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Resistance in the rain
The 1 October Glasgow march and rally against the cuts began and ended in rain of biblical proportions. None escaped the deluge as banners sagged, soaked within minutes of being raised, and placards (many hand- drawn) disintegrated in the hands of their creators. And, annoyingly, all this at the end of a week of remarkable warmth and sunshine!
The mobilisation was a notably diverse one. Besides the Scottish TUC, civic society was represented by a range of groups from the leftist Coalition of Resistance and Right to Work Campaign to the somewhat less left-leaning Church of Scotland and Muslim Council of Scotland.
Organisations which straddle social movements and pressure groups such as the Poverty Alliance and Scottish Women’s Aid were amongst a large number of “unusual suspects” who were officially backing the march. Alongside impressive mobilisations by unions such as the Educational Institute of Scotland and UNISON, there were several loud student groups, numerous lefty outfits offering their leadership, a smattering of religious groups and the obligatory anarchist contingent taking up the very rear of the march in the time-honoured way.
There were also a small but significant number of locally-based specific anti-cuts groups which came from various parts of Scotland, notably from Edinburgh. This diverse combination produced a turnout of 15,000 and created a sense of playful energy despite the unrelenting rain.
The key to resisting the cuts and to hopefully building a social movement that could begin to set its own agenda must be in the local groups that are slowly emerging. Such community-based and community-building groups face challenges, not least the demobilisation that has taken place in the last 20-plus years since the movement against the poll tax. The “privatisation” of individuals has paralleled the privatisation of society, and people’s retreat from collective activity and “community” (a much abused term) has led to a retreat from the street and the (chilly) local halls and a diminution of people’s confidence in unfamiliar social settings. The seriousness of the economic situation may begin to change this, with increasing numbers of people facing the direct and indirect consequences of austerity.
There is evidence of independent but allied groups emerging. For me, the key will be how those affected by the cuts involve themselves in anti-cuts activity, how they make the campaigning theirs. Presently, there are a number of national anti-cuts “alliances” such as the Coalition of Resistance, the Anti-Cuts Campaign and the Right to Work campaign all attempting to unite the anti-cuts movement but in reality uniting various left activists while trying to relate to what grassroots activity is developing, with an eye to “politicising” it.
This is inevitable but the challenge will be for the decision-making to remain in the hands of a movement built from the bottom up and co-ordinated for effectiveness, not along partisan political lines. At least, this is what our minds turned to when we returned from the drenching and sat nursing our hot drinks.