Yesterday's Coalition of Resistance conference saw a diverse range of speakers outline the arguments we need to counter the cuts. They offered ideas and inspiration for building mass resistance.
This founding conference demonstrated that Coalition of Resistance will be simultaneously broad, dynamic and radical. It felt historic - the beginning of something big, a genuine national movement to stop the cuts to our public services and welfare.
There was an electric atmosphere, with at least 1000 people from around the country packed in to the Camden Centre, and a spirit of unity and determination. A vast array of local campaigns was represented and, significantly, the turnout stretched well beyond the established organised Left. A range of workshops, with an exceptional level of participation, discussed the big political and strategic issues facing our movement.
Speakers included Tony Benn (elected President of COR), Ken Loach, union leaders Mark Serwotka, Len McCluskey and Bob Crow, Green MEP Jean Lambert, and Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. The People's Charter and Right to Work were represented in the huge plenary sessions, also addressed by a French trade union representative. There were speeches from student and school student activists, anti-war campaigners, pensioners' representatives and black community leaders. The whole event was big, broad and inspiring.
Clare Solomon, President of ULU students union, urged everyone to continue spreading, building and supporting the wave of student occupations. She said "students have turned this movement around". The inspiration offered by school and university students was a recurring theme of the day.
Paul Mackney, who helped initiate the coalition, said "we drew our inspiration from the banners around the Acropolis saying 'Peoples of Europe rise up!". One of the loudest cheers of the day was in response to an announcement that 100,000 people were demonstrating against austerity in Dublin. The plan of action circulated at the conference pledges to help co-ordinate international action at G8 and G20 summits in France next year.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka urged us to unite to defend the welfare state in response to ConDem attempts to divide us between workers and unemployed, public sector and private sector, deserving and undeserving. Len McCluskey said Thatcher was wrong in saying "there is no alternative". Asserting that there are alternatives to cuts, the Unite leader declared "When workers are confident anything is possible".
Dot Gibson of the Pensioners' Convention said we mustn't accept any cuts - and different groups must stand up for each other. Lee Jasper of BARAC highlighted the disproportionate impact of cuts on black communities and the racist poison that can flourish when divisive and destructive cuts are imposed.
Andrew Murray, chair of Stop the War Coalition, said the TUC national demonstration on 26 March should be comparable to the two million-strong march against war in Iraq in February 2003. CND chair Kate Hudson highlighted the obscenity of vast spending on nuclear weapons while we are told public servies need to be cut.
Ôªø John Rees, for the Coalition of Resistance committee, recalled the achievements of the post-war welfare state now threatened by a cabinet of millionaires dedicated to making working class people pay for the crisis.
Tony Benn, to a standing ovation, closed the conference with an eloquent call for solidarity and unity.
The conference agreed to encourage affiliations from local groups and campaigning organisations to the coalition, and elected a national council with representatives from every area and section of the movement. A national week of action was called for the week beginning 14 February 2011, including a London-wide demonstration.
Also see reports by Derek Wall and Liam Macuaid.
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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