Marches don’t change history. It’s what people do after them that matters. And there can’t have been many among the half million or so on the big march in London on 26 March who thought that even a very large walk around the capital of a weekend was going to shift this government. For most, the aim was more focused: to demonstrate anger, and to bring the confidence of unity and solidarity back into their workplaces.
For a noisy minority, marches are almost an end in themselves. Certainly, they are much easier to organise than a strike, or indeed industrial action of any kind. Any worthwhile fight takes more than self-selected “activists” and pre-printed placards – action in the workplace requires discussion, unity, strength, and a democratic decision by the membership.
And for all the size of the march – no one but the unions, the organised section of the working class, can draw such huge numbers out against the cuts – it was in finality a protest. The battle remains to be won.
Thinking workers are not seduced by strident calls for the TUC to organise a general strike – unlimited, presumably. Those making the calls might instead consider starting with a local strike, but that would mean the hard work of organising. So much easier to stand outside a hospital and chant, for example, than to work inside for the unity and action of all workers.
Resistance has to be an inside job, or it will fail. Above all, that resistance must be guerrilla in form. That means tirelessly building strength and recruiting union members – the army of the working class – and then fighting where we are strong. We’ve had plenty of defeats. We need victories, fights where we end up stronger than we began.
Motions are appearing in sparsely attended union branches around the country calling on workers to, among other things, emulate the workers of Greece and France. That’s just empty sloganising. We’ll have to do better than the workers of Greece and France if we are to survive. That’s not to criticise Greek and French workers: they have fought hard. But they have not succeeded.
And we won’t succeed if we look for direction outside Britain, the only place we really have a chance of knowing. We won’t learn much looking at TV images from Tahrir Square in Cairo, nor will we gain anything from empty-headed calls to replicate it in Trafalgar Square. We need to look closer to home, to our own strengths and weaknesses.
In the latest assault on the NHS, the government is attacking the London Ambulance Service (see page 3). In doing so, it is taking on perhaps the best organised and led group of workers in the NHS.
Those looking for inspiration should look not only at how the ambulance workers will resist, but take note of how they gained their strength – years of careful organisation and recruitment, a rejection of adventurism, listening to the membership not lecturing them, fighting to win.
The enemy has taken the fight into our heartland, the NHS, because that’s where the most profit stands to be made from rolling back civilisation. It is a big mistake. This is our ground, our terrain. It is also a fight we cannot afford to lose. But provided the fight takes place within the NHS where it can be real, not be led from outside, it is a fight we can win. ■