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Coalition of Resistance: National Council agrees to fight ALL the cuts

Coalition of Resistance: National Council agrees to fight all the cuts

Andrew Burgin of Stop the War opened the first meeting of the National Council with a statement of solidarity with the Tunisian uprising, saying, “It is only a matter of time before the police kill someone here,” referring to student Alfie Meadows and disabled journalist, Jody McIntyre, whose police attackers still roam free, in uniform.

The Coalition of Resistance was established last November, when 1,300 activists gathered in London at the height of the student revolt. This potential for mass support has encouraged COR to coordinate with the People’s Charter, Right to Work, Black Activists Rising Against Cuts, South East region TUC, Unite and the Trade Union Co-ordinating Group.

Seventy of the 122 delegates elected to the NC met in London on Saturday 15 January, including a delegate from Unite national office – which drew warm applause when he introduced himself. Lindsay German (Stop the War), Paul Mackney (ex-General Secretary of Natfhe), Alex Kenny (NUT), Chris Bambery (RTW) and Dot Gibson (National Pensioners Convention) were there, as well as leaders in the new youth movement, John Bowman (Workers Power and Ncafc), Mark Bergfeld and Clare Soloman and a disabled activist.

If the Labour Representation Committee had not had its AGM that same day, maybe more would have come. However, this impressive breadth of representation was not reflected in the demographics: white, mostly middle aged, with few blue collar workers.

The morning’s discussion centred on coordinated strike action, the need for community led mass action, police violence and cuts by councils, the NHS and the civil service. Alex Kenny updated us on progress towards coordinated strike action against attacks on public sector pensions, while John Bowman promoted a student protest in support of EMA on Wenesday 19 January and Dot Gibson a CWU protest against Royal Mail privatisation.

What united everybody was the focal point provided by the TUC’s 26 March demonstration and the need to make the most of it, opposition to all the cuts, including those made by Labour councils, alongside a willingness to work with allies in all anti-cuts battles, even those who do not (yet) oppose every attack on working people.

Disagreements, though, there certainly were on the relationship between rank and file workers and trade union officials, between strike action and other forms of struggle and over whether to stand anti-cuts candidates against pro-cuts Labour candidates (the NC voted not to encourage anticuts candidates to stand – partly because it would potentially split the movement, but also because we should bring the fight inside the Labour Party and demand all Labour candidates pledge to fight the cuts). These debates sharpened in the afternoon, when amendments to the COR Declaration were taken.

Workers Power amendments
Workers Power had tabled two amendments, calling for industrial action with the officials where possible, without them where necessary, and in favour of a general strike. Both questions are crucial ones for the whole anti-cuts movement and the trade unions in particular.

Unofficial action is made necessary by the anti-union laws, which stop effective strikes time and again, often over minute details, by employers, who can swiftly make redundancies and close facilities before official resistance can be organised and by trade union officials, who reach no-strike agreements with the bosses, refuse to fight voluntary redundancies or call off strikes “for talks”, which then “break down” once the momentum has been lost.

We have to rouse the widest possible anger against the cuts by patiently explaining how they will affect the great majority of us:
• Two and a half million are unemployed with 1.2 million expected to join them. At the same time, benefits are being cut, with more severe sanctions for refusing unsuitable work and work-for-your-dole schemes.
• Council rents will rise to 80% of private rents, mortgages expected to climb by an average of £200 a month and council services are being shredded.
• VAT and fuel and food hikes will make the pay freeze and pension and benefit cuts bite deeper. In the past year, median (average) pay has fallen by £5,000 to £21,000.

Mass lobbies, meetings and demos – including direct action and civil disobedience – will take place, as they did against the Iraq war. But will they directly lead to workers taking strike action, linking up their strikes and forcing a general strike?

If they don’t, the danger is that our resistance will fragment and each section will fight alone. If they do, then we can stop all the cuts by bringing down the government.

Not only is a general strike the highest form of coordinated strike action, it is by its nature a political strike, enabling every section of the working class and exploited to join in its wake. For example, in Spain last year, grandparents declared they were also going “on strike” during the general strike. To those at the NC, who argued the general strike was not appropriate because only a minority are in trade unions, we stressed that the unions had to lead the whole of the working class because they represented the best organised workers.

The TUC demonstration on 26 March is likely to be huge, and will show the breadth of support across many spectrums of society for a campaign that can beat the cuts. In the run up to the protest, millions of people will be asking “what next” – and debates around the general strike will not easily be swept under the carpet.

Unfortunately, the debate was disrupted by poor chairing and loud heckling by those who did not want to hear the discussion, and the vote was lost, with only the Socialist Workers Party and a small minority in support.

A motion calling for the National Steering Committee to be based upon local anticuts campaigns was also defeated.

Nevertheless, the NC ended on a positive note, with a Tunisian speaker giving a passionate account of the past few days. Despite between 80 and 100 protesters having been killed by the police and army, the people have continued to protest – and the decisive moment came when a general strike toppled the corrupt president, Ben Ali.

However, the comrade stressed that the regime had not yet fallen. More still had to be done to ensure the people’s democratic and economic demands were met in full. He left us with a slogan from Tunisia that could well be taken up here: “Enough is enough!” Or as they say in the Tunisian dialect of Arabic: “Yezzi Fock!” – which seemed to please a number of comrades in the hall, not least Andrew Burgin in the chair.

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