Monday, 27 June 2011

The significance of a single leaflet

After work today, I attended a meeting convened in Bootle to coordinate action around the June 30 strikes. Though poorly attended, it was constructive in a lot of ways. However, what has been playing on my mind since I left has been a leaflet I received - not for its content, but for the name under which the leaflet was published.

The meeting had been organised by PCS branches in Bootle, and took on a fairly relaxed and informal demeanour. From the start, the chair admitted that there were lessons to be learnt from the poor turnout and the way the event was built for. "You've got to start somewhere," was the key point, and there was some brief discussion on how future meetings could be better promoted to encourage attendance. After this, talk moved onto June 30th and beyond.

I use the word discussion because that's what happened. Normally, even if poorly attended, such meetings consist of a top table who are largely there to boost their own careers by giving the same tired speech several times over. Then the "audience" is invited to "contribute," meaning that other would-be politicos can stand up and make speeches, often without much salvageable content. Then everyone goes home bored, disillusioned, and perhaps even demobilised. But that wasn't the case here - there was no top table, no pre-prepared speeches, and no sense that those in attendance were only there as the "audience" for certain people to build their careers.

Rather, discussion flowed and chairing was light. There was talk of a need to make contacts and build to the point where, especially in the event of bigger strikes beyond June 30, cross-workplace strike committees could be formed. The question of how to go beyond the workplace, engage with community groups, and spread the action was raised. There were a number of talking points but also, more importantly, a sense that this wasn't a set-piece meeting. People would stay in touch, and a rough plan of action for June 30th was sketched out amongst those in attendance.

As people who read my blog regularly will know, I'm not often very positive about public meetings. This is mainly for the flaws outlined earlier. But this is not to say that this meeting was perfect, or even invigorating. The poor turnout was one of several limitations and failings of the day. But I remain positive because these were openly acknowledged and discussion on how to improve them was invited - not a typical characteristic of events organised by the professional left.

But the other thing atypical of such events was that it was open and honest about what would come out of it. This was a far cry from the Liverpool People's Assembly Against The Cuts, where the Liverpool Trades Council talked out the time to prevent open debate and refused to acknowledge that most people in attendance were of the impression that some kind of "Liverpool Against The Cuts" group would emerge from it. Solidarity Federation even produced a detailed proposal (PDF) with that expectation in mind. But this was readily dismissed.

Yet, not long afterwards, without the worry of pesky anarchists trying to impose things like democracy and accountability, the Socialist Party-dominated Trades Council resolved "to organise a meeting in the city on 13 July to establish a city wide "Liverpool Against the Cuts"."

Despite the way in which this had come about, and the fact that being a Wednesday 13 July will exclude a lot of people beyond the small circle of the Trades Council, I took this as a positive. I was even willing to accept that what they called a "steering group" could very well be a broad-based campaign by another name. Though later than expected, this could still be a positive initiative.

Except that I found out about the resolution because I was forwarded an email from someone who attends Trades Council meetings. It is still not on their website, and as far as I can tell absolutely no building or promotion has been done for it. Just as with The People's Assembly.

Which brings me back to the leaflet I mentioned at the start of this post. I was handed it by a member of the Socialist Party who attended the meeting. It advertised the march & rally in Liverpool on June 30th, billed as "a day of rage against this government." Nothing unusual there. But then I read the footer: "produced by Liverpool Against The Cuts."

I had just been given a leaflet from a group that does not yet exist. Yet it already has an email account, a c/o address, and apparently some sort of budget to print flyers. Or, less credulously, the Trades Council has taken it upon itself to be Liverpool Against The Cuts in order to stamp its leadership on the movement in Liverpool. Which, it being largely dominated by the Socialist Party as previously stated, doesn't surprise me in the least.

The resolution circulated by email calls for "a broad-based anti-cuts movement, democratically organised, which will be capable of developing the mass support which will be essential in resisting the horrendous anti-working class policies being implemented at both local and national level." But evidently this is just rhetoric, as democracy is clearly not very high on the agenda and mass support is not something that they are trying to actively build for lest it get in the way of being in charge. If you have ever wondered why anarchists reject bureaucracy and top-down organisation, look no further.

I fully intend to say my piece at the meeting on July 13th, and make the argument for a genuinely broad-based and democratic campaign. Class unity is a far more vital principle than the sectarian nonsense of the left. But, if the only thing to be gained by supporting Liverpool Against The Cuts is being dragged along by a Socialist Party/Trades Council front akin to the National Shop Stewards Network, it can get to fuck. The class struggle hasn't got time for such idiocy.