Solidarity not charity

One important argument against the cuts centres on this distinction, writes Emma Hughes

February 4, 2011
5 min read


Emma Hughes is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. She also works as a campaigner with environmental justice organisation Platform.

Today I heard about the town that emptied its library’s shelves. The people of Stony Stratford spent a week frantically borrowing until all 16,000 books had gone. The ‘Wot No Books’ action was a protest against the proposed plans to shut the town’s library.

As the pain of the coalition’s austerity crusade becomes real, so does the fightback. From the game-changing student protests to the high street blockades of corporate tax avoiders, the anti-cuts movement has been born. Local workplaces, communities and institutions are finding new ways to work together and show that people stand opposed to the cuts.

While the student protests have filled the headlines (see page 53) and UK Uncut actions occupied the Twitter-sphere (see page 39), there are a growing number of local campaigns combating the cuts at the coalface (see page 10). Creative and diverse tactics, like those employed by the book readers of Stony Stratford, will be crucial if this growing movement is to capture the insurrectionary imaginations of the public.

The protests have brought some victories, with campaigners gaining useful commitments from sympathetic councillors prepared to for fight for employees whose jobs are outsourced to private companies.(see page 14). The rhetorical tide is starting to turn as more and more people recognise that the austerity frenzy is ideologically driven and the splutters from the Lib Dem pressure cooker increase.

The existence of an anti-cuts movement, although to be celebrated, should also be nurtured. People must be convinced not just of the harm that is being done by the government but also of a coherent alternative.

Trade unions will be crucial in developing this movement. So far the union leadership has been caught on its heels, slow to react to the real anger felt by people. As Unite leader Len McCluskey wrote in the Guardian, ‘Britain’s students have certainly put the trade union movement on the spot.’ Not only have unions failed to lead the charge, they don’t even seem to be following behind. With the exception of the University and College Union (UCU) and the RMT transport workers union, they were notable only for their absence on the student demos.

There are signs that the unions are upping their game, though, recognising the need to represent their members more proactively and to lend their support to communities bearing the brunt of the government onslaught. The TUC’s planned national demonstration on 26 March is giving unions a focus for their campaigns and many are working hard to mobilise new members. They must build on this demo to support strong strike action and community campaigns.

One important argument against the cuts centres on the distinction, so lucidly drawn by Tom Paine, between justice and charity. Benefit payments, state services and public goods exist because it is the duty of the state to ensure the rights of its citizens are respected. David Cameron is intent on stripping these rights away and offloading the state’s duties to whoever will take them, more often than not a profit-making company (see page 22). Yet this is done in the name of charity, a ‘big society’ in which the better off altruistically give to the needy.

Crucially the question is not what services will be cut, but whose rights will be violated. The current round of local authority budget-setting reveals that it is going to be the poorest, with the most deprived areas being hardest hit by cuts to council budgets.

On 14 February the government ends its ‘consultation’ on changes to the disability living allowance, including the proposed scrapping of the mobility component, a budgetary restriction that will affect 80,000 people. This weekly payment of up to £50 is used by recipients to run specially adapted cars, pay for powered wheelchairs or fund taxi fares. The removal of mobility allowances will deny many disabled people the right to choose when they leave their home, making them reliant on the willingness of others to transport them. Disability lawyers have warned that this proposal could violate the human rights legislation.

Campaigners are mobilising against the disability living allowance changes. By the time this issue of Red Pepper appears, a demo will already have taken place at the offices of Atos Origin, the private company profiting from deciding who loses their disability benefit (see page 13). If the anti-cuts movement is to be successful we must support the rights of these activists, just as we must support the rights of teaching assistants, council workers and library users. Together we have a chance of victory; apart we will only fight each other.

Recognising that rights are central to the cuts struggle means that there is much we can learn from anti-capitalist movements of the global south. These have shown that justice is a much stronger call to action than pity or guilt. One organisation that has defined its actions on the basis of justice is War on Want, profiled this issue (see page 26). Its slogan is one that could be usefully lent to the cuts resistance. As people stand together in the face of Cameron’s onslaught, they reject his notion of charity and instead fight in solidarity with those whose rights are being jeopardised.


Emma Hughes is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. She also works as a campaigner with environmental justice organisation Platform.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill


3