North and south of the border, last Saturday was an important day in the process of building a mass fight back against austerity. Pete Cannell, from Edinburgh, and Joe Sabatini from Carlisle report from the anti-austerity rally in Glasgow.
Pete, from Edinburgh, reports:
As tens of thousands marched against austerity in London, thousands more attended a rally in George Square, Glasgow organised by the STUC under the banner of Scotland United Against Austerity.
The crowd filled George Square from midday to 4pm. Because some people were coming and going it’s hard to say exactly how many attended but 5 – 7000 seems a reasonable estimate. Many people stayed for the whole four hours of speeches and music.
The STUC can take real credit for tapping in to the vibrant anti-austerity mood in Scotland. The speakers were from diverse backgrounds, many of them younger than might have been the case in the past and together they captured the anger of all those attending. There were particularly powerful contributions from Jeanne Freeman from Women for Independence, Cat Boyd a co-founder of the Radical Independence Campaign and Gordon Maloney – president of NUS Scotland. Representatives from both of the long-running strikes in Scotland, the Unite Ninewells Porters and the Glasgow Homelessness Case Workers from Unison spoke brilliantly and very politically.
Time to break bad laws
The first speaker was Grahame Smith, STUC General Secretary who talked about how social progress has, more-often-than-not, required the breaking of bad laws. He argued if that’s what it takes to end austerity, and defeat attacks on workers rights, then we will have to break bad laws now.
By any standards it was good day, but it also highlighted how much we need to do. The previous weekend disabled activists had rallied in the square. Some of those who are at the sharp end of the welfare cuts are frustrated at the lack of fight from the unions. As a result there were fewer activists from these campaigns and less representation from local anti-cuts groups than there should have been.
While the whole square joined together to sing ‘We Shall Overcome’ in solidarity with Charleston there was not enough representation of the ethnic diversity of 21st century Scotland or of migrant workers. Most critically there was no real sense of how the popular sense of injustice and the upsurge in democratic engagement can be channeled into building a movement that can beat austerity.
Many of those in the square are new recruits to the Scottish National Party. The SNP at a national level has articulated their hopes, aspirations and sense of injustice. But at local level councils, many of them SNP, run are pushing through the austerity agenda. Edinburgh (SNP/Labour coalition) and Glasgow City Councils (Labour) are both planning for cuts of more than £100 million. We need to get to grips with a political and an organisational response to austerity that understands how cuts are pushed down the chain from Westminster to Holyrood, from Holyrood to local authorities and often end up being implemented by third sector organisations that have taken on contracted out services. This will require a mass campaign of communities and unions and the breaking of bad laws by Scottish politicians.
Everyone agrees that Westminster is to blame, but working class people see services disappearing – not just as a result of national action, but also as a result of the decimation of local services. Saturday showed that the idea that another Scotland is possible is alive and well and not going away. However, another Scotland is not just possible, it’s necessary, and defeating the effects and the ideology of austerity is central to the task.
Joe, from Carlisle, reports:
On 20 June, while tens of thousands had travelled to London to protest against austerity, a small group of us set off in the other direction to cross the border and join the Glasgow rally.
It was the first time I had been in Scotland since the referendum last year and was struck the degree of confidence in the people assembled and in the diversity of the crowd in terms of age and political traditions – left, green, anarchist and SNP. I was struck also by the presence of community groups organising solidarity activity including a tombola to raise money for free school clothing, a food banks donation point, and even one group that was focusing on pooling funds so people on low incomes can travel to protests.
I was fascinated to see how this community level activism was sitting alongside the formal left, the SSP, Solidarity, the SWP, Class War, the RCP etc. who all had stalls with a strongly propagandistic flavour, while the Scottish Left Project had produced a glossy, innovative, looking broadsheet that set out their aims.
Naturally I was curious about the SNP and the Greens. The Greens had a presence, but it felt much smaller than what I have been able to glean from the London demo. The SNP struck me as incredibly diverse, and it appears that the massive influx of members was currently beyond the control of any party machinery. Each branch that attended seemed to be its own animal, and there was nothing like any national presence in terms of stalls, speakers or even material like placards.
Moving from the question of the SNP to the sense of Scottish nationality (I have refrained from the term nationalism, as that fails to capture the liberated quality of what I saw), I was struck by the use of hybrid identities and how the Saltire is becoming a symbol of the current struggle. I saw several flags that merged the Saltire and the Catalan Flag, or had them flying side by side, as well as one Anarcho-Syndicalist flag that had on the same pole a red flag with a Saltire in the top right corner (I don’t know if anyone else has seen an Anarcho and national flag together before). Overall it made me feel that things are in a state of creative ferment.
In events like this I usually like to see what is happening in and among the crowd and pay little attention to the stage, but on this occasion I did listen to the speakers. Jeanne Freeman from Women for Independence, Cat Boyd and Suki Sangha from the Radical Independence Campaign and Gordon Maloney – president of NUS Scotland gave top notch speeches that made me realise just what fresh talent can arise when a movement is in the ascendant.
Representatives from both of the long-running strikes in Scotland, the Unite Ninewells Porters and the Glasgow Homelessness Case Workers from Unison spoke about their struggle and outlined the political strategy that their struggle is linked to. They ended with a song that mobilised the crowd.
The music was very much a part of the day, and some of the best moments were when people started dancing in front of the stage, including two very old women wearing masks of the Queen, alongside young teenage girls and families with Saltires and homemade placards saying ‘Fuck the Tories.’
Travelling back across the border I was struck by two things. Firstly how powerful the movement is at the grassroots, and secondly the political quality of some of the new voices coming out of the radical independence campaign. It was a good day in which to be an internationalist.