Thursday, 27 January 2011

Austerity, direct action, and the road to March 26th

On Saturday, I will be going to Manchester to attend one of the two national demonstrations being held that day. The other is in London. The day marks the first big call-out against the government since the explosive  student fees protest in December, and it begs the question of whether momentum gained before Christmas can be reignited.

The new year has seen some demonstrations against the scrapping of Educational Maintenance Allowance. But they have been small in number and largely passive, almost as if to prove the point - nobody paid attention to the peaceful action, and police violence against a student was reported more as a footnote than a reason for outrage. Equally, a university occupation in Birmingham proved to be an isolated act rather than part of a wider pattern. Wither the ferocity and passion that drew everyone's attention to the student movement?

It remains true that the working class are facing the largest sustained attacks in at least a generation. And it goes far beyond the realm of education. But where the fear of what we face had provoked heightened class consciousness and a backlash, now it brings resignation or impotent rage.

What faces the disabled is particularly brutal. Where's the Benefit details the "perfect storm" of policies that is pushing disabled people off welfare whilst removing all support to help them find work.

For workers, Mervyn King warns us that we face the biggest squeeze on living standards since the 1920s. Wages will continue to be squeezed as commodity prices rise. However, he offers no remedy and simply tells us our fate is "inevitable."

But the fact remains that the "squeeze" - and the resulting threat of double-dip recession - is only "inevitable" as long as the working class are passive. If we accept the framework of a capitalist economy, where the productive class must suffer in order to balance the books of the parasites reaping profit from our labour, then there truly is nothing we can do.

But we already know that is not the case. The Solidarity Federation's call for economic blockades is a call for the working class to recognise its own power, and the fact that we can make the ruling class fear us. With that fear, comes concession to our interests - i.e. that those of us who produce the wealth of the world do not have to suffer hardship so that those who claim ownership of said wealth through state violence can be kept in the manner to which they have become accustomed.

But if that is our aim, then we need back the explosive momentum that saw Aaron Porter and the other bureaucrats of the National Union of Students sidelined by the very people they claim to "represent."

In part, this means ensuring that the two big demonstrations - 29th January and 26th March - are an expression of the discontent and anger gripping the country. Not simply a set piece for a bunch of worthless parasites to further their political careers whilst patronising and demobilising those they claim to represent.

But that isn't all. Ian Bone makes the point that between these two pillars "there will be local anti-cuts demos as councils set th[e]ir budgets and declare redundancies." I can only second his suggestion that "these will need to start occupying town halls rather than just venting anger outside them." Just as the student movement maintained momentum with university occupations rather than depending solely upon set-piece demos, so "the TUC demo against a background of town hall occupations will be a much more solid event."

As I've noted before, the continued threat of co-ordinated strike action from bureaucrats like Mark Serwotka and Len McCluskey simply isn't transpiring. They are content to "spout rhetoric about exactly the kind of civil disobedience they are actively curtailing" and leave it at that. If there is to be direct action across the country, then it must come from the masses, not our supposed "leaders."

We need not necessarily break windows, but we will need to break some laws. In doing so, we’ll no doubt meet the uniformed violent minority of liberalism, defending the interests of the propertied, of capital, of austerity. No riot, no matter how spectacular will reverse the austerity programme alone. But widespread direct action in our campuses, towns and workplaces just might. In 2006, French students reversed the CPE law which attacked the rights of young workers after weeks of rolling direct action, including the use of economic blockades of strategic targets – train stations, department stores, major junctions… It can be done, and as friends new and old, lovers and strangers we can do it.