We will show our might on the streets today, but the real work starts in our communities, says BILL GREENSHIELDS
IN THE few days following the general election the numbers registering on the web for today’s demonstration ticked up before our eyes into tens of thousands.
It demonstrated the anger and frustration felt by millions that the electoral disproportionate-representation system had worked against us and that Labour’s grim adherence to austerity delivered a no-representation system for working-class voters.
But anger and frustration are not enough. Given the scale of the ruling-class attack carried out by the Con-Dem coalition, we should have seen an anti-Tory landslide.
The fact is that the class consciousness of the capitalist class is very high. They have been waging a political and economic offensive for four decades, accelerating through the economic crisis. Each of their government’s policies is a conscious and planned part of their overall objective to inflict a decisive defeat on the organised working class. They aim to drive down wages, pensions and working conditions to re-establish their rate of profit and to simultaneously take the entire public sector of services and industry into their world of profit.
That’s their “economic recovery.” For them “austerity” is working.
Their high level of class consciousness and political strategy is not yet mirrored in our organisations and communities. Though we hate, fear, despise, condemn and fight the symptoms of austerity, we are not yet generally determined to defeat the capitalist class responsible, and the government that class directs.
We have a lot of work to do. Demonstrations such as today’s must continue to show our vibrancy, solidarity and confidence and continue to mobilise others. But demonstrations are not enough in the face of the scale and relentless escalation of the austerity offensive.
TUC leader Frances O’Grady rightly identified that offensive as class war and we need to build a movement that goes way beyond demonstration and protest if we are to win that intensifying war. We need to reach deep down into communities and trade union memberships, many of whom currently feel impotent in the face of the scale of attack and directionless without having been convinced of any alternative policy.
The People’s Manifesto — refreshed and renewed — must lie at the centre of direct face-to-face work with people at the most local level. Door to door. Street to street. Pub to pub. In community organisations, village halls, workplaces, trade union councils, union meetings and gatherings of every kind.
We will ask them in their hundreds of thousands to identify the things blighting their lives, and organise around those concerns — no matter how difficult that may be. It will take massive political determination and perseverance, and commitment not to retreat into easier forms of campaigning which tend only to organise the already-committed.
While stepping up our movement around the NHS, housing, education etc, we must be organised to prevent the right wing and fascists, presenting themselves as anti-Establishment, to use workers’ very real concerns to win support for reactionary and divisive lies and distortions.
We must show for example that the mass importation, abuse and super-exploitation of migrant workers by employers and governments is a central part of the austerity plan to undermine pay and organisation in the service of profit. That this and other anti-worker policies and actions are orchestrated and organised by the European Union bosses’ club. That nationalism is not a substitute for class struggle. That “benefits-scrounging” is rife among low-pay employers and high-rent landlords who benefit from state subsidies allowing them to carry on paying poverty pay and charging extortionate and escalating rents.
The best way to make these points sharply is to involve people in collective struggle around them, not shy away from them as they appear difficult and in the realm of the right wing.
But simply winning the anti-austerity argument within our own class, and expressing it clearly and consistently in the political arena, will not stop austerity. The millionaire class already know our arguments but have no interest in the well-being of working-class people. Even many anti-austerity activists find this difficult to accept. But both history and current events demonstrate that the security, health and happiness of ordinary people are an irrelevance to the ruling class. Only the demands of profit carry political authority for them.
Unite’s chief of staff Andrew Murray told a People’s Assembly event: “If the government insists on continuing to govern in this way, we have no alternative but to make the situation ungovernable.”
He went on to lay out the need to systematically do the day-to-day organising work for co-ordinated union action, for generalised strike action, for civil disobedience and direct action. Not just to call for it and shout slogans about it but to do the difficult and demanding task of winning millions of workers to agree the necessity of it, and to commit themselves to it — a class-conscious movement to match the ruling-class offensive.
Can it be done? All unions, trades councils, local organisations, community activists need to talk to and work with those millions of workers not yet involved to identify and act on the austerity issues damaging us all. Many are common to all, but there are specific issues too for particular communities and trades that need to be woven into a united struggle, where we can broaden the front beyond individual industrial disputes and anti-cuts campaigns into a political resistance to the political offensive. That’s the purpose of the People’s Assembly.
The Tories will step up the attack and will also attempt to provoke us into responses that we cannot yet sustain — planning to use the full force of the state with new repressive measures to defeat us.
We now need a strategy for winning, not just protesting. Our aim is not just to make a lot of noise. It is to inflict the kind of decisive defeat on the ruling class and its government that they plan for us.
Class war does not end in a draw.
Bill Greenshields is a former president of the NUT, an executive committee member of the Communist Party, and represents the party on the national committee of the People’s Assembly.