Pointers for the fightback against the coalition government

Submitted by martin on 2 May, 2011 - 11:41

These "bullet-points" for activist guidelines in the anti-cuts battle were adopted by the AWL NC on 07/05/11.


  • Build up cross-union committees in every town, city and region. In a few cases already, pressure from active local anti-cuts committees has pushed local government unions into campaigning where otherwise they would have responded to cuts just by quietly negotiating damage-limitation. Still, the council cuts budgets went through, and the mood on the big TUC anti-cuts demonstration of 26 March was more that of people celebrating their own gesture of protest than of angry and insistent demands on the union leaders for rapid action. The local anti-cuts committees must support and promote all the rearguard action that will take place in local government services as the cuts work through, but also reach out to agitate on the welfare benefit cuts and the cuts and marketisation in health. Probably we face a period of some months at least where those committees must build themselves up through agitation and small-scale protests rather than big actions. Even on that basis, they can and must still be widened out. We must resist any drift for the anti-cuts committees to shrivel into caucuses of left-group activists.
  • The restructuring and cuts in the health services are among the government's most dangerous attacks. At first they were overshadowed, in the thinking of the labour movement, by the direct job cuts in other sectors. Resistance to the government's NHS plans is now beginning to build up at the level of meetings, rallies, demonstrations and so on. Local anti-cuts committees should throw themselves into developing those protests, which can lay the basis for industrial action and bigger, national demonstrations later.
  • Build towards cross-union action to defeat a cross-union class attack by the Tories. Demand that the union leaders plan to win rather than sabre-rattle to win token concessions. The move by NUT, ATL, UCU, and PCS for a strike in defence of pensions on 30 June is welcome, though late (some of the changes the strike is against were legislated by the government soon after taking office and are already in operation, since the start of April 2011). We will continue to press for 30 June to be followed up quickly by further strikes, including rolling and selective strikes, on a rising tempo - rather than being a sporadic protest, to be followed only by possible further sporadic protest days many months later.
  • In PCS, especially, we will press for the union leadership not to allow the huge job cuts in the civil service to be tucked away as a side-issue figuring formally on the prospectus of the 30 June strike, as an add-on to the main issue of pensions, but to deal with them as an issue on which the union will fight to win, at the very least, what concessions it can. The PCS leaders are telling workplace activists that they can have union support if they call workplace strikes against job cuts; but they are doing that in the knowledge that few if any civil service workplaces will be up for attempting sectional strikes against the government's centralised cuts drive when the national union leaders are signalling clearly that they believe that nothing can be achieved on that issue short of joint all-out strikes by all the public sector unions, including Unison. The confidence and consciousness of us all, members and reps, can change in action, if union leaders step forward rather than waiting on the “slowest boat.” The fight for generalised action must not be an excuse for failing to mobilise national unions in defence of members. The Unison leadership will move to the extent that pressure from below builds on them — and that pressure will increase enormously if other unions begin to take action.
  • We campaign for cross-union action, but fight for each union to take the necessary action to defend its members in national union action. Even if there is cross-union action that will need to be supplemented by rolling or continuous action in different sectors, and that action will build the confidence and the demand for further coordinated action.
  • Place the unions on a war footing! Collect membership levies to fund selective action or hardship funds; plan national action; regional action; rolling strikes; selective action in areas where it will have most impact — whatever is right in a particular industry or sector, whatever it takes to win.
  • Rebuild the unions! Union density is nowhere near as high as it needs to be in even the unionised areas. All experience shows that people join unions when they appear relevant to their jobs and living standards, not when they offer the cheapest commercial services. Rank and file committees, Trades Councils, cross union committees must spread out and recruit as a major priority. Force the union leaderships to launch a mass drive to rebuild.
  • The foundation-stone of union democracy and union mobilisation is timely and honest information. Demand that union leaders distribute clear information to members about the bosses’ plans and help union branches to exchange information between themselves (instead of blocking that information-flow between branches, as happens in Unison). Demand they boost, publicise, and celebrate local disputes. Demand the union leaders give members honest information about what they plan to do, instead of appealing vaguely for them to “support the union campaign” and hinting at action in an indefinite future, or setting single days of action without information about what should follow or what the union leaders hope for the action to achieve.
  • Fight wherever we can, and spread the action! Do not use the failure of the national unions to fight as a reason for not fighting sectorally or locally. If members feel unable to resist in isolation, then criticise the national leaderships and fight for an alternative leadership, but do not assume that the lack of confidence is fixed in stone.
  • Fight for an accountable leadership as part of the fight to win. The rank and file must be at the heart of the disputes and the campaigns. Regular workplace meetings to discuss the effects of the attacks and the necessary response. Elect strike committees and put decisions in the hands of striking workers and their delegates. Democratise the unions. Officials and branch officers should be accountable to members.
  • The contradiction between, on the one hand, the scale of the cuts and the threat they pose to the very fabric of the labour movement, and, on the other, the stance of the union leaders (Unison, deliberately blocking calls for industrial-action ballots from several groups of members; PCS, NUT, and UCU, so far, orienting only towards sporadic protest strikes), sharpens the case for a rank-and-file movement in the unions. So does the performance of the existing left caucuses in these unions. Unison United Left exists only as an electoral umbrella and as insignia for some fringe activities at Unison conference; Left Unity in the PCS, only as an appendage to the leadership, and tied in a permanent electoral alliance with the union's "soft right". STA and CDFU, in the NUT, were complicit in getting calls for brisker action manoeuvred off the NUT conference agenda. The cumulative impact on the rank and file of years of union setbacks creates difficulties for building new rank and file networks; but in every union, and especially Unison, we should review the openings for new initiatives.
  • Fight for a labour movement political answer to the crisis. Demand that Labour councils defy the Tory/Lib-Dem cuts, and that Labour councillors support our campaigns and pledge to continue with this after the May local elections. Mobilise local unions and working-class communities to demand the restoration of money for local services taken away by central government. Demand the Labour Party leaders support the resistance. Demand that the unions assert themselves in the Labour Party and push for democratic reform there. Demand that Labour commit itself to repeal the anti-union laws, and to restore cuts made by the Tories, when we get this coalition government out.
  • Fight for a workers’ government, democratically accountable to the labour movement and implementing a workers’ plan for the crisis.

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