The Left needs a bit more imagination

Anthony Barnett argues that today’s TUC rally in London is misconceived and offers an alternative

Today the TUC will be leading a march against austerity and for A Future that Works. I aim to join it, but with a strong feeling of pointlessness, that it is poorly conceived and will squander resources. I want to say why and say what should be done in the future.

Huge demonstrations can be transformative, obviously. Small ones can be exemplary and make an impact if they are well designed and express a passion that resonates. It’s less a matter of size than the creation and release of energy.

A march can be a good form of demonstration. Last year there was a TUC march on 26 of March. It was very large, it brought new people into activity, it showed trade unionism’s present-day face, more female, more working in public services, than the traditional industrial proletariat. I argued it was a limited failure, as was the ‘Black Bloc’ rioting that was parasitic on the day and the Fortnum’s sit-in by UKUncut, which got its message muddled. The TUC didn’t know what to do with those it had mobilised.

Now, the demonstration is to be repeated. The aim of 20 October is to carry on 26 March. But what’s the point when the argument about austerity has already moved on – it isn’t working and that’s official. Another march, another day. It isn’t new, it won’t be bigger unless I’m missing something. What’s the point?

Any kind of organisation or movement has to learn, to grow. It has to be a learning experience for those who participate and for its leaders. This is especially so now when, to leave aside everything else, we are facing the possibility of a second financial crash (if David Potter’s sober analysis is right). But the TUC is not responding to this. And if it isn’t learning it will be shrinking.

So this is what the TUC should be doing:

  1. It should stop ‘marching’ and start thinking.
  2. It should hire a large section of Hyde Park for two days, and fill it with tents of different kinds: tents for the NHS and the BBC, tents for think tanks and authors and the showing of video films. Tents for discussion of economic issues, of Europe, of trade unionism and of the City and business.
  3. I think of it as ‘Not the Village’ meaning not the village of Westminster, but it needs a good name.
  4. Similar gatherings should be encouraged across the country at the same time, with live web-links, so that the whole country starts to think for itself.
  5. We devise a way of counting everyone involved so that it also becomes a mobilisation of size, which lifts expectation as well as participation.

Now that would be a demonstration!

Anthony Barnett is the founder of openDemocracy and a Co-Editor of its UK section, Our Kingdom where this article first appeared

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