Thursday, 30 September 2010

Looking at our own history

After the reminiscing of the previous post - we had a Socialist Party branch meeting the other day. A new comrade who had just joined turned up for the first time - he told us he was born in 1983 which (depressingly) is the same year that I joined the then Militant. The discussion was on the anti-cuts movement and inevitably it veered towards the lessons of previous struggles - in particular Liverpool Council and the anti-poll tax movement. 

It's apparent that there is a need to re-visit our own history for a new generation of activists. And there's inspiration to be drawn from  the Poll Tax and Liverpool struggles as probably the two most significant victories for the Left in the Thatcher years. But there's also a danger in over-emphasising the parallels between them and the present situation with the ConDems.

The stance of Liverpool Council - the strategy of  a deficit / needs budget - not only defended public jobs and services under threat but actually secured additional funding from central government for the last significant council-housing programme this country has seen. Even suggesting such a tactic nowadays in council circles would seem to place you on the lunatic fringe - and yet back in the day Labour Councils were openly discussing the respective merits of a deficit budget versus a no-budget strategy. Amazingly to those that know him as a draconian Home Secretary, David Blunkett - at the time leader of Sheffield Council - was one of the leaders of this debate. With the arguably honourable exception of Ted Knight and Lambeth Council, this talk rapidly evaporated when it came to other councils having the balls to take a stand and the 47 Liverpool Councillors were left to face the penalty of an illegal stance. Nowadays, outside of a handful of SP and independent socialists in local councils,  there isn't even the talk of such a stance  must less evidence of it being taken. The lessons of Lansbury and 'Poplarism', once very much in the respectable mainstream of the Labour Party, has no place in New Labour. 
On the other hand, the victory of the Anti Poll Tax Movement, occurring after the New Labour rot had already started,  was that of a community based campaign of mass civil disobedience on an unprecedented scale. There are plenty of lessons in how these community-based organisations came together, but not so much in what they actually did: I can't see how a strategy of 'can't pay / won't pay' can translate to the recipients of public services. This time around there is no escaping the fact that the onus is going to be upon the providers of public services taking action against the cuts -  and that means the public sector unions. But incredibly, and only after pressure from the Left, the TUC are trying to put off their anti-cuts demonstration until March next year  - when it's fair to say that  there will probably be less public sector workers left to take any action at all.  

As an alternative, and looking to what's going on in Europe, maybe we should be delving a little further back and dusting off the history of the 1926 General Strike.

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