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Anti-cuts demonstrations - London Socialist Party refutes accusations from SWP
All over the country council chambers are under siege. Budget-setting meetings are being barraged by angry workers and service users. Marches and lobbies are turning into invasions and occupations of council chambers.
Paula Mitchell, London Socialist Party and Waltham Forest Anti-Cuts Union
In scenes reminiscent of the poll tax setting meetings twenty years ago, councillors are fleeing their electorate and even bringing in the police to protect themselves from those whose lives they vote to destroy.
As reported in last week's issue of the Socialist, there have also been fantastic weekend demonstrations taking place in many areas. All these events signify a stepping up of the anti-cuts movement as the reality of cuts, especially at the moment those carried out by councils, starts to hit.
Protesting workers don't differentiate between the parties of cuts - whether it is Tory or Labour councils the fury is the same. No one expresses sympathy for the so-called "difficult choices" faced by Labour councillors - in fact at Labour councils the fury is often even greater as people realise the politicians they voted for to protect them from cuts turn their backs on them.
It is therefore regrettable to say the least, that at some recent events, including during an anti-cuts rally in Waltham Forest, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Right to Work (RtW) chose to attack some of the local campaigns for not being "big enough".
They in particular attacked the campaign in Waltham Forest, suggesting it is "small" because it is "sectarian". They say we should "replicate what has happened in the rest of London" and "start to build a united campaign".
To criticise the 300-strong Waltham Forest demonstration for being small is nonsensical. The lobby of Newham council on 28 February, where the SWP play a leading role in the anti-cuts campaign, was 150-strong.
The recent demonstration to the council chambers in Islington, which rightly hit the headlines because the Labour council called the police on protesters to evict them from the public gallery, was 150-strong.
There is nothing wrong with demonstrations of this size, but there is everything wrong with trying to undermine the confidence of local campaigners through these insinuations.
It is inevitable that at this early stage of the anti-cuts campaigns, protests will vary in size and some may be fairly small. People are just starting to gain their confidence and test their strength.
Smaller events are very important in this process. Small meetings which thrash out ideas and methods can be just as, or in some cases even more, important as big rallies.
Small protests where workers have a go on the megaphone, challenge councillors and so on, are a vital part of building confidence and ensuring these workers feel these campaigns are truly theirs.
Some of the demonstrations in London have been bigger, for example in Lewisham, where 1,000 marched on 19 February, in Hackney where 800 marched, or in Haringey where the local press counted 1,500.
Many factors contribute to the size. The character of the population varies (some with more recent traditions of struggle, some more settled and others more transient; the class make-up of boroughs varies, and so on), as does the type of cuts in an area (for example, whole libraries or children's centres shutting may be more likely to mobilise big numbers than other less 'visible' services).
In truth, the size of all these local lobbies and demos will be dwarfed by the mass action of the working class that will come.
The SWP call Waltham Forest Anti-Cuts Union (WFACU) sectarian because it is led by Socialist Party members. They try to suggest that the "small size" proves that their methods regarding the Labour Party are correct and ours are wrong.
WFACU has always been clear - anyone who wants to fight the cuts is welcome. It is also very happy to democratically debate with anyone who disagrees.
But it does not uncritically give a platform to Labour politicians who want to pose as being against the cuts but then go behind our backs to vote for them.
Until recently, on the grounds of needing maximum unity, the SWP have been uncritical of Labour on the cuts and have provided Labour politicians with platforms without putting any pressure on them to vote against cuts.
They completely failed to understand that the unity that is necessary is the unity of working class and middle class people affected by the cuts - and we cannot ask them to unite with the cutters!
Now that councils are actually voting on the cuts and angry communities are mobilised against them, the SWP want to lead the charge and now say that councillors should not vote for cuts.
But they also say that these cuts-making Labour councillors are our "friends" and should still be invited into anti-cuts meetings, even though they are voting for cuts.
A leader of Right to Work explicitly said this about an Islington councillor who spoke at RtW's recent People's Convention lamenting that she had to vote for cuts - just days before the council called the police on protesters! The SWP - rightly - calls on council workers to strike against the cuts, but then suggests that the next day those same workers should sit in anti-cuts meetings with the self-same councillors they are striking against.
So were the 1,000 who marched in Lewisham mobilised by being friends with Labour councillors? The demonstration was called by Lewisham People Before Profit, Lewisham Anti Cuts Alliance (LACA) and local trade unions, with Socialist Party members and former Socialist Party councillors in a leading role.
Lewisham People Before Profit was set up precisely in order to stand candidates against all the main parties. In the SWP's conference bulletin they called the Lewisham Anti Cuts Alliance "deeply sectarian".
Members of LACA produced a leaflet with photos of cuts-making Labour councillors on it so that if they turned up on the demo they could be spotted!
In Hackney, where 800 marched, despite the SWP's attempts to water it down, the anti-cuts alliance has had a clear position of calling for Labour councillors not to vote for cuts.
Six issued a statement calling for a 'needs budget' and at least one has said he will vote against cuts. This is not due to their involvement in the anti-cuts alliance, which has not been the case, but is likely to be because of the pressure they have come under (significantly around 230 out of 250 voted for a 'needs budget' at the Hackney Unison AGM) and encouragement from the Hackney Anti-Cuts Alliance to take this stand.*
The Hackney alliance bulletin has two pages out of four which call for Labour to vote against cuts and poses the arguments point by point.
Haringey had a big demonstration called by the local trade unions. Haringey Alliance for Public Services has had big lobbies and last week the lobby invaded the council chamber.
The position has been that councillors should vote against cuts or step aside.
The suggestion that in Waltham Forest we need to "start to build a united campaign" is laughable. WFACU has been in existence since July 2010 and is supported by several trade unions and community campaigns.
It has lobbied councillors at every cabinet and every full council meeting since cuts were announced. It has pursued a relentless campaign. At each lobby there has been a turnout from the latest group of workers to feel the cuts, eg town hall cleaners, Connexions workers, road safety teams, the music service parents and children, and others.
All its organising meetings are open and publicly advertised. Meanwhile the SWP set up a rival Right to Work campaign in the borough!
- Note added on 3.3.11: When the Hackney budget-setting council meeting took place on the evening of 2.3.11, none of the six councillors mentioned above voted against the cuts budget. All Labour councillors attending the meeting voted in favour.