The cuts continue up and down across the country, chipping away at useful services in an endless series of local attacks. We’re still a long way away from seeing any kind of large-scale, generalised anti-austerity movement, but specific cuts are still capable of provoking very impressive reactions.
One such example is the scrapping of free travel for elderly and disabled people in South Yorkshire. At first glance, this might seem no different to many other similar stories: distressing, and certain to make life worse for vulnerable and impoverished people, but likely to pass without much effective resistance. But South Yorkshire pensioners and disabled people haven’t taken it lying down, and they’ve not just used the standard campaign tactics of lobbying and petitioning either: they reacted to the cut by launching a sustained campaign of direct action, organising mass faredodging sessions where large groups ride the train for free. Now, after an embarrassing stand-off between pensioners, disabled people and cops at Barnsley station, the local transport executive have suddenly decided to reconsider their decision, and are looking at bringing back free travel for disabled people, and half-price travel for pensioners. Of course, no-one should claim victory before a deal’s been fully worked out, and I hope that they keep up their actions until the transport executive are forced to fully reinstate free travel at the same conditions as before (if not better). But even at this stage, the fact that those in power have been forced to back down from their initial position is very encouraging, and the attempt by Sir Steve Houghton, leader of Barnsley Council, to “stress this is not a result of people who have been breaking the law” is obviously laughable.
Focusing on resistance and small victories is not an attempt to look at the world through rose-tinted glasses: obviously, the overall situation is very bleak right now, on both a national and international level, and there’d be no point trying to deny that. But the important thing is to keep focussed on the stuff we can affect. Nothing that you, or I, or some pensioners from Barnsley, say or do can have a serious impact on the worsening situation in the Ukraine. But if we follow the example of the retirees and disabled people in South Yorkshire who identified a problem that seriously affected their day-to-day life, and joined forces with other people around them to take audacious, brave, determined action outside of the law, then we can change things – perhaps only small things at first, but aiming higher as our collective confidence and solidarity grow. Sometimes individual issues can spark something much bigger. Most of the time they don’t. But they more experience of collective action and power we have, the better off we’ll be when large-scale crises do erupt.