While we have a long way to go from here, Dave Isaacson argues that the anti-cuts movement in Milton Keynes has made an impressive start
The past week has been an important one for the anti-cuts movement in Milton Keynes. Here the left and anti-cuts activists seem to have united to build a single campaign around the local Coalition of Resistance group (MK COR) to oppose the cuts. Those involved in the group’s activities, as well as individuals, include members of Counterfire, the Socialist Workers Party, Communist Party of Great Britain, the Greens and Labour lefts. The group is also supported by a range of trade unionists and the Milton Keynes Trades Council. None of the left groups is dominant and all seem to be cooperating well so far.
On February 18 MK COR hosted a public meeting attended by a fantastic 400 people. The headline speaker was the veteran Labour movement campaigner Tony Benn, who made a nonsense of the coalition government’s claim that “We are all in this together”. The cuts will hit the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest. He also explained how the mass movements which fought for trade union rights and universal suffrage had at times found it necessary to go against the laws of their day. However, his economic solutions were Keynesian, not revolutionary.
Speakers from the rail union Aslef and the Communication Workers Union joined student activist Feyzi Ismail, Dot Gibson of the National Pensioners Convention, Paul Brandon (chair of Right to Work), and Neil Faulkner (Coalition of Resistance steering committee) on the platform. The latter three spoke most militantly and most clearly about the fact that this was a class conflict. While Paul Brandon insisted that we must do more than simply get rid of this government, his vision only extended as far as a movement militant enough to force a Labour government to act in our interests.
Neil Faulkner was the clearest in outlining a way forward for the movement. He was not afraid to speak openly about the difficulty of the task ahead of us: “Don’t be under any illusions … we are going to have to fight very hard.” The TUC protest on March 26 is just a start. We must build a wave of strikes, occupations and further protests on the back of that movement. He was also clear that a challenge to the whole system of class rule was needed.
Many speakers referred to the inspiring examples of the the mass uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and across the Arab world. Paul Brandon, amongst others, spoke of creating our own Tahrir Square in London on March 26. It is absolutely right that we draw inspiration from these and other struggles across the world. But we need to do more than that. As well as organising locally and nationally to oppose capitalist austerity we must link up and coordinate joint actions globally.
Four days after this public meeting, on Tuesday February 22, around 60 people attended a vocal protest organised by MK COR when Milton Keynes voted through its cuts budget. We marched and chanted outside before taking our arguments into the council chamber itself. From the public gallery both official questions and militant heckles were thrown at the councillors. As we fully expected the councillors refused to challenge central government and voted through a cuts budget. However, the decision not to close the libraries in Stony Stratford and Woburn Sands immediately should be considered a small and temporary concession brought about by the energetic and popular campaigns to save them. They remain under threat and we must continue to make the case for keeping them open and opposing all of the cuts.
Both the protest and public meeting forced the attention of the local media onto opposition to these devastating cuts. There is an opposition to these cuts and it is getting organised. This is clearly only the beginning. As services are wrecked and workers are made redundant, we can expect the anti-cuts movement to deepen its roots. Already 299 job losses have already been announced by the council, with another 400 likely to follow soon.
We need to build a united mass campaign which includes all those who want to oppose these cuts. Within that campaign the revolutionaries need to ensure that a clear alternative to the whole capitalist system is articulated. So far, particularly for a town like Milton Keynes, which has little by way of a tradition of protest, we have made a good start.
Video coverage of the MK COR public meeting can be seen on the Milton Keynes Citizen website, here: http://www.miltonkeynes.co.uk/news/videos/tony_benn_cuts_are_meant_to_hurt_ordinary_people_1_2438209