Left Luggage

The socialist strategy site

G20: After the protests?

Posted by Left Luggage on April 3, 2009

So, what comes next? This week’s protests over the G20 meeting in London’s Docklands have ended and the focus of discussion is on police tactics and civil liberties rather than any of the questions raised by protesters. Their recession has not become our revolution, it looks certain that we will pay for their crisis, and the streets were most definitely not reclaimed.

The violence, most of it clearly provoked by police, distracted from the message of the protests (although the message itself was somewhat obscure). The protests themselves distracted from the real, difficult tasks facing the left. The general public were well-prepared for the violent scenes and police brutality by a media that was stocked full of bombastic rhetoric from “anarchists”, as well as predictions of chaos and a “summer of rage” from police sources.

It’s difficult to gauge accurately the impression that the average person gets of these protests, although one imagines it is not one of positive identification. The Guardian’s Duncan Campbell, by no means hostile to the protestors, describes the crowd as follows:

“playful, peaceful, harmless group of protesters, including rappers, sax-players, jugglers, spliff-rollers, students, CND campaigners, passers-by, and men dressed as police officers and wearing blue lipstick.”

This week was just the latest in a long succession of these anti-capitalist carnivals: J18, Seattle, Prague, Genoa, Evian, and plenty more in between. The question, as after all these events, is what happens now. Taking the J18 protest in the City of London in 1999 as a starting point, we can count this latest spectacle as something of a tenth anniversary. They are clearly not getting any larger, gaining any more social force (even in the midst of the greatest capitalist crises in decades), or becoming any more effective.

How to make them so? Both left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell, and Richard Seymour of Lenin’s Tomb, say we need bigger protests in future, Richard adding that these should coincide with “a general strike or something” and John suggesting they should be combined with direct action.

But surely both these arguments are to mistake a tactic for a strategy. Without new methods it is difficult to see these protests becoming any more significant, hopes for a general strike any less remote, nor direct action any less isolated from wider social forces.

It is arguable that there is also a general confusion between defensive and offensive orientation in these protests. Working class communities throughout the country are under attack on a whole range of fronts, the government is preparing a crackdown on welfare, and pushing through fresh privatisations. Yet much of  the left’s rhetoric and tactics would suggest we are in the ascendency. This suggests an urgent reappraisal of our posturing, and our actions.

Meanwhile, the far more significant news this week was the occupations and protests by employees at Visteon car parts factories in Belfast, Basildon and Enfield after the firm made 565 workers redundant. The company was part of Ford until 2000 and workers are fighting for a decent redundancy package from the company. Our full support goes to these workers. People should email solidarity messages to steve.hart@unitetheunion.com

7 Responses to “G20: After the protests?”

  1. Red said

    While I agree that the majority of protests were a bit empty in their overall goal; many seemed to just want to register their dissent on the day and leave it there, a few wanted a bit of confrontation. There were other protests that have more in mind.

    On the 2nd of April, I joined in the ‘Youth Fight for Jobs’ campaign, associated with the Socialist Party, which marched through some of the poorest parts of London, with some of the highest rates of unemployment, and through the main city itself, finally ending at the Excel centre. The march was a wonderful success, we numbered at about 200, and leaflets were handed out to the public as we passed, who seemed to support are chants and proposals. We had speakers from the NUT, RMT, the Socialist party, and others, (some in a personal capacity).

    But the campaign is not ending there. The organisers are just starting this campaign, and have a good backing from many unions. They are holding a conference on the 9th May, at the University College London, with Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT union, giving an opening speech. The idea is, I think, forgive me if some of the following is a tad wrong, I am not one of the organisers, to start (re-)building a union and student base, and to get out there in the working-class communties doing what they can to educate the people and offer them alternatives to the three main, capitalist, parties. And i think this is the most important strategy of the left, particularly socialist parties; inform the masses of workers on the economic/politic situation and then hope to persuade them to rethink their political ideology. Poeple power is socialist power; without the workers, nothing is possible and so this must be the first point of call for the socialist strategy. We need to campaign where the workers are, where the unemployed are, where the young are and show them that there is an alternative, that there is a way to fight back, and hopefully show them that we are right and thus gain their support.

    Another main focal point is the unions, an extension of the people. Many unions are starting to rethink their Labour ties, finally, and will thus look to new workers’ parties, and we need to be there, offering them those alternatives. The RMT are getting political now and are building the No2EU-Yes to Democracy campaign, which has the backing of the Socialist party (I getting tired of typing so here is an exert from an article on the Socialist party website);
    “the announcement last week that the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers’ union (RMT) is backing an electoral alliance to contest the European elections in June is so important. For the first time ever a national trade union, the RMT, the most militant industrial union in Britain, is mounting an electoral challenge to New Labour, under the name No2EU-Yes to Democracy.

    “This is a temporary coalition for the European elections only. Its platform concentrates on opposition to the European Union (EU) constitution (now re-packaged as the Lisbon treaty) – which enshrines free market economics into EU law – the EU’s pro-privatisation directives, and the anti-trade union and ‘social dumping’ rulings of the European Court of Justice. But still, it represents another step towards rebuilding working class political representation, absent from Britain since the 1990s’ transformation of the Labour Party into the completely capitalist New Labour.

    “Predictably, some media coverage tried to paint the RMT’s move as ‘narrow nationalism’. But RMT general secretary Bob Crow was clear in his response: “We want a workers’ Europe, not the bosses’ EU”, he said. Workers in Britain, he went on, “have more in common with workers across Europe than we do with Freddie Goodwin and other bosses”, who have gained from the EU’s pro-market policies.
    Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist, a Labour MP in 1983-1992, also spoke at the No2EU press launch, pointing to the threat of the far-right BNP picking up protest votes in June. “But now workers alienated by the mainstream capitalist parties have their own candidates to vote for”, he said. He also explained how measures such as the part-privatisation of Royal Mail, the first step to its complete sell-off, are linked to EU directives to introduce deregulated markets into public services.”

    And as a penultimate point, as you mention at the end of your article, workers strikes are cropping up all over the shot these days, and theres no better place to get workers’ support and to support workers than a strike. Its the complete personification of workers vs. bosses, and we need to be there helping them, and building a base.

    Lastly, there is the campign for a new mass worker’s party. I do not have much information on it but I think the title pretty much says it all and they have a website for that sort of thing (at end of comment). And they are campaigning in the ways mention above.

    So, although many of the protesters did seem to just want to have a day out in dissent, there are those who are trying to build a base from which the left can fight back. And now is the time; as socialist, are arguments against capitalism have been handed to us on a plate. The capitalists have done some of the hard work for us.

    In solidarity, Red.

    Here are some websites for your musing:

    http://www.cnwp.org.uk – campaign for mass worker’s party
    http://www.no2eu.com – RMT campaign

  2. milgram said

    I think it’s a mistake to confuse peoples’ identification with protests as being a function of the (media stereotyping of) clothes and attitudes of those able to make it to the protests.

    I don’t hear any condemnation from workers of the trashing of RBS, for example. I think the prevailing attitude is one of “what did they expect” (as with Sir Fred’s reglazing work).

    I also think that such an open show of defiance of the financial orthodoxy can’t be separated from the decision of Visteon workers to occupy their factories. If there’s folk happy to go directly against the BoE, then occupying your factory seems a lot more do-able.

    So it’s not an “either-or”, but a “yes-and”

    • Regarding people’s identification and media stereotyping, I think you have a good point, Milgram. It’s difficult to gauge the prevailing attitude, but from what I’ve picked up I think it sits somewhere in between: general indifference and non-identification with the protests, but few people are shedding tears about RBS’s glazing or Sir Fred Goodwin, as you rightly point out.

      I can’t see how the G20 protests feed in to the Visteon occupations, more than in a marginal way, though. We’ve already seen occupations at Prisme, in Dundee, and at Waterford Crystal, in Ireland, and we should not forget the wildcat action at construction sites throughout the country, although many on the left distanced themselves from this. I would think it’s more linked in to these developments. In any case, the Visteon occupation began on Tuesday, before the G20 protests (apart from the Put People First march) in direct response to a management announcement on Monday. So it’s difficult to see how it’s directly related.

      The G20 protests could well feed into a mood of resistance more generally, but I think the impact will be relatively small.

      Perhaps not an “either/or”, nor a “yes, and”, but a “yes, but”?

      Thanks for your comment!

      • milgram said

        One thing I’d say about the timings: this demo was very heavily trailed / hyped in the media, meaning that it was “out there” for much of March and featured even in the coverage of “Put People First”. Fair point about the other occupations and wildcats though.

  3. richwill said

    I myself am deeply suspicious about how the attack on the RBS came about…http://400words.wordpress.com/2009/04/03/rbs-rant/

  4. bill stickers said

    milgram said what i was going to. Overall, too dismissive of the protests. Also, this is not one “in a long succession of these anti-capitalist carnivals: J18, Seattle, Prague, Genoa, Evian, and plenty more in between.” That movement has actually gone away and more or less died in the interim. For london, Mayday 2001 was the last hurrah – the Iraq war years saw an almost total absence of mass direct action in the UK, certainly not in the same vane as the 90’s carnivals. Wednesday is more of a return than a continuation.

    You are correct to say that we are actually losing the class struggle as most left groups act like its on the up – and well said for pointing that out. BUT: as milgram said, this shoudn’t rule out sympathy for the broad based actions that directly confront the City and what it represents.

  5. You’re right, of course, bill, that the anti-capitalist protests disappeared for a bit around the time of the anti-war movement. That’s a good point. But while they’ve been absent from the scene for a while, don’t you think this represents a continuation in terms of focus, message, tactics, and some of the personnel?

    I didn’t want to come across as entirely unsymathetic. I recognise their goals and, of course, agree with many of their ideas though probably not in most cases regarding strategy. As I mentioned in my reply to milgram, while there might be a symbolic value to the protests, I feel its effect is ultimately quite limited. Do you think the action was really broad based? It seemed to me to be quite narrow, certainly compared to the Put People First march.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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