The question of how to stop the Con-Dem government’s programme of cuts lay on the table, but remained unresolved at the massively attended Coalition of Resistance conference in London on Saturday.
Around 1,300 people from around the country thronged in and out of the overflowing conference hall to hear dozens of speakers in different parts of the building and nearby halls.
The opening plenary featured school students and heard the newly-elected UNITE leader Len McCluskey leader of Britain’s biggest trade union. McCluskey pointedly ignored calls by Bob Crow of the transport union RMT and Mark Serwotka of the PCS civil service union, who spoke in favour of co-ordinated strikes.
Earlier last week, McCluskey breathed fiery words calling for "an alliance of resistance" he claimed would “rock the establishment” and force the Con-Dem government to step back from its plans to "decimate the very fabric of the welfare state".
But, adhering to the Coalition of Resistance’s founding statement, which talks only of general “opposition” to cuts, the notion of taking effective action to disrupt the state’s plans, was not part of his script.
CoR co-founder former NATFHE General Secretary Paul Mackney said it was in transition from being a pressure group to becoming a mass movement. Its success, he said, will be measured not by “programmatic elegance but by the breadth of the movement” – implying that united action was everything and clarity of purpose unimportant.
There were a few references to the raging crisis in Ireland which brought together EU finance ministers in an emergency summit in Brussels yesterday. But in practice, participants struggled to go beyond the low-levels aims set out in the CoR’s founding documents. From the platform, there was a studious avoidance of using the “capitalism” and “crisis” in the same sentence.
In the “analysing the crisis” debate, a wide range of people discussed the nature of the crisis: was it only financial, was it deeper, was it systemic? Keynesian and Old Labour solutions such as increased state spending, more taxation flew thick and fast as did proposals for various levels of protest up to and including General Strike. Film maker Ken Loach, who denounced the trade union leaders and Ed Miliband, was one of the few to point out that there was a crisis of the capitalist system that could not be remedied by policies such as “taxing the rich”.
A group of campaigners from North East England put forward a resolution proposing a “representative structure based on democratically elected representatives from local/regional groups”. In the event, the 120 people were nominated to a national committee due to meet in the coming weeks.
The big turnout and open spirit of the conference, despite its generally limited politics, shows a huge willingness to build a united movement against the government. The ongoing campaign by school students, some of whom will be picketing with rail and tube workers in London today and rallying in Trafalgar Square tomorrow, shows the enormous determination of a new generation not to cave in and to take their struggle to the wire.
They, and millions of working class people who are being offered only mealy-mouthed words by their leaders, are owed a lot more than patronising support. They deserve a real explanation of the crisis and a way out of it that can mount a serious challenge to the bankrupt capitalist system.
The raging debt crisis in Ireland, which on Saturday saw 50,000 people on the streets of Dublin on a bitterly cold day, with their leaders calling for a “campaign of civil disobedience”, was up against the fact that the mainstream opposition parties are signed up to the same cuts as the discredited Fianna Fail-Green government.
Struggles around Europe – from Portugal to Ireland, from students to public sector workers – are up against the same brick wall. The strategy of taking the struggle against the cuts forward to the formation of People’s Assemblies that can become the vehicle for transforming economic and political relations, is the red-hot issue of the day. Come to the December 11 event and start to go beyond resistance.
A World to Win secretary