May Day and the state of play
Posted by Left Luggage on May 1, 2009
May Day 2009 provides an opportunity to compare the state of working class organisation in Britain with that of other developed nations. In France, unions and the Left plan to stage almost 300 demonstrations across the country. Up to 3 million are expected to march in the third national demonstration over the Govermnent’s handling of the economic crisis. Polls show 70% of the population support the demonstrations, and a clear majority support more militant tactics such as “bossnapping“. By contrast, German unions have been relatively passive (although an upsurge is predicted by some as unemployment figures climb).
So how does the British response to the recession compare? The Left’s focus so far has been on the factory occupations in Dundee, Derry, Belfast, Basildon and Enfield. Some commentators, like Gregor Gall, suggest that occupations as a tactic do not generate as much publicity as bossnappings and are therefore deficient. Such analyses miss the central point: that the isolated protests in the UK show no signs of broadening into the kind of mass campaigns seen in France and elsewhere. The Government’s budget, unveiled last week, cut public spending to a level lower than under Thatcher, further restricted the right to claim benefits and failed to close tax loopholes that cost the treasury billions of pounds each year. The most significant response from the Left was a protest organised by the Labour Representation Committee. The lunchtime demo was banned by police, although a small protest was held in the early evening. The Unite union has belatedly called a “March for Jobs” in Birmingham on May 16, but clearly any union action on the scale of what is taking place in France is unforseeable.
Any mass industrial or political response to the recession would have to be built on elements that are currently absent in Britain. As even the Socialist Workers’ Party now admits, the network of militant shop stewards, the culture of resistance in workplaces and the community and political organisations capable of sustaining such a campaign no longer exist.
It is easy to see why some believe the best course of action for the Left in the immediate future is to engage in campaigns that build solidarity in communities rather than workplaces. A recent post from the Thurrock branch of the Independent Working Class Association links the recession with the Budget and local spending cuts and attempts to launch a campaign to fight for working class people in the area. Meanwhile Left Luggage has become aware of a new group called Action Eastend, who seek to bring together community campaigns in East London. There are dozens of local campaign groups in operation now, from Wigan to Lewes in Sussex, and a huge number have been set up in the last few years. Though many of these groups are formally apolitical, most are active in fighting for the interests of working class people. At the moment, they’re also operating in isolation, but some kind of federation of community campaign groups would surely be possible as a way to make contacts, share experiences, discuss strategies, and also develop a more overtly political approach. We are planning to publish features on some of these groups in the near future, and in doing so we hope to assist in establishing such links.