Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Challenge of Building a Merseyside Anti-Cuts Movement

Anti-Bedroom Tax groups are being organised in many Mersey communities
As I wrote last week, "There is a real sense that a mass opposition movement is starting to build on Merseyside." That doesn't mean it's the talk of the town exactly. It's not trending on Twitter yet. But every demonstration seems to be bigger than the last, and get more public support, both in terms of honking car horns and online comments on websites such as the Liverpool Echo.

To give you some idea, the last couple of weeks have seen Labour councils across the region pass massive cuts to vital services, and in all cases try to shift the blame to the national Tory/LibDem coalition. Noisy anti-cuts demonstrations have taken place in Wirral, Sefton, Knowsley and of course Liverpool.

The Wirral struggle has been growing for a few months now, culminating in a large march and rally on Monday 18th February, and an angry lobby of the cuts rubberstamp meeting on 5th March. On the 18th, the Cabinet had frequently been drowned out by the anguished screams and shouts of service users anticipating pain ahead. On the 5th, eyewitnesses claim they were shut out of the meeting, and the councillors approved the cuts package in whispers. Within Wallasey Town Hall at least, the council clearly feel like they are under siege.

The Wirral protests have largely been organised by the Unison and Unite bureaucracies - each of which are seeking sectional deals with the council, in return for the enforcement of still further "efficiencies" - i.e. cuts. Beyond that, there has been little grassroots organisation. A Birkenhead meeting called by 'Save Our Services' was dominated by Labour and union lefts, and meekly sent a letter asking councillors not to make the cuts.

Class anger is at boiling point in many areas
In contrast, the Liverpool demonstrations have been ongoing for a couple of years, and have little overlap with either specific service users' groups or affected workers. In general, most participants would consider themselves would-be revolutionaries, and are either associated with the Liverpool Against The Cuts group, the Trades Council, various left parties, or anarchist tendencies. Until recently, an apparent inability to make much headway amongst the wider public, combined with often brutal police repression at the town hall, had seen numbers dwindling. But now the various Combat The Bedroom Tax groupings are feeding into the anti-cuts struggle.

The intervention against the Sefton council cuts meeting took place in the hours immediately following the furious anti-Bedroom Tax march in Bootle, with many of the same people taking part. The Stand Up In Bootle group is entirely grassroots-based, having been organised in neighbourhoods with meetings publicised on social networks and through word of mouth, and their council intervention was the most militant seen locally in many years. But the Bootle Bedroom Tax organisation is far from alone. Communities are starting to get themselves organised all over Merseyside, and the level of class anger is palpable.

All the councils have passed their cuts, as they were always going to do. Our task now is to make them unworkable. To do this, we will need everyone genuinely opposed to austerity locally, for whatever combination of political and directly material reasons. Threatened service users must be organised, but in a way that opposes all cuts. Threatened workers must be organised, but in a horizontal way against the sectional interests of trade union bureaucrats. And neighbourhoods must be organised, to make them places that representatives of the rich fear to tread.
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