Hundreds of thousands of workers on the streets – but what next?

Submitted by AWL on 21 October, 2012 - 12:05

Over 150,000 people demonstrated in London on 20 October and tens of thousands more in Glasgow and Belfast.

There were many flashes and flurries of militancy on the London demo – from direct action against companies involved in ‘Workfare’ to disability activists blocking Park Lane and stopping traffic at the end of the demo. Hundreds of marchers carried home-made signs identifying themselves as “Plebs”. Demonstrators heckled Ed Miliband for saying there would have to be some cuts.

Despite discouragement from the TUC, there were a number of lively feeder marches. These included several thousand from South London anti-cuts groups (with a large anarchist presence), and more than a thousand on a student bloc organised by the student left through University of London.

And of course, 150,000 is still very big – a clear indication that, despite setbacks, vast numbers of workers want a fight. There were very large numbers of Unite and Unison members marching together in enormous contingents. But as well as the decline in size, the mood generally seemed positive, but less militant than in March 2011. Although comrades report that many from their workplaces and unions marched who had not marched before - and some found it very inspiring - demonstrators seemed on average a bit older.

This is not a surprise. The 26 March demo came at a time of ‘ascent’, a few months after huge student protests and just before the first strikes to defend public sector pensions. Despite the obvious inadequacies of the union’s campaign, it felt like things were moving, like the struggle was going somewhere. This protest came after the union leaders have squashed the pensions campaign, and left things to decay for almost a year.

Yesterday there was some militant rhetoric from the union leaders. Unite’s Len McCluskey used the closing rally to “start the consultation” on a general strike agreed at TUC conference. “Are you prepared to strike?”, he asked the crowd and was met with a huge din of cheering and vuvuzela horns. Thousands of people then put their hands up to “vote” for strike action.

Such dramatic flair would be welcome – if it was linked to something concrete. Bob Crow, Mark Serwotka, Christine Blower and others made similar noises. But this was not matched by a commitment to much of anything. There was no real attempt even to highlight victories won or to champion the workers’ battles which are in progress, despite the lull.

The SWP and the Socialist Party report that their calls for a “general strike” (in the latter case a “24 hour general strike”) got a good response. This does not make such calls a serious strategy. As Trotsky put it in the early 30s (in ‘What next?’), for many workers “‘the general strike’ signifies the prospect of struggle”. But neither the SP nor the SWP had much to say about how to get from where we are now to a general strike, or about what demands the movement should be campaigning for.

The importance of clear demands was shown by the fact that not even “No cuts” was featured in the official union campaign. Labour leader Ed Miliband was invited to speak at the rally, and he told marchers “There will still be hard choices — it’s right that we level with people.”

There were hundreds if not thousands of heckles from the crowd – quite right too, though no doubt Miliband was pleased, so he can show how ‘tough’ he is – but the unions are not suggesting any real alternative to the Labour leadership’s programme. (To be fair to Bob Crow, he did use his speech to criticise Miliband.)

The fact that, so far, ‘left wing’ Unite has pressured Labour councillors not to vote against and defy the cuts but to vote for them shows how far there is to go. So does its tame performance at this year's Labour Party conference, despite its formal new commitment to a fight in the party.

Unsurprisingly, it was harder than on 26 March to sell socialist literature. We think we sold about 400 copies of Solidarity, but a lot of comrades said sales seemed slower. We did have many interesting and useful conversations.

The NHS Liaison Network statement calling for a union campaign to push Labour into implementing its new policy on the NHS got a good response on the NHS bloc and on the Unison and Unite contingents, with many marchers refusing a leaflet and then reconsidering when they read the headline (“Fight for Labour to carry outs its policy: rebuild the NHS!”) Liaison Network activists made some useful contacts for the campaign.

No matter how gloomy things look, serious socialists should not respond to the SWP’s “general strike” demagogy by rubbishing the prospect of any mass struggles. It will take generalised industrial action to defeat the cuts - but that poses, rather than answers the question. Trotsky again: “Does this mean that the strike struggle should be renounced? No, not renounced but sustained, by creating for it necessary political and organisational premises.” What that means now is:

• Championing, publicising and encouraging every dispute, every struggle, every spark of resistance – and demanding the unions do the same, rather than ignoring or stifling them.
• Advocating and organising resistance, in workplaces, locally, nationally, to cuts and attacks now – not waiting for hypothetical coordinated action in the future.
• Arguing for a serious assessment of how the pensions dispute was sunk, and a different strategy for future national struggles, including properly coordinated and mounting action.
• Seeking opportunities to build rank-and-file networks in the unions, like the Local Associations grouping among teachers, which can challenge the union leaders, including ‘left’ ones.
• Developing clear demands about what policies we want to see (restore the NHS, scrap the anti-union laws, expropriate the banks, etc...), developing a campaign around them and bringing real pressure to bear for them in and on the Labour Party.

If you agree with these ideas, or want to discuss them, get in touch: awl@workersliberty.org

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Submitted by AWL on Mon, 22/10/2012 - 17:47

Submitted by AWL on Mon, 22/10/2012 - 17:50

Submitted by AWL on Tue, 23/10/2012 - 13:46

Report by Daniel Lemberger Cooper, ULU Vice President

On October 20th, a thousand students and education workers turned out for a highly successful Education Bloc, organised by the University of London Union, on the TUC demonstration.

ULU's Education Bloc was supported by all the student unions in the University of London, plus several campus trade union branches of Unison and the University and College Union.

In addition to the presence of local London colleges, it was also joined on the day by contingents from universities including Birmingham, Hull, Portsmouth, Cambridge, University of East Anglia, Sheffield, Newcastle, Liverpool, and a bloc of workers from Camden TUC.

Those assembled heard from speakers including author and LRC supporter Owen Jones, Mark Campbell from the UCU, Becky Crocker from the Rail, Maritime and Transport union and Workers' Liberty, and Laura Schwartz from Save the Women's Library.

In contrast to the bland message from the TUC, who opposed all feeder marches on the day, the mood on the Education Bloc was militant and raised slogans such as 'Tax the rich to fund education', 'No to privatisation' and 'Defend international students.'

The strong attendance by students on the TUC demonstration demonstrates that students are identifying with the interests of workers in their struggle against the government's cuts agenda; not least because the line between students and workers is increasingly blurred now that a high proportion of students are in part-time work.

The Education Bloc also shows that ULU can be an effective vehicle for student-worker unity, a project which we hope to develop with our Rights at Work campaign to organise student workers and promote workers' struggles in the student movement.

Building upon the successful mobilisation for the TUC demonstration, ULU is co-sponsoring a series of London demonstration organising committees with the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts to build for the National Union of Students demonstration on November 21st. The first of these meetings is on Tuesday 30th October at 7pm in ULU, Room 3C: Facebook event here.

Submitted by AWL on Tue, 23/10/2012 - 13:50

By Dale Street

Over 10,000 demonstrators – and maybe as many as 15,000, according to some estimates –marched through Glasgow on the Scottish TUC’s anti-austerity demonstration last Saturday (20th October).

In the face of concerted trade union campaigning, Glasgow City Council had backed down and given the go-ahead for the march to assemble in George Square.

But this proved to be something of a Pyrrhic victory, given that the route taken by the demonstration was not only extremely short but also in the opposite direction from the city centre.

The demonstration was roughly the same size as previous STUC demonstrations around the nebulous theme of the “There is a Better Way”. Unison and the PCS in particular had been able to mobilise notably large numbers of their members.

Unfortunately, the speeches which preceded and followed the demonstration were largely recycled speeches from previous demonstrations.

The key themes of the speeches were that “there is a better way” and what’s needed is “a future that works”. But what exactly these slogans meant and how they were to be achieved was not spelt out (although PCS Scottish Secretary Lynn Henderson called in her speech for a general strike).

There were no politicians on the platform – not even ones critical of their party’s pro-austerity and pro-cuts policies. There were, however, a succession of appeals to trade unionists to read and buy the Morning Star, alongside of big-screen adverts for the ‘paper of the labour movement’.

Although not of major political significance, the demonstration marked the public re-emergence of Tommy Sheridan. He marched in a surprisingly substantial contingent of Solidarity (Scotland’s Socialist Movement) supporters, and shared a platform with Socialist Party speakers at a post-demonstration meeting.

It would be unfair to dismiss the demonstration as an example of labour movement routinism – a march from A to B, and then some nondescript speeches.

Better to focus on the fact that despite the setbacks of the pensions dispute and the absence of any large-scale co-ordinated anti-cuts campaigning, trade unionists turned out in similar numbers as on previous occasions in order to demonstrate their willingness to take on the Con-Dem coalition.

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