"Philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point however is to change" - Karl Marx

This blog is my interpretation, I will do everything I can to change the world along those line

Monday, 4 October 2010

A day trip to Birmingham, but for what?

Last Sunday saw a demonstration of somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 people in Birmingham to protest outside the tory party conference. An impressive turn out with all things considered, the rain probably damaged the turn out and the governments spending review has not taken place yet. The demonstration also displayed a great cross section of working class society with banners displaying various campaigns to stop cuts in services, with various trade union banners, student groups, political organisations and a sizable amount of disabled people in attendance as well, fearful of the cuts in Disability Living allowance. All of this shows the potential is there for a united campaign against cutbacks but it wasn't all positive and I am not just referring to the rain.

Despite such anger against the cuts you would be forgiven for not realising this demonstration was against cuts, in fact I am not entirely sure myself if it was or if it was simply against tory cuts! The Right to Work posters read 'Protest against Tory cuts' and there was nothing said about anyone else but the tories. Whilst some may say this is pedantic it is not at all. Travelling on a coach from Cardiff we were well aware that the Welsh Assembly government is run by Labour and Plaid Cymru whilst Cardiff Council is run by the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru. Do the cuts they will carry out not matter? With any of the 3 main parties and a 4th in Wales in power they have all committed themselves to huge public sector cuts. But there was no mention of this throughout the demonstration simply stating that 'tories are scum' whilst I completely agree lets have some clarity and make it clear that all the main parties are committed to making to working class pay for the capitalist crisis.

This is a very important point because it is no good to simply direct the anger at tories (and liberals) when it will be labour/Plaid Cymru/SNP councils as well as the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament carrying out the cuts as well. It seems that the 'keep is so broad it is ineffective' strategy is still in full effect though. I am not opposed to members of those parties being involved in campaigns against cuts, but only if they refuse to vote for cuts and condemn those in their parties who do. Where there are council that refuse to carry out cuts they should receive the full and active support of anti-cuts campaigners but where there is not, then anti-cuts candidates should stand for election, unfortunately this did not feature at all in the Right to Work organised demonstration whatsoever.

Fortunately however Dave Nellist former Labour MP and currently a Socialist Party councillor in Coventry spoke from the platform at both rallies, he made the points which I have made in this article and pointed out that anti-cuts campaigners have had electoral success, in Kidderminster twice winning an MP as well as councillors and councillors won by anti-cuts campaigners in Huddersfield, Wigan, Wallsall and many other places and there is a need to build on this in the next election. This was also made clear in a very good Socialist Party leaflet which to my knowledge was the only material on the day highlighting a real strategy to defeat the cuts which was very will received, after all that was the point of the demonstration was it not?

There were other problems with the demonstration with between 50-100 pseudo-anarchist youth attempted to breach the fence and get into the conference centre, which then led to a long confrontation with the police which was eventually separated off from the main demonstration. This clearly resulted from the frustration at the relative inaction from the demonstration organisers in my view and will only continue and the trend will increase unless a clear strategy to defeat the cuts is put forward.

It is also worth noting that despite all this talk of the Coalition of Resistance on the Internet, I did not see any sign of them existing on this demonstration, which would have been the experience of many others, if they were actually there at all, or does this 'coalition only exist on the Internet? That has been my sole experience with it.

On the day Right to Work gave out a leaflet calling for 'unity talks' on the 5th December, but if they actually wanted unity then two things would have happened differently at least. Firstly when the chair of Right to Work attended the steering committee of the National Shop Stewards Network the day before he would have raised this at the time and secondly they would not have organised a 'unity event' the same time as the already publicised Youth Fight for Jobs national conference. It seems that based on this the 'unity project' is just for show, especially considering Right To Work was set up when the NSSN and YFJ already existed in the first place! Nevertheless unity against cuts is welcome but at the moment I am dubious that Right to Work actually want unity with others, and who could argue otherwise based on the facts.

After this demonstration it seems clear to me that nothing has changed and that if we wish to stop the cuts that the tasks remain the same, to build local campaigns against the cuts!


  1. Though I can't speak for how well everyone knows their Malatesta, describing the Black Bloc as "pseudo-anarchist youth" is disingenuous (not least due to the age of many of the participants).

    The anarchist approach to these kind of events is well known and is not due to "frustration at the relative inaction from the demonstration organisers" (though in the past this has swelled our numbers). But rather the result of a considered opinion on the worth of a 'successful' A to B march versus a 'probably unsuccessful' direct confrontation.

    We may have a difference of opinion as to what is the appropriate course of action, but it's important we're honest about each other's intentions. We also need to start asking the proper questions on the nature of modern public order policing.

    Your point about the campaign against cuts simply being used as an anti-Tory/LibDem bash is well made. We must combat the 'keep is so broad it is ineffective' strategy that seeks to use radicals as foot soldiers for the Labour party.

  2. Hi tom,

    I wasn't intending to attack anarchists, in fact quite the opposite, the reason I referred to them as 'pseudo-anarchist youth' is because that is exactly how they appeared to me on the demonstration.

    The majority of them looked beteen there teens and early 20's though many may have been older but by covering their faces it was hard to tell.

    I used the term 'psuedo-anarchists' because I personally didn't see their actions as anarchistic, attempted to gain access to the conference centre was futile at best, but if they did gain access it would not have changed government policy one iota, instead it would have given the government the green light to roll out more restrictive legislation with regards to demonstrations, the futile actions on Sunday have already ensured a higher police presence on future demonstrations.

    Instead socialists and anarchists should be building grassroots campaigns against the cuts to defeat them and arguing with those campaigns for whatever political strategy they subscibe to, not engaging in direct action which by its nature can not achieve anything. Im not saying direct action is never the right course but in this instance it was wrong.

    However if a clear political strategy was put forward to defeat the cuts, rather than a simple A to B march then I think it would have changed things significantly with those involved in this agitating for local anti-cuts alliances.

    I think thats what genuine anarchists should be doing in my view, thats they onl reason I referred to them as pseudo-anarchists and why i think the actions on Sunday were a consequence of the lack of any strategy from the SWP.

  3. Anti-tory chants outside the tory party conference . What else do you expect ?

  4. what else do I expect? well based on who organised the demo I didn't expect anything else.

    But I do think that a strategy to defeat the cuts should have been put forward! Which it was not by the organisers anyway. That could have easily been done in chant form as well,

    "When they say cut back - We say fight back!"

  5. You won't get any argument from me about building grassroots campaigns being the more important issue (few anarchists think confrontation at protests is sufficient). However I am startled by some of your other assertions.

    Given the hugely repressive conditions being put on protest at the CPC, it was perfectly legitimate to challenge the power of the police to enforce draconian measures. However ineffective the attempted disruption of the conference, civil disobedience in the face of such a clampdown is always worthwhile.

    Anarchists are not interested in changing government policy, this Black Bloc was very upfront about their aims and realistic about outcomes.

    Blaming the curtailing of our civil liberties on protestors resisting police coercion is a horribly right wing argument. If the working class had always shirked from any kind unsanctioned activity what kind of society would we currently be living in?

    Statements like "the futile actions on Sunday have already ensured a higher police presence on future demonstrations" betray a shocking level of naivety. The size and style of public order policing at any given event is the result of a much wider consideration than what uppity anarchists did last time. Disproportionate policing is generally the result of political pressure designed to control effective dissent.

    This phobia for unauthorised action from the respectable left is as great a stumbling block to effectual mobilising as the control freakery of the SWP leadership.

    We need to operate in an atmosphere of mutual respect. I can understand why your priorities meant you didn't want to engage in direct action but unwillingness to even tolerate a diversity of tactics is a dangerous road.

  6. I didn't mean it to sound like I was blaming anarchists for higher police presence on demonstrations, i mean that it will be used as an excuse, I am not against direct action, or simply disobeying the route of demonstration organisers at all, but I think there is a time and place for such actions, and I don't feel this was one of them.

    What I mean by this is that there was no possible way that the anarchists in question could achieve their aims. That in itself is not a reason not to engage in direct action I agree and as you stated they were up front about not succeeding, but as far as I could tell there was no attempt by any of them to engage with others to agitate for others to do the same and became isolted from other protesters because they choose to cover there faces and isolate themselves largely, (not all of them covered there faces but a significat amount) I am not saying either that demonstrators shouldnt cover their faces but merely that if you are serious about building a mass movement then covering your face does not make you the most approachable, and they certainly didnt look approachable on the day

    so for all these reasons i found it hard to take them seriously, Im not saying that any of the tactics they used were wong per se, but in the circumstances they used those tactics on the day i believe it was wrong.

    Dunno if you have heard but the SWP are at it again and threatened to get demonstrators arrested

  7. "When they say cut back - We say fight back!"
    I did hear that slogan on the demo , actually .
    I don't disagree with much of your post but I do think it's a bit difficult to bring up the failings of Plaid Cymru et al at a demo aimed at the tory party outside their conference .
    As for stategy I can't see a problem with calling for unity on a national level between the different campaigns and campaigning on a local level is also important . There's no need to counterpose the two . We can do both .
    Of course those with the real power to defeat the cuts are workers organised in their trade unions and it was good to see a strong trade union presence on the demo .

  8. "Dunno if you have heard but the SWP are at it again and threatened to get demonstrators arrested "
    Sorry , you have to back up such accusations with proof or you're going to make yourself look silly and sectarian .

  9. i think its very easy to bring up the failings of the other main parties, Dave Nellist did it very easily, unfortunately the Right to Work campaign did not at all, because they want to 'keep it broad so broad it doesnt stand for anything'

    You can have national demos and local campaigns side by side yes, but should be interlinked, not with such narrow demands like this demo that it does not take a campaign against cuts forward in anyway

  10. Of course the campaigns are going to be interlinked if their fighting the cuts . And what's this about "narrow demands" .It was called as a demo against cuts from the outset and that's what it was . I don't understand what you're getting at ? You seem to be objecting for the sake of it . At the risk of sounding sectarian (though I don't think so )is your real problem that the demo wasn't under SP control rather than being built as broadly as possible ?

  11. Nothing to do with who controlled the demo at all, but thats the usual SWP response, 'your just bitter because you didnt control it'

    but the fact is that because the SWP want to keep things as broad as possible they never put concrete demands down, be it in the poll tax, the stop the war coalition, UAF or RTW.

    The problem with this keeping it as broad as possible approach in this instance is that no demands were laid down by councillors to refuse to implement cuts etc no strategy was outlined to defeat the cuts and no agitation for working class political representation of any form laid out, a huge mistake in my opinion and continually holding the movement back, sure the swp are good at turning out the numbers to demonstrations, but as we have seen with the Stop the War Coalition you can get 2 million people on the streets but it wont make a damn bit of difference if you dont employ a strategy to win the campaign, but the SWP refused because we need to keep it broad' and therefore ineffective'

    As for asking for the evidence about the SWP trying to get protesters arrested. The person in question is Chris Bambery SWP central committee member and here is a link reporting on the events http://publish.indymedia.org.uk/en/2010/10/464168.html

    It always amazes e when SWP members refer to me as being sectarian, particularly on the blog, specfically when I have outlined clearly with political reasoning why I disagree with their policy and said topic

  12. Indymedia is your evdence ? Hmm.. It's full of cranks and nutters grinding axes .
    Stay in your little group ghetto with your list of "concrete" demands and good luck to you . I'd rather be in the wider movement .

  13. you are right, indymedia is full of cracks and people with axes to grind, but as I have seen similiar actions from the SWP in south wales so I have no reason to doubt this

    it is not about only staying in the confines of ones groups demands it is about advancing the course of the working class in united fronts, where comprimises on your programme will be made, however that means blocking with the working class ONLY no anyone who can support the narrow demands.

    Case in point simply being anti-tory and opposing tory cuts means that even the most right-wing labour members can be on board because they are sgainst tory cuts but not against cuts in general, and too keep these people on board there was no mention at all from Right to Work of a working class alternative.

    Within UAF the strategy has been limited to only opposing the BNP, EDL or other racist organisations, this means that any right-wing labourite, plaid member, liberal or tory are welcomr to speak on UAF platforms and have! and too keep these people on boardtthere is no mention of a working class alternative, in fact SWP members have actively opposed UAF Cardiff supporting Youth Fight for Jobs demos in the area and the Youth Fight for Jobs demo in Barking to oppose the rise of the BNP in the area.
    There is no mention of the need for a working class alternative to combat the rise of the BNP who have taken over from ex labour heartlands, but a working class alternative would stop there rise,so the SWP strategy is actually holding the movement back in order to keep it broad.

    Within the Stop the War Coalition the SWP have employed a similiar tactic of limiting the organisation to anyone who opposes the war for whatever reason, this meant that in 2003 when 2 million people marched on the streets the SWP handed the demonstration of to Charles Kennedy then leader of the liberal democrats, who supported the War in Afganistan and only opposed the invasion of Iraq without UN backing and as soon as the troops went in effectively supported the war
    And at the same time, refusing to allow Dave Nellist (the orginal chair of STWC) to speak on the platform who would have called for an industrail response to the threat of invasion, the SWP didnt want this because it would have isolated people like the lib dems, but such action could of been successful, instead the SWP gave control to the liberals on the day and Iraq was invaded!

    I have pointed out exact reasons why I disagree with the SWPs strategy here, but if you want say "stay in your little ghetto group with your list of conrete demands" I think it is worth mentioning that the SP is far bigger than the SWP in south wales now

  14. your crticisms of indymedia are fine, but as I have seen similiae actions of thw SWP in south wales I have no reason to doubt this article.

    It is not about staying within the demands of one organisation it is about putting forward a real working class alternative, i will give several examples so bare with me.

    The right to work demo, restricted it to opposing tory cuts, i know it was outside the tory conference, but that in itself adds to this, this means even the most rabid blairite can be involved because its against tory cuts, and to keep those from the establishment involved there was no clear strategy to defeat cuts, no demands places on councils not to carry out cuts and no agitation for working class political representation, all of which will contribute to weakening the effectiveness of the movement

    read this article for a wider explanation

  15. sorry he is the link that I should have posted above http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/10358/05-10-2010/building-the-struggle-against-cuts

    Within UAF the SWP have done the same, restricting the demands to those who oppose the BNP, EDL or other racist organisations, this means that anyone who opposes racism or facsism can be involved to keep it broad, and so labour, liberal and tory reporesentatives have been on the platform at UAF events. But to keep them on board there is no agitation for a working class alternative as it would isolate these people, In South Wales SWP members in UAF Cardiff have actively voted down proposals to support Youth Fight for jobs demos!

    Neither have UAF been willing to agitate for working class political representation afterall its working class people turning to the BNP out of frustration at the lack of alternative
    But the SWP insist on keeping it broad

  16. The same is true within the Stop the War Coaltion restricting it to those who simply oppose the war in an effort to keep it broad. the SWP even went as far as to act as the footsoliders for the liberals. In 2003 on the march of 2 million the SWP allowed Charles Kennedy leader of the Liberal Democrats to lead the demonstration despite the facts that the liberlals supported and still do support the war in Afganistan and only opposed the invasion of IRaq without UN backing, and as soon as Iraq was invaded effectively supported the war by backing the troops.

    BUt the SWP also prevented Dave Nellist (orginal chair of STWC) from speaking on the platform, such a speaker could have agitated for an industrail response to the threatened invasion of Iraq, but this of course would have isolated the liberals and other right wingers so it wasnt allowed from the platform.

    This had the potential to put the war in jepordy but was rejected by the SWP within the Stop the War Coalition but instead the demonstrations began to get smaller and smaller and well look at iraq now!

    You can say that I want to stay in a "little ghetto with concrete demands" but this is disingenious so lets put it in perspective, at the begining of the anti-war movement in the cardiff area the swp were definately bigger than the SP, but I joined the SP precisely because they put forward a working class alternative in these oprganisations, and now are much bigger than the SWP in the area, hardly living in a "little ghetto" is it

  17. Calm down , mate .

  18. just pointing out serious political differences and why they exist, explaining this isnt just because my group is not in control but rather the orientation of these movements leads them to a dead end.

    but you highly political response of calm down mate is well noted

  19. No sense of humour , some people . :-)

  20. and i thought this was a serious political discussion, silly me

  21. What a childish argument to suggest that the Coalition of Resistance only exists on the internet as you didn't see them on the demo!

    I saw them and I marched near their banner, however I did not see the YFfJ or the NSSN there. Doesn't mean that they weren't or that they just exist on the internet.

    This sectarian piece is really about the SP and SWP jostling for positioning and who has the better front organisation.

    And then the crux of the argument is about the mythical working class alternative, in the worst possible time given concrete circumstances and the failures of this project in its many hues in recent history.

  22. thats the point im making, i have never seen them coalition beyond the internet, its worth noting that i started the march ahead of the demo, leafleted the whole dmeo then ran to the fron and did again several times and at no point did i see any sign of the coalition.

    Im not saying they dont exist at all but not in any great numbers and to claim its an umbrella group is disingenious, especially as it was setup after various groups already existed!

    The National Shop Stewards Network has organised several events and can hardly be referred to as a front organisation for any one group! So why not build that.

    Its not about a mythical working class alternative thats just stupid, there is a need a desperate need for a real working class alternative in whatever form that makes, many +people will disagree on, but the crtique i have put here is that in various organisstions the swp have refused to put forward a working class alternative

  23. "the swp have refused to put forward a working class alternative"
    You talk about a serious discussion and come out with stuff like that ?
    Maybe you should tell the trade union activists in the Right to Work campaign that the swp has no orientation to the working class . Did you not notice that the demo on Sunday was prdominately made up of trade unionists . Right to Work is looking for unity with other groups fighting the cuts including NSSN and CoR however I'm beginning to think that the SP is not interested in unity .

  24. I wouldn't disagree with many of your points. I am unclear as to the purpose of the Right to Work other than as another front for the SWP. It doesn't seem to offer anything in the way of a coherent strategy and I am still none the wiser as to what it is for. I understand that the RTW Unity Conference has largely come about because of the Coalition of Resistance and there is clearly some degree of them not wanting this initiative to suceed for sectarian reasons i.e. that it is backed by Counterfire and was the basis of the split/expulsions.

    However, I am not sure that RTW was set up to rival the NSSN. The NSSN has not exactly punched its weight ot been anything near a success. It has not drawn in masses of militant trade unionists and in many areas barely exists.

    I think the idea of a protest against Tory cuts was because the target of the demo was the Tories at their first conference since becoming part of the Coalition government.

    There is nothing to build on in the next election. We need to be honest about this.The left vote in the last election was dire. TUSC was an ill conceived failure as was No2EU, Left List, Socialist Alliance, Socialist Labour Party and despite some success ultimately Respect. The door has slammed firmly shut in this respect. By all means build anti-cuts campaigns and work in the trade unions but centring around elections will end in yet another disaster

  25. This is getting s bit confusing as atleast 2 people possibly more are commenting anonymously, i would like if you could at the very least use an open id just to make it possible to clarify who said what. But I will try to answer the points riased in the last 2 comments.

    Firstly on the need for a working class alternative, a new workers party is not the only alternative, its the one I believe in but theres other strstegies for a working class alternative for example, a strategy to reclaim labour, working class self-organisation (anarchist style) or simply palces demands on labour/plaid or independant councils to refuse to carry out cuts, thats what I mean by a working class alternative.

    On the point about the swp, I have previously explained the orientation of the SWP in right to work, Stop the War and UAF, rather than simply saying I am not being serious why not try and respond to the concrete explanation I have given for the viewpoint and engage in serious debate, simply telling me i am wrong without an explanation when I have given an explanation for my views is simply childish.

    Does the SP want unity absouluely thats why we argued for the NSSN to organise an anti-cuts conference in january something which the SWP/RTW represenatatives on the NSSN steering committee agreed to, but members of the NSSN were shocked to find out that RTW had organised a unity conference which they advertised the next day but had said nothing and agreed with all the NSSN proposals the previous day. Not to mention that Right to Work have organised this unity conference for the same day as the previously advertised Youth fight for Jobs conference, if they really wanted unity why would you organise it for the same day?

    If you would care also to explain what exactly is the strategy for a working class alternative right to work are putting forward i would love to hear it


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