Sunday, 20 February 2011

Marching with the axemen in Liverpool

Today, I attended the "Fair Deal for Liverpool" march. As I predicted yesterday, it was nothing more than a photo-opportunity for Liverpool City Council, the leaders of each party trying to justify the cuts whilst claiming to oppose them. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of myself and others, they got away with it.

The march itself might as well have been a funeral procession. Despite up to 5,000 people taking part, it was gripped by silence, and attempts by some to get chanting going quickly died a death. The Liverpool Socialist Singers were at the back of the march, but even by the middle you couldn't hear them singing. At the front, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the leaders of the council were able to bask in their own smugness.

If there was going to be an attempt to reclaim the march and opposition to the cuts from these career politicians, now would have been it. But the banner saying "No to City Council cuts" was in the hands of Tony Mulhearn and the Socialist Party. They refused to move until even the tail end of the march was quite far ahead, and retain ideological purity a whole five people strong. For the former Militant Tendancy, this was less militancy and more of a strop.

Personally, I would have been in favour of muscling into the front of the march. If an event like this ever happens again, it will be worth noting that a large enough number of people could have flanked the Lib-Lab contingent at the front and shut them down, also allowing people to give out literature and talk to people, arguing for a different approach.

Unfortunately, due to a number of factors, those numbers didn't exist. Thus, we were reduced to a funeral posession that snaked almost silently through the City Centre to St George's Plateau.

At the rally, the Lord Mayor of Liverpool took the role of compere. Which, I suppose, really puts all those middle class trade union bureaucrats who refer to everyone as "colleagues" into some perspective. She told us how great it was to see people pull together as a city and other similar cockwaffle before introducing each speaker in turn.

Joe Anderson was first up, his speech getting louder and more aggressive as people heckled and booed him. In response to my yelling that he was the one making the cuts, and that he was the enemy locally, he returned to his tried and tested "my hands are tied" rhetoric. He also branded me and others "the loony left," before moving on to claim that when he presented his budget to Cameron (with all the job losses and service cuts it entails), he would be "telling them straight" how "unfair" this all was.

However, despite the fact that he has announced 1500 job cuts and said that life-line services will not escape cuts, he will apparently be "leading the fightback." And whilst he's at it, he will "build schools, houses and hospitals." But how you can defy the need for cuts whilst having your hands tied by the exact same point wasn't quite explained. Maybe we're just too stupid to understand.

From there, it was downhill. Warren Bradley, the local Liberal Democrat leader, and Sarah Jennings of the Green Party made similar self-justifying speeches. Blame lies with the Tories, doing what we can to protect people, etc ad nauseum. Jennings even told the crowd that we would have to accept the need for cuts at present, which led to a hail of boos and chants of "off, off." At which point scolding people for not accepting this reality wasn't the smoothest move.

But, to show just how backwards the whole charade was, the Lord Mayor reminded us that we needed to maintain a united front. Again, how uniting across class lines with those wielding the axe was preferable to working class unity against those in power remains to be explained.

But then, as ever, those who call for "unity" only support it when it's on their terms and under their mantle.

As if to prove the point, Joe Anderson closed the rally by calling for people to stand together and slagging off everyone who disagreed with what he was doing. Particularly surreal was his telling hecklers that "the fightback in Liverpool started before you even got here," before closing with "the fightback starts now!" Gotta love consistency, eh?

Immediately afterwards, there was an attempt to have an alternative podium. However, one megaphone was no match for the council's PA system (wonder how much of the budget that took?), and it attracted a much smaller crowd. It was nothing like Manchester on the 19th January, where the bureaucrats and career politicians could be in no doubt that the rank-and-file had vociferously rejected them. Here, it was largely acceptance. Joe Anderson and Warren Bradley got their set-piece victory.

It may be the case that this was a one-off. The politicians have had their photo opportunity and kept up pretences for electoral purposes and can now retreat to make working class peoples' lives so much harder and miserable. But if it is not, and they call another demonstration, much more organisation needs to go into derailing their big moment and arguing for people to lead their own struggles rather than looking to leaders. As satisfying as it was to see Anderson's jowls shudder in anger as we heckled him, it achieved nothing.

Until people like him are, as Aaron Porter was, driven away from the demonstrations altogether, working class militancy will be suffocating under their dead weight.