Lessons to be learnt from the 26th – or
So it wasn’t the Poll Tax riots? Why? And so what?
So it wasn’t the Poll Tax riots and we had hoped it would be so badly. Instead what we got was a movement fractured, angry but unfocused, energetic but in danger of being divided.
Firstly we have fallen into the classic lefty trap of trying to recreate what has gone before, when it obvious that it can never be done.
In this case it was clear that the conditions are not the same. The poll tax was something that clearly affected everyone, rushed through by a much maligned and hated government clearly on the wain.
We are in the first year of a coalition that has constitutionally given itself five years to do what it wants. There are other are other historical conditions that were different, but this is just an example.
More importantly the organisation of the resistance was different. The Anti Poll Tax Federation started in Scotland two years before the riots, and a year before in England. It was based around generalised direct action and resistance to the Poll Tax, using occupation and non payment as key tactics.
This march was organised by centrailsed Union leadership who – as usual – were determined to police the march for the police. They were typically passive in messaging the march and in building for it, there was no urgency or militancy in organisation, and as a centrally organised event that is devastating.
Thankfully there were those that believed in taking action and symbolising their frustration, some of it focused and some of it unfocused. Here there is a tension, but it is a tension that is a welcome departure from the all passive movements of the past (and the all-action ones as well maybe? was the anti-globalisation movement enough by itself?).
There are plenty – a lot more than the reported hundreds (the mail were a lot closer than the Guardian who have been the lackeys of passivity again) – who set their own parametres for what action is acceptable in the face of such callous, unremitting devastation.
Becasue that is what the cuts represent, in a system that already destroys and takes so much, the cuts are salt into an open wound.
This march is basically the first taction that the vast majority of workers have taken in fighting the cuts, there have been next to no strikes, or direct action outside of students fighting tuition fees.
Millbank agitated a whole section of society into action, partially because it was action taken by that section (students) and partially because it become a lightening rod for action in a campaign that was centred around one particular vote.
Along the way the uselessness and counter productiveness of NUS and Students’ Unions were shown across the country – thanks in large part to Aaron Porter.
Workers haven’t taken that journey yet. A lot of them, it is true, are disillusioned with the Unions, but workers haven’t gone through the same process of campaigning for something in a creative and audacious way off their own backs, whilst being denounced by the Union leadership.
This will happen as soon as people start taking effective action themselves, the Union leaderships will undoubtedly side with government and try and bring them under control.
But this will be a different a longer journey that has to start now.
So does it matter if it wasn’t what we expected?
It doesn’t, as long as we use this opportunity to build and grow.
We need to ask ourselves important questions about the hangovers we are carrying of previous movements and where we want to go.
We are in a different time and a are a different movement to the ones of the past. We are not as widespread and militant as the Anti-Poll Tax, we are not as toothless and passive as the Stop the War movement. We have elements of the anti-globalisation movement and of the environmental movement, along with a new workers movement that, at the moment, only has the fairly inactive Unions to organise through.
We need to maybe ditch aspects of the anti-globalisation movement and environmental movement in moving forward, as unionised workers hopefully move forward towards community organisation and ditch working through union leadership.
Do we really need a black bloc any longer? It is seeming maybe not, it was worth it on the day, but will it ever be a tactic widespread enough to be used by all like in the heyday of the anti-globalisation movement? It seems doubtful.
How should we deal with relics like Chris Knight – a pseudo-anarchist who has become a self appointed spokesperson for a movement he does not and cannot represent?
Should we trust to media messaging our action as with the environmental movement, when the media are so clearly trying to divide us, or can we pick targets for our actions that are such a clarion call to all that we don’t need to message them?
What is the kind of long lasting direct action that has true economic impact and helps build communities and communal self reliance? Occupation of local services seems to be a good idea, property damage seems to only be short term and symbolic (though what a symbol!).
Should we be looking to one off days of action to really make the change that we want to see? Whilst the others are open ended questions, this is a resounding no. We have had our day, we have seen who we are, what we want and what we are willing to do to get it. Now the hard work begins.
Check our last article for some ideas on what that might entail.