Solidarity Forever

By Tim Hardy

Everybody who took part in the demonstrations on 26 March in person or at home through virtual protest should be proud.

As exhaustion kicks in and the adrenaline levels subside, doubts arise. As politicians and their pets in the media unite in blanket condemnation, it’s easy to entertain thoughts of despair.

But the outrage and propaganda from sections of the press and the House of Commons benches says it all. Don’t listen to their words – ask yourself why they are saying them.

We are winning the argument and they’re absolutely terrified.

This government is fatally weak and is now falling back on the age-old tactic of divide and conquer.

I believe in the power of the unions and I also believe in the effectiveness of direct action. It saddens me to see anti-cuts groups fall for this and attack each other.

Changes are already underway as a result of UK Uncut’s actions. It is misguided for those following the TUC flag to condemn UK Uncut and bad manners to believe that they can dictate when and where UK Uncut may act.

But it is also deeply misguided for people engaged in direct action to condemn the unions who made mistakes but still managed to bring hundreds of thousands of people to the streets of London through grass-roots organising and communication.

There is a grave danger for those who organise and discuss mostly online to believe that our little social media bubble represents the whole of the UK. We might sniff that the March for the Alternative site managed to gain only 8317 online pledges to march – yet they mobilised half a million on the streets. This is the polar opposite of clicktivism.

Protest has to be effective otherwise it becomes entertainment, a hobby like a sporting pastime that lets us blow off a little steam but nothing more.

The unions are the most powerful political tool we have. They are far less powerful than they need to be but fighting them is not going to make opposition to the government stronger.

Let’s put this in context. Any remaining hope that so-called liberals in the coalition might reverse the authoritarianism of New Labour is dead.

From the following description of the Select Committee on Policing of Protests, it is quite clear that the government are happy to make no distinction between different types of direct action.

The Chair of the Committee, Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, said:
The update by the Assistant Commissioner Lynn Owens will give the Home Affairs Select Committee an opportunity to look at the tactics and resources used by the Police. There appears to be two types of protests, a peaceful march attended by thousands, followed by the violence carried out by a few on Saturday afternoon. It is now important that we have some firm direction on how to proceed to policing of further protests.

From Vince Cable’s words it is pretty obvious that even half a million marchers aren’t going to change their minds:

We’re not going to change the basic economic strategy. No government — coalition, Labour or any other — would change its fundamental economic policy simply in response to a demonstration of that kind.

Clearly half a million isn’t enough. It took many months to organise the march. It will take many months to organise the next one even if it eventually mobilises two or three times as many people.

UK Uncut and direct action groups are more agile and have been embarrassing the police and the government week after week for months now. The crack-down has finally started.

Unionist are being encouraged to denounce UK Uncut and UK Uncut are being encouraged to denounce “violent anarchists”.

Now, you might believe that if you do what the state says and just denounce black bloc tactics then you’ll be fine. After all, you can trust the police. They would never lie to you. Or if you’re still not convinced by that you could just ask the family of Ian Tomlinson.

Personally I favour non-destructive protest – but I don’t think a few broken windows and a bit of paint even begins to compare with the devastation being caused by government policy.

I would like to see activists adopting something similar to the Saint Paul Principles. These are a set of principles of unity for resisting the 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC) agreed in February 2008 by those planning to confront the RNC.

The principles are:
1. Our solidarity will be based on respect for a diversity of tactics and the plans of other groups.
2. The actions and tactics used will be organized to maintain a separation of time or space.
3. Any debates or criticisms will stay internal to the movement, avoiding any public or media denunciations of fellow activists and events.
4. We oppose any state repression of dissent, including surveillance, infiltration, disruption and violence. We agree not to assist law enforcement actions against activists and others.

Until they can legislate away dissent, the state are using the police and their powerful friends in the media to quieten people through fear. We must not be intimidated. We need to learn from and support one another even when we do not agree on tactics and restrict ourselves to only criticising in public those behind the vicious ideological reforms that punish the most vulnerable in society.

The solidarity demonstrations outside various police stations in London on Sunday where UK Uncut protesters and others were being held were a good start.

Getting back on the streets with UK Uncut for more action next weekend to show that we will not be frightened away is the essential next step. Keep an eye on UK Uncut and get ready to follow.


13 thoughts on “Solidarity Forever

  1. Since writing this it has become clear to me that principle three will need updating to respond to the reality that “internal” is a meaningless concept for mass movements that organise openly online and which would lose power and influence if they were to restrict discussion to closed forums.

    “3. Any debates or criticisms will stay internal to the movement, avoiding any public or media denunciations of fellow activists and events.”

    We can avoid denouncing one another but it seems practically impossible for all discussion to remain internal. Accepting that some discussion will be public will require that participants show considerable tact.

    I plan to write more on this in time.

  2. Sorry, only just saw this post. Your analysis is spot-on. Especially this:

    “Until they can legislate away dissent, the state are using the police and their powerful friends in the media to quieten people through fear.”


    I will cross post this on my blog if that’s ok 🙂

  3. To see the names of Liberal Democrat MPs who withdrew their names from an early day motion congratulating UK Uncut after David Cameron condemned the group, have a look at the withdrawn signatures on the EDM here.

    Meanwhile, Neal Lawson, chair of Compass has signed a joint statement with NGO’s and Trade Unions to “condemn any politically motivated policing which provokes, intimidates or criminalises protestors.”

    Protest is the legitimate right of everyone

    Perhaps those who are wavering can take courage from the example shown by:

    Neal Lawson, Compass
    Mark Serwotka, PCS
    Len McCluskey, Unite
    Paul Kenny, GMB
    Jeremy Dear, NUJ
    Liz Nelson, Tax Justice Network
    John, Hilary, War on Want
    Nick Dearden, Jubilee Debt Campaign
    Andy Egan, People & Planet
    John McDonnell MP, Labour Representation Committee

    and the MPs who didn’t fold when Cameron thundered:

    Tom Blenkinsop, Labour Party [Updated: another coward it seems]
    Ronnie Campbell, Labour Party
    Martin Caton, Labour Party
    Katy Clark, Labour Party
    Michael Connarty, Labour Party
    Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party
    David Crausby, Labour Party
    Jim Dobbin, Labour Party
    Mark Durkan, Social Democratic and Labour Party
    Jonathan Edwards, Plaid Cymru
    Jim Hood, Labour Party
    Kelvin Hopkins, Labour Party
    Gerald Kaufman, Labour Party
    Elfyn Llwyd, Plaid Cymru
    Caroline Lucas, Green Party
    John McDonnell, Labour Party
    Alan Meale, Labour Party
    Linda Riordan, Labour Party
    Virendra Sharma, Labour Party
    Marsha Singh, Labour Party
    Mike Weir, Scottish National Party
    Hywel Williams, Plaid Cymru

  4. An excellent article – I hope people from all sides of the left take its message to heart, because we need to.

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