A reply to Anthony Painter on UK Uncut….
Anthony Painter has now written two pieces for LabourList on UK Uncut. The first one I found myself broadly (though not totally) agreeing with because I think UK Uncut was wrong to stage actions on the day of the March for the Alternative. However, in his second one, Anthony edges across a line and is in danger of entering ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ territory. In fact, his finger-wagging attitude is not helpful and unconstructive in the current context.
It’s clear to me, not least from Prime Ministers Questions this week but also from the glut of negative media coverage that there is now a concerted and highly orchestrated attempt to ‘get’ UK Uncut and totally discredit it. Why? Well, I think Wes Streeting provides the answer in another LabourList piece:
UKuncut has been one of the most successful vanguard actions against corporate greed we’ve seen for years. At a time when public services for the poorest are being hit hard, they have been incredibly effective at exposing the hypocrisy of a system that sees the richest shirk their social responsibility through tax avoidance, while the poorest have no option but to fulfil their civic duty because they can’t afford a fancy accountant. Through peaceful, non-violent direct action they have raised public awareness, increased pressure on corporations to pay fair taxes and have inspired similar movements elsewhere, notably in the United States of America.
Like Wes, as should be clear from my comments above, on a tactical level I do not agree with everything UK Uncut does. Nonetheless, we need to be quite clear that when it comes under the sustained attack it has from Conservative backbenchers, (although one seemed to be attacking an unknown organisation called Uncut UK), the Prime Minister and the media; we are their friends and will defend them while always remembering that the best kind of friend is a critical one, because those ones tell you how it is, not just what you want to hear.
So, its right to call for UK Uncut to distance itself from the Black Bloc, etc. Its right to say that UK Uncut needs some kind of coherent and democratic structure to grow, it needs structures which are flexible for sure but also in which people can be held accountable. Saying ‘I don’t know because we all do our own thing’ wont wash at all and it has to stop. In short, it needs to protect itself from the coming onslaught which I expect only to intensify and get worse. This is not an ‘attack’ but serious advice – if UK Uncut starts to regard even well-intentioned critical remarks as an aggressive act then it will wither and die; vanishing into the murky cul-de-sac of social irrelevance where the hollowed out husk of the far-left lives.
Interestingly, Anthony doesn’t call for any of this and I suspect this is because he has now written UK Uncut off entirely. In doing so, he is writing off an organisation which as Wes describes has been an inspirational success in so many regards purely on the grounds of one mis-step and that is just plain silly. He may well be right about the legal details but the police have been reluctant to act on them up to this point, precisely because UK Uncut has been such an inspiration with its committment to non-violent direct action. They now have the excuse to take a much harder line; an outcome I expect was planned in advance. UK Uncut now needs to make a cultural leap of faith and realise that some structure and organisation is a necessary evil and will in fact enhance, not weaken, its campaigning. The March for the Alternative was a testament to the power of organisation with even a much-diminished and storm-battered labour movement mobilising 100’s of thousands in an impressive show of force.
We should not make the mistake Anthony does and write-off UK Uncut. They still have much to offer this movement and Labour should be their very-best (and therefore critical when it is necessary) friend.