Monday, 28 March 2011

A letter to UK Uncutters from the 'violent minority'

 Letter to UK Uncut members by members of the Solidarity Federation in the aftermath of the disorder on the March 26 TUC organised March for the Alternative. 
We're writing this to you to try and prevent the anti-cuts struggle being split up and weakened by the media.

We are anarchists (well, anarcho-syndicalists, technically) – a word that is much misunderstood and misrepresented. We are also students, workers and shop stewards. We co-organised a 'Radical Workers Bloc' on the South London feeder march. The aim was to provide a highly visible radical presence within the workers movement of which we are a part, advocating strikes, occupations and civil disobedience.

Saturday's demonstration was far bigger than anyone expected, and saw thousands go beyond a simple A-B stroll to take direct action. The UK Uncut actions on Oxford Street and in occupying Fortnum and Masons provoked harsh treatment from police, including mass arrests.

When we reached Trafalgar Square, we headed for Oxford Street for the 2pm actions to put some of these words into action (anarchist and UK Uncutter were not mutually exclusive on the day!). When we arrived, we met up with other anarchists who had had the same idea. Wary of being kettled, we chose to stay mobile, causing disruption on Oxford St and the surrounding area, including to UK Uncut targets which were closed and guarded by riot police. Subsequently, several banks, the Ritz and other buildings were damaged or hit by paint bombs. There were some minor scuffles with police. There is a valid debate to be had over tactics - which ones further the anti-cuts movement or are counter-productive - and many of us would favour mass direct action over property destruction. Let's have that debate within the anti-cuts struggle, and not let the media divide us.

But think about it from the store owners' point of view: a broken window may cost £1,000. A lost Saturday's trade through a peaceful occupation would cost many times more. Perhaps this helps explain the harsh police response to the UK Uncut occupation: it hits them where it hurts, in the pocket. Traditionally, workers have used the weapon of the strike to achieve this. But what about workers with no unions, or unions unwilling to strike? What about students, the unemployed? UK Uncut actions have been very successful at involving such people in economically disruptive action – and this seems to be on the right track in terms of forcing the government to back down on its cuts agenda. More and bigger actions in this vein will be needed to stop the cuts (in France, they call these 'economic blockades'). Like those in UK Uncut, we recognise that just marching from A to B or waiting for the government to be fair is not enough. The government, rich and tax avoiders will continue to seek to make the poorest in society pay for the defecit unless we make doing so the more expensive option. As UK Uncut announced on the demonstration 29th January "If the economy disrupts our lives, then we must disrupt the economy". 

The press coverage since Saturday has gone into a well-rehearsed frenzy of 'good protestor/bad protestor'. Some UK Uncutters have expressed outrage at being lumped in with the 'bad protestors', (correctly) stressing the peaceful nature of the F&M occupation. We think the whole idea of dividing 'good' and 'bad' protest serves only to legitimise police violence and repression. As we saw on Saturday, repression is not provoked by violent actions, but by effective actions – there is a long history of peaceful pickets and occupations being violently broken up by police, from the Chartists to the Miners Strike. Indeed, UK Uncut have frequently been at the blunt end of this in recent memory yourselves, with police responding to non-violent occupations with pepper spray and violent arrests.

In this light, we would say keep up the good work. Let the mass arrests strengthen your resolve not deter you. And let’s not fall into the divide-and-rule tactics that are the oldest trick in the rich’s book. If we can help or offer any practical solidarity to the arrestees, please get in touch. We’ve previously hosted legal advice and training sessions with Fitwatch and the Legal Defence and Monitoring Group – we’d be happy to do this again. Or if the arrests are causing problems with employers, we'll help arrestees organise against victimisation. On Saturday most of the arrestees were UK Uncut activists. Next time it could be us. We – those of us fighting the cuts – are all in this together.

Signed, Brighton Solidarity Federation

Plus individuals from: Northampton, North London, Manchester, Thames Valley, South London and Liverpool Locals (our federal democratic structure means statements can only be issued in the name of a group if the group has had the opportunity to discuss it, and time is against us!)

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Winning the argument, or winning the fight?

There’s been a lot of talk in the anti-cuts movement about the importance of ‘winning the argument’. This strategy holds that the best way to go about fighting attacks on wages, living conditions and services is to point out the flaws in the pro-cuts arguments and suggest alternative policies which would avoid the need for cuts.

Some even seem to think that if the argument is won, the government will see the error of its ways, stop the planned cuts and everyone can go home happy.

It isn’t hard to see where this strategy falls down. It certainly isn’t the weakness of the anti-cuts arguments; it’s been convincingly shown that these cuts aren’t ‘necessary’ at all.

No, its mistake is the belief that society is based on rational arguments in the first place. Our society is not a debating chamber, but a power struggle between different groups with competing interests.

The government are making these cuts because they suit the rich, the wealthy and the powerful. They can get away with it not because they are right, but because they hold power. They won’t be swayed by argument, because from such a position of strength all arguments can be safely ignored. If necessary they can enforce their decisions using the media, police and courts.

Yet they are not invincible; the power of a government is based upon our compliance. We are the ones who have to turn the wheels, pull the levers and keep the system moving. We are the bedrock on which they have built their authority, and that in turn gives us power. If the state wants to do something that we don’t like, we can fight back with actual, direct action; work stoppages, occupations, blockades.

Direct challenges such as this will cause more concern to politicians than any number of marches, leaflets or arguments, because they undermine their authority. The more they lose their authority, the more people are able to resist.

We cannot shy away from the facts: the government attempts to force its decisions upon us, so we must force our collective decisions upon them.

This is where the true hope of victory lies. Not in winning some abstract moral argument, but in winning real battles, and rediscovering the ability to take control of our own lives and communities.