The birth of a new movement

Friday 26 November 2010

by Paul Brandon

An unprecedented opportunity for all those on the left is upon us. It’s time to resist together but also to find alterative vision to challenge the coalition government.

The collapse of the Irish economy in a swamp of toxic debt and the panic that has ensued gives us a window into the scale of the crisis.

Nobody in Britain should forget that it was new Labour that opened the door for the bankers who created the crisis. But there are millions of Labour voters and thousands of Labour Party activists who want to fight. Whether we are from non-Labour or Labour backgrounds we have to fight together.

The working class in Britain is facing an enormous attack. We could see the destruction of everything the struggles of ordinary people have built up since 1945.

We’ve watched in recent months as workers across Europe have gone into battle against the “age of austerity.”

They have fought heroically to defend their families and communities from the effects of a crisis made by the bankers.

But in recent weeks things have changed. BBC workers took strike action to defend pensions, London firefighters fought back against the threat of mass sackings and Tube workers are set to strike yet again to defend jobs.

And now there are the students whose magnificent mass protest on November 10 saw 50,000 take to the streets.

No wonder they are angry as the government pushes to price them out of education through massive fees and the end of the education maintenance allowance.

Once again, just like in the 1980s, a whole generation faces a life on the dole. This isn’t rhetoric – it’s fact.

With £80 billion to cut and 1.3 million jobs at threat, what else can the fate of young people be if access to education is closed off?

In this situation there is an enormous responsibility on the shoulders of the left. We have to try to maximise the resistance and the unity and power of a growing movement.

The Right to Work Campaign was born out of the early stages of the recession. Its initial national conference of almost 1,000 people in Manchester heard stories of resistance from those who occupied the Vestas and Visteon factories.

Since then we have been involved in a multitude of activities from the 7,000-strong protest at the Tory Party conference to the Vodafone shop shutdowns.

We are proud of the role we have played so far, a role that has won us backing from unions like the CWU, PCS and UCU and from hundreds of national and local campaigning groups and union branches.

But we know that we are just part of the movement. There are a growing number of broad-based local anti-cuts campaigns that are bringing thousands of people onto the streets.

There are national campaigns – The People’s Charter, the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) and the Coalition of Resistance.

This is not to mention major “single-issue campaigns” like Keep Our NHS Public and Defend Council Housing and of course the “overarching” body attempting to co-ordinate the fightback, the TUC.

Whatever we think of the speed of its response – and Right to Work believes the demo on March 26 is late in the day – we all have to bend our backs to make it the biggest protest in British working-class history.

The Coalition of Resistance holds a national conference this weekend, the NSSN meets in January and Right to Work will hold a “People’s convention against cuts and austerity” on February 12 at Friends Meeting House in London, with a further major event planned for Sheffield in March or early April.

It would be tempting and traditional for each part of this mosaic of campaigns to declare itself the leadership of the entire movement.

We believe this would be a fundamental mistake. If we are serious about taking on the biggest attack on working people since the 1920s, the different parts of the movement are going to have to come together.

Unity can’t simply be imposed by diKtat or from above. But it does need to be achieved.

Whatever the emphasis of our campaigns – and Right to Work has always looked to militant protest and the power of students and organised workers as the cornerstone of resistance – we simply have to work together.

To help open a genuine dialogue on the way forward, Right to Work has initiated a forum for representatives from national and local anti-cuts campaigns on Sunday December 5.

We hope that away from the glare of the conference hall, activists will be able to take time out to discuss a way forward for the movement and the best way to achieve what is emblazoned on many of our banners “unity is strength.”

The resistance movement is under way in this country, but we also need to say what we are for. We need to continue to put the case for higher taxation and tackling tax evasion. But we also need to engage with the radical ideas bubbling under the surface.

People’s assemblies have been active during the Greek struggle and could provide a genuinely democratic alternative to our broken power structures, operating independently of state and global financial markets, and challenging their hegemony.

Land value taxation is a policy backed by many in the labour movement. The Green Party and friends in Scotland, who may well hold the balance of power following elections next year, argue that the tax would bring stability to the housing market and would make three-quarters of Scottish households better off while dealing with urban decay and land banking.

And then of course there is the “fiat” money system itself. It’s time for a proper debate about how the banking system is allowed to create money out of thin air for profit. Money reform campaigners have longed argued that the government could create its own money and spend it into the economy on public works and infrastructure.

A new social movement is being born before our eyes. All of us need to channel our energies into shifting this political landscape for good.

Paul Brandon is Unite Rep at Holloway bus garage and chairman of the Right to Work Campaign.

From the Morning Star

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