Thursday, 16 December 2010

Keeping Sight of the Bigger Picture in Fightback

Rather than report on all the detailed information that was given by speakers at last night's Brent Fightback meeting, useful though it was, I would like to look at the themes that emerged.

The major theme was that the present round of cuts should be seen in historical context as a second stage in  the attempted reversal of the post-war settlement that began with Thatcherism and continued under New Labour. The current ConDem stage, using privatisation and marketisation of  the public sector, represents the dismantling of the welfare state as we know it.

Another theme is the Government's success, aided by Labour's ambivalence on the issue, of creating hegemony on the need to reduce the deficit, reduce it quickly and therefore the need for public sector cuts. All assumptions in this need to be challenged.  I called for us to make the argument that the cuts are not necessary and put forward an alternative perspective, including investment in a green economy (made more difficult by the cut in the Green Bank announced this week), rather than just react to each new cut as it comes along. Jamie Ritchie, from Brent Law Centre, put it eloquently when he said that he thought that the basis for making the cuts will be revealed as 'as big a lie' as that which justified the war on Iraq and one that used the same kind of methods.

This hegemony was revealed when the meeting debated the role of the Labour council. Phil O'Reilly of Unison after outlining the extent of council cuts  said she wanted to work with Labour councillors, but later admitted that the Council sometimes made this quite hard. George Fraser of the GMB stated unequivocally that the cuts were going to happen and that his role was to make sure that, in terms of the workforce, they were implemented fairly and the way to do this was to work with the Council. Speakers from the floor challenged this and called for a much more forceful stand against cuts by Labour councillors and, following the election of a swathe of Labour councils across London, for them to stand together to resist the cuts. The GLC's resistance to Thatcher under Ken Livingstone was cited as a good example and it was suggested that a 'Plan of Minimum Resistance' on the main issues should be drawn up.

Cllr Janice Long (Labour), after admitting that Brent Labour was 'not what it once was', pointed out that the Council needed to cuts £98m over the next four years and that if they didn't do so they would be removed from office. If people concentrated on fighting the Council they might win that battle but they would lose the war. She pleaded, "Fight with the Council against the Government. It's a war - fight the war: not the battle."

Many speakers praised the young people who have taken part in recent demonstrations for their militancy and their inventiveness. Unfortunately young people were not well represented at the meeting with the majority present over 60 and male. The movement will really take off when the social network organised young people and the more traditionally organised over 60s are joined by the parents of young families who will be hit by unemployment, housing benefit cuts, Surestart centres closing and education cuts amongst many others. Involving them in the movement is our next big challenge.

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