Last night the Coalition of Resistance – perhaps the most serious attempt yet at building a national anti-cuts alliance – held a meeting in London.
Incredibly for what was billed as a planning meeting – not a widely advertised rally or conference – 170 people turned up, and the audience was noticeably young. Counterfire has a pretty thorough report on the main speeches, so I’m just going to draw out some key points and suggestions from the meeting.
Perhaps the most important message came from former lecturers’ union leader Paul Mackney:
“We’re not trying to impose a national organisation on localities. We’re trying to provide an umbrella.”
Ok, so there was some rather more vivid rhetoric at the meeting than that – Mackney himself said he wanted “hundreds of thousands” of people marching on Whitehall to threaten the very existence of the coalition government.
But with many campaigns growing locally and autonomously, and people with no background in political campaigning getting involved, it’s crucial that the Coalition of Resistance – CoR for short – avoids a top-down approach. Last night leading figures in CoR shouted this from the rooftops.
Lindsey German explained: “This isn’t an attempt to set up a campaign in opposition to any other”. The Green Party’s Romayne Phoenix said CoR wasn’t looking to replace local campaigns or take them over – “CoR is yours. We have been a steering committee; you will be the ones guiding it on its way. You will be the ones taking this thing forward.”
Phoenix described CoR as a “tool” that local campaigners can use to start a group and draw people in, and that it could allow different campaigns to unite across regions and sectors. Mackney added that CoR’s role was to support the myriad of local anti-cuts campaigns and unite them.
Speakers also made it clear that CoR was non-sectarian and was not affiliated to any single party. After sectarianism dogged the anti-war movement, many independent activists have feared a similar fate befalling the anti-cuts movement, but as one speaker pointed out last night, the way to avoid one group dominating is to make the campaign as wide and as broad as possible.
An activist from Lambeth Save Our Services said that the anti-cuts movement needed national co-ordination from CoR, but listed three points that are necessary if it is to be a success:
- CoR must be democratic
- it must be non-sectarian
- delegates from local campaigns must be involved in determining policy
He added that while Labour-run Lambeth Council has made plans to implement severe funding cuts, council leader Steve Reed has publicly railed against the national government, with Lambeth Labour giving out ‘Save Our Services’ leaflets (without the campaign’s agreement) even though it is they who are implementing the cuts.
A speaker from Islington Hands Off Our Services gave advice to anyone looking to set up an anti-cuts campaign in their area:
- get the local trade union branches involved
- build around any existing campaigns against specific cuts
- don’t limit yourself to where you already have contacts and influence – you must be broader
- get into the local press
A few other points raised at the meeting that are worth highlighting:
- “Don’t forget the pensioners” – that was the message from Dot Gibson of the National Pensioners’ Convention, who urged activists to involve the elderly when building local campaigns. She said many pensioners remember the fight to build the welfare state in the 1940s and want to fight now to protect it. She suggested local activists should visit places in the community where pensioners congregate to bring them into the campaign, and to offer to drive them to local campaign meetings if necessary
- John Bowman of Workers’ Power warned that public sector vacancy freezes would hit young jobseekers, and urged people to challenge trade union leaders who would settle for them
- Red Pepper editor Hilary Wainwright said CoR has to ask local campaigners what resources they need. She said that Red Pepper’s guide to countering the cuts ‘myths’, which has been circulated widely on the internet, was the result of asking campaigners on Tyneside what they needed; the response was that they needed a set of arguments against the cuts, which Red Pepper duly delivered. Their next guide will be on the NHS
- John Rees called for a strategy of targeting Liberal Democrat MPs, protesting outside their surgeries and turning them into pariahs
There was also some discussion around whether to propose an alternative to cuts. A couple of speakers felt that unless CoR sets out an alternative to the cuts agenda – involving ideas such as the Green New Deal and taxing the rich – the campaign would come to be seen as negative in tone. Others were concerned that trying to determine an alternative would cause divisions. As it is, CoR’s founding statement mentions the formulation of alternative policies:
‘An alternative budget would place the banks under democratic control, and raise revenue by increasing tax for the rich, plugging tax loopholes, withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, abolishing the nuclear “deterrent” by cancelling the Trident replacement.’
CoR is holding an open planning meeting on October 12th, and then a national organising meeting on 27th November at the Camden Centre in London, with a target attendance of 800 for the latter event.
All in all, a pretty good start.