After November 30th – seize control!
This is not a far left rant intimating that, in the aftermath of some successful industrial action, we’re ready to seize control of the country. We’ve achieved a little. Paul is right when he suggests that a lot of people will come away feeling buzzed by the mood of the marches, demonstrations and conversations on that day. I certainly went back to work the next day feeling like we had made our point.
Paul is also right when he suggests that there’s plenty more to do. There are concerns even more pressing than his particular objections to protesting and marching ad infinitum, or at least til the momentum has worn away as in the anti-war and anti-top up fees campaigns. Succinctly; we need to wrest control of the movement before we’re all bored to death by mid-level union bureaucrats.
Tory Canterbury answered the call to strike with fair aplomb. Somewhere around two hundred and fifty people met at a local hotel to hear union representatives from NUT, ATL, PCS and GMB speak. UCU and UNISON were also in marked attendance. As the pickets from around the city began to come in, this number swelled until there were some five hundred people either marching or milling at the Dane Jon.
Without intending to give offence to the speakers from the above-mentioned unions, however, having a captive audience for a full hour, they managed to lecture us all in hesitant style about why we were on strike. As I said afterwards, and several random people within earshot agreed, we don’t need to talk about why we’re there. We need to be talking about next steps – and a hall filled to bursting with the people who turned up to picket and protest strikes me as exactly where we should be talking about this.
The lack of questions from the floor, and the extended contributions from people who have no more authority than the rest of us, meant that when important matters were mentioned – e.g. the potential for a Canterbury-wide Trades Council, pulling in public AND private sector unions – there was no follow up. This comes back to something Paul was saying the other day, about how these meetings should be structured, if we’re not to be put off by continued pontification from above.
It’s all very well the unions stamping their feet like some latter-day Pompey Magnus. and expecting the foot soldiers to spring into action. But having answered grassroots anger with a coordinated strike, most will be content to going back to sleep, for now. We can’t let the momentum fade. The best way to do that is to establish, by locality, lists of people interested in continuing work as organisers not just within their own unions but in other venues too.
Whilst I have my own ideas about what exactly we need to organise, I’m more interested in the establishment of a local centre of gravity than in dictating the future, one which invites contributions from all workers of whatever political level, whatever role they hold or don’t hold in a union. Through these contributions, union reps can only improve their own performance, better representing their members and their class. And people are more than willing to share, with a little help from a ruthless, watch-wielding chair. This environment – of rigorous scrutiny and vigorous democracy – should be the backdrop to deciding where we go next.
And there are complicated questions to be answered about what comes next. Are we activists only, or is there a cross-over into electoral politics? What’s the fastest way to get rid of the Tory government? Is that the ultimate objective? Are we prepared to accept the Labour doctrine of continued cuts, albeit slower and shallower? Is our role limited to industrial questions? Are there practical ways one union can render support to others, even if we aren’t all on strike?
I suspect that last question should be the first answered; there are immediate, practical ways to begin rebuilding the political consciousness of the working class – a goal which should be common to socialists in Labour, in the Greens, in the smaller parties and those who don’t like the current gamut of party politics. For example, one goal should be the re-institution of the refusal by one worker to cross another’s picket lines. This sort of thing is vital to prepare the next national strike – and there must be more.
Rather than engaging in the sort of sectarian banter that gives Weekly Worker readers a hard-on, communists can use their skills and their knowledge of history, of other places and situations and tactics, to throw down deep roots in their class and establish a natural leadership. Merely by pushing for an aggressive line with the government and for the full accountability of those who claim to be our leaders we alienate nine-tenths of Labour Party hacks. Most Greens for that matter. This approach would be the making of any socialist, in my eyes.
One of the things which struck me so forcefully was how absolutely anathema the people brought out on Wednesday last would consider the usual sort of stilted, bureaucratic meetings that any local Labour Party basically runs on. Similarly, how ruinously dull would be judged the “political discussion” meetings so beloved of the smaller socialist parties? Millions of people are up for the challenge of beating the government and answering their ideologically-driven cuts agenda; to do them justice, we have to escape from the old paradigms. And the first step is making every meeting count.