The hundreds of thousands that flooded onto the streets to protest at the government’s austerity measures put a serious fight back on the agenda once more, argues John Rees
There was only one question that the TUC demonstration against austerity had to answer: had the movement against the cuts recovered from the set-back of the pensions dispute last December sufficiently to carry the fight forward. The answer given by the hundreds of thousands who poured onto the streets of London (with more protesting in Glasgow and Belfast) was a resounding ‘yes!’
The demonstration was not the size of the March 26 2011 demonstration of 500,000. The police estimated this demonstration at 100,000 and the TUC figure was150,000. But these figures are underestimates for a march that took over 4 hours to go from the Embankment to Hyde Park. Most serious estimates from experienced demonstrators put the numbers in London at between 200,000 and 300,000.
But whatever the exact figures this demonstration showed that there is a fight to be had. If the demonstration had been a failure talk of further protests and strikes would have rung hollow. But on this basis, and with serious further work, protests and a day of co-ordinated strike action are a serious possibility.
The student demonstration next month is one important moment of protest, although the exclusive focus of some on the student left on this date to the exclusion of mobilisation for the TUC demonstration weakened the student participation in this demo and undermines the prospect of a really large student protest in a month. This was a missed opportunity, especially as there were large numbers of young people involved in the TUC protest. Then there is the November 14th day of strike action in Europe. It is unlikely the TUC unions will join in but there should be solidarity actions in the UK.
Mark Serwotka of the PCS and the RMT’s Bob Crow, among others, both called on the TUC to make good on its resolution at the last conference to investigate the possibility of a one day general strike. They were right to do so. But everyone with any knowledge of current union strength knows that if this call is to be issued there will need to be a great deal of work done for it to meet with success. Unions will need workplace by workplace, section by section, meetings to win the argument for action.
Joint union and anti-cuts campaign rallies will have to be held in every town and city. Mass leafleting and postering, online campaigns and much more will be necessary to build the momentum. Rhetoric is one thing; effective, organised and successful action is another. That battle can be won. The TUC demonstration shows it.
But it is not won yet. Coalition of Resistance placards were widespread in the demonstration, underlining the popularity of the ‘no cuts’ stance in opposition to Ed Miliband’s speech which reinforced the message that Labour would make the same cuts as the government but more slowly.
The Coalition of Resistance was the only broad united campaign to have placards and a broadsheet on the protest. Yet this model of organisation will be critical if future protests are to mobilise across the working class as a whole.
The simple, clear demands of the People’s Petition Against Austerity launched by COR in the Guardian last week and already gaining thousands of signatures is one basic but essential campaigning tool in the fight for further action.
The People’s Assembly, which is also part of the COR strategy, can also become and important united rallying point for all the forces fighting austerity. These are real, concrete initiatives which, if they are successful, can underpin the more radical forms of action needed to break the ConDem government.
John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher), ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German) and The Leveller Revolution. He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.