‘Fight’ against the cuts will demand respect for difference
By Lisa Ansell – you can read her in The Guardian and she’ll be one of the speakers at the Bright Green fringe at Green Party of England and Wales Spring Conference in Cardiff – Sat 26 Feb, 6pm. She is an ex-social worker setting up a social enterprise.
The country has never faced anything like this before. The economic and social policies we are seeing unfold will affect every corner of the UK. Every town, every government department, every charity, and every group. There are some towns facing decimation, but no town which will be left unscathed. There are groups who will be worst hit- but few outside the richest 10 or 20% who will not feel the effect. While political debate has been happy to concentrate on some marginalised mythical ‘poor’, and our commentariat concentrate on the resurgence of the mythical ‘left’ it is in fact everyone who is likely to feel the effects of what is unfolding.
This is not the new poll tax riots. This is not a fight against one piece of legislation, or one cut. This is not a vague nebulous desire for social change. The pattern of how cuts will be implemented is only just becoming clear, and all we have so far is intent. It will take the next few years for the effect to become fully apparent. Cuts to our public sector on this scale are unprecedented. And the changes this brings in the contract between people and state could never have been anticipated.
No-one knows just what the cumulative effect of these policies will be. And there is no single strategy for fighting them that will be effective in isolation.
This is not just a fight about preventing legislation, this is going to be about protecting people from the effects of that legislation long after it is passed. Monitoring those effects, and trying to mitigate them. The poll tax riots took place two years after the original legislation was passed, and this fight is much bigger. This is not a struggle for the news headlines over this summer, and protest alone (essential as it is) will not stop this.
November’s highly visible student protests, and the ongoing efforts of the student movement have acted as some sort of catalyst. Wherever I go people are talking about what is happening. This may partly be because Calderdale, the little corner of West Yorkshire I inhabit, is particularly vulnerable, or because a career in the public sector means I am surrounded by the effects- but something has definitely changed.
Like a rope made of different threads- the separate fights of UKUncut, civil servants within their departments, Unions, the individuals tweeting and blogging, people willing to put themselves on the front line of direct action. Seperate threads, wound together with the same aim.
As individuals become aware of how this agenda affects them, and work out how to fight their particular corner, they will form new threads. We are only at the stage where the government is announcing intent- bills are being read- the effect of these policies unlikely to be clear for a long time. Invisible from our headlines are struggles within departments, as cuts which currently look undeliverable are announced. As people are hit it is inevitable that those threads will multiply in number, and the complexity of what is happening mean that no-one can predict precisely what will be effective in tackling them.
Politics and activism have been a minority interest in this country for a long time but politics has now landed on everyone’s doorstep. The word solidarity is being bandied around, but I wonder how many of us have truly considered what Solidarity means in this context?
Will you be able to show solidarity to the lifelong Tory voter fighting to save their library? Will you be able to show solidarity with the person who cannot attend marches, and does not have the resources or flexibility to be on the front lines of Direct Action? Will you be able to show solidarity with the blogger who is bed bound and who has to choose much derided ‘clicktivism’ because that is what is open to them? Solidarity with the lone parent who cannot leave the house after 7pm, or get childcare to attend anti-cuts meetings- but chooses their own way of protesting? With the online community of mothers, whose concerns you find trivial- as they fight the cuts that affect them? With the person concerned with their local mental health services, who still believes that some cuts are necessary? With the person fighting for the area in which they live, with a copy of The Sun sticking out of their bag?
The fight against the cuts will be as complex as British Society itself. It will require many different approaches, and many different strands. Your concern may be the visibility of marches, the disruption of Direct Action- for others it may be ensuring that people worst affected are protected. For some, their fight against the cuts may simply be their fight to survive the effects. And in order for any ‘movement’ that emerges to have any hope of success- those who have traditionally seen themselves as at the heart of political activism are going to have to recognise the challenges of pluralism.
Without real solidarity- what will emerge is a million different fights between people who have little in common. Those disparate threads will not come together, if value is only given to traditional forms of activism, and only those whose ideology and aims correspond with yours are welcome. The challenge for those who consider themselves to be part of a progressive movement, is now how willing they are to lend support, skills, and solidarity to those who may never identify themselves in that way.
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