Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The New Working Class Movement: Community Organisation

There is vast potential for community-based resistance on Merseyside
This is the first part of my series of articles, setting out my perspective on the much needed development of a working class movement in the UK. This piece will focus on community organisation, while future blogs will look at: workplace organisation, how we can beat the cuts locally and nationally, the importance of intersectionality to class struggle, the place of the UK working class in the world struggle, creating a new world, full socialism, and full communism.

Over the last year, my political activity has predominantly been in what might be termed 'community politics', and particularly the campaign against the bedroom tax - a movement which has attracted thousands across Merseyside over the period since its January launch. Feeder marches from different areas of Liverpool met at the town hall in the early spring, and for a brief moment it seemed that anti-bedroom tax and anti-cuts campaigns were on the verge of creating a mass participation working class movement in the area. For a number of reasons, this energy dissipated. But numbers which would have seemed astronomical a year ago are still working on different projects in their communities, and the potential for a strong, united movement far beyond the traditional left's control is still there.

It is possible that Liverpool city region - with its high levels of social deprivation and militant history - is the perfect incubator for such a form of struggle. All the same, there are anti-bedroom tax and anti-cuts groups everywhere, so I'm sure the poor of all major cities could potentially move in this political direction sooner rather than later.

There are many hundreds of thousands out there now, who really do have 'nothing to lose but their chains'. While the organised left focuses on (mis)leading the small proportion of the class who pay union dues, it falls to the long-abandoned barely surviving elements to start building a new working class movement. As the welfare cuts suicides show, this is increasingly a life and death matter.

Aside from that town hall demo, there are two other particularly inspiring events I've been to this year. The first was back in February, when over a thousand people charged onto the streets of Bootle - the town with the UK's shortest life expectancy. At the time I labelled it as an "explosion of class anger", and it really seemed like the mob were keen to tear the Cabinet limb from limb. When the group's instigator failed to put forward any actions beyond - albeit furious and brilliant - A to B marches, Stand Up In Bootle disintegrated. However, a massive amount of potential was clearly there, and welfare advocates ReClaim are now doing some brilliant community work there.

The other was the July demo called by the anti-bedroom tax group of just one estate in Birkenhead. They marched from their street to the nearest one stop shop, where appeal forms were handed in en masse, including by a family being threatened with imminent eviction by Magenta Housing (formerly Wirral Partnership Homes). On the one hand this was an exercise in by-the-book legality, but on the other the bullishly defiant atmosphere very much indicated that any bailiffs would be in for a very hard time. As of yet there have been no bedroom tax-related evictions on that estate.

In Bootle and the Birkenhead estate, the campaign began with someone going door to door and asking if anyone was in trouble with benefits. The fear and the anger were already there, all that was missing was a catalyst - someone to bring people together and raise the prospect of rebellion. If you dream of a new working class movement but militant workplace organising doesn't seem like an imminent prospect, doing something similar in your area is perhaps the most radical thing you could do right now.

Every benefit cut, every related death, every eviction is a despicable crime against the working class. And every closed library, every shuttered care home, every boarded up homeless shelter is too. They all must be prevented. But they can only be prevented by those directly affected, standing with the solidarity of those who realise the wider class significance - that an injury to one of us is an injury to all of us. By any means necessary, this must be done. You've heard those cliches before; now you must take action.

Of course, community versus workplace is a false dichotomy, because paid workers need community facilities, and an increasingly large number claim some form of welfare. Workplace action can feed in to community-based action, and obviously it is a positive thing in of itself. In my next article on the new working class movement, I will share my ideas on taking the industrial struggle forward.
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