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How can we unite the anti-cuts movement?

With a number of trade unions lining up to strike together against the coalition government’s attacks, there is a burning need to unite all existing anti-cuts campaigns into an all-Britain anti-cuts federation, writes Joy Macready

The mass strikes on the horizon are a major opportunity to strike a decisive blow against the Tories, and can mark a turning point in the fight against cuts.

They present an opportunity to the just short of 200 anti-cuts groups that have been set up in every locality, from Aberdeen Against Austerity to the Cornwall Anti-cuts Alliance, to combine the direct action and community-based protests that many groups have successfully held, with industrial action too.

Local anti-cuts groups can help to coordinate the actions of different sections of workers, by building cross-union networks of activists, and linking them with the local community.

By doing this, striking workers have the confidence that local communities and service users are on their side, while local communities have the most powerful weapon of protest– strike action – backing up their campaigns.

If we can do this locally, and many anti-cuts groups are, then why not nationally?

The answer is that we can – and we must – by building an all-Britain anti-cuts federation that can link up and coordinate our actions nationwide, and become an organising centre for the struggle against the government.

Yet today we are faced with several competing national anti-cuts campaigns. How can we unite them?

National campaigns

Out of the three main national anti-cuts campaigns, two of them are strongly associated with Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party: the National Shop Stewards Network, and the Right to Work campaign respectively. The other major campaign is the Coalition of Resistance. All these campaigns have their strengths, and also their weaknesses.

The Right to Work Campaign is perhaps the most radical of the campaigns, and calls for a general strike to bring down the Tories. It is dominated and run by the SWP, and because of this has never really managed to bring in forces outside of the party and its existing periphery. When the potential to establish a broader alliance presented itself, in the form of the Coalition of Resistance appeal, the SWP held back, arguing that the focus should be on existing campaigns, “such as Right to Work”.

The competition with the Coalition of Resistance (set up in the first instance by Counterfire and its supporters within the Stop the War Coalition, but later joined by a number of other left groups, campaigns, and the Unite union), led the two campaigns to sign a “non-aggression pact” so they would avoid clashing meetings and holding events too close together.

Of course, there was nothing wrong with this in principle, if it was a step towards a fully united campaign. The danger with the so-called “pact”, is that it doesn’t take us any closer to this, but does mean that the SWP, on the one hand, can continue to build their own campaign, and on the other hand means that the leadership of the Coalition of Resistance isn’t challenged by the more radical positions of Right to Work / SWP in the context of a national, united movement.

Coalition of Resistance’s growing profile in the anti-movement, spreading a strong “stop the cuts” message on the TUC demonstration, and bringing on board different forces are certainly big strengths. But it has not yet developed a perspective for drawing in and becoming an organising centre for the local anti-cuts groups, or assertively pushing for the unity we need in the movement.

At the COR conference we will be arguing for an open meeting for all the anti cuts committees and organisations in the country to come together and for a delegate based federation.

The National Shop Stewards Network has links to many industrial workers, shop-stewards and trade union activists. But under the stewardship of the Socialist Party it has been sectarian towards the other national anti-cuts campaigns, refusing to unite with them and has an uncritical relationship with middle-ranking trade union officials. It is important that any anti-cuts campaign does bring in local and national trade union leaders, and their members, to build the strongest anti-cuts coalition. But socialists must be free to criticise union leaders and officials when they duck the fight or hold back action.

The National Shop Stewards Network suffered a split when the Socialist Party forced through a motion to form a new national anti-cuts campaign at their conference last year, in opposition to all the existing anti-cuts campaigns. This caused all non- Socialist Party members to vote against and leave the campaign.


When different political groups, trade unions and activists can work together in anti-cuts campaigns at the local level, there is simply no principled reason why it can’t be done nationally – it’s only a question of will.

All political disagreements in the movement need to debated out openly within a united anti-cuts federation. We need to put the goals of the movement first, not the short term organisational advantages this or that campaign.

Regionally, local anti-cuts groups are already starting to coordinate their actions. To do this nationally, bringing in all the national campaigns too, is the way to unite everyone to beat the Tories – in a campaign that has total freedom of debate and discussion, but unity in action.

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