The “End Austerity Now” demonstration on Saturday 20 June will be an opportunity for thousands of labour movement, community, student, anti-cuts and left activists to come together and regain confidence that opposition to the Tories is urgent, necessary and possible.
But when we go home, let us also organise meetings, to discuss what we need to do next.
One of the central reasons the Tories feel able to do what they plan — to massively curtail the right to strike, to make deeper cuts in benefits, to keep our NHS short of staff — is that trade union leaders absolutely failed to fight during the last five years of coalition government.
The labour movement had a chance to mount a more-or-less united battle over changes and cuts to public sector pensions in 2011; that fight was de-escalated, and eventually sold out. A fight over public sector pay in 2014 took the same course, with perfunctory one-day strikes and demonstrations that failed to organise action that could break the pay freeze.
At the same time fantastic campaigns by Living Wage activists, housing campaigners and disability rights campaigners did not have the wholehearted support of the millions-strong, well-resourced trade union movement. It was support that could so easily have been given.
If we want to get rid of the Tories and all they stand for we have to make our movement fight. We need to stop token one-day strikes. We need to be on our guard against delaying the fight until “the next time”: the next time will never come. Every campaign, every local dispute, every strike must be given backing and helped to win. To make that happen, what do we need to fight for?
• Put pressure on union leaders to back workers every time they face job and wage cuts. Too often union leaders give in without any kind of fight. They do this not because it is “unrealistic” to fight, but because high-up well-paid union leaders feel under threat when ordinary members take action.
So to get union leaders to fight we need unions in which local branches can make their own decisions on strikes and other kinds of industrial action. All union officers and organisers should be elected, be accountable to members and paid an average workers’ wage. The union should belong to its members!
• Begin a campaign to stop the planned assault on union rights, starting with a mass street demonstration. In strike ballots the Tories want to count non-voters as voting against. Strike ballots will also be invalid if the turnout is less than 50%. But ballot votes for strikes should follow the same rules for other votes! If the unions do not fight this fundamentally undemocratic proposal the Tories will be able to do anything they like to us: drive down our wages, cut back on safety at work, make us work harder.
• In the next three months we can use Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign in the election for the next Labour Party leader to build political support against the cuts, for the NHS, against anti-union laws and for migrants’ rights.
• Organise the unorganised! Trade union, student union and community activists should be advocates for the work of campaigns like “Hungry for Justice”, a campaign for fast food workers’ rights, sponsored by the Bakers’ union. That means strengthening and deepening local solidarity work and not just for unorganised workers, but also for every strike that takes place; such as long-running Glasgow homelessness workers’ dispute, or strikes by further education workers in London. No worker should feel isolated when they go on strike.
• Restart and rebuild local anti-cuts groups, linked to these trade union campaigns, support campaigns against the many cuts that will be pushed through by local councils.
• Finally we must develop policies and demands that can link struggles against benefit cuts, privatisations and injustice at work with a struggle against capitalism and for working-class social power, such as expropriate the banks and tax the rich; mass programme of council house building; free education; end the scapegoating of migrants and open the borders. Such demands can help develop our political imaginations — and raise the possibility that society can be better, more equal more just.
This is the spirit we need to sustain us as we fight the Tory government in the coming months.