DAVID CAMERON could yet meet his poll tax moment. His latest outrage, the bedroom tax, is igniting massive discontent. The Welfare Reform Act includes an attempt to snatch back housing benefit from anyone deemed to be living with a spare bedroom, including disabled people and low-income families.
In areas like the North West tenants cannot “downsize” to one-bedroom properties because there’s not enough of them. So a movement is emerging, which is begins to look like the anti-poll tax unions, with mass meetings on estates, telephone trees to mount emergency blockades against bailiffs, and a renewed sense of community fighting spirit.
The NHS cuts, closures and privatisation are also meeting mass resistance. Mid-Staffordshire and Mid-Yorkshire hospital cuts have seen mass meetings, protests – and strikes at the latter. East Midlands Ambulance Service cuts and closures at Lewisham, Ealing and Whittington in London have all provoked big and angry demos.
At long last a national demo in defence of the NHS has been called, and is supported by Unite health workers. If we can mobilise all the local campaigners in London on 18 May, if we can follow through with strikes and occupations at all the threatened wards, services and hospitals, we can save the NHS.
Add to these burgeoning social movements the crisis in the fire brigade, with dozens of stations and hundreds of engines being axed, further rounds of council cuts affecting youth clubs, libraries, meals-on-wheels and more, and further attacks on the education system at school, college and university level – and it is clear the government’s austerity programme is far from finished.
So we need to intensify the fight back nationwide!
The first chance we will get to do this is on Budget Day itself, when everyone is expecting a further £10 billion of cuts to be announced. Demonstrations have been called in most towns and cities, while hundreds of thousands of civil servants will be on strike over pay, pensions and working conditions.
These days of coordinated action could lead on to permanent collaboration in the People’s Assembly, which has been called for 22 June in London. It can provide the spur to launch local People’s Assemblies, where activists, trade unionists and youth can meet, learn from each other and decide how to take the struggle forward. It can give a practical answer to the TUC’s “investigation of the practicalities of a general strike”.
Rank and file
If we have learned one thing from the past three years of mobilisations, it is that the trade union and Labour leaders cannot be trusted to stick the course. Some won’t even get to the starting blocks
We have to prepare for action independent of the union tops if they will not fight. The left wingers like Mark Serwotka in the PCS and Kevin Courtney in the NUT may have called more strikes than Dave Prentis in Unison and Paul Kenny in GMB, but even these have been timid affairs, lasting no more than a day. The biggest of them all, Len McCluskey of 1.5 million-strong Unite, combines verbal fireworks with the fire hose when it comes to real action.
That is why Workers Power, the SWP and the Grassroots Left are backing Jerry Hicks in the election campaign for Unite general secretary. Here is a chance to break the mould of UK trade union politics by electing a rank and file candidate.
Party and power
But the lesson of the magnificent struggles in Greece, Spain and Portugal over the past three years is – protest must lead to power, resistance to revolution.
We need to forge a new party of the left: one that fights to make the bosses and bankers pay for their own crisis, to stop and reverse all the cuts; cancel the debt and nationalise the banks, without compensation and under the control of the working people; one that will tax the rich and create real jobs on trade union rates building school, hospitals and houses.
The crisis that has engulfed the Socialist Workers Party shows that small propaganda groups of a few thousand activists, who give themselves all the trappings of parties but without their social weight in the workplaces and communities, simply will not do.
We propose that all the left groups unite around a basic programme of action against austerity. If we can do this, thousands of others, new and old, will join in, because they will see a real opportunity for political unity open up.
Of course this would only be a beginning. A new party would need to set up a programme commission to develop the ground for broader and more lasting unity.
And most importantly it would have to be internationalist, reaching out to left parties and groups in Europe and across the world. This crisis is global in scope because it is a crisis of the whole system. We can only succeed if we set as our goal the fight for a new, fifth International.