The TUC protest in March set the tone. As Michael White writes in The Guardian: ‘It was billed as the March for the Alternative: Jobs, Growth, Justice. But [it]… never got much beyond sloganising about cutting less and taxing the rich more’. It exhibited a ‘lack of well-honed alternatives’, he says, in what was largely an ’emotional gesture’. For all that the organisers sought to distance themselves from the antics of UK Uncut (of Fortnum and Mason infamy) they had this much in common. Last week activists dressed as doctors and nurses, in a typically melodramatic gesture of their own, occupied banks and turned them into pretend operating theatres and GP surgeries. This ‘radical’ group, who until recently spent their time exposing alleged tax avoidance practices on the High Street, have now widened their campaign to opposing public sector cuts and arguing for banking reform.
And yet, beyond the impressive numbers on that TUC march and the rhetoric of the self-regarding few that went on a trashing-spree of Oxford Street, the battle-cries coming from union leaders this month are too little too late. There is reportedly industrial unrest to come as the unions ballot their members. But without a cohering argument about why we should defend the public sector against cuts, public sector workers are likely to be marching alone. Dominic Lawson argues in The Independent that there is a ‘silent majority‘ in favour of the cuts. It looks more like indifference to me. The ‘well-mannered alternative‘ march organised by pro-cuts campaigners this month confirmed that they are as marginal as those opposed to them. It wasn’t just the poor showing either. As one of the organisers put it, there is ‘no common position beyond our basic concern about the huge public sector deficit’. Until either side come up with a ‘common position’ we can expect more of this farcical theatre of protest.