Last night’s meeting (January 16th), organised by supporters of Communities Against The Cuts in Birmingham , may well prove to be a watershed in the anti-cuts struggle in the city, writes Rob Marsden
The meeting greatly surpassed its organisers’ expectations with well over 150 people in attendance. The audience stretched well beyond the usual demographic of left meetings- it was young and diverse, significantly female and Black. Many of these had either cut their teeth as students in the struggle over tuition fees or were completely new to political activity.
The meeting was designed to foster openness and inclusivity. Food was provided at the start, children welcomed and the fact that the two co-chairs were both male was more by accident than design. Great efforts were subsequently made to achieve a gender balance in contributions from the floor. And contributions from the floor was what it was all about, with no ‘top table’, no lead-offs or prepared speeches.
There were some militant speeches calling, quite rightly, for industrial action by the public sector workers directly facing cuts and job losses but, for this particular audience, the calls for direct action by service users, by the people of Birmingham as a whole, had a far greater relevance and resonance.
The principal focus will now be on the February 4th meeting of the Labour group at which it is expected to agree to a massive package of cuts. The meeting committed itself to building for the largest possible protest outside this meeting. It is to be hoped that the ‘official’ city-wide anti-cuts group, Birmingham Against The Cuts, will also now throw its weight behind this protest.
Other contributions taking up the need to fight the Labour council (and the Con-Dem government) on their own terrain by standing candidates in the elections in 2014, were also well received. However, it was stressed that an election campaign could only proceed from consistent groundwork put in by local groups sinking real roots in their areas and fighting on issues in the here and now.
Communities Against The Cuts own record of campaigning, and winning, in South West Birmingham serves as an example and a model in this respect.
The strategic question of building a new party to the left of Labour is now starting to be aired in Birmingham but it will take more debate, and practical action on the ground to convince wider layers. A deep distrust of political parties, including those of the left, persists.
Another significant feature of the discussion was the attempt to address issues of inclusivity- how does the movement involve new people, and create spaces in which their ideas and experiences can be synthesised?
A number of self-organised groups were proposed and accepted- a women’s group, an LGBTQ group and a Black peoples’ group as well as working parties to plan direct action, to co-ordinate trades union action, to research and produce anti-cuts literature and to improve accessibility at meetings. One young woman moved the creation of the women’s group with a passionate contribution about the need to combat sexism within our own movement as well as in the wider society.
Over 100 people signed up to the various caucuses and local groups are being set up or are already in operation in Stirchley, Cotteridge, Kings Norton, Selly Oak, Bournville, Mosley, Kings Heath, Balsall Heath, Erdington, Hodge Hill and Yardley.