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Breaking out of the logjam

Meetings around the country are discussing where the anti-cuts movement can go from here. Despite the massive turnout, the TUC’s March for the Alternative has not, as everyone knows, stopped a single attack on jobs, services, benefits or grants to the arts.

A discussion at the weekend in London, organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, revealed some of the issues and challenges. Both young and older speakers from a wide range of organisations revealed the desire to continue the struggle. At the same time, it proved hard to break with the notion that protests and strikes in themselves remain the only option.

The meeting heard Mark Barrett from the People’s Assembly Network seek endorsement of the motion passed at January’s National Education Assembly for a long-term strategy of city-wide permanent assemblies. But the appeal to broaden out the struggle in new ways was pretty much ignored.

Yet the cuts are getting deeper. An NHS worker from University College hospital said that 500 jobs were being cut in St George’s hospital alone. He called for support networks to be set up around hospitals. Some suggested that UNITE general secretary, Len McCluskey was evidence of a 'left' tendency within the TUC leadership. There were calls for strike action in the NHS, and others for limited general strike action.

The discussion reflected the variety of actions being proposed by the spectrum of left organisations more widely. The Socialist Party, for example, says that a 24-hour public sector general strike “would terrify the ConDems”. Others call for a national anti-cuts organisation to be formed. The Socialist Workers Party has been calling for a general strike. The Right to Work campaign believes that March 26 showed that “we have the power to stop Cameron and Clegg” and that more protests, demonstrations and strikes are the answer.

But the underlying issue of what is driving the Coalition to force through the cuts and wind up the welfare state was left in the dark. The unmentioned elephant in the room was the global crisis of the capitalist system, the financial crisis that has brought countries like Greece, Ireland, Iceland and Portugal to their knees, and the deepening recession.

In this context, the government is not for turning, as much for the fact that they are no more in control of the banking system and money markets than you and I. The stark truth is that without a strategy for power, without a political strategy, marches and even general strikes are ineffectual.

Unfortunately for those who believe that the ConDem government can be persuaded to change course by protest, Financial Times’ columnist Robert Shrimsley just about summed it up:

It’s irresponsible to admit it, but this kind of peaceful protest [March 26] is pointless. The system has all the shock absorbers necessary to handle a law-abiding demonstration.

Those who seek to break out of this logjam, as UK Uncut and anarchists have sought to do, found themselves preyed upon by police provocateurs and susceptible to entrapment and, in the case of one student leader, targeting by the far right.

On the day and subsequently, it has been left to young people in Trafalgar Square and others in Hyde Park, to find another way forward. Inspired by the movement in Egypt that brought down Mubarak, they are still seeking to win support for equivalent action by trying to occupy key places like Trafalgar Square.

The strategy of building a People’s Assemblies Network is crucial as a way of uniting these aspirations with the anti-cuts movement, trade unionists, young people, unemployed, professionals and political organisations and the millions now facing huge cuts in services and jobs. Assemblies have the potential to become more than just unifying organisational forms. They could provide answers to the most important question of all – where power lies and how can it be transferred into the hands of democratic, popular assemblies.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
4 April 2011

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