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Dave Ward

Dave Ward. Photo: Jim Aindow

Alex Snowdon examines the significance of the new Enough is Enough initiative and its prospects for confronting the cost-of-living crisis

There has been a great deal of discussion in the last couple of weeks about the Enough is Enough initiative. Much of this discussion revolves around what it is aiming to achieve, and how this fits in with the wider left-wing and labour movement landscape.

The astonishing popular response has exceeded expectations. There is no doubt that the prime initiators of Enough is Enough – the CWU bureaucracy – didn’t intend there to be such a massive response. The expectation will have probably been for tens of thousands of sign-ups in a best-case scenario, thousands in a worst-case scenario. In fact, over 400,000 have reportedly signed up.

This creates a dilemma. It is the sort of dilemma you want to have – rooted in a far greater response to something than you expected – but it’s a dilemma nonetheless. It has created expectations that greatly exceed what was originally considered.

In this respect – as in a number of other respects – it is reminiscent of the first Jeremy Corbyn leadership election campaign. Nobody went into that with even the hope that Corbyn might actually be elected, but when it became apparent that he might be elected new opportunities opened up (and with it new challenges).

New initiative

The context behind Enough is Enough is two things: the deepening cost-of-living crisis, but also the rising class struggle, specifically the national strikes by RMT, Aslef and CWU. Put these together and you have a massive appetite for a nationwide cost-of-living movement.

It is also plugging a gap in an important sense: the TUC’s very successful national demonstration in June was a step forward, but we all know that the TUC won’t organise another one this autumn or, in other ways, build on the current mood.

The CWU’s national leadership is behind the new initiative. I think that what it intended was a kind of union outreach project. Such a project characteristically has a remit that goes beyond the union’s own members; it is public-facing though still funded, resourced and controlled by the union.

An example familiar to those of us in the National Education Union is the ‘Help a Child to Learn’ project we ran quite recently. It was focused on addressing child poverty and hunger, aimed to make a media and public impact, and – although of wider significance – was still controlled by the union.

Such projects can be very effective. It’s important to grasp, however, that they are not attempts at broad, democratic coalitions. Nobody claims that they are. That’s fine.

In the current climate, such an initiative made total sense for the CWU bureaucracy. With national strikes coming up, it provides a public-facing initiative to complement and support the industrial strategy. Unions nowadays are keen to stress, when taking strike action, that their objectives are aligned to what’s best for most of the public. Winning a battle of ideas, engaging with the media and influencing the public debate are important considerations.

Such initiatives often involve working with a small and select number of partners. The CWU chose one union (RMT), one community-oriented campaigning organisation (Acorn), one left-wing publication/website (Tribune) and two socialist MPs (Zarah Sultana and Ian Byrne) to help launch it (the RMT is not actually listed as a supporter on the website, though its leaders Mick Lynch and Eddie Dempsey are speaking on platforms).

This very selective approach, leading to a narrow alliance, reinforces the impression that EiE was never intended as a mass, broad-based coalition. Since then, Enough is Enough has announced endorsement from UCU, Aslef and the FBU, though it’s unclear what that means and it still appears to rest on a relatively narrow base.

Labour is failing workers

This imminence of national strikes is, for the CWU, accentuated by a couple of other factors. The fact that CWU strike objectives are very obviously linked to a much, much bigger political and economic context – cost-of-living crisis, rising inflation, falling real-terms pay – creates an opening for the union to organise something around wider demands. Enough is Enough’s five demands, while not particularly radical, are clearly seen as a first step with popular support.

Also, the Labour leadership is failing terribly and antagonising the unions. This means that leaders of Labour-affiliated unions are increasingly feeling that they need to do things themselves that would traditionally have been outsourced to the Labour Party. There are big tensions in the traditional divide in the labour movement between its industrial wing (trade unions) and political wing (Labour Party).

The massive response to the EiE launch has illustrated the depth and breadth of anger over the current assault on working class living standards. It has been helped by two other things: the disillusionment of hundreds of thousands of current and former Labour Party members with Starmer’s leadership creates a yearning for clear, combative national leadership; and the enormous popularity of Mick Lynch (shaped by the RMT taking several days of national strike action) is a major asset.

In a wider sense, this almost certainly indicates a growing confidence in the left-wing union bureaucracy for taking its own initiatives. The severity of the crisis makes it necessary. The abject uselessness of Labour’s front bench creates an opening. The rising level of strikes gives it far greater confidence to act.

Challenges ahead

This whole situation clearly brings challenges too. If Enough is Enough was initially intended as something more modest, then the huge public response stimulates questions (for its initiators) that probably weren’t anticipated.

Do we approach other unions to get involved? What action at national level, e.g. a national demonstration, do we call? How do we liaise with unions and campaigning organisations (e.g. People’s Assembly) about such action? How do we translate the enthusiasm into local meetings, activity and organising? What kind of democratic structures are adopted?

An initiative launched by a union bureaucracy with a limited number of partners will find these questions extremely difficult to answer in practice. Such an initiative is not really geared up to have active local groups, or be democratic, or indeed involve a range of unions and campaigns.

Union leaders, quite reasonably, want a stake in something – they won’t simply get on board with something controlled and run by another union (observe how Sharon Graham and Unite have launched their own initiative, covering some of the same ground, in the last week).

Reports of the London launch rally say that it was excellent: very big, enthusiastic, combative and exciting. It’s also clear, however, that there were no concrete calls to action. This will need to be resolved very quickly if Enough is Enough is to make a lot out of its potential. It will also require extensive dialogue and cooperation, both with trade unions and with existing campaigning organisations like the People’s Assembly.

Towards unity in action

The People’s Assembly has already called two major demonstrations: one at Tory conference in Birmingham (2 October), then a national demonstration in London (5 November). The latter demo in particular has the potential to be a great unifying opportunity and to be on a very big scale, certainly if many of the unions get behind it properly. It would have been better if Enough is Enough’s initiators had discussed cooperation over the demonstration – and cooperation more generally - prior to its launch. Hopefully they will discuss with the demonstration’s organisers being involved in helping to make it massive.

National demonstrations are invaluable partly because they can bring together a wide range of unions that are taking (or considering taking) strike action. They are also crucial because they broaden out the focus to the cost-of-living crisis as a whole (especially the explosive issue of rising fuel bills) and to the impact on everyone affected by it, including tens of millions of people who aren’t in a union.

They can also be a focus for local organising in advance, and in turn feed back into stronger local organising. This is why the People’s Assembly model, which combines national coordination and local groups, is important. It remains to be seen whether Enough is Enough can develop local groups or have a vibrant, democratic and collective life to it.

Whatever happens in terms of organisational forms, though, two things are clear: unity is key and we need bigger numbers. The more unity and coordination we have, the better.

That is true on the industrial field – it would be a leap forward if unions took strike action together – and when it comes to building a street-based movement of resistance. People and organisations need to talk to each other, work together, and engage in joint action (5 November is the first major test of this).

No existing organisation is operating on anything like the scale required. We need a truly mass movement – in the streets and in the workplaces – to defeat the Tories.

That starts, I would suggest, with activists in every area organising something for September – a big public meeting or a rally – that promotes our arguments and demands, builds coalitions, lays the groundwork for ongoing local organisation, becomes a launchpad for action, and feeds into a national movement.

In Tyneside, we are doing that through a public meeting in Newcastle on 8 September, called by the local People’s Assembly group. Key left-wing figures Laura Pidcock and Jamie Driscoll will be joined on the platform by RMT, Aslef and CWU activists, making direct links between the strikes and the building of a broader movement.

It needs to be a catalyst for taking the movement to a higher level, building a big local turnout for the 5 November national demo, and organising local protests as well as ongoing strike solidarity. This is the kind of approach that can be adopted everywhere.

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Alex Snowdon

Alex Snowdon

Alex Snowdon is a Counterfire activist in Newcastle. He is active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and the National Education Union.​ He is the author of A Short Guide to Israeli Apartheid (2022).

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