BIGGER CAGES/LONGER CHAINS: The March for the Alternative

DSG aimed to publish posts and propaganda from various sources as provocation and stimulation. The following text was produced by a London-based Trade Unionist. It is credited to “Luther Blissett”.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on January 25, 2012

As we approach this Saturday’s “March for the Alternative”, the prospective number of attendees looks increasingly promising. TUC press releases continue to estimate around 100,000 people, but it’s now looking like we might be seeing many tens of thousands more than that. But it’s not just numbers the TUC have underestimated- it’s the anger of the rank and file trade unionists they represent. Whilst the TUC have been incredibly slow to mobilise towards this symbolic action, as working-class union members more and more of us feel like our unions have been lacklustre at best in offering a robust defence of the working-class in the face of the vandalism of the already degraded welfare state.

Whilst the “Big Two” unions (Unite and UNISON) continue to talk the language of social partnership, of a cooperation between the left and right-wings of management of labour, we’re left to swallow Labour cuts from Labour councils and see the support structures of our communities cut to ribbons. Under such circumstances, it’s no wonder we’re seeing much of our working-class radicalism happening well outside of the confines of our unions– the rhetoric of partnership painfully mismatches the virulent level of class-warfare the Tories are making explicit in their welfare state carve-up.

It seems increasingly that the TUC have a narrative for the days events, and they won’t let the anger or autonomous action of their members derail that. Trade Unionists are invited to attend in much the same way that Aaron Porter expected students to attend- politely, quietly, behind official slogans, as numbers. The narrative for the day (given away in the official name of the march) is not that of anger of 30 years of neo-liberal market reform and social policy– it’s that large numbers of working-class people still support and have faith in their unions and the Labour Party. Well– we don’t, and that’s not the weak, barely-alternative we’re marching for.

The affiliation of the TUC to the Labour Party seriously impedes any opportunity to launch widespread strikes against “austerity measures”. The Labour Party needs to continue to appeal to its interests- re-election to a parliament structured to inadequately represent the working-class in favour of a small number of middle-class constituencies. When almost 3 million British children live in poverty and bankers wave money at soon-to-be-jobless NHS workers, is talk of “the squeezed middle” not taking a holiday this year what we should expect from the official representatives of the workers movement? Is that a response which matches the injustices of life under capital for millions of us?

The Labour Party and the TUC bureaucracy have taken our votes and our numbers for granted for far too long. It is inevitable we will see a wide range of direct action on Saturday, from attempts to block the streets right up to occupations and economic blockades. Like our daughters and sons who took part in the valiant student protests last year, it’s looking increasingly unlikely we can expect much solidarity from the TUC towards those members who take part in these ever more popular actions. It might just be that in doing so, they are condemning themselves to “The Porter Option”, being left behind by an ever-more-militant rank and file, flailing between public (i.e. press) opinion and bureaucratic defence.

Given this, it’s perhaps wise for us to start enacting some real solidarity and self-organisation on Saturdays march. The TUC are estimating that marchers who leave from the official rallying point may have to wait up to 3 hours before finally moving off. Instead we can join some of the organised (but unofficial) feeder marches from other locations in London- the students from Malet St, or the South London workers and activist groups leaving from Kennington Park. Look out for your fellow marchers, and remember the stewards may be getting their orders straight from the police.

And more importantly, we can use the march as an opportunity to link up with other union members, activists students and start swapping tactics, our experience and practical resources and contacts to enable the struggle against austerity to pick up pace once the TUC march dies away. Rather than heading straight home, we should be visiting the student occupations that have started to spring up, and convergence centres that are planned across the capital. If we are to move beyond this lacklustre TUC narrative, we must start by building these links.

This started as a TUC march, and the efforts and resources they’ve put in to it must be acknowledged and appreciated, but it is now a march that reaches far beyond the limits of organised trade unionism. The TUC can no longer claim to own what happens on the day. It is to be a date for the expression of a new politicised generation within Britain. We should stand with our sisters and brothers in the Trade Union movement, but we should all acknowledge that the action that working class people will take may well stretch beyond the realms of what they feel comfortable supporting, and we would ask for solidarity, not condemnation, for that. All this talk of “unity” is overrated if it means a conservatism of action, an endless straight-jacket of the middle-ground- instead, we should seek not mindless unity behind symbolic action but a multiplicity of struggles and actions that strike directly at capital, the cause of this crisis and ultimately the cause of our exploitation.

If we are to move past dying bureaucracies and strike the blows needed to defend our class from capital then Saturday cannot be just another TUC mobilisation, a slow trudge to Hyde Park. It must be a day we remember, to proudly tell our grandchildren of.

Originally posted: March 22, 2011 at Deterritorial Support Group