5 Reasons Why You Should Come to the TUC Demo on the 26th of March

5 Reasons to Come to London on the 26th of March.

On the 26th of March, three days after the budget is announced, the TUC is going to have a demonstration in London. According to their website, they are concerned primarily with Conservative attempts to push through budget cuts within a four year window, and doing this through cuts rather than a more equitable tax solution. This is happening at an interesting time because discontent with government policies is on the increase and authorities are starting to notice. It’s also interesting because, following the sudden invisibility of the student movement, the 26th is the only big national date on the anti-cuts calendar. Therefore, I’m going to go through a couple of the reasons I think that, if you find yourself watching the news in despair and feeling anger about the savagery of the social experiment we’re currently undergoing, you should make an appearance. But first, I’m going to give a brief summary of the coalition policy so far.

To give you a sample from the long list of government cuts, David Cameron is slashing funding to homelessness charities, while cutting housing benefit, despite 7 out of 8 people on it being either pensioners, the disabled, carers, or simply people working on a low income.[1] In addition to, as you already know, tripling tuition fees, they are slashing services that help young people find education and work.[2] They are attempting to reform welfare to cut services to disabled people.[3] They are axing frontline services in the NHS, despite promising not to.[4] They are slashing legal aid by £350 million.[5]

At the same time, the government is exhibiting a brazen contempt for reigning in the extremely wealthy who caused the crisis. The conservatives lobbied against financial regulation of short-selling[6] and are reducing the tax burden on multinational companies,[7] in a context where they have sought to water-down European initiatives to reduce banking bonuses.[8] In this context, it becomes harder to argue with George Monbiot’s claim that:

“Our political system protects and enriches a fantastically-wealthy elite, much of whose money is, as a result of their interesting tax and transfer arrangements, effectively stolen from poorer countries and poorer citizens of their own countries. Ours is a semi-criminal money-laundering economy, legitimised by the pomp of the Lord Mayor’s show and multiple layers of defence in government. Politically irrelevant, economically invisible, the rest of us inhabit the margins of the system.”[9]

So. In order to make rich people richer, you’re going to die sooner, be poorer and trip over more beggars. But why come down on the 26th? Here is some food for thought:

1.     The authorities are probably getting nervous. I think this is true for two reasons. The first is that polling data is demonstrating considerable opposition to the cuts. A Populus poll for the Times, according to one online blog, found that: “just 22 percent of people support the speed and depth of the coalition’s planned cuts. 37 percent support Labour’s election pledge to cut the deficit more slowly, while significantly another 37 percent say that protecting the vulnerable and keeping a lid on unemployment should be higher priorities than cutting the deficit.”[10] A recent YouGov poll indicates that 47% of those polled think that cuts will be “bad for the economy” (as opposed to 38% who think they will be good) and 57% thinking that the cuts are “being done unfairly”.[11] Added to this is the emerging chorus of experts who are coming out against the cuts,[12] and the current high unemployment[13] means that public opinion could be reaching a tipping point.

Then there is the censorship that is beginning to emerge. In Edinburgh teachers are being banned from complaining about education cuts[14] and the BBC in some places is toning down it’s already mild coverage and start calling cuts ‘savings’ instead.[15] In this context, there is reason to believe that not only can the government theoretically be forced into a corner, but that there are enough angry people to make this a real possibility.

2            Sufficient pressure will get concessions, whether or not our demands are precise. I’m not unsympathetic to efforts to formulate a list of demands. At the same time, my experience in activism so far seems to demonstrate the implausibility of getting everyone to read, let alone agree to, a list of demands. This isn’t to say I’m against having plans, as formulating alternatives is a necessary antidote towards fatalism. Nonetheless, I feel that all tactical choices must keen in lockstep with the reality of the situation. In this case we have the following: a government that needs to be stopped, not educated. A population that is angry, not utopian. And, crucially, a gathering that is both imminent and incoherent, as opposed to a lobbying group or academic symposium. So I think in this context what makes sense is coming together to put enough pressure on the coalition to offer us something in return. One lesson that can be learned from the Tunisian revolution, insofar as I understand it, is that simply by presenting a consistent, sufficient threat to authority, power will be forced to compromise. At the point when compromise is offered, it can be accepted or rejected. What’s more, once you’ve realized how much power you have, you tend to be a bit less timid about what you want.  Power means you don’t have to explain yourself, and that others will try to satisfy you anyway. If you don’t believe me, ask any member of the Bullingdon club.

3 There is no alternative to citizen self-organization. The Labour party have just finished 13 years in power achieving more wealth redistribution, public service cutting, privatization and bank liberalization than Thatcher would have imagined possible. The Liberal Democrats don’t even need to be scorned, as their record speaks for itself. While I have a lot of respect and appreciation for the Greens, even if the general election wasn’t years away, it’s unclear whether they will ever be in a position to mobilize mass support.

This being so, I consider it imperative to take Derrick Jensen’s advice, and give up on ‘hope’. What I mean isn’t that we shouldn’t imagine that things might be better someday, but simply that we should put our faith in some other agent or messiah who is going to intervene on our behalf. To paraphrase his argument, abstract ‘hope’ means relying on things happening which we do not control. It’s something we need to abandon, and in turn make change happen ourselves, and the mass demonstration might be a good place to start.

4. No one knows what’s going to happen on the 26th. Initial signs of a large turnout are hopeful, with chartered trains and around 580 booked coaches from around the country so far.[16] While it would be easy to be sceptical about the UK’s capacity for effective demonstrations after the quickly dissipated antiwar movement in 2003 (which, at it’s peak, involved 2 million people in nationwide protests) there are reasons to think this time might be different. Organized workers have more power than individuals united by a common cause. While the war was unpopular, Blair was still held in relatively high esteem, unlike David Cameron who, despite 13 years of a Labour government, did not get an overall majority. Furthermore, this is not a single-issue campaign, unlike the war. After the anger of the student demonstrations in last year, there is reason to believe that this discontent may well be funnelled into this much broader movement, and the dissolution of the ‘Camp for Climate Action’, done in order to pursue anti-cuts based activism may well add a certain spark given the groups effectiveness at grabbing headlines in the past. So, while the cuts may well be implemented, there is no similar ‘going to war’ moment that will make the movement irrelevant, given the ongoing nature of the problem and the myriad avenues of resistance. With so much to gain and so many factors in play, I would strongly advise leaping in when things look uncertain. Why? Because that’s when there is a chance that things might change.

5. A demonstration in sufficient numbers will make unions more likely to coordinate a general strike. Unions, if they become sufficiently militant, have the power to force the government to change. The more public support appears to be on their side, the more likely this is to happen and the greater the chances of success are. While there is a fear of a ‘return to the 80s’ being developed in the tabloids, alongside typically union-bashing commentary in the mainstream press, the fact that unions are going to marching alongside a large number of people who are not in trade unions (thanks in part to the high unemployment among the youth) can work to prevent this. Furthermore, isn’t there some legitimacy in acting to support the opinions of the majority, rather than following the proposals of a person who wasn’t voted for by the majority, in a cabinet of people who are far richer than the majority? Not only did David Cameron only achieved 36% of the vote in an election representing only 65% of the population[17], but recent polling suggests his popularity is still falling.[18] What’s more, many of the cuts, in particular to frontline services, fly in the face of promises made before the election, as do increases in tuition fees. Given the dearth of alternatives, organizing for what we want seems to make more sense in the immediate term than organizing for who we want.

The more I read about the role of youth discontent with low employment, rising prices and a self-enriching minority at the centre of power in revolutions beginning all over the middle east, the more it’s tempting to see parallels. While Fanon is right, and “Blind idealism is counterrevolutionary”, I nonetheless think it’s important to remain open to the possibilities. As a generation face low employment, poor prospects, a corrupt elite living on borrowed money, and a planetary ecosystem that is quite simply running out of time, it’s important to bear in mind at all points Gilles Deleuze’s famous observation that, in reality ‘we have no idea what a body is capable of’.

[9] see source 8

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