them. University of London Union and UCU London Region have called a demonstration on Thursday 9th December, the day Parliament debates the raising of the cap on tuition fees, to add support to the mass lobby of Parliament called by UCU and NUS. There was also a lobby of NUS on Monday to push them support the protests and occupations. Incase of the usual bad policing ensure you have legal contacts, a phone tree to support you and others and lots of warm clothes!
RMT calls for full support for student fees protests 9 December
TRANSPORT UNION RMT has called on its members and the entire trade union movement to get out on the streets this week in full support of the student fees protests and to pile the pressure on Lib Dem MP’s as the first signs of major cracks in the ConDem coalition begin to open up. RMT has written to all its branches and is directly emailing and texting members urging them to support the local protests on Wednesday and the national protest on Thursday – the day of the Commons vote. RMT General Secretary Bob Crow will be speaking at the 3pm rally at the Westminster end of Victoria Embankment on Thursday 9 December.
Wed 8th Dec
Manchester Shop Stewards demo – Manchester Town Hall, Albert Square, Manchester. 7.30-10am lobby before council meets and a demonstration from 4-6pm after council meets.
Tower Hamlets Full Council Lobby 6pm Mulbery Place
North Lanakrshire Council lobby http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cumbernauld-and-Kilsyth-Defend-Public-SectorAgainst-Cuts/125467460813695?v=wall
12.15pm at Gloucester Square, Woking MARCH TO SAVE OUR SERVICES IN SURREY and HANTS Labour and Trade Unions Against the Cuts. Organised by Surrey Labour Party. Further Lobbies, meetings and protests are listed on
MerseySide Anti cuts march and Rally 11am Met Cathedral.
Lincoln March Against Cuts12.30 Castle Sq
Southend Against the Cuts March and rally – Pier Hill 12 noon, march to rally at Victoria Circus, Southend High Street
On 13 December the National Union of Students and trade unions ATL, GMB, NUT, UCU, UNISON and Unite are holding a nationwide day of lunchtime protests at colleges to demand that the government abandons its plans to scrap Educational Maintenance Allowances. They have set up an EMA Campaign website, with a petition and useful facts.
Barnet Alliance for Public Services – Lobby of council 6-7pm at Hendon Town Hall, The Burroughs, London NW4 4BG.
Wednesday 15th December 9.30am: Oppose Boris Johnson’s attack on LU Ticket Offices. Demonstration at City Hall RMT has called a demonstration at London City Hall for the next Mayor’s Question Time to protest against Boris Johnson’s attack on London Underground Ticket Offices. I would like to encourage every available RMT activist to attend for a loud and colourful demonstration.
Join us at our National conference
12:00noon – 4:00pm
South Camden Community School
All anti-cuts campaigns, trade union branches, trades councils and workplace organisations are invited to send delegates and visitors. http://www.facebook.com/l/862b4Rtn87AHGTkRIKUNs-M_Oig;www.shopstewards.net/conference.2011.htm