Saturday 26 March 2011

Impressions from London: which side are you on?

I’ve just got back from the great anti-cuts march in London. Estimates of numbers are still confused – the number most often cited is 250,000, although the Guardian claims half a million. One of the most paradoxical aspects of attending a demonstration of this size is that while you’re there, you have no idea what’s happening on a larger scale; it takes leaving and reading the news to gain an impression of the whole. But I thought I should record a few impressions.
We got off the Unison coach at Euston and proceeded to ULU where we joined a students’ feeder march. Upon reaching Embankment, where we joined the main march and the trade unionists, the previously tense atmosphere, changed markedly. The mood was one of cheerful defiance as we moved on to Parliament Square and from there to Trafalgar Square. (Being the largest demonstration I’ve ever attended, it was also the slowest.) The news reports will tell you about ‘protesters’, as if these were isolated people; but the overwhelming impression on the ground was that we were with the working class, union banner by union banner. And what banners! We were near the CWU and (massive) RMT contingents most of the time, and they were not alone in having the most fantastic and individual banners for local sections, clearly painstakingly sewn and painted; many were decades old but clearly beloved. I – and as a child of the bourgeoisie I felt like an imposter – was quite overwhelmed by the pride these workers had in their self-organisation, their struggles and their past: many banners referenced the labour tradition. There was great solidarity between the unions as well, a shared sense of having come here to defend working people. When I say ‘working people’, I include teachers and others in accordance with the Marxian tradition – a sense that will hopefully be revived as all who need to work for their living come together to resist the class warfare of this government.

What I mean to say is that there was love: a recognition that public services are an expression of love for one another, and a willingness to smile and talk to total strangers recognised as comrades. Sure, the usual suspects were around: in Hyde Park the CPGB-ML, the CPB, the SWP and the SP had their stalls quite close together. There were plenty of hooded activists, but the day was not about destruction of property (which I do not oppose), unlike the student demonstrations. Instead, it was dominated by this peaceful celebration of the working class. I hope that the march will have helped create a working-class sense of solidarity that goes far beyond any individual cut but recognises the government as attacking working people as a whole. The fight-back must begin in practical terms very soon. There need to be occupations of government buildings and of public spaces, actual disruption of the smooth running of the machinery of power. Defeating the cuts practically is the only way to honour this country’s great tradition of working-class struggles.

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