Yesterday there was a march in Glasgow about one of the most rousing, galvanising issues for years; a few thousand people quick stepped from Glasgow Green to George Square along back streets to oppose the bedroom tax. It was called by the “West of Scotland Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation” which seeks to “unite community and other anti-Bedroom Tax campaigns into a West of Scotland federation of opposition leading eventually to an all Scotland campaign of opposition” (http://socialistunity.com/bin-the-bedroom-tax-campaign-launched-in-glasgow/)
Given the widespread anger that the bedroom tax has evoked, why were there relatively few on the march? Where were the hundreds of thousands in the West of Scotland who are passionately opposed to the bedroom tax? Well not under the empty umbrella of the “West of Scotland Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation” which called yesterday’s demo, that’s for sure!
For years now we’ve had a familiar pattern of lefties deciding that what is needed is to “Unite the Resistance” in order to coordinate the wider working class as we fight these latest attacks on us. Worthy figures like Tony Benn head up a “Coalition of Resistance” as an “umbrella organisation to bring together the local and national campaigns to defend the education, NHS, pensions, housing and the Welfare State” (http://www.coalitionofresistance.org.uk/2012/03/appeal-from-tony-benn-president-of-the-coalition-of-resistance/). Surely what we need to be doing in these days of austerity and assaults on our living conditions is to network groups together, to make the connections and work with “trade union, student, pensioner and community opposition to austerity measures” (http://www.coalitionofresistance.org.uk/2011/05/what-is-the-coalition-of-resistance-and-what-does-it-do/)?
The trouble is that … well these local campaigning groups that the lefties have rather self-importantly decided that they will coordinate … well they barely exist. At least in Glasgow they are scarce, meagre, barely existing on the ground especially compared to the size and scope of the attacks. These semi-mythical creatures that the lefties seek to unite from the top down, are actually rare pearls in an ocean of passive despondency. This “trade union, student, pensioner and community opposition to austerity measures” that the legends speak of is so pitifully rare that it is the same campaigns that get drawn on over and over again.
In Glasgow we have the Save the Accord campaign which was actually just a handful of carers and service users of a day centre for adults with learning disabilities that Glasgow City Council (GCC) decided was less important than a coach park for the Commonwealth Games. The campaign itself is incredibly important and inspiring as the Accord Centre was a vital service for a very vulnerable group with a high level of need. Many of the carers are elderly (their children with learning disabilities grew up but have never stopped needing their parents) and just being a service user or full-time carer precludes much time, energy and other capacity for campaigning. However similar assaults by GCC on services for vulnerable people throughout Glasgow have passed without a flicker of a fightback and it is to the credit to the Save the Accord campaign (https://twitter.com/savetheaccord) that this attack was forced into wider awareness. However this does not excuse the almost parasitic relationship that lefty umbrella groups have had with it.
Instead of pompously deciding that we will sit on some Glasgow/West of Scotland organising committee from which lofty heights we will steer the local platoons around the battlefield like players in a giant game of Risk, what is actually needed is the basic work of building from scratch local groups and campaigns that can be the genuine grass-roots buds of a better world. This is not glamorous. It does not give us grand titles such as “interim secretary of the West of Scotland organising committee” (http://socialistunity.com/bin-the-bedroom-tax-campaign-launched-in-glasgow/) but rather involves spending hours knocking on thousands of doors, talking to – shock horror – people who aren’t already politicised and don’t know the rules of the game of revolution (for Marx’s sake don’t ever mention the emperor’s nekkid!) It means listening more than talking. It requires transcending the existing, fruitless habits of lefties with their A-B marches, meetings organised online and predictable speaker lists with choreographed applause and cheers. It means not just trying to educate our wider class about how you cannae trust politicians and bosses with patronising, dishonest and disingenuous mock-surprise when politicians are shown to be the lying self-serving bastards that actually everyone in the working class already knows them to be. But working to build up the empowerment, hope and solidarity in ourselves, our communities and our wider class. After all this is probably the reason why people decide to not bother wasting their energy in the assumed to be vain hope that we can make a difference.
Rather than using the few and far between local campaign groups to attempt to legitimise an empty umbrella, organise in your own community, workplace or around the issue that gets you truly going. If you feel this is beyond you, give genuine support and get involved with something already existing. Please get in touch with us firstname.lastname@example.org if you are in this position but don’t know of any suitable local groups and we’ll try and help you. Because in our experience of local organising there is never a shortage of practical tasks that need done.
Liverpool is leading the way in genuinely combating the bedroom tax with ‘tenant-led community groups organising for themselves’. “It is up to us, our friends, our neighbours, our communities to stand together in working class unity, without politicians or councillors, and combat this attack on working class people, on what it means to have a home and to be a human being. Tenants have reached the point now were they are swerving the disempowering and ‘traditional’ methods of protest –And we don’t need parliament stooges calling us to action. We’ll do that ourselves.” (http://combatbedroomtax.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/combat-bedroom-tax-in-liverpool.html)
Then, once we have actual, real local and campaign groups, then is the time that these groups can make contact with each other and organise themselves into a genuine federation that can support each other’s struggles with the practical solidarity that is really needed. And we can really start to not just fight back against the bedroom tax and other austerity measures, but blossom communities of strength, resilience and hope for a better world.
Also exemplifying how out of touch the West Scotland “Federation” are, one of the speakers at yesterday’s rally was rape apologist Dave Sherry. When some women in the crowd heckled him they were leapt on by the official stewards. http://athousandflowers.net/2013/03/31/this-is-a-tax-demo-why-dont-you-go-back-to-your-rape-demo/