Posted by: Eddie | November 21, 2010

Portsmouth anti-cuts meeting – What went wrong

Thursday 18th was the launch meeting of a coalition group in Portsmouth to fight the cuts – Portsmouth Against the Cuts Together (PACT).

The meeting started off well with some speeches from Laurie Heselden (Southern and Eastern Region TUC), Ben Norman, Sam Bogg (Portsmouth university student) and a local school student (sorry I don’t recall her name).

Unfortunately the speeches didn’t stop. It seems that many people had prepared lengthy, drawn out speeches about the cuts and were hell-bent on saying their piece despite being severely restricted for time.

All the speeches were pretty good but went over the same themes with perhaps a slight slant on it. This was not a rally where we were trying to put out a message to the wider public, this was supposed to be about getting organised and deciding on some action. Instead it ended up with people who see themselves as the prominent activists getting their egos massaged.

There were three things on the agenda for the meeting; a name for the group, how to structure the group and when the next meeting will be.

These three things were all decided within the last five minutes with minimal if no discussion at all.

So what have we got from the meeting? We have a name, we have everyone’s contact details, we have an unelected steering committee and a next meeting date that is so early it risks alienating many people who work past 5pm (but care was taken to make sure the steering committee could all make it).

The situation we have currently in the group is no better than we had before, we’ve still got a group of activists making all the decisions and a group of supporters responding to a call for marches, etc.

This should not, however, be a reflection on the people who put together the meeting as they did try to get some discussion going on the subject of organisational structure. The only failure on their part was allowing people to go on with their speeches and not getting through the agenda.

It is not all bad though, at least we know what went wrong and these things can be corrected.

My practical suggestions for the next meeting are:

  • Starting the meeting off with invited speakers only
  • Getting through the practical agenda of the meeting
  • Then having speeches from the floor if time permits.

Topics for the next agenda should include (in my opinion):

  • Structure of the group (preferably having a collective decision-making process with an electable and re-callable committee without decision-making powers)
  • Sorting out a regular meeting time suitable for the majority of members (not just committee members)
  • Finding out what skills people have to give the campaign (website, printing, logo making skills, etc)
  • Tactics (should we just have marches or should we be doing other things aswell?)
  • What actions do we support? (Do we support the Millbank students, for example?)
  • A plan of action

Hopefully what will come out of this is a democratic campaign with a lot of fighting spirit that is able to take on the cuts by going past the usual A to B marches.

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Responses

  1. Speakingin a personal capacity as someone involved in PACT but from a socialist rather an anarchist background I think that some of your points are well made. However, as it was the first meeting I think it was important for the organisers to open the floor for as long as possible. Everybody who wanted as invited to come to the planning (commitee) meeting (of course its difficult to find a time were everyone is able to make it). With regards to going on my own opinion is that PACT should work with everyone and endorse events that further the cause but not monopolise anti-cuts activity. I think its important make links and support trade union and community campaigns. I think that strike action if and when it comes is going to be very important to the overall success of the struggle. Therefore doing the political groundwork to get ready for the unavoidable reaction from the right, from management and the whole mainstream media is vital. That we leaflet and do stalls to broaden our audience (and numbers!) and get the message out is a major part of that.

    I also agree that marches from A to B wont cut it in this struggle and direct action is going to be important. Therefore if activists want to take actions its not up to PACT to give it the greenlight (though I think we can and should depending on euthusiasm for it among the group), and of course we can only ask people to come to events whether they be called or just supported by PACT. I think the current stuff about tax avoidence is a great initiative and would like to see it happen more (I know some people occupied Vodafone on their own inititive after the first portsmouth anticuts demo). The people who came to the publc meeting obviously make up a small network of interested people, those communication channels should be open to all events organised by everyone fighting for our side. In short I think heterogeneity is a good thing in social struggles, but that a central campaign is important from a perspective of broadening alliances and audience and developing a profile in local media.

    I have to say the people on the commitee (ie those that volunteered at the public meeting) have been falling over each other to be open and accountable with each other. I think everyone agrees we need to have broad and open meetings that decide on the direction of the campaign. However it isnt always true that everybody wants to or can be involved to that extent despite best intentions.

    I for one hope that you – the porsmouth anarchists – are involved and represented in the campaign.

    • Whilst I agree that the floor should be made open as long as possible, when constrained by a limited time frame it is important to make sure that the bread and butter issues of organising are sorted beforehand so the meeting doesn’t get sidetracked.

      As for everyone being invited to the commitee meeting, I don’t remember hearing that though it may not have been made clear as there was a rush to get things sorted out before having to leave.

      I still think that having a committee of a core of activists (no matter how open they try to be) is no substitute for voting on issues at a mass meeting and is something that is essential to make people feel like it is their campaign group and not a campaign they merely support and yet have little say in.

      As for being involved in the campaign, we’re trying to have people there for the meetings and actions depending on work constraints, etc.

  2. Hi

    There are some key aspects of PACT that you have missed. Firstly membership is open and anyone can attend the “committee” meetings. As yet we dont have Standing Orders and voting has been essentially indicative and decisions taken by consensus. Secondly, the aim is to act as an umbrella organisation facilitating mutual support (nearly said mutual aid then) amongst those individual campaigns and initiatives within the area we cover. The recent Student organised protest at University House which attracted solidarity attendance from TUs and politicos like me is a good example.

    We Greens have some doubts about the wording of the 5 objectives, especially the bit about Defence Jobs, but in the main I feel that a common denominator approach is the best way forward,. That leaves room within PACT for those of us with more radical agendas as well as working class organisations that have, as yet, a rather conservative outlook.

    On the issue of Direct Action, that you seem to be probing, the Green Party position on this is clear. We actively support Non Violent Direct Action when other means of effective defence and protest are not available to us. By non-violent, we mean no violence against the person, and we recognise that damage to property, where propionate, may be justified. Which is why we support Smash EDO decommissioners, climate rush activities in Nottingham etc. and the Millbank students – see Derek Wall’s video that I posted on the PACT website.

    Hope to see you guys represented at the “committee” on 13th December.

    Yours in peace and hope for a better World,

    Tim Dawes
    Co-Ordinator South East Hants Green Party

    • PACT membership may well be open and anyone may come along to committee meetings, but as far as I’m aware, during the launch meeting a date for a meeting was set but no venue was agreed. As a member of the group, I didn’t receive any email about the meeting details.

      I may be wrong about the venue not being arranged at the time as things were being rushed through at the last minute but why a committee was appointed and meetings not being advertised as well as they should have been is beyond me. At the time of the original meeting it did seem to me it was put across as an exclusively committee meeting though hopefully this confusion can be sorted out and everyone will know where they stand.


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