Saturday, March 26, 2011

March 26th: a political turning point?

It seems that today saw one of the five biggest demonstrations ever in British history. While most of those protests were against Labour administrations, who didn't take a blind bit of notice, this one makes a nice change in that it is against the Liberal Democrats and their coalition partners, and has the backing of the official opposition (pic tweeted by Richard Mallender).

It seems there could be up to half a million people marching through the streets of London with another substantial demo in the north of Ireland. There was a significant mobilisation on the part of the trade unions but also non-coalition political parties and protest groups.

Ed Miliband addressed the crowd from the end platform despite having written Labour's cuts Manifesto for the last election and Labour councillors up and down the country voting, en masse, for cuts budgets.

In a move designed to annoy the Daily Telegraph UKUncut occupied Fortnum and Masons and there were a number of other peaceful direct actions, mainly against banks, and Anne Summers' windows were smash in a targeted strike against, um... shops? This led some wags to comment that police were looking for "hardened protesters" and that this was the "climax of the demonstration".

However, while the smashed windows seem pointless and, frankly, unrepresentative of the feelings of most of those turning out, the continuing direct action, which led to a number of protesters being arrested despite being completely peaceful, are a real benefit. Unlike the Iraq War march where the focus was simply on size it is very good to see that this protest was not just big, but lively and edgy too, with many people reporting a carnival atmosphere.

The TUC had come in for criticism for taking so long to organise this demo, but part of me feels this turnout is a vindication of that decision. There have been very well attended protests all over the country which have helped build this march and it seems unlikely that had this been called in January, for example, we'd have had anything like this turnout.

It does call into question where we go from here. I've seen various people talking about the next monster demo (and "let's make it bigger", etc.) but this feels slightly unimaginative and disregards the fact  that these protests lend moral weight and confidence to the movement against austerity but cannot, of themselves, change government policy.

Right now, according to YouGov, the majority support the aims of the march (52% to 31%) but in order to get the government to change direct we need a viable strategy that goes beyond moral force. The next step is public sector strike action.

The prospects for industrial action that is coordinated across the public sector seem far closer now than at  any other point in my lifetime. While Thatcher took on unions one at a time this government has taken on the entire country all in one go, banking on the weakness of the trade union movement. For the trade unions this is now life or death, if they let this moment pass without real action they are in danger of being snuffed out of any meaningful existence what so ever.

Of course, if they allow their links to the Labour Party to hold them back once again they will find their members out of work and/or demoralised by the end of this government. Thankfully unions like the PCS are not linked to Labour and are far more free to act effectively. Whether other unions can take the lead with them is another matter - but this march today shows that there is an enormous public mood against the cuts, let's not piss it away.


Anonymous said...

ED miliband addressed the crowd not Ed!

Anonymous said...

A little disingenuous to describe the actions as "against the Liberal Democrats" - many people I know, like me, who voted LD at the last general election support the aims of the march in full. Surely it's more against the Tories, the banks, and corporatism in general rather than the increasingly irrelevant Cleggy lickspittle tendency?

Jim Jepps said...

Oops - yes Ed not David (Ed wrote the manifesto so you can see I was thinking of the right one) - corrected.

I don't think people are maerching against people who vote Lib Dem, but against the 100% consensus among Lib Dem ministers and MPs for this disasterous approach to the economy. Their coalition partners also have a lot to answer for - we shouldn't let them off the hook either.

(Bob Russell excluded, who is alright)

Adrian Windisch said...

This Bob Russel said to a constituent "get a life and stop whinging"? How do they stay in power so long.

Derek Wall said...

A lot of anger against the Lib Dems on the demo!

darryl said...

I thought this tweet from former NUS leader and Oona King's old campaign manager Wes Streeting was telling.

Do people like him still represent Labour?

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Anonymous said...

Good stuff! There must be co-ordinated strike action, though these wheels are running too slowly. Whenever a library or comunity centre faces immediate closure, it should be occupied. Demo shows solidarity is there to defeat this rotten government!