Thursday, September 02, 2010

Building a coalition of resistance

I attended a friendly 'organising meeting' for the Coalition of Resistance this evening which was put on to help organise both for the conference in November and help bring together a network of anti-cuts activists. Although it started the latter there wasn't much movement on the former, but perhaps that was an impossible task with so many people at the first such meeting.

Roughly one hundred and fifty people squeezed into the basement of Birkbeck College all of one common purpose - to oppose the economic policy of the government and make a modest start at organising that resistance.

Contributions by the likes of Paul Mackney (former union leader), Lindsey German (Stop the War Coalition), Dot Gibson (National Pensioners Convention), Lee Jasper (all round live wire) and others gave proceedings the required seriousness and weight. However, while we heard some interesting thoughts on what the consequences of the cuts would be, I do tend to think this was time wasted in a room full of anti-cuts activists. I've never been to an organising meeting that spent an hour or more on why we're involved in the campaign.

However, there were contributions from people like Steve Sweeney (Cambridgeshire Against the Cuts) who talked about the trade union campaign he'd been part of organising which showed what was practically achievable and were very useful.

Hilary Wainwright of Red Pepper made easily the best contribution of the day bringing the discussion back onto what, practically, such a national umbrella group could usefully *do*. She described how we should be providing resources to the plethora of anti-cuts campaigns up and down the country. More than that we need to be listening to them (I think she used the phrase that we need "an enquiring element to our work") finding out what cuts are going on and where the resistance lies rather than preaching down to them from a centre that we have invented for our own benefit.

This theme was taken up by others, arguing that we need "policy orientated" resources to give people the arguments when their local campaign is accused of being "unrealistic". Anne Grey, from Haringey Greens, talked about how we have lived in age of TINA for too long and that project to provide alternatives, like the Green New Deal, is the area where a national group can provide the most help to local campaigns. Something Lindsey German had earlier described as addressing the "political deficit".

I'm a bit cynical sometimes and I have to say when people said things like we should "give a voice" to local campaigns I thought "Don't you mean your voice?" or that local campaigns "need to be pulled together" I think "For what purpose and do they need to be pulled together by you?" However there wasn't too much of that kind of discussion and some people even talked about non-hierarchical organising, which was nice.

Guy Taylor, who had the practical the idea to [censored in case it happens], gave people a dose of how practical could be fun and was one of a few people present who advocated "creative" protests - something I've previously described as "recreational activism", that's both an important part of our arsenal, keeping people motivated and they're good for media hits, although beware over-use as it can become an end in itself, substituting for more substantive work.

Other practical suggestions included John Rees' (Counterfire) proposal of a day of action and another person, whose name I didn't catch, immediately suggested that this should the 20th October - the date of the national budget review - to help get local and national media to take seriously that there is a whole political movement that thinks the cuts are not necessary.

I'm aware there's quite an interesting discussion going on about about what kind of anti-cuts coalition we need, and I'll be posting on that soon I hope, but for now it's good to see people from different traditions in a room with each other, listening with respect and agreeing on our common aims. Hopefully there will be a bit more focus on practical organising next time.

Apologies to anyone whose name I've spelt wrong.

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