AS THE summer wears on, more and more people’s minds are concentrating on the Conservative-Liberal coalition’s programme of cuts.
A key date will be 20 October, when chancellor George Osborne announces the detailed cuts in his “comprehensive spending review”.
In response, a plethora of initiatives are being announced. Probably the most important actions in the short term are the demonstration called by the Right to Work campaign at the Tory Party conference on 3 October and protests that a number of unions and campaign groups are calling on 20 and 23 October.
The march against education cuts on 10 November, jointly organised by the National Union of Students and the UCU union, adds to the list.
Even the Trades Union Congress (TUC) is lumbering ponderously into life. The Financial Times reported last week that the TUC intends to organise a national demonstration in protest against the cuts next March. The fact that the TUC proposes to respond to cuts announced in October with a demo six months later shows how slow the metabolism of the trade union bureaucracy has become.
According to the newspaper, “The PCS still hopes to persuade other unions that October 23 would be a better day for a mass national demonstration than the March date agreed by the meeting of the TUC general council.” The RMT also has a motion to that effect at next month’s TUC.
To these national initiatives must be added the numerous local protests that will be mounted as the cuts begin really to bite. And all of these represent only a beginning compared to the scale of the action—above all, mass strikes—that will be needed to stop the coalition.
All this poses the question of how these different responses can be coordinated. At the very formation of David Cameron’s government the Right to Work campaign called for a “Coalition of Resistance”.
Now the same slogan has been taken up in a statement signed by Tony Benn and other activists and intellectuals that was published on the Guardian website last week. The sentiments, both of opposition for the cuts and of support for resistance, expressed in the statement are admirable.
But, of course, it’s always important to consider how words can be translated into action. The apparent answer, at least from some of those responsible for launching the statement, is that it represents the launch of “a national coordinating coalition of resistance”. Plainly a broader, more embracing unity would be very welcome.
But any attempt to coordinate actions has to take into account the existing realities. These include a number of initiatives, including the People’s Charter, the Right to Work campaign, the Labour Representation Committee, the National Shop Stewards Network, and Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay. Indeed the Guardian statement originated with the last of these groups.
And we shouldn’t forget the TUC, individual national unions, and local campaigns that, as we have seen, are developing their own responses.
So how would the “national coordinating coalition of resistance” relate to all these existing initiatives? There are two alternatives.
The first is that it simply proclaims itself the all-embracing coalition. All this is likely to do is to add yet another initiative alongside the others. This doesn’t seem very helpful since things are already quite confusing.
The second is to acknowledge that any broader unity will have, at least in part, to develop from existing initiatives. In particular, it will have to build on the achievements of the Right to Work campaign.
These include an impressive protest at the Labour Party conference in Brighton last September, two big national delegate conferences this year, and a real degree of practical unity.
Unity can’t just be proclaimed from above. It has to be built from below as well.
Most important of all, however, is real action. First stop is the Tory Party conference on 3 October.
The bigger and more militant the Right to Work march there is, the more effective future resistance will be. The demonstration’s success will also help determine the shape this resistance takes.