The Trades Union Congress has called for a national demonstration against austerity on 20 October. You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t quite hail the revolution yet. Or even, as Right to Work do, start spouting that “massive demonstrations in October can help finish [the Tories] off.” At best, this is an exercise in letting off steam.
The TUC has been the driving force in demobilising the trade unions. First by making the case effectively that the fight against austerity and broad attacks on our class should be reduced to an industrial dispute over pensions, then by leading a significant contingent of that dispute to make a deal once they’d given workers a huge one-day protest strike as a bit of a show. With the last, and most “militant,” section of that fight also winding down to managed defeat, it’s safe to say that they stamped on every spark of resistance they could in the official labour movement.
Dave Prentis, in leading the call for a demo, was particularly cynical. Calling for “the biggest demonstration in our Labour movement’s history,” he says that we need “to show the government that there is a real alternative”. But the best way to do that is through direct action, and particularly industrial action, which he was one of the first to back out of.
After well over half a million people took to the streets of London on 26 March 2011, the government blithely announced that it would change nothing. They were right – because the state and capital are not moved by protest, but only by effective exercising of class power. This is why, on the fear that “if we don’t give them reform, they’ll give us revolution,” we got the welfare state. It’s also why, with an A to B march here, a one-day strike there and some candle-lit vigils in between, they feel safe to roll it all back.
Effective resistance to austerity will not come via the TUC or any of its affiliated unions – even the “awkward squad”. It will come only through the working class, in the workplace and out of it, organising for ourselves and taking direct action independent of these rusting hierarchies. Whether the people in those hierarchies are “left” or “right,” they will still defuse workers’ anger into A to B marches and limited protest actions, whilst seeking to place themselves into the discussion on the degree to which our class is screwed over. That is their structural role within capitalism, and that is why every last one of Adam Ford’s public sector strike predictions came true.
Our aim, without concession and without apology, should be to cause economic damage. To flex our muscles and tell the ruling class: as long as your cuts are inevitable, this country will be ungovernable. That was the case this time last year, and all that has changed now is that the trade unions are well into their routine of letting off workers’ steam to ensure that doesn’t happen. October 20 will be just another case in point on that.
This is why the march must be hijacked. Rather than letting the TUC have their stale and passive march from one end of London to the other, where a bunch of bureaucrats and Labour Party apologists will waffle at people for the rest of the day, there needs to be a huge and visible bloc of anarchists, militants and radical workers.
Not only that, but this bloc needs to steer as much of the march as possible away from speakers corner and towards areas where they can cause significant economic disruption. On 26 March 2011, Oxford Street and Fortnum and Mason were effectively shut down and the day’s trade lost as a result of UK Uncut and the radical workers bloc. When we see the next national demonstration, something similar needs to happen – perhaps with the breakaway bloc meeting up with a picket against workfare rather than one against tax evasion.
Such an action will not bring down the government. It will not bring about revolution. But it will be an effective expression of class struggle which actually impacts on those we are fighting, whilst sidelining and stealing the headlines from those working to demobilise us.
No doubt, as ever, the media will flap about violent anarchists planning to hijack a peaceful protests. They will pull out every absurd stereotype and red scare bogeyman they can, and the liberals will wring their hands and beg for clemency. Just this once. Can’t we leave it alone, so that they can have an unblemished, peaceful protest?
The answer should be no. Politics is not PR, and we are fighting a war against a class enemy intent on rolling back everything we’ve won. If a huge mobilisation in central London isn’t hijacked for effective, militant direct action, then the movement is in far more dire straits than we thought.