This is our leaflet for 26 March. Download a PDF here or read the front page article below.
We all know this march won’t stop a single cut
None of us really believe that marching from A to B convinces the government of anything much any more, still less the predictable and boring speeches at the end. Labour didn’t listen to the million or more of us who marched against war eight years ago; and the ConDems won’t listen to us today.
Why should they? This poses no threat to their profit or power. Big demonstrations can build confidence, but they can also make us feel like we’re “doing something” when we’re not doing much.
“This is only the beginning”
Within the next few months, there is likely to be strike action declared in the NHS, local government, and in education; perhaps also in the civil service. In the long years of defeat, our movement has got used to fighting in a certain way: one day strikes, often with little real participation or decision-making by the rank and file, often called off by senior negotiators.
Just as we know that today’s march isn’t enough, we should also know that these methods will not lead us to defeat this onslaught. In fact, if we’re honest, they weren’t even enough during the Labour years. The Unison pensions dispute in 2007, or the recent Royal Mail disputes, show that the old ways weren’t sufficient even for the old attacks. And what we’re facing here is something more.
Learning from the defeat of austerity in France, 1995
In 1995, the French working class faced a similar austerity package, including welfare and pension cuts. Whilst there had been some important strikes in the preceding decades, the movement in general was unconfident. Unions called a one-day strike in certain areas. What happened took everyone by surprise.
Rather than just letting trade union officials run the strike, workers – first of all on the railways, then in other sectors – began to organise their strikes through mass assemblies. These assemblies, reserved the right to determine the direction of strikes and the terms on which they would be ended. They decided not to go back to work until their demands were met; immediately taking the movement into their own hands, making it more than just another prop for negotiators. Not only did they strike, they occupied; and they made sure it wasn’t only a public sector dispute, as strikes spread into the private sector. Three and a half weeks later, almost all their demands had won.
This sort of thing isn’t impossible for us here. The 2009 Tower Hamlets College strike lasted four weeks, and was organised by an open strike committee and regular assemblies open to all workers to discuss major decisions. It was preceded by unofficial action: lecturers walking out in support of a janitor (in a different union) who was threatened with disciplinary action. Like the 1995 movement in France, it wasn’t perfect: but it shows we can go beyond the futile old routines. (See thecommune.co.uk for more on these strikes.)
The most important thing is to be honest with ourselves, and others: the old ways won’t work. Many workers will be worried about losing pay: but at some point we have to say enough! Or else they will take everything we have, a penny and an hour at a time; and they will take from our children and our children’s children in turn—until we fight back hard. This may mean going outside union structures: OK! If union leaders cannot offer us anything more effective or participatory, how can they complain?
The union leaders aren’t going to call a general strike, and there’s no sense calling on them to do so in order to “expose” them. Any strike will be organised from below, by workers taking control of the movement and turning it to their purposes.
We make the world we live in
Public sector workers are typically not engaged in the direct production of profit: we reproduce the society that allows the profit making sections to function; educating future workers (and looking after the younger ones), curing the ill, and doing our best to remedy the social chaos which capitalism routinely creates in the lives of the less well off. We keep the tax rolling in, and the benefits rolling out.
Our power lies in disrupting this reproduction. Some people won’t like that: we’ll be accused of being selfish. But what else can we do? The selfish ones are those who put us in this position; whereas, in the end – if we really believe our own slogans – everyone has to gain from the victory of our battle.
To struggle independently, to show each other solidarity across every boundary, to care more about each other than the law, or the rule-book: this is the alternative of working-class struggle!
Make sense? Activists with similar ideas need to link up to share experience, solidarity, and be more effective. Get in touch with David on 07595 245494 or email email@example.com