The TUC anti-austerity demonstration is a waste of time, money and effort

23 07 2012

The national anti-austerity demonstration in London this October is a waste of time, money, effort, and anything else that is spent on it.

I am anti-austerity and anti-cuts. In the past I’d probably have complained that the TUC doesn’t hold national demonstrations often enough. My point is not that the unions are wrong in principle. My point is that there is no point.

What is this latest demonstration supposed to achieve? What’s the plan? Is there one?

26/03/2011. Didn’t change anything. Hey, let’s do it again!

There isn’t, of course, just as there so evidently wasn’t after the demo on March 26th last year. And the point of holding a demonstration is far more opaque now than it was in spring 2011. What is this for? Is it to show opposition to the government? The government already knows the unions are against it. It doesn’t care. Unless a couple of million show up – not likely – ministers will see it as just another protest.

And since when did we need a demonstration to show opposition to austerity? Look at the government’s poll ratings. Look at its local election results. Look at the contemptuous shrug with which the public greets its every utterance. This is now a government of the undead. It knows it is unpopular. It knows it’s on borrowed time. Its only remaining objective is to implement the policies it has already voted through before it is booted from office. A national demonstration won’t stop this.

But while there isn’t really a point to this protest, there most certainly is a price tag. Word has it that organising and holding this demonstration will cost the TUC fully £250,000. A cool quarter of a million. And it’s that price tag that’s the real problem.

Crying all the way from the bank

The real war against the government’s cuts is not being fought in the plush offices of union leaders. Aside from the pensions dispute, it is being fought by user-led organisations (ULOs) representing disabled people, adult care users, unemployed people forced onto workfare, and the like. It is being fought through the courts when government departments, NHS trusts and local councils try and cut corners to cut costs. And it is being fought by people who have very little money.

This walking tour of London costs *how much*?

Imagine what £250,000 could do in their hands? The Spartacus report was produced for a few thousand pounds. Disabled people’s organisations have had their funding pulled for daring to challenge vicious cuts on behalf of their members. If ULOs had access to free legal advice and support, they could cause huge problems for the implementation of the government’s policies whilst defending their members.

And maybe that might put this in terms union leaders understand. Most of the main union bosses either explicitly or privately want to ‘bring down the government’.

Well, the key planks of the government’s austerity agenda are local government and welfare cuts. With the majority of local government job cuts having already gone through (let’s not get onto the unions’ performance on that front), what is left are attacks on adult care service users, children and young people, and those in receipt of state financial support.

If union bosses want to ‘bring down the government’, funding moves to obstruct the implementation of cuts to social care and welfare would seem a good way to go about it. Without these particular cuts, the government’s austerity agenda collapses pretty quickly.

That £250,000 – plus other money from the union movement – would be better spent providing funding for the ULOs fighting these cuts, and helping set up ULOs where none exist. It shouldn’t be that quantum a leap – Unison has previously offered small grants to parents fighting Sure Start cuts. It’s just a short hop from that to supporting those who are fighting more severe attacks.

For god’s sake, change the station

I don’t actually blame the TUC for this. I suspect they don’t especially want to spend £250,000 on something with so little demonstrable purpose. But the leaders of the TUC’s member unions have forced their hand.

My guess is it went something like this. The more militant union leaders – Serwotka, McCluskey et al – have wanted a national demonstration for a while, that being the stock response of the Left to most situations. The moderate leaders didn’t fancy such bolshiness, and held off until the Budget omnishambles and the Tories’ local elections rout saw Labour rack up a solid double-digit lead in the polls – thereby making said bolshiness suddenly acceptable to Dave Prentis.

With the militants and the moderates all demanding action – sorry, ‘action’ – the TUC’s hand was most likely forced. I don’t know that for a fact – but it’s how these things usually work.

Like so much else on the Left, this is all horribly redolent of student politics. Every year during the noughties, the socialist wing of the National Union of Students would demand a national demonstration against student fees as an article of faith. Every year the moderates would try and resist, preferring polite lobbying of the Labour ministers whose career paths they hoped to follow, unless and until a national demo served their own needs. At no stage did anyone think to look for an overarching strategy that might work – nor, heaven forfend, find out what students actually wanted. Needless to say, nothing was achieved.

There’s nothing wrong in holding a national demonstration if it is part of a broader, thought-out strategy – if there is something before it, something after it, something around it, something aside from it. But to just have a long march through London for its own sake is little better than a mass collective walking tour. With a union boss as the tour guide.

Any right-wing trolls loitering here are wasting their time. Your ideology is bankrupt and your policies discredited. I am solidly anti-austerity, anti-privatisation and anti-cuts. And to those many, many people who will work to organise and attend this demonstration over the coming months, I give my best wishes. There’s not going to be any turning back on this, the march will go ahead, so I hope it goes well for you. If you have worked out a benchmark by which to measure its success, I hope it meets it.

But the six-figure socialists who lead the union movement simply have to move on from seeing demonstrations (and their cheaper cousin, rallies) as the main tool to defend people from this government.

Assuming it is this, and not macho posturing, that they’re aiming for.

P.S – Perhaps the most enjoyment to be had from this demonstration will be seeing whether Ed Miliband gets an invite to speak from the platform, given his cold shoulder to striking public sector workers. Labour would see an outright snub from the TUC as rather uncouth, but the unions may not want to risk the sight of MiliE being roundly heckled by protesters. My guess is the unions will fudge it by inviting a left-wing Labour frontbencher like Jon Trickett or Diane Abbott. Such are the farcical neuroses of left-wing politics….

P.P.S – I’m writing this is in a personal capacity. Obviously.




3 responses

23 07 2012
Malcolm Parker

Thank you for this, it echos my thoughts entirely. A big demo might get a little coverage from the media, but it’s unlikely to be positive and if ever people needed their unions to represent them, now is the time. Better to spend a few bob on bumper stickers and provide support on a much more local basis.

25 07 2012

So many of the cuts were enacted locally and have been felt locally. And yet the response revolves entirely around the demands of Westminster and Fleet Street. It is complete and utter nonsense.

16 11 2012

Big demonstrations serve to highlight, if only symbolically, the discontent. Abscence of demonstrations or rallies would be considered as implicit approval of the policies from those in power.

We’re protesting against the tax evading Barclay brothers on Thursday – and even if its only a symbollic struggle, I wholly believe it’ll be worth it.

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