I won’t put a cherry on a turd - it’s been an appalling year in many ways. On the international front we’ve seen the bombing of Gaza, war in the Ukraine, the degeneration of what had started as a popular uprising in Syria into a sectarian proxy war, the emergence of ISIS and counterrevolution in Egypt. While in Britain the Con-Dem coalition has continued to unleash more outrageousness on public sector workers, the disabled, those on benefits. And resistance here has been disjointed, disconnected, incoherent.
There have been bright spots, which I’ll return to later, but on the industrial front, despite the rhetoric, union leaderships have by and large been useless, with no real coordination or generalisation of struggle. ‘So what else is new?’ I hear you cry. Individual groups of workers can put up determined resistance, like the Unite members at the Defence Support Group, Unison care workers, bus workers and firefighters, but there is no attempt by the leadership to pull these fights together into a serious struggle.
Rank and file workers so far have lacked the confidence to act independently, although there have been some unofficial walkouts, and the recall conference forced out of local government Unison in protest at the pay sellout is welcome. The refusal by union leaders to link up the strikes is to avoid embarrassing Labour as we enter an election period (mind you, one has to ask what their excuse was in preceding years), or, in the case of local government Unison, to avoid putting local Labour councils on the spot. The danger for us of endless token one-day strikes and protests that the bosses can easily ride out is the risk of demoralisation and disillusionment among union members, or in the case of Unison, members arguing to leave the union altogether. This can result in a passivity that can easily be manipulated by the leadership and that fits the electoral politics of Labour like a glove.
But people are resisting and will resist, one way or another. The attacks are coming so thick and fast that resistance is forced on us. Obviously industrial action is our most powerful weapon, but campaigns based in the community also have potential. Over in Ireland the attempt to introduce water charges has been met by a huge protest movement, with marches in Dublin of 100,000 (the equivalent of 1.5 million marching in London) in October and 200,000 in total in various towns in November, and a campaign of non-payment planned. And in London campaigns like that around the New Era Estate, which forced US investor Westbrook Partners to withdraw from evicting families, instead selling its development to an affordable housing organisation, show that we CAN win, even when going up against multinational corporations, especially over such an issue as housing, and the ‘class cleansing’ of parts of London.
But the most momentous event in Britain of 2014 was the Scottish independence referendum, or, as it became known on Twitter, #indyref. I will go into that in my next post, but before that I want to come out in defence of Russell Brand. I had a discussion with a comrade who was eager to rubbish him as a trendy millionaire trying to extract some radical chic out of politics. This sort of criticism is easy, because his politics don’t necessarily fit together neatly or consistently. Although he talks of revolution, on The Trews he says it’s a ‘peaceful revolution’ he has in mind, for example. But his role in the New Era battle was brilliant. The sort of attacks on him launched by a whole range of people from Polly Toynbee in the Guardian to Nick Cohen in The Observer to a hatchet job by the Sun accusing him of hypocrisy show that he is saying things they perceive as dangerous, and as outside the bounds of acceptable neoliberal discourse.
Millions of young people listen to him. To dismiss him as just a trendy lefty is just silly. We should welcome his interventions, engage with what he says, and, until he says something like, “all Trotskyists are the spawn of Satan” we should regard him as a powerful source for good on the left, and welcome the fact that he is making an alternative politics visible to infinitely larger numbers than we could.
On the Saturday after the Question Time in which Brand called Farage a ‘Poundland Enoch Powell’, although comrades were away at conference and our numbers on the paper sale depleted, we sold 13 papers on ‘No to Racism, No to UKIP’, and had some good conversations with people who were beginning to see through Farage’s façade. After the sale, a couple of us had a serious discussion about whether at least some of this was a reflection of the ‘Brand effect’.