Thursday, 12 May 2011

Some observations on the Hardest Hit march

More than a thousand disabled people have taken part in the "Hardest Hit march." This was a protest against the cuts which will hit disabled people harder than any other group in society. However, the march was built around the same social democratic illusions and distractions that radical workers managed to sideline on the March for the Alternative two months ago.

First, it is important to note how good it was to see a march organised specifically around disability issues. On this point alone, the event was a winner, especially by comparison with the appaling lack of consideration of disability arrangements for March 26th. I have previously noted the way in which the labour movement prioritises the struggle of employed workers (and thus often by extension abled workers) over any other groups despite the broad class-based nature of the attacks we face. The use of placards in braille and sign-language chants was also innovative in highlighting that disabled people face challenges every day that the rest of us take for granted.

It is also unquestionable that the disabled (PDF) and those with disabled dependants will be the hardest hit by the government's austerity programme. I've taken part in pickets highlighting the role of Atos Origin in chucking people off benefits, and a number of similar actions have been taking place across the country. It is unquestionable that far more is needed, and that it needs to be connected to the wider class struggle.

But the Hardest Hit march wasn't that. The rally before the march included the same kind of Labour MPs and bureaucrats whom other anti-cuts marches have either chased off or utterly sidelined with radical action. After the march, there was a lobby of parliament where activists "shared their stories, making sure that Parliamentarians understand the combined impact of the cuts on their lives and futures" and "asked MPs to challenge policies that will push disabled people further into poverty and isolation." All of which, of course, presumes that the interests of capital can be reasoned or bargained with when the paradox of reformism should be well known.

But we've heard the narrative before. This march was all about "send[ing] a strong and powerful message to the Government" and urging that "the Government must act now to make sure that disabled people are not the Hardest Hit." Except that we know the government won't act against its class interests unless compelled to by the weight of direct action, and that "strong and powerful messages" are easily ignored if there is no threat that the attacks will be made too expensive or impossible to implement by the eruption of class anger.

Like the utterly pathetic and watered down message of March 26th, the narrative here is not one that suits disabled people and the need to defend and improve their standard of living. It is a narrative for the reformists and bureaucrats. People whose interests lie in getting into power or maintaining their role as mediators with the ruling class.

At best, such people will slow down an inevitable downward slide. At worst, when push comes to shove they will reveal themselves as collaborators. Either way, on the back of that narrative the thousand plus people who marched today are being led down a blind alley.

As I've said over and over again in relation to the anti-cuts movement as a whole, this is not a debate. We are in the midst of an escalation of class struggle, and the improvement or worsening of our present conditions depends entirely upon the balance of class power. Everything we've won, the ruling class want back, and only by making the country ungovernable can we stop them from taking it.