WILLIAM BROWN reports on Sheffield’s day of rage that wasn’t at the Lib Dems’ spring conference and sees an urgent need for the anti-cuts movement to find leadership and popular appeal.
Saturday 12th March was billed as ‘Sheffield’s day of rage’ – an opportunity to vent our anger and opposition to the Lib Dems who were holding their spring conference in Sheffield. In the event, a lively, good natured but disappointingly small protest took place. Instead of the billed ‘10,000 plus’ there were maybe 4-5,000, a rare occasion when police estimates were near the mark.
Indeed, this was no doubt much to the chagrin of the South Yorkshire force who had gone to extraordinary lengths to prepare for the occasion, running up a bill of £2m, including a 8ft high ‘ring of steel’ round City Hall, the conference venue. They were ready for trouble, though, in the event, little of the massed back-up was needed.
In my estimation – I’m happy to be corrected here – the turnout relied heavily on the older left, small far-left parties and the trade unions. Particularly noticeable was what seemed to be a small showing from the city’s students. Given the fury over Clegg’s betrayal on student fees and the fact that there are over 40,000 students in the city (an estimated 10,000 in Clegg’s own constituency) this is a worrying sign that the force has gone out of student opposition.
Indeed, the protest showed above all that the anti-cuts movement needs to find some coherence, leadership and popular appeal, and fast. If this protest was anything to go by, the trade unions are doing some important work but it’s not apparent that they are reaching out beyond their traditional areas of support. Certainly, there was no groundswell of popular support for this demonstration. If opposition to the ConDem coalition is to exert real leverage, it will have to start to mobilise those in Tory and Liberal constituencies like Clegg’s Sheffield base.
Unite’s Len McCluskey acknowledged as much, calling on Liberal Democrat supporters and members – even MPs! – to come out against the cuts and the privatisation of the NHS. If the London demonstration on 26th March fails to mobilise this kind of broad popular opposition, then the momentum will really be lost from anti-government forces. A start would be for the Labour Party and its leadership to get behind the 26th March demonstration, backing it as a key moment from which opposition to the coalition can be built.
Why the Labour leadership should back the TUC’s ‘March for the Alternative’.
Click here for more information on the TUC’s March for the Alternative.