Saturday, 22 January 2011

Economic blockades and the royal wedding

As I've previously reported, Ed Miliband is not happy with the idea of disruptions to the royal wedding by trade unions or, I imagine, anybody else. However, I think that the idea is a delightful one, and it is worth looking at what could be done to maximise the distruption.

There should be little doubt that at least a hint of political pressure came into the timing of the engagement and the wedding. It is, as others have put it, nothing more than bread and circuses for the masses. We get a public holiday so that we may flock to London or turn the television in order to see our betters wed with a degree of finery and luxury that we can never afford.

But this event should not evoke in us national pride but class pride. After all, the only substantial effect of William Windsor and Kate Middleton's wedding is that we get a long May Day weekend. And if, the day after Workers' Memorial Day, we are getting four days off in time for International Workers' Day, then I would politely suggest that looking up to royalty with pride and awe is not the most fitting celebration. The order of the day has to be class warfare.

Barring something truly unforseen, on April 29th the working class will still be facing brutal austerity measures. Workers will still have job losses hanging over their heads. The spectre of homelessness will still loom large for tenants and mortage-payers. The most vulnerable will still be stairing into the abyss of even deeper poverty. And people will still be trying to organise and fight back.

But, if the royal wedding is the target for our anger and frustration, then there is the question of how we go about it. One thing is clear is that we have to go beyond the peaceful and the symbolic. We don't need protests: we need direct action.

The more moderate and reformist sectors of the anti-cuts movement may not be on board with this. Indeed, the Sunny Hundals of this world view direct action as "mob violence" and believe that the whole point of any campaign should be to "win the argument" so that “laws get passed via Parliament” that suit our cause. But this approach is quite clearly getting us nowhere.

As the Solidarity Federation point out; 
The reason that reason gets us nowhere is that politics is not based on good arguments but on power relations. Democracies institutionalise power struggles to a certain extent, since it’s rather disruptive to have periodic coups and civil wars every time there needs to be a change of government. But only certain interests are institutionalised. Here’s a clue: they’re not ours. Thus none of the parties anywhere near power oppose the cuts (Labour included). The Lib Dems are a textbook example of what happens when previously minor parties get near power – they become all-but indistinguishable from the rest. Since our interests do not figure in this system, reasoned argument gets us nowhere. We win the argument, the cuts go ahead anyway and at best we can feel a sense of righteous indignation.

If we want to win, we need to recognise that being right doesn’t cut it. It’s a matter of power. A case in point: it is true that the British welfare state was founded at a time when the national finances were in a far worse state. But it’s worth looking at what the ruling class were saying when the welfare state was founded. For the avoidance of any doubt, let’s hear from a Tory: “We must give them reforms or they will give us revolution”, said Quintin Hogg in 1943. When the ruling class feared the working class, a welfare state was a price worth paying. Now they don’t fear us, they feel confident to dismantle it. So the paradox is without the threat of revolution, reformism is a non-starter. On the other hand, with an unruly mob on the streets and a strike-prone workforce, those reasoned reformists all of a sudden look like workable negotiation partners to whoever's in government. They'll no doubt claim it was their 'responsible' protests which got them there.

It’s all about the balance of class forces. It’s primarily a power struggle, not a moral argument. We might have right on our side, but might will determine the outcome.
Thus, it is clear that "symbolic protest won’t cut it" and we need to "move from largely awareness-raising into the realms of economic blockades" in order to get anywhere.

This is where we need to look both in order to effectively disrupt the wedding and, more broadly, bring the state begging. Despite union leaders such as Bob Crow and Mark Serwotka continually advocating it, "sustained, co-ordinated strike action against austerity looks unlikely," but "economic blockades have been used to great effect in France both as a standalone tactic and in support of strike action."
And it is a remarkably simple concept;
The essence of the idea is to blockade economically significant targets from shopping centres to commuter hubs to fuel depots in order to inflict economic damage comparable to a strike. To be effective, these must be mass actions, otherwise the police are adept at arresting the participants, especially if d-locked or glued-on in the activist fashion. We don’t need martyrs, we need results! We’ve already seen that large crowds can be capable of defending themselves against police attacks, especially if they go prepared knowing what to expect (like some of the protective clothing that has appeared on London demos).
Of themselves, and across the country, such actions would prove a thousand times more effective than even the most explosive a-to-b march. And, if the unions did muster up the will to see co-ordinated strikes - i.e. if the membership forces the hand of the bureaucracy - then that goes double.

We should be looking to disrupt the royal wedding, almost as a rule. Not only is it a relic of that most entrenched and immovable form of class system in feudalism, it is a considerable public expense for two rich people at a time when the poorest in society are being continually and ruthlessly shafted. And if we would pause a struggle against the ruling class out of deference to the distraction they have created, they have no reason to take us seriously.

And that, ultimately, is the point. As SolFed say, "winning the arguments and making reasoned criticisms is all well and good, but it won’t stop the cuts." We will only start winning concessions "when the ruling class fear us."