Birmingham: the only democracy we have is resistance
Originally posted at Slaney Street Blog
The destruction of Birmingham’s local services leaves people with only one option to express themselves democratically: protests. Today dozens of people blockaded the council house at every entrance, which had Birmingham residents linking arms and preventing entry to Councillors. During the meeting a few hours ago I was tackled out of the council chamber twice for breaking in to the meeting and shouting at the council leadership.
Those who believe that we should seek a democratic society should be seeking to block and disrupt the operation of Birmingham city council. This is what I and others did today, Tuesday the 26th of February, the day on which £101m worth of cuts are being voted through by Birmingham City Council’s ruling Labour group. The claim that disrupting the vote on cuts would be fundamentally undemocratic is ludicrous.
For a system to meet the basic requirements it needs to be deemed democratic, there must be evidence of a direct mandate from the people to enforce an act. No such a thing can be claimed to be held by those running the city council at present. Labour who controls 77 of the 120 council seats ran on manifesto that only mentioned the cuts once in 16 pages. Further the only mention was an anti-cuts message: “Labour in Birmingham will continue to challenge the cuts to the West Midlands Police budget.” This clearly provides no mandate for the sweeping cuts they are now implementing.
The democratic system within which we reside falls down at both national and local level. Our democracy is a poor two-party system which shuts out alternative voices. We can only express ourselves poorly once every 5 years. Already polls nationally have shown that a clear majority of the population are now against austerity and want a growth plan B. If we lived in a responsive democracy we certainly would not be adhering to Osborne’s disastrous plan A which has steered us into a triple-dip recession.
Birmingham never voted for the cuts in the first place. A national agenda is being forced upon Birmingham. This is one of the most deprived cities in the country, and it voted against the cuts all along. I see no reason why the privileged Tory Shires & Home Counties who are not hit by the cuts should have the right too dismantle services all across Birmingham, reaping the benefits of more tax cuts for the rich. If Birmingham wants to resist these cuts which are being forced on it then that is perfectly valid.
When society is deprived of any meaningful democracy then resistance in the form of strikes, mass actions and protests forcing the will of the 99% onto the tiny elite is the closest thing to any sort of democracy. This democracy is a democracy of people voting with their feet – walking out on strike, taking to the streets. This is what we need now.
Birmingham has a proud history of this kind of mass democracy on the streets. In 1972 30,000 people marched on the mines, shutting them down, in response to the Conservative government who were trying to force massive pay cuts on mine-workers in Birmingham. The city’s residents also turned to the ballot box, rejecting the Conservative government en masse. This sent a clear message: if we weren’t to be paid a fair wage, then we wouldn’t work.
This is not the ideal democracy, obviously. But when faced with an unrepresentative government and local council – who are choosing to implement devastating cuts – or a democracy based on the will of ordinary people, taking to the streets, the decision is a clear one.
While the blockade today may not have been large enough to prevent the vote taking place today, those organising within Birmingham’s communities have clearly presented a strong and vocal Left. This gives a democratic alternative which one can rally behind. Activists have been meeting across the city, forming new groups and collaborating on a scale that hasn’t been seen in a long time. The ever-growing numbers provides a scope for actions to expand and become a real threat to the political status quo.