A meeting called only two weeks ago (but widely publicised by all three politial parties with members who spoke, as well as on various Stroud email lists and on lamp-posts etc...) drew upwards of 70 people last night as opposition to the Coalition's Cuts Agenda grows in the Stroud District - as it does around the country.
Martin Whiteside, Green Party District Councillor and parliamentary candidate began the meeting by commenting on the ideological nature of the approach to cutting the deficit in 4 years. Whilst not denying that the deficit was a serious problem, Mr Whiteside laid the blame squarely at the Banking Bailout and at the Capitalist system for landing us in this mess (he objected to blaming the bankers themselves - though this is tempting - saying the focus should be on the system they exploit).
Mr Whiteside suggested what was needed was investment in public services and in new green industries. He later confirmed that he was challenging cuts at the District Council, and responded to criticism of 'Green Capitalism' by emphasising his belief in alternative economic models, for instance Social Enterprise.
The meeting continued with a powerful speech by Chris Moore of the Socialist Party (and recently a key organiser in the anti-BNP media centre campaign). Full of anger and not afraid of criticising the previous Labour Government for its role, Chris emphasised his belief that the anti-cuts campaign will not succeed without a national strike, that the TUC's planned national demonstration (in March) is too late and a call to ensure a good turnout at the Gloucester Anti-Cuts demonstration on November 20th. He also raised issues of Privatisation of the NHS by 'Social Entreprise Trusts', which were returned to later. As his prime example of success, Mr Moore raised the achievements of Liverpool Council in receiving greater funding during the Thatcher years (subtly referring to the role of the predecessor organistion to the Socialist Party, Militant), and of the non-payment campaign against the Poll Tax (dismissing the idea that it 'woz the riots wot won it)
The last official speaker was David Drew - until the recent election Labour MP for Stroud (since 1997). Mr Drew highlighted three reasons to oppose the cuts - their Economic Illiteracy (in terms of severity and timing, as pointed out by Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman), Immorality (when bonuses and high pay continue), and another reason which your correspondent forgets at present. He then sought to focus on practical action (though again, your correspondent forgets the particular actions), and repeated gestures of the other two speakers regarding working together in a non-partisan way.
The discussion was then opened to the floor - a member of Transition Stroud raised the recent Vodafone protests and the collusion of government and big business demonstrated by the appointment of a former Vodafone board member as George Osbourne's Tax advisor. He also informed the meeting of the Goldsmiths' students occupation that had taken place earlier in the day, and suggested that all present needed to see themselves as being "on the frontline" (in distinction to the comment of a speaker that this term applied to public sector workers).
Other members of the public echoed calls to work together and to be creative in methods of opposition. There was some debate over the approach to strikes - with one person suggesting the RMT should follow the example of Dutch bus drivers who struck by going to work but refusing to use ticket machines. Several people said they did not want to be arrested (or felt they were too old for that sort of thing), while others recalled the campaigns against the Poll Tax and Greenham Common - the successes of non-payment and Non Violent Direct Action.
Union representatives from Unison, Unite and the NUT spoke about particular issues within the workplaces they represent, and raised practical issues about a one-day national strike (this would bankrupt Unite, claimed a member - citing the £30/day paid to strikers by the union).
An female NHS worker spoke powerfully about the hidden privatisation of the NHS, her fear of public support for NHS Cuts (one member of the public had recently suggested to her that the NHS "could do with a kick up the backside" through privatisation). She informed the audience that many of the problems people cite about the NHS are actually the result of privatisation that has already occured - MRSA being connected to private cleaners, call centres being outsourced and so on.
One member of the public spoke at length and with a great deal of anger about the betrayal of students and others by the Liberal Democrats - and emphasised that tactically this is the weak point of the Coalition and their Cuts agenda. He argued persuasively that campaigns against cuts should target Lib Dem MPs and councillors - embarassing them and informing them of the votes they have lost until they refuse to go along with the Tories. Nick Clegg was singled out for particular treatment as the man who had single-handedly changed LibDem policy on the cuts.
There were other speakers and suggestions - notably for a weekly freesheet to be published in Stroud to educate the public, and regarding a series of 'Stroud Debates' and their role in informing campaigns (a repeated phrase was "work together and get smart").
Advertisements were repeated for the Gloucester demonstration on 20th Nov and for the Stroud Debate events on Nov 11th, Dec 2nd and Jan 20th as the three official speakers summed up (generally restating their positions with added nuance) - a particular point made by Chris Moore being the risk that Social Enterprises would be *used* to destroy a public NHS (with the inference that this 'use' would also impact negatively on the Social Enterprise and Cooperative Movements).
After the formal conclusion of the meeting there was time to sign up to campaign email lists and collect leaflets for events. A number of people milled about for some time, helping to tidy up and discussing potential outcomes and niggles about the meeting (eg. limited actual decisions about what to do next).
A freesheet should begin appearing soon, however, it seems - after discussions amongst an informal group of people after the meeting (and in the pub!).
A comment from one audience member seemed to sum up the mood, approximately it went - "What is happening here tonight is we are setting a snowball in motion, and as with the anti-Poll Tax campaign, that snowball is going to grow and grow. What is needed is for us to think about how to steer that snowball" (the meaning being in order to be successful, not in order to achieve gains for some vanguard).
Your correspondent only vaguely remembers sitting on his dad's shoulders on a dark and breath-in-the-air night outside Stroud Leisure Centre - when the Anti-Poll-Tax movement began in earnest in Stroud, but it would appear, will now be treated to a rerun of battles between the Terrible Tories, and the Working People of the UK.