May 10th – a day to show our weakness.

After four and a half painful months of total inaction, the trade unions are now planning their next step in the pensions dispute, with a one-day strike in early May being backed by Unite’s health sector, the PCS, and potentially a few others. Coming after the huge one-day strike on November 30th, there’s no way that May 10th will be anything other than a disappointment: if a one-day strike failed to change anything then, what chance is there of another one achieving anything now? As Phil Dickens has said, the fight over pensions is now effectively over. This might not have too much of an effect on the well-paid officials at the top of the unions, but it’ll hit hard at those on the ground. In particular, this defeat will strike a double blow at grassroots union activists: not only will they, like other workers, suffer the economic effects of the government’s attacks, but they’ll also face a loss of credibility with their workmates, as all the arguments about the benefits of joining the union and why it’s worth losing a day’s pay to go on strike start to look like so much hot air.
But defeats can point in two directions. Just as every victory can inspire us to fight for something more, or can be used as proof that things aren’t so bad really so we should be happy with what we’ve got, when we fight and lose it can be seen as proof that we shouldn’t bother trying, or it can make us more determined to work out what went wrong so we can do better next time round. The overall effect of the pensions dispute on the workers’ movement will almost certainly be negative, but it’ll also lead to a fair few conversations about why things went so badly, and what a winning strategy would look like. Anarchists and other radicals who work in the public sector need to be a part of these conversations. If the loss of credibility for the unions leads to a few more workers wanting to experiment with the kind of independent rank-and-file networks, wildcat strikes and workplace occupations that can actually get results, this dispute won’t have been a total loss. In the run-up to May 10th, that means trying to organise independent grassroots discussions and doing our best to democratise whatever official events are organised for the day, to make sure that voices critical of the bureaucracy can be heard.
Over the Atlantic, the start of May will see strike action of a very different kind, with the attempt at a general strike on May 1st. This is more audacious than pretty much anything in the US I can remember in my lifetime, and I can’t claim to know how it’ll turn out, but if it goes at all well it could be amazing. The best actions push back the limits of what’s possible, and that should certainly be true of May 1st – a few years ago, who could imagine even trying to talk about a general strike in the US without it sounding like a joke, or some wildly implausible dream? The UK might not see anything that exciting on May Day, but the call from SolFed to take action against workfare on the day sounds worth taking part in for those in the capital, and for those of us outside London, it’s not too late to start planning something.
Other news: God-botherers are planning a national day of action against abortion next Saturday, details are here. I’ve not seen much discussion of it so far, but any mobilisation by bigots on this scale needs to be opposed. Events like the Carnival for Choice organised by Brighton Pro-Choice are a good start, now the rest of the country needs to step up the fight against this crap. Over in the US, the FBI’s seized a server used by the radical service provider riseup.net. Being a bit technologically illiterate myself, I’m not the best person to analyse this, and riseup insist that their users’ data has not been compromised, but it does seem to point to a problem with relying on activist software projects like riseup or crabgrass – if we put all our information eggs in one basket, then that creates an easy and tempting target for the state.
In anti-fascist news, Liverpool Anti-Fascists successfully saw off the National Front this week, and more generally the BNP seem to be having a hard time of it, only standing half as many candidates in this year’s local elections as they did last year. While it’s nice to see the BNP in trouble, that’s still no cause for complacency, as racist and nationalist attitudes are far from extinct, and the BNP have a lot of rivals who’re looking to grow.
Two bits of small-scale organising that are worth celebrating are Nottingham Solidarity Network’s ongoing campaign against a dodgy landlord and Edinburgh Claimants’ victory in forcing A4e to accept claimants’ rights to recognition. The latter is particularly important in terms of the point I’ve made before about the need for real independent claimants’ groups – while Right to Work and Youth Fight for Jobs were happy to hold protests against workfare while it was in the news and then drop it now their activists are busy with election campaigns, Edinburgh Claimants have kept up the fight against A4e for two and a half years, and now it’s paying off with a development that will really strengthen the unemployed. If we had more groups like that up and down the country, the absolute control that the jobcentre tries to exercise over the unemployed would be a lot weaker.
Finally, I’d just like to plug Recomposition’s current series on work, sleep and dreams. It’s just really good writing by working-class people talking about their lives and their problems, and it’s a great illustration of why I don’t support the “right to work” – for a lot of people, work is literally a nightmare.

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About nothingiseverlost

"The impulse to fight against work and management is immediately collective. As we fight against the conditions of our own lives, we see that other people are doing the same. To get anywhere we have to fight side by side. We begin to break down the divisions between us and prejudices, hierarchies, and nationalisms begin to be undermined. As we build trust and solidarity, we grow more daring and combative. More becomes possible. We get more organized, more confident, more disruptive and more powerful."
This entry was posted in Anarchists, Gender, Protests, Strikes, Stuff that I don't think is very useful, The left, The right, Unemployment/claimants and welfare and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to May 10th – a day to show our weakness.

  1. spamsucker says:

    Trade unionists can fuck off, since the CWU voted to accept workfare it is obvious to me that they are out for themselves at the expense of everyone else anyway. Why should I support these people who want to help the rich enslave us? FUCK EM.

    http://www.citizenside.com/en/photos/politics/2012-04-24/58811/communication-workers-union-votes-to-support-workfare-program-in-great-britain.html

    • Shit, didn’t realise the CWU had actually voted to support it, thought it was just something that was passed down. Still, I think the basic principle holds: all sorts of people have all kind of shitty sexist, nationalist, or whatever other kind of divisive views, we still need to try and find ways to fight together and challenge them as part of that process. We don’t support other working class people because we think they’re lovely pure angels, and they may not even be particularly nice: the key question is whether fighting alongside them can help to build our power to put an end to this society.

  2. Pingback: A slow, quiet death – reflections on the May 10th strikes. | Cautiously pessimistic

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