The Scottish TUC has called an all-Scotland anti-cuts demonstration for Saturday 1 October, in Glasgow.
After the summer lull following the TUC demonstration in London in March and the public sector strikes at the end of June, the demonstration provides a welcome focus to re-vitalise anti-cuts campaigning.
The demonstration will also be taking place in what could prove to be the run-up to widespread strike action in November, possibly involving the PCS and the EIS (the Scottish teachers union), which recently agreed to ballot its members on the issue of pensions.
Over the next three weeks trade unionists and anti-cuts activists need to prioritise building the biggest possible turnout for the demonstration. Last October’s demonstration in Edinburgh saw 20,000 on the march. This October’s demonstration should be even bigger.
But there are real problems with the STUC’s political strategy.
At an STUC rally held in February to mobilise support for the following month’s TUC demonstration in London a number of speakers — trade union Scottish Regional Secretaries — advocated the creation of an anti-cuts campaign along the lines of the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly (CSA).
The CSA was set up by the STUC in 1980. It was a cross-party campaign which brought together trade unionists and clerics, celebrities and dissident Tories. When the then Labour MP Dennis Canavan attacked Tory spending cuts at its founding rally, he was shouted down for making a political speech.
In 1989, the CSA gave birth to the Scottish Constitutional Convention (SCC). Like the CSA before it, the SCC emphasised its breadth (its steering committee included representatives of Scottish business) rather than political clarity and a focus on popular mobilisation.
Decision-making by the SCC was based on lowest-common-denominator consensus rather than political argument and voting.
The anti-cuts demonstration of 1 October, as advocated at the STUC rally last February, is part of a strategy to recreate such an alliance, but this time in relation to public spending cuts rather than the creation of a Scottish Parliament.
The STUC initially launched the ambiguously titled “There is a Better Way” campaign as its anti-cuts initiative. This has now given rise to the “People First” campaign, in whose name the demonstration on 1 October is being organised.
The STUC’s stated aim is to “include other civic partners and organisations as formal partners and supporters of People First.”
Alongside the Right to Work Campaign and the Coalition of Resistance, the current list of sponsors of People First includes the Church of Scotland, the United Reformed Church, the Muslim Council of Scotland, Church Action on Poverty — and the Salvation Army.
(The Salvation Army’s explanation of recent riots may not prove to be universally popular. According to its paper, War Cry:
“Godlessness is to blame. Our increasingly secular, self-centred and materialistic society is reaping what it has sown. Britain has been desensitising its Christian moral compass. ... People reject God. They don’t want God mentioned. And this is the mess that results.”)
Instead of raising slogans in defence of all jobs and against all cuts, the demonstration aims to “Protect the Hardest Hit Through Decent Services and Fair Benefits!” (so those who are badly hit, but not amongst the hardest hit, will just have to grin and bear it?) and “Build Stronger Communities for All!” (a slogan so vague that even David Cameron could support it).
The left of the anti-cuts movement should combine building for the biggest possible turnout on 1 October with promoting debate about the centrality of trade unions and industrial action to anti-cuts campaigning, and about the need to step up anti-cuts campaigning in the Labour Party.