The coalition government will be struck by a "wave of protest" which may crack the Conservatives and Lib Dems apart as pensioners, trade unionists, and black rights groups unite.
The Coalition of Resistance activist meeting at Birkbeck University last night was packed out with 200 people representing anti-cuts groups from across the country discussing how to resist the Government's attack on the welfare state.
The meeting was called ahead of the national convention on November 27 where more than 800 people are expected to attend and heard from speakers and contributions from national trade unions, Stop the War, the Green party, the Right to Work Campaign and regional groups.
The meeting was opened by Paul Mackney, former University and College Union joint general secretary. He said: "We're facing the biggest ever attack on the welfare state by a government of those who think they were born to rule along with those who are delighted to just tag along.
"Sir Philip Green has been invited into the government to make it more efficient. This is Philip Green of BHS and TopShop, who paid his wife off shore £1.2billion - the biggest wage in history - depriving UK tax revenue of £300 million.
"You must be headily sick of seeing ministers like Michael Gove - for whom the word odious was invented - who has the IQ of a minnow but has already destroyed the school building programme."
He added: "Just as George W Bush wanted to complete his father's business with the war with Iraq, they want to complete Margaret Thatcher's programme. But they are far from invincible.
"The splits are potentially much greater than the Heseltine and Thatcher splits which we exposed with the Poll Tax protests - and we saw off the Poll Tax."
Speaking about the Coalition of Resistance steering group, he explained: "Our perspective is that the unions are central to the resistance and we will organise alongside them. But we can also have civil society resisting this vandalism that we are seeing.
"Organisations are approaching us that would like to endorse the statement. What we're seeing - with other organisations including Right to Work- is the emergence of an historic anti-austerity movement. We've now got to take it forward.
"We're not affiliated with any party. We want to link up campaigns against the cuts. If it's to be successful the national aspect should not be the most prominent feature.
"The coalition should be there to encourage, support and co-ordinate the myriad of campaigns against the austerity measures. We're not trying to impose a national campaign on the localities."
He concluded: "I'm sure we can wipe the grins off their smug faces. And as the Greeks say, 'together we can win'."
Romayne Phoenix has been representing the Green party and Caroline Lucas MP on the CoR steering committee. She said: "Over the first 24 hours after the Guardian launch we had 15,000 hits on the website and the lists of signatories and the emails have been coming in from over the country.
"Some people say 'surely there are some anti-cuts things happening already'. We are going to support everybody in any organisation working against the cuts. Some of these organisations come from groups with a ready-made membership.
"But there are going to be people who have never campaigned before, who have never known unemployment, there will be a new set of people who may not be in unions, not in political parties.
"What CoR can be is a tool you can use locally to start a group together to draw people in. What CoR can be is an umbrella network. Regional campaigns have to continue, we're not going to take them over, but we can use CoR to draw those forces together to give us the resources and the strength we need. CoR is yours."
Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, said: "What we're now facing is cuts on a scale none of us have seen before - an attack on all of our welfare state.
"When you look at whose who are going to be hit hardest by these cuts, it will be women, the poorest people, ethnic minorities, the people who are already on the lowest wages and the worst conditions.
"I got a Facebook message from a young man who's been given a new sign on day which miraculously means he will lose one day out of fourteen in benefits. If this happens to everyone on benefits this will mean people will lose millions of pounds."
She added: "The Conservatives and Lib Dems started off saying we have to have these cuts. But we have to start from the premise of 'why do we need these cuts at all?'. We live in a world where there are more resources than after the second world war when the welfare state was introduced."
Lindsey German pointed out that the replacement for Trident would cost £90 billion while huge amounts are being spent on the American troops still in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan.
She said: "Their system is in crisis and we have to ask, are we going to have welfare for the bankers or are we going to have welfare for us?"
"There is a political deficit in this country. We now have many people who voted Lib Dem because it was a left alternative to Labour - and the Lib Dems have accepted everything the Conservatives have to offer. The Conservative-led government is not interested in the fate of working class people.
"And we have no response from Labour. Tony Blair is able to write in his book that the Conservatives and Lib Dems are absolutely right about the cuts - and there is no outcry form within the Labour party."
Referring to the student protests, road blockades and mass demonstrations in the build-up to the Iraq war, she concluded: "We are the people who have to organise now to stop these cuts happening.
"We have to create a wave of opposition against these cuts which is prepared to go on the streets and say we are going to resist the cuts now."
Lee Jasper, from Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC), said: "Poor black, African-Caribbean communities are going to be obliterated by these cuts. They are going to suffer a hugely disproportionate impact.
"We have to remember the numbers of African Caribbean people who work in the public sector, the women who work in the public sector, whose jobs are being attacked.
"These cuts are going to have really profound and dramatic impacts. The black community never enjoyed the bounce people talk about in the 1980s, a lot of people got fat and made lots of money but the poor stayed poor."
He added: "We have set up BARAC to support black communities. We have a lot of voluntary organisations which stepped in to fill the gaps left by the state which have found their funding is being cut. There are communities out there who are primed and ready to defend their Sure Start centres, the senior citizen services, libraries and resources."
Alf Filer, from Brent Trades Council, said: "Today as a college lecture I was busy registering and enrolling students. They want a career, they want training they want education.
"They want training with a future. But what we're offering them is a second rate education while those who are able to and can afford it will go on to higher education. The crisis is hitting here and now.
"What can we do? When the RMT does ballot, as I hope they will, to go in strike we can come out as users and commuters and join their picket lines. If we can do that we will show there is real resistance."
He added: "Over the summer we have seen the mushrooming of autonomous, local committees. One of the initiatives that has emerged is recognising that this crisis is an international crisis and there needs to be solidarity.
"There is going to be a general strike in Spain. CoR has put out an international statement which I welcome, but there is going to be a need for an international conference to bring people together."
Paul Brandon, from the Right to Work Campaign, said: "The financial crisis is hitting us in terms of our services and the welfare state.
"On October 3 we have called a national demonstration and we're expecting this to be huge. There are also various industrial actions in London - the BBC and RMT - and if we can pull those workers together we can create real momentum."
Stuart, from Lambeth anti-cuts committee called Save Our Services, which has involved unions, Labour party members, and most of the left, said: "We have organised some very good lobbies of the council.
"In Lambeth the Labour council decided to do an early strike on the One O'Clock Clubs by transferring the entire staff over to the Sure Start - but because we have a strong union we have mounted a fight back and the council is on the defence.
"We need CoR to be a national campaign, but it needs to be democratic, it needs to be inclusive and local anti-cuts campaigns need to be involved in policy as well as sharing experiences. We have to be able to organise the left in the Labour party against those Labour people who will pretend to fight the cuts."
Chris Nineham of Counterfire said: "There is a relationship between the national and the local. The local campaigns are absolutely essential, they defend local services, build networks and bring people together.
"The national event gives an impetus, a confidence and a sense of moving forwards to the campaign. I propose that from this meeting we take up the invitation and all come out on October 20 on the day of the spending review, so everyone in the country sees that we are here."
Hilary Wainwright, editor of Red Pepper magazine, said: "We need to understand the importance of really providing resources and finding out what people need. There needs to be an inquiry element of the campaign. To find out more, to map more. At Red Peper we produced Countering the Myths - and this has rushed across the web.
"We asked people from Tyneside what do they really need - and they said 'we need the arguments really spelled out. There has been a de-politicisation of our movement - with the Labour left being crushed. We need to put together a set of arguments countering the myths.'
We got some academics to draft our cuts myths-buster, we took it to the trade unions, and to people who have really studied the NHS and how Labour prepared for the disruption, in effect, of the NHS. We produced something people could use in their locality."
She added: "This is a principle of how we build the network. 'Umbrella' as an organisation is okay but a network should he nourishing and cross fertilising. A really good speaker about the experiences in Lambeth should be available for Tyneside to share experiences, and not just national speakers."
More articles from this author
- Pickled politics: Scrooge appointed the new minister for communities?
- Phone hacking: Why Andy Coulson must resign
- Greek crisis : A country between two general strikes
- Ska for life: Dub Pistols say "fuck the police" in Greece
- Cam again: The meaning of Richard Seymour
- Four Lions: Islamophobia or damning indictment of war on terror?
- Greek solidarity Facebook accounts attacked