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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.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali