The challenge ahead after March 26
The biggest demonstration by the trade union movement and its supporters for a generation reveals both the depth of feeling against the Coalition government’s cuts and a determination to do what it takes to succeed in this struggle.
While the TUC leaders used the collective strength of 300,000 people merely to ask the government politely to change course, many on the march understood that the government is deaf to such pleas. Business secretary Vince Cable confirmed as much the very next day.
Large numbers of people, especially the younger marchers, were dissatisfied with the subservient stance of Brendan Barber and the Trades Union Congress leadership. By taking six months to call a march it has been crystal clear that the hopeless and cynical tactic of “sending a message to the government” was designed to let off steam.
The TUC’s aim was and remains to deflect any real struggle against Cameron, Clegg and Osborne and the system they seek to preserve. That is why left trade unions such as the RMT, fire-fighters and PCS were denied a platform in Hyde Park. Instead, marchers had to endure Labour leader Ed – “I want a prosperous capitalism” – Miliband in his suit.
Thus the great streams of those from all over the country who want to keep public services alive were led to Hyde Park to be frustrated in their desire to defend themselves against the Osborne axe. Not surprisingly, of course, there were many, young and old, who rejected the corralling of the demonstration into the arms of the TUC leaders whose only perspective is to return New Labour to power.
Frustration with the pro-system TUC and Labour leaders saw many alternative actions being taken, some by anarchist groups, some by the anti-tax dodging group UK Uncut, others by those inspired by the overthrow of dictatorships in north Africa. Some sought to encourage occupations around London by setting up tents in Hyde Park. A large banner calling for regime change hung from the bottom of Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square.
We do not join in criticising those who chose direct action over marching. Of course, the media concentrated on the street confrontations rather than the march. But we should have no illusions in the capitalist media either. They are not there to boost anti-government actions, whatever their nature.
The message from TUC and Labour circles is that anything other than peaceful protest must be destructive anarchy. How it makes your stomach turn to read that Jim Murphy, New Labour’s shadow defence secretary, says that a "tiny minority of violent, parasitic, unrepresentative hooligans” were “trying to destroy" the right to peaceful protest. That is to equate the repressive forces of the state with those who oppose the system.
Undoubtedly there were provocateurs at work too. Significantly, one Facebook group picked up the words of a “Black Bloc” provocateur who was videoed breaking into a bank saying: "I'm a COP, undercover!" and was then clearly allowed to leave freely by the police.
Some peaceful protesters, who wanted to simply read out poetry inside Fortnum and Masons, found themselves trapped by the police after others, possibly also infiltrated by undercover agents, invaded the premises. Others who wanted to party in Trafalgar Square were attacked by the police. Nearly 150 protesters are facing serious criminal charges.
These are still early days. The real effect of the cuts is only just beginning while the economic and political crisis is deepening. Cameron and company don’t really exude power and control in the face of the demands of investment bankers, bond dealers and the corporations.
The most important issue is that of developing truly alternative strategies that in a mass, collective way challenge the power of the state and through it the rule of corporate and finance capital. The slogans of fighting back and direct action and even “regime change” need to be filled with real content.
Simply "pushing back the rule of money", as some like philosopher John Holloway propose, denies the real creative power of the majority in society to bring about change while allowing repressive power structures to stay in place.
Taking inspiration from the demonstrators in Egypt and countries around the Middle East means going beyond rage and frustration to the formation of a network of People’s Assemblies to work for a transfer of power and authority to a new democratic political and economic system.
A World to Win secretary
28 March 2011