Most towns and cities in Britain have just seen substantial local protests against the cuts. This week there were waves of protests either on the 20th of Oct (day of the Con-Dem governments spending review) or today – the Saturday after. And more local protests, marches and rallies are planned everywhere. The biggest so far has been todays 20,000 strong STUC march against cuts in Edinburgh. Thousands also took to the streets in Sheffield, Manchester, Cambridge, London and Bristol. Reports are coming in of good turnouts everywhere.
I attended a lively protest of around 300 people outside the Town Hall of the small northern town of Lancaster on Wednesday. This was called at short notice to launch a local campaign, ‘Lancaster and Morecambe Against the Cuts!‘ and had a fairly good turnout for a weekday evening in a small city of only 50,000 people. Lots of people seem willing to demonstrate and campaign, hand out leaflets, put up posters and email workmates and friends.
Image from Lancaster and Morecambe Against the Cuts!
This feels like the build up to the big anti-poll tax uprising of 20 years ago, or the big anti-war upsurge at the beginning of 2003. And this is before the scale of the cuts have hit home – communities will see their sports centres, swimming pools, libraries and many more local facilities threatened. Such measures could spark outrage and bigger protest campaigns reaching well beyond the various organised lefts and trades unionists who make up the bulk of this current initial wave of protest.
The Scottish TUC must be congratulated for calling todays march – and bringing together protest on a national scale. Today the TUC (covering all the parts of Britain) announced a national demo for London, proclaiming it would be its ‘biggest and boldest’ protest ever. This is good – but it is scheduled for the 26th March 2011! We need a big London March in the next few weeks! And looking to France, days of coodinated strike action might work here in the current climate of anger. However, we should still promote the TUC’s March 2011 event – which really could be big if it coincides with the anger that will be generated as the cuts really bite next year.
We also need the kind of politics which can unite the whole working class and wider society – otherwise people might fight each other in a game of divide and rule as councils try to get people to choose which services are cut – swimming pool users against library users, or whatever. We need to be able to point to the billions of pounds the super-rich have been exploiting from this society over the past decade. The richest 10% now own £4,000 billion – which is nearly 50% of all private wealth in the UK. The poorest 50% of the population own just 9%. The rich have got richer at the expense of the poor. Even if we just collected the unpaid taxes of the wealthy, we could get 100 billion a year! This is without raising the taxes to the level Thatcher had them at for most of her period in office – restoring these tax levels would bring in many billions more.
In other words, we need to re-articulate a popular politics of class in Britain. But Labour’s newly elected leader has already broken his campaign promises that made Trades Unionists feel he might do this. He pledged during the recent leadership campaign that he would speak at the TUC’s westminster rally on the eve of the cuts announcement last week. This was a major way in which he differentiated himself from his brother, who flatly refused to speak at the Trades Union protest. So Ed was able to pick up large numbers of Trades unionists votes, which won him the leadership. However, this week he backed out of this commitment, and refused to address the TUC event, frightened of the media jibes of ‘Red Ed’ and desperate to appease the bankers, ruling elites and the powerful right wing inside the Labour Party.
We will need to generate a grassroots movement of protest and resistance, like we did 20 years ago with the anti-poll tax movement that broke Thatcher. This movement had no official sanction from the unions or the labour party. Grassroots local groups just did it! But its still sad that our union leaders, with 7 million members and enormous resources are not pulling their weight. We can see what would happen if they really did get off their arses and mobilise properly – we only have to look across the channel and see the mass union actions shaking France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy and elsewhere.
Todays Edinburgh March.