Monday, 28 March 2011

Empty rhetoric to the right. Stunts to the left.

Like one of two others I marched - or to be more accurate wearily but happily trudged - on Saturday's demonstration. Being somewhere near the back I didn't get to Hyde Park until after 4pm - and then I had a wander around Oxford Street and the West End to have a look at some of the other actions there.

Earlier on when I had spotted my local MP,  'David - pull up the ladder behind me - Lammy' and a contingent from the local Labour Party I feared that the march was in danger of being hijacked by an unrepresentative minority. My worst fears were later confirmed when I saw on TV the speech from Ed Milliband that I'd missed in the park. (Incidentally remember a time when Labour leaders at least felt obliged to join in with marches ? None of that nonsense for our Ed). A number of ConDems have quite justifiably pointed out the hollow opportunism of this - despite all Ed's talk of the civil rights movement and the Suffragettes  essentially  Labour has the same position as the government on the cuts.  They claim that for every £10 the government cuts Labour would cut £9 - and in local authorities such as my own this is already what is  happening.

On the other hand on Saturday night we put up at our house  a few of my daughters' friends from out of town that she had met on other student protests.  They'd missed their coach back after having been run around the West End in the evening and were buzzing with tales of the actions there against shops and banks. Most of this was youthful bravado and I imagine they were  cheerleaders rather than hardened activists of the black bloc - but it got me thinking. If I was their age - and most importantly if I hadn't grown up in the context of a Labour movement background in the 1980s with some political points of reference that weren't completely useless - I think I would feel the same way. 

Re-reading that sentence it could me misconstrued as patronising - it really isn't - I think the instincts of this new generation are fantastic, I just wish they were better focused:

We need stunts - and let's be clear occupying a shop or trashing a bank are publicity stunts not 'violence'. We also even need a bit of rhetoric - although not the empty rhetoric of a bankrupt leadership. But most of all we need action - industrial action. Because at the end of the day only that will stop these attacks on our living conditions. We can argue the niceties of the slogans - an all out general strike or a public sector strike, 24 hours or indefinite, official or unofficial - but above all we need action.

The cliche of the slumbering giant of organised labour is  over-used but if ever it was appropriate it was on Saturday. And when everything else settles down  the most important thing to take from the demo is that it might just be a step in building the confidence for it to finally stir out of bed.

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