Monday, 13 December 2010

Zippin' up my boots, goin' back to Netroots!

Recent violence arising from protests against the huge rise in English student tuition fees have served to slightly obscure the positive message that has come from these protests. The message - also commented on by some, not necessarily left-wing columnists -  is that students are becoming politically active again. This is a most welcome sight, and is paralleled by a reawakening in the Trade Union movement signalled by both increased activity of young members, and attempts by the leadership to reintroduce political awareness training, and to spread the use of new media and new styles of campaigning.
These developments are at early stages, of course, and could still fizzle out. Student politics still has the capability of dropping out of fashion as happened during the post-Thatcher years. And the fact that much of the resentment is down to a rapid disillusionment with Nick Clegg’s LibDems - who promised a radical change in British politics, and then delivered a pit prop for the Tory establishment - means that apathy might still win out. Remember the election lockouts at many uni area polling stations? But it looks more hopeful than for some time. 
The violence will not help the politicisation of the majority of these young people. On one hand it sends the message, that a cause only gets reported when violence flares - but conversely we also see that reports then concentrate on violence and disruption; the personal connections of protestors and targets; anything in fact - apart from the actual issue that caused the protests in the first place!
But there is much imagination tucked away in the protests that have been undertaken by other young campaigners. the use of ‘flashmobbing’ for example, to target businesses who have been in the frontline of tax dodging, or other antisocial activity (see is derived from art and dance initiatives of ‘spontaneous’ public performance and shows a) the importance that arts can bring to this struggle and b) the need to involve people and the wider community in this campaign. 
Trade unions also, where they still exist, have had too many years of marking time. Those of us who have been active for a while have noticed the absence of a generation or two of activists. In particular, the absence of political activity for at least a generation. We must take much of the blame for this - we didn’t train up our successors politically, concentrating too much on mechanism and process. But now there are strong signs that a new generation IS keen, willing and eager to take on the struggle. 
And political training is beginning once more. But this time it is being linked, not just with public demonstrations and protest, but the use of social networking, the internet, video clips, blogs and other accoutrements of the digital age. UNISONScotland’s recent MOBILISE festival took a weekend to take both trade union and community-based activists through both the politics of the fight, and the variety of avenues available to promote our cause. This not only dealt with media training, economics, and political lobbying, but involved cartooning, comedy and songwriting - not likely to be the Christmas no 1 but check it out !!  BTW the Christmas no 1 should be Captain Ska
Another important event is scheduled for the New Year in London. Netroots UK, on the 8 January promises to be the next step in developing campaigning against the ConDemNation. Priced at £5, it must be the best value conference covering a number of key organisations (Obama digital campaigners, anti-cuts websites, thinktanks) on the left. Hopefully it will also spark much new activity, and campaign ideas. Both students and trade unionists need these. 
And more than that, they need to remember that to be successful they need to connect with the community. Tossing fire extinguishers off roofs is unlikely to achieve that at this stage. See you in London.

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