Staffan Jacobson – författare, konstnär och frihetlig socialist i Lund.
Every challenge can be overcome: 6 ideas for getting started
There is no time for hopelessness. Here are some ideas for what we can do – now – to fight back against the attacks we know are coming.
The results are in and it ‘s a solid majority for the most viciously right-wing Tory party in a generation. The time for a proper post-mortem will come, but right now we need to think what we – as a movement and individuals within that movement – do next.
There’s no need to go into great detail about what’s coming because we know: “points-based” migration, seizing travellers’ possessions, and a hard Brexit with their bonfire of rights and regulations are all right there in the manifesto.
And their plans for the NHS and (not) dealing with climate change are clear as day, no matter what they’ve put in the manifesto.
It’s clear, then, that as a class we will have to mobilise. Labour activists have put hundreds of thousands of activist hours – even millions, probably – into campaigning for a Corbyn government: canvassing, phone banking, travelling to marginals; not to mention the past four years of CLP meetings, arguing over deselections and reselections.
Whatever our differences over this use of time, money and energy (we were skeptical), the fact of the matter is this: we cannot spend the next five years like we’ve spent the last four.
When Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party, he and his supporters promised to build a “social movement”. That has, quite plainly, not materialised. Aside from the lack of movement infrastructure (unions, community organisations, etc), the most worrying evidence of this is that 2017 saw the lowest number of workers taking strike action since records began.
We cannot spend the next five years on internal Labour Party politicking in the hopes of possibly winning an election in 2025. The stakes over the next few years are too high. No politician is coming to save us from disaster; the task, as it always has been, is ours alone.
Looking at developments in the USA can give us ideas about where we need to concentrate our activity. The teachers’ strike wave has seen statewide walkouts across the country since 2018. And, importantly for us, in numerous places – like Arizona, where they won a 20% pay rise, and West Virginia, where they held two separate victorious strikes – they were forcing concessions from Republican-controlled states.
Similarly, while politicians reached a stalemate during the 2018-19 government shutdown, it was unofficial action by workers that ended it. After 35 days of political wrangling, the longest shutdown in US history was ended a few hours after a sick-out by air traffic controllers became too disruptive, resulting in all state employees finally getting paid.
As well as a rise in labour disputes to their highest levels since the 1980s, there has also been tenant organising, prison strikes, occupations of airports, and blockades of detention facilities in support of migrants.
All under a bumbling, hard-right, chauvinistic nationalist with an unconvincing head of hair. Sound familiar?
Where to start?
The most stressful part of any problem is before you start planning how you’re going to sort it out. Some ideas:
It’s still the case that our power as a class is strongest at the point where we produce profit: at work. If there’s a union at your work, join it and get in touch with your rep saying you’d like to help organise. If there’s no rep, get in touch with the branch and offer to take on the role (and check out these tips for being a good union rep).
If there’s no union, consider starting one: you could go with one of the larger TUC unions or smaller member-controlled unions like the UVW, IWGB or IWW. All these unions should be able to train you in the nuts and bolts of workplace organising. TUC rep training often focuses too heavily on recruiting members rather than organising, so we would highly recommend you attend the IWW’s Organiser Training. Unions often aren’t perfect, but the best way to learn how to make the best of them is to get started and get in touch with other militants. However workplace organisation begins with making connections with your co-workers, and beginning to be able to talk about pay and working conditions amongst each other, and this is worthwhile and necessary whether there is a formal workplace organisation in place or not.
There are lots of groups around the country doing migrant solidarity work that will be invaluable in the coming years. The Anti-Raids Network do great work resisting immigration raids (read more here). So start an Anti-Raids group to build resistance to the hostile environment.
Other groups like NELMA in East London, the Unity Centre in Glasgow or Kent Anti-Racism Network all do good work. You can also get in touch to see if there are similar groups nearer to you.
The Radical Housing Network would be the first port of call to see if there are any groups or campaigns in your area or to help you set one up if there isn’t. Rent Strike have been organising successful rent strikes amongst students since 2015 and have a handy ‘How-to’ section on their website. Brighton Solidarity Federation have been doing great organising for years around housing, organising rent strikes and confronting landlords and estate agents over withheld deposits and repairs. SolFed do not have functioning locals across the UK by any means, but you may be able to join other local renters unions like the London Renters Union.
Defending public services and benefits
The past ten years has seen swinging cuts to public services and benefits: Universal Credit, work capability, PIP and ESA assessments, the benefits cap and bedroom tax, cuts to domestic violence centres, libraries, and social care. Groups like Disabled People Against Cuts[/ur] and [url=http://www.sistersuncut.org/]Sisters Uncut have been fighting these restrictions of provision. There have also been recent successes from local campaigns to prevent service closures such as Essex libraries.
Things will get worse before they get better with a Tory majority, despite promises to ‘end austerity’ and this means talking about direct community provision too. Foodbanks are often presented as apolitical, but there are examples, like Food Hall Project in Sheffield, of providing social space – as well as food – to talk to each other about shared issues which can (and should) be spread elsewhere.
While we have reservations about Extinction Rebellion, chances are there’ll be a group near you and it may be worth getting in touch to meet people who want to take direct action (but please, DO NOT give your info to police or get arrested for the sake of it!), especially in light of important campaigning against Heathrow expansion. The Green Anti-Capitalist Front are a more radical alternative. There are also community groups like HACAN East (against London City Airport) which could do with support/replication while Frack Off have a list of anti-fracking groups (which will no doubt be back on the agenda soon).
When Tommy Robinson endorsed Boris Johnson he showed what all of us knew already: that the British far-right see the Tory leader as ‘their guy’. They will be feeling pretty confident now and that won’t just come about in more far-right marches, but in more violence and aggression in general. At least three Labour canvassers were assaulted over the course of this General Election campaign and anti-Muslim violence rose 375% after Johnson’s 2018 “letterboxes” comment about burqa-wearing women. We will have to oppose this; whether that means setting up local anti-fascist groups like those around the Anti-Fascist Network, starting ‘red gyms’ or something more informal.
Every challenge can be overcome
As bad as things look, one thing remains true: Brexit may have distracted us from capitalism’s crisis for the past three and a half years, but it hasn’t solved it and nor can it. The Brexiteers have their disaster capitalist fantasy; it’ll be on them to convince the British working class that it wasn’t their idea.
Capitalism is closing the 2010s much like it started them: going through a global crisis and rocked by protests. The energy we see in now in France, in Chile, in Lebanon, in Greece, in Colombia, in Iran, in Ecuador and in various other places is the energy we have to bring here.
There obviously won’t be any easy victories; but there will only be victories if we build the organisation and infrastructure our movements need.
We do that by – simply – doing what we can, where we are, making mistakes, learning lessons and doing our best. And we start now.