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How can an anti-cuts movement be built? Coalition of Resistance conference report
EIGHT HUNDRED people came to London to fill the main hall of the Camden Centre, and a smaller overflow meeting room, for the inaugural gathering of the Coalition of Resistance (CoR) on Saturday 27 November.
CoR arose after an initial founding statement calling for 'co-ordinated resistance to cuts and privatisation' was published earlier this year in The Guardian, over the signatures of a number of high-profile individuals including Tony Benn.
Many of these individuals spoke at Saturday's meeting - there were 21 platform speakers at the two plenary sessions, with no discussion from the floor, and each of the hour-long workshops had a three or four person speakers' panel.
Unfortunately, this top-heavy format meant there was no time for any genuine debate on how to create a national anti-cuts movement. 22 amendments to a 'conference declaration' were submitted by participating organisations but all were 'remitted for further discussion', without the meeting even being told what they referred to!
The Socialist Party will work with other organisations fighting the cuts but we cannot accept a 'top-down' approach. CoR has the support of some high-profile figures but this does not give it the authority to claim to be the leadership of the anti-cuts movement. Such a leadership will only be created by bringing together representatives of militant trade unionists and the anti-cuts unions that have sprung up across the country in open and democratic debate.
The main question facing the anti-cuts movement is not whether there will be mass opposition but whether it will be inchoate or organised around a fighting programme and clear strategy that can defeat the government.
If it is the latter, we can win, as the anti-poll tax movement was victorious when an 18 million strong non-payment movement led by the Socialist Party (then called Militant) brought down Thatcher.
But this means key issues have to be addressed, which were not resolved at the CoR event.
Vitally, the movement must oppose all cuts in jobs and services or it will open itself up to attempts to divide workers against service users, defenders of one service against defenders of another, benefit claimants against non-claimants etc.
PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka, correctly said that "it is not our job to choose who to sack, or what service to cut... this movement must defend every job and every service".
But this wasn't a uniform message at the CoR event. Some speakers argued that the movement should include Labour Party representatives who speak against the cuts, even where they carry them out.
The final plenary was chaired by a former Green Party councillor in Lewisham who, in two of the four budget-setting meetings she attended as a councillor, voted for or abstained on cuts budgets!
The broadest possible movement is needed against the cuts. This can include Labour and Green Party councillors but only provided they are prepared to fight the cuts.
Nationally, New Labour is opposing some of the coalition cuts, but it fully accepts the dictats of the market, and therefore the need for savage cuts in public spending and workers living standards. However, where Labour councillors locally reject the cuts we welcome this and pledge to mobilise in their support.
But we will oppose those councillors who are against the cuts in words and then vote for them in the council chamber. To take the opposite approach and to only oppose central government cuts while tacitly supporting the 'reluctant' cuts of Labour councils, is a recipe for division and defeat.
The 'conference declaration', however, made no reference to locally implemented cuts - an important battleground in the coming months - and the need to resist them.
The CoR meeting showed that opposition to the cuts is growing and that many anti-cuts initiatives of all hues can emerge. But CoR has yet to earn credentials in actual struggle, and what role it can play in the future is still not decided.
In The Socialist 1 December 2010:
Youth Fight for Education
Socialist Party editorial
The Socialist Interview
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis