Thursday, 24 February 2011

Don't lobby - occupy!

Across the country, as councillors gather to vote on their budgets for the coming year, people are coming out in protest. The two most recent examples of this are in Lambeth and Milton Keynes. The difference in the two approaches, especially if applied nationally, couldn't be starker.

In both cases, of course, the council set a budget which included cuts to jobs and services. However, at this point in time, it is likely that only a hostage situation could have produced a different outcome. The balance of power remains such that both local councils and central government remain confident that the only opposition they face will be nominal. Working class anger still isn't a significant enough threat.

Protests such as the one against Milton Keynes council will not change that. 50 people stood outside the council building, chanting and waving placards, but did not go further. Councillors saw that people were angry, yes, but they also saw that this anger didn't translate into militancy.

By contrast, in Lambeth, more than 150 people stormed the council chamber and took over to hold a "people's assembly." The official meeting was not just disrupted but utterly derailed, and councillors had to flee the chamber and to make the vote on the cuts in private. In terms of scale, it wasn't quite the takeover of the Wisconsin Capitol, but it was done with the same spirit of defiance.

The reason that, after retreating to a private room, they still made their cuts was that this action is still fairly novel. In Islington, there were 200 protesters on the streets and 60 got forced out of the chambers for disrupting the peace, but elsewhere what we are seeing is passivity. These events are not organised as direct action, or even as protests, but as "lobbies." The aim being to somehow convince councillors to vote against the cuts which, aside from being a weak appeal to authority in place of mass action, is quite obviously not working.

In its place, as I've argued before, what we need is an increasing number of town hall and council chamber occupations. Not only will these build and maintain momentum outside of demonstrations - as the university occupations did for the student movement - but they will turn class anger into something tangible.

Of course, it doesn't end there. As well as attacking the state apparatus we need to go on the offensive economically, through a campaign of strikes, blockades, and occupations. Not just in our workplaces, but on the high street, at the point of delivery for services that are being cut, and anywhere else we can make an impact. Not, as UK Uncut does, to draw attention to concepts such as Tax Justice, but with the specific aim of inflicting economic damage and showing the ruling class that it is the workers, not them, who hold the real power in society.

It is only when popular unrest renders the country ungovernable that we will see the tide turn, and the state offer up concessions. But getting there isn't something that can happen overnight. It has to be built for, organised, and spread by example. The most obvious starting point for that is the town hall, where councillors are claiming that their hands are tied as they wage class war against us.