There’s a ‘call to arms’ presently coming from some of the more militant union bosses around the issue of the new coalition governments intention to reduce the public sector by half or more. Battle lines are being drawn in the run up to the upcoming TUC conference, with trades council groups and other politically forward thinking organisations gearing up for a fight, and organising meetings. There is a lot of talk about building a campaign as big as the one that eventually saw the downfall of Thatcher and her Tory government. Some of the calls from many on the left however leave a lot to be desired. In fact they appear to be the type of ‘call to arms’ that we’ve become accustomed to ever since Blair’s New Labour government fiasco took to the front benches of the Commons. They are certainly vociferous, but who they are aimed at however is questionable, and the language used is simply divisive.
An article in The Guardian on August 4th saw Tony Benn publicly stating his case. ‘The Time to Organise is Now’ was the headline, and Tony, as always, put forward a relatively decent argument for defending ourselves against the potential onslaught from the Tory party and their ‘pet Liberals’. There was however something blatantly missing. There was absolutely nothing in his piece that mentioned the word ‘class’. In its place was the usual rhetoric of identity politics which has, and is, destroying the British ‘left’.Tony states: ‘The £11bn welfare cuts, rise in VAT to 20%, and 25% reductions across government departments target the most vulnerable – disabled people, single parents, those on housing benefit, black and other ethnic minority communities, students, migrant workers, LGBT people and pensioners.’ There is a major problem with this kind of statement. What if somebody does not, and many do not, identify with those groups mentioned? Would it not have been easier simply to point out that anybody earning less than £25k is going to be brutally affected by the upcoming attacks on services and jobs? The language used here is important because we are continuing to make the same mistakes that have drawn so many working class people to turn away from trade unionism and the ‘left’ in general into the arms of conservatism and worst still, the far-right. Many simply are willing to believe in Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ nonsense. One particular issue recently sums this argument up perfectly. A white working class man, Ian Tomlinson, walking home from work gets caught up in demonstrations he likely knows nothing, or perhaps even cares about. He is brutally attacked by a police officer, subsequently dies, and there is a media frenzy. Sixteen months later, as we all know, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, Crown Prosecution Service and the Director of Public Prosecutions prove how little they give a damn about justice for the working class and declare the officer responsible for the man’s death will have no case in court to answer. There is an outcry. For twenty-four hours at most, and then the public’s attention moves on elsewhere to the next big story. Where was the outcry from the left over this travesty? Where were the inflammatory speeches by trade union bosses and calls to arms in defence of Ian Tomlinson’s ‘justice’? There have certainly been some small and well placed gestures by some on the outskirts of the British ‘left’ to fight for Ian Tomlinson’s family, but the silence from the majority has been deafening. Perhaps it’s because Ian Tomlinson was neither disabled, a single parent, a member of a black or other ethnic minority community, a student, a migrant worker, or to our knowledge gay? He was one thing however, as are many of the above mentioned groups the ‘left’ are so happy to use as ‘pin-up groups’. He was working class. If the ‘left’ in this country want public support in the upcoming battles against the hideous Tory ideology we see before us, we need to remember the Ian Tomlinson’s of this world, cut the nonsensical divisive identity play and recognise that ‘class war’ is back. The country could embrace a massive fight back against the Tories despicable ideology. If only we could convince the population that the ‘left’ really do care about ‘ordinary non identifiable’ working class people. Just like Ian Tomlinson. There are long battles ahead and we’ll only win if we work united. Why should Ian Tomlinson’s death NOT be the starting point of a united and robust return to mutual solidarity across the whole of the British ‘left’? Why can’t we return to the simplicity of left wing politics and stand proud behind the slogan ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’. We believe we can. We believe we should.
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