12 May Trades Union Congress demonstration report

The demonstration

The Anarchist Communist Group comments on the recent TUC demonstration in London.

The demonstration organised by the Trades Union Congress in London on May 12th attracted tens of thousands from around England and Wales. It included large contingents of postal workers, rail workers, transport workers and seafarers, firefighters, health workers, shop and store workers, white collar workers in the civil service and other government agencies, teachers, etc., who marched under the banners of ASLEF, CWU, FBU, GMB, NAS-UWT, NEA, PCS, RCM, RMT, UCU, Unite, Unison, USDAW. Mobilisation for this was done primarily through union branches, the Morning Star paper and the various leftist organisations, with little or no street publicity.

What is the significance of this, the biggest demonstration in London in years?
The TUC pushed a New Deal in language reminiscent of the American New Deal of the 1930s and the old “a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work”. The demands of this New Deal are:

1. We need a minimum wage of £10 an hour, now
2. Ban those exploitative zero hours contracts
3. Fund our NHS and public services properly
4. Repeal the trade union act which makes it harder for us to stand up for working people
5. Crack down on tax dodgers who starve our schools and hospitals of funding

In addition, the leadership of unions like the postal workers union, CWU, who seem to be a main architect of this New Deal, are talking about the end of zero hour contracts, fixed-term contracts, short-term contracts and specific event contracts, as well as the need to appeal to the young and organise unemployed workers.

The trade union bureaucrats in the TUC and allied unions are seeking ways of restoring their importance within the Labour Party and dream of the good old days of beer and sandwiches with Labour government leaders. They also wish to strengthen and reinforce the hold of Corbynism over the Labour Party. They are also concerned about the shrinkage of trade unions, which will affect their positions in the TU bureaucracies. They are responding to this by the merger of unions and by recruiting drives. The talk about organising unorganised workers is in response to the relative success of the base unions (CAIWU, IWGB, IWW, and UVW) in organising workers often neglected and considered “unorganisable” by the mainstream trade unions.

At the same time, the large turnout on this demonstration shows a mounting anger within the working class in the UK against privatisation, wage freezes, work conditions and attacks on pensions and social services. The trade union bureaucrats need to respond to this by the usual safety valve of an A-B march. In addition they are talking about raising the need for a day of action at the approaching TUC Congress. This day of action would take place “early in the New Year”!

Cast your minds back to the TUC Congress in 2010 where there was much talk about militant action and finally a day in March the following year (!) was assigned. There were half a million on that march on March 26th 2011. Again it was the usual A to B march with nothing achieved. The same thing happened in July 2014 with another A to B march, followed by days of action and strikes called by trade unions on different days (!) in October of the same year. The safety valve tactic was used once again and the TUC maintained a radical aura by talking militant (and actually doing nothing). Meanwhile the attacks on the NHS, pensions, wages and work conditions have continued without letup.

Workers have gone into action without waiting for the trade union bureaucrats to tell them what to do and they have done this all over the world. The trade union bureaucrats and their allies in the UCU Left sabotaged the recent university lecturers' strike. Workers have to start organising at a grassroots level. We should not wait for a worthless day of action or the possible election of a Corbyn government at some point in the future. We need to rely on our own strength, solidarity and organisation.

Final thoughts
Apart from ACG comrades distributing propaganda there was no visible presence of anarchists. This is not surprising taking into consideration the increasingly marginalised and ghettoised "anarchist" "movement" in the UK. Nor was there the presence of a Radical Workers Bloc as on previous TUC demos. Serious class struggle anarchists need to fight this malaise, look for unity with those of a similar mind, and increasingly turn away from the anarchist ghetto and face outwards towards our class.

Original article on the ACG website

Comments

Mike Harman
May 17 2018 22:11
Cooked wrote:
How come some libcommers, including Mike Harman, constantly use good organizing on important issues as examples of identity politics just because they deal with race, gender issues etc.

I wrote this blog about it. I'd also recommend Robin Kelley from 1997.

I am personally trying not to use the term 'identity politics' at all these days, except as a response to people doing so without defining what the fuck they're talking about, which is unfortunately very often.

Cooked wrote:
Thing is I haven't seen that definition of identity politics used by anyone critical of idpol (on libcom) Where does this 'new' expanded definition of idpol come from?

If we take the Combahee River Collective statement statement as the origination of the term, it's the original definition. Similarly, concepts like 'privilege' or 'whiteness' comes from W.E.B. Du Bois, Ignatiev etc., not American college students.

Cooked wrote:
Is it from mainstream/right wing media (where I've seen it) or has there been afk things that suggest libcommers hold these views and reject organising on these topics?

Well there is meerov, on the forums.

Or for pieces on the site, Adolph Reed argues against anti-racism as a political praxis (because he's an economistic social democrat at least in terms of his programmatic politics), and he in turn gets cited by a lot of communists. Hence the blog I wrote focusing on him.

I'd also add, if someone is talking about anarchists retreating into identity politics, then you would expect even those anarchists being accused of the retreat to acknowledge class struggle and not hiring more women border guards or celebrating having women prime ministers and CEOs.

Sometimes people (i.e. meerov at least) are arguing against autonomous organising (black caucuses, women's caucuses) but in a previous thread Serge at least said he was fine with those.

You could argue that something like Repeal the 8th in Ireland is reformist (it's literally a campaign for a legal reform), but no-one is making arguments against that afaik.

So this brings up the question if we are not talking about those things, either the very worst 'Margaret Thatcher had a womb' or 'put a woman on a banknote', or conversely the positive stuff, what is that we're talking about? I regularly give examples of people organising around race or gender issues, because I think that is useful when terms are abstract and mis-used to go back to concrete examples and then work back to the abstract from there. But whenever I do that, I get accused of being like the RCP (ironic given what Furedi et al get up to these days).

Sadie
May 18 2018 06:45
Cooked wrote:
How come some libcommers, including Mike Harman, constantly use good organizing on important issues as examples of identity politics just because they deal with race, gender issues etc.

This has happened on plenty of threads recently. Thing is I haven't seen that definition of identity politics used by anyone critical of idpol (on libcom) Where does this 'new' expanded definition of idpol come from?

Is it from mainstream/right wing media (where I've seen it) or has there been afk things that suggest libcommers hold these views and reject organising on these topics? It looks to me like there has been a huge shift in how some people use the term where the people using the old meaning seem to be critical of it and people using the 'new' meaning support it but they aren't talking about the same thing.

We should do a poll.
Do you support id pol
yes [ ]
no [ ]

Maybe the onus should be on the people claiming that the anarchist movement is being ruined by “identity politics” to provide some concrete examples of what that actually means instead of losing their shit when people try to guess what they’re getting at.

Edit: I mean it’s actually about exactly what ticking_fool said earlier, tbf, but if we’re going to pretend it isn’t then it’d help to know what we’re pretending it is about.

Spikymike
May 18 2018 09:44

The discussion did get a bit 'snarky' for sure, but really ticking_fool has taken it to a new lower level and certainly doesn't need support here from other protagonists in the earlier AF split!

Fall Back
May 18 2018 10:04

Maybe just me, but I'd take ticking fool's passionate exposure of the background of ACG politics over empty pleas that everyone be friends or hold dispassionate cold discussion on the astral plane any day of the week.

Sorry lads, nothing exists in a vacuum.

Mike Harman
May 18 2018 10:27

@cooked so quick addendum. Apologies for walking back through the thread, but really this is as good an example as anywhere of the kind of 'identity politics is bad', 'no I don't mean that I mean something else' evasiveness that is endemic in these discussions.

Battlescarred wrote:
And meanwhile class struggle is seen as just one of many in a pick and mix bag of oppressions

If we look at Sisters Uncut's feministo, it has this line:

Sisters Uncut wrote:
To secure safety for survivors, we must also fight the other forms of oppression that we face. As intersectional feminists we understand that a person’s individual experience of violence is affected by interconnecting and mutually reinforcing systems of oppression. These include but are not limited to: sexism, racism, anti-blackness, classism, disableism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, transmisogyny, whorephobia, fat-phobia, islamophobia, and antisemitism. We fight for the safety of all of our siblings: we work in solidarity with the movements for trans liberation and sex worker rights.

So classism listed amongst other identity-based oppressions. I forgot about that specific sentence when responding, so didn't quote it (probably would have been better if I'd remembered then and not now), but did ask this:

Mike Harman wrote:
Or when Sisters Uncut campaigns against cuts to domestic violence services which one is it then? Do you have an example of people organising or focusing on pick and mix oppressions to the detriment of class struggle, if you think those examples are broadly positive?

And the response from Serge:

Serge Forward wrote:
Good grief. The RCP used to argue just like that back in the day. Criticise one thing and get falsely aligned with all sorts of reactionary garbage.

And from BattleScarred:

BattleScarred wrote:
But you do sound like the RCP and when have we ever seen you inolved in any sort of struggle in London, which you seem to be an expert on?

So apparently Sisters Uncut aren't an example of this 'pick and mix' approach to oppressions, even though their feministo has a sentence that could be characterised as putting class as one of many oppressions among others. But if you'd written that sentence (and it's very possible that Sisters Uncut members are reading this discussion or might come across it later), you might think it's talking about your group. Serge and Battlescarred might not have read Sisters Uncut's feministo, and they haven't offered a straightforward opinion of the group here, but I just re-read it again and might as well talk about it while we're here:

If we read that sentence sympathetically and in context, then while the word 'classism' is not great (I see it most often from public school headmasters writing op-eds saying there's discrimination against posh people), it is probably referring to something like "someone with no savings, who is unemployed or low waged, can experience domestic violence differently to someone earning £45k/year who owns their own flat" or "someone perceived as working class or lumpen can be treated very differently by the state than someone with a professional job and masters degree". Which definitely income and social class do affect people's support networks, access to services, ability to leave abusive partners, treatment by police, and all kinds of other things.

So maybe when people list stuff like that, they're trying to talk about class composition (something which would go back to SpikeyMike's point about 'class identity' around occupation/status and similar), rather than mixing up the commodity form/wage labour and patriarchy.

But then out of context, you could see that being used in something like university admissions i.e. the 'get more working class and BME kids into Cambridge PPE courses by building new grammar schools' sort of thing, where class composition is not what's being discussed, but instead social mobility. Or when people talk about getting more 'working class MPs'.

If that line was in the AF's A&Ps I might criticise it quite sharply, because it would be shorn of its context of experience of domestic violence, and I'd expect a communist organisation to be clear about the difference between class composition (which might include things like income and social class alongside race and gender) and class in terms of exploitation via wage labour/commodity form (and better expressed than the sentence I've just written too, but that sort of thing). But I'd also probably see that as a symptom of 1. it being quite difficult to express all these concepts clearly and consistently since we all tend to slip between communist vs. colloquial uses of them 2. people's political education not always being as good as it should be 3. it being easy to talk at cross-purposes. So even then, it would make sense to try to clarify all those things, rather than angry shrugging about it.