Archive for the ‘Labour Movement’ Category
Talks Sense on Future of Left.
The Labour Representation Committee (the largest grouping of the grass-roots Labour left) stated before yesterday’s conference,
As Labour’s special conference looks set to vote through the Collins reforms at the behest of Ed Miliband, critics on the left of the party have warned that the proposals set in train a process which could radically undermine the party’s link to the trade unions.
Although the unions have forced Miliband to back down from plans which would have seen an immediate breaking of the link, the transition over five-years to a situation where individual union levy payers will be required to ‘opt in’ as affiliated supporters represents a clear step away from the collective basis of union affiliation. Right wing elements around Progress have already made it clear that they want to re-open the question of the percentage of votes the unions hold at Conference, and their representation on the National Executive Committee in another five years.
Today we learn,
Ed Miliband secured the significant backing – and a cash donation – from former SDP leader David Owen as the Labour leader won his party’s support for reforming its links with the trade unions. Independent.
In the Morning Star on Saturday Robert Griffiths (General Secretary of the Communist Party of Britain) makes these very relevant points,
The Communist Party, on the other hand, is clear that the labour movement – and in particular the trade unions – must have its own mass electoral party which is capable of winning general elections, forming a government and enacting reforms in the interests of the working-class majority of the people.
Is tomorrow’s Labour Party, in which the trade unions are no longer able or willing to exercise decisive collective influence, likely to perform such a role? That prospect will recede significantly when the Collins proposals are passed at this year’s Labour Party conferences.
From his perspective,
Britain’s Road to Socialism explains that it has been that party’s affiliated federal structure and its trade union and working-class composition that have ensured the existence of a significant socialist trend within it. It is this structure and composition which is now being put in mortal jeopardy.
It should be added that far from creating “one member one vote” the “reforms” will further increase the power of MPs and the circle around the Party leader.
Conferences, already reduced to impotence, a decision-making system worthy of the most Byzantine Stalinist organisation (with powerless members’ forms at the base and the wheeler-dealers at the top) make claims about the changes increasing democracy and participation hollow.
In these conditions,
……the fragmentation of the labour movement’s political unity is likely to continue. New left parties and electoral alliances will proliferate, falter and reappear in new guises. More trade unionists and even some unions will withdraw from active participation in the Labour Party.
What is the alternative?
Clearly not, “Britain hosting a replay of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, or Scotland taking a separate Cuban-style road to socialism.”
Instead, we need trade union bodies at every level – up to and including the Trades Union Congress – to organise discussions, meetings and conferences to consider how many more workers and their families can be drawn into political activity and representation.
Hand in hand with this effort must go the drive to popularise the ideas and concept of socialism. Tony Benn has often pointed out that our problem in Britain is not a shortage of socialist parties but of socialists.
Many are unlikely to respond to the call for a “stronger Communist Party”, preferring a more general wish for a “stronger Left” .
But forums like the People’s Assembly should be considering these ideas.
Perhaps the Morning Star could open wider, beyond its existing favoured circles, to debate them.
On Tuesday up to 60 people came to Ipswich Library Lecture room to the Suffolk People’s Assembly meeting, “Defend our Unions and Right to Resist Austerity.”
Speakers represented many different aspects of the Trade union and anti-cuts movement.
Dave Smith, a Founder Member of Blacklist Support Group, spoke on employers who witch-hunted activists out of jobs. Drawing on his experience in the building trade he outlined the long-standing campaign against the practice, and the recent actions against Crossrail and private contractors for public services.
Donna Guthrie of Joint Chair Black Activists Rising Against Cuts (BARAC) talked of their grass-roots campaigning in London’s East End. In Newham they had struck deep roots in the community, from many different ethnic backgrounds. They were campaigning against cuts in social housing, and issues such as the abuse of police powers.
Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary, National Union of Teachers, said,
I’m Proud that NUT was in at the beginning of People’s Assembly and to share this platform today.
Why is the NUT is involved?
Well firstly because Teachers can’t separate themselves from the rest of working people. But perhaps more importantly because many of the children we teach see the worst effects of the austerity agenda. And it is the most vulnerable hit hardest.
Kevin described the attacks on the education system, spearheaded by Michael Gove.
How do we offer an alternative?
The Peoples Assembly shows the characteristics we need for the fight back – unity, broad base, looking for activity, something for everyone to do and contribute to And we do see very successful mobilisations all over the country – against cuts and closures in the health service, against the bedroom tax and evictions, against schools being forced into academy status.
Bill Bowring, the International Secretary of Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, and Colchester based, congratulated Suffolk People’s Assembly on its work. He listed more reasons to offer an alternative to the Liberal-Conservative government’s policies. He said that reducing legal aid, a pillar of the post-war settlement, was part of the same weakening of social rights as attacks on the NHS and education.
Roy Humphries FBU Secretary Suffolk Fire Brigades Union, spoke on the government’s plans to reduce their pension rights and raise the age of retirement to an unsustainable limit.
He described how their battles were far from over and thanked members of the local labour movement, in particular Ipswich Trades Council, who had supported their protests.
Jim Kelly, Chair of London & Eastern Region Unite the Union, spoke on his union’s base in the private sector. He outlined the decline in collective bargaining agreements – the UK is now apparently on a par with only one country, Lithuania, for its low level of these agreements. Jim cited how UNITE had successfully fought back against employers and had, for example, won bonus for London Bus drivers, and had defended their members. UNITE were beginning to tackle the problems created by the anti-union Gateway port employers. What was needed were changes to the anti-trade union laws that prevented workers form organising and only a Labour government, he suggested, could do that.
On the Grangemouth dispute Jim pointed out that it was the local membership who had decided on an agreement with a ruthless employers.
In the discussion that followed a member of the SWP attacked the Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey.
Others saw the trade unions in a positive light, as reaching out to people to defend social rights and as advocates of a better society.
The People’s Assembly was mentioned as a way people draw campaigns and unions together. The previous week Suffolk activists had supported the Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) protest against ATOS. A campaign extending our work on the Living Wage, will be launched for Fast-Food workers.
At the People’s Assembly National Conference (15 March) Suffolk will be presenting two motions. One opposes the government’s policies against migrant workers. The other calls for a national campaign against Workfare and for Charities, social sector and local authorities to have nothing to do with forced labour.
Ipswich Postal workers mentioned their fight to defend their conditions, and the effects of the closure of the local sorting office.
In the pub afterwards activists considered that the meeting had been a success and a help in our efforts to campaign for progressive politics.
Sisters, Brothers! There’s a place for you – in the People’s Assembly!
Gives Seymour a Ticking off.
In the latest International Socialism SWP theoretician Alex Callinicos assesses Grangemouth.
The dispute at the Grangemouth oil refining and chemicals complex in Scotland,was the union face up to one of the nastiest bosses in the UK,Jim Ratcliffe.
In a frank interview in Le Monde 16.12.13. (without parallel in the mainstream British Press), Ratcliffe poured scorn on trade unions, British workers, high European taxes, European social welfare charges, and the fact that people resisted his closure plans.
He remarked that in America or China nobody would even think of fighting the proposal to shut down a loss-making plant.
Defeating the company run by such an individual, backed by the Coalition, the enitre business world, and most of the media, would take more than Grangemouth
Callinicos imposes his Party’s way of looking at this industrial dispute.
I lost interest in this account when the learned Professor began talking about UNITE as a union “which centralised power in the hands of the general secretary.”
Not that I know of: UNITE is a “member led” union.
This was pure bravado,
But, as Jerry Hicks’s impressive performance in last year’s election for the Unite general secretaryship showed, a significant minority of activists are open to taking a more militant stance. Unite the Resistance has an important role to play in gathering these activists together and enabling them to fight more effectively, sometimes in alliance with left-wing officials, sometimes independently of them.
Hicks, as vain as the leader of his Party, Respect, is unable to gauge political reality.
He discredited himself during the Grangemouth dispute by slagging off UNITE to the Murdoch press.
Sources indicate Unite the Resistance seems to have died a death, and the SWP is presently engaged in its latest frantic front, Stand up to UKIP.
Still there are some gems in this article – about comrade Richard Seymour.
Richard Seymour, who, since breaking with the SWP last spring, has been working overtime to widen the gap separating him from revolutionary politics.
Seymour is apparently guilty of seeing UNITE’s side of the story.
Indeed he is culpable of worse,
Seymour’s apologia for McCluskey implies a fatalistic approach to history. For all his extravagances and ambiguities, Slavoj Zizek is much closer to a genuine revolutionary Marxist approach when he says that “authentic politics” is “the art of the impossible-it changes the very parameters of what is considered ‘possible’ in the existing constellation.
Now Callinicos then mounts a defence of “impossibilism”,. That is a matter of testing the limits of the possible.
Or, we would suggest, making impossible demands in the hope that your small Party will snaffle up recruits from those who fall for them.
Callincios – probably rightly – notes of the group Seymour is now part of, Left Unity, will “struggle” to get a hearing.
But one wonder who will hear this?
It is in any case important that the SWP will survive this crisis. The Gadarene rush by much of the radical left to find excuses for McCluskey underlines the necessity of sustaining an organisation that simultaneously works in a non-sectarian way with other forces on the left and bases itself on clear revolutionary Marxist principles. Indeed there is a strong sense in which Grangemouth settles the debate between Rooksby and Blackledge over whether there is a practical difference between left reformism and revolutionary social.
Even fewer is our guess.
Though this “non-sectarian” article in the same journal (Once more on left reformism)which attacks everybody on the left, from The People’s Assembly, Counterfire, the International Socialist Group and the International Socialist Network, Left Unity, Syriza, Die Linke, the Front de Gauche, Richard Seymour (“ innocent of any sense either of how social movements are terrains of struggle”), and, j’en passe, does indeed claim that, “To work with people to our right is an elementary and fundamental aspect of revolutionary politics…”
Now, the ‘Seymour’ who appears in the pages of the ISJ may occasionally say fragments of things that I have said, but otherwise any resemblance to a real person is almost entirely coincidental. That ‘Seymour’, it has been suggested to me, is a manifestation of the unconscious. Against this, corrections and clarifications are futile. Still, just this once, for demonstrative purposes, I will state a bit of the obvious.
You know, it really doesn’t take a professor of politics at Kings to remind me that the class struggle is a war. Nor even that Thatcher instituted neoliberalism through brutal class and social warfare. One is not – how do you mammals say? – ‘thick’. I even wrote something about this for a small quarterly journal once.
But Callinicos’s last sentence is puzzling, in that it suggests he isn’t at all puzzled by my last sentence. He gets exactly what I’m talking about. Outbursts of struggle are not in themselves sufficient to shift the balance of forces in favour of the working class or the left; you have to work on building up the infrastructure, the material conditions in which outbursts of struggle will have more chance of success. This is actually made clear in the cited article from The Exchange, in the paragraphs immediately following those quoted, in which I say, among other things: “We need to begin a process of reconstructing class capacities, articulated with an equivalent process of rebuilding the left’s political capacities.”
Not that opaque, surely? And is the point in any way rebutted or qualified by stating (whether accurately or not) that the relative importance and effect of these conditions can “only be tested in struggle”?
If not, then the reason for the feint, and the non-sequitur, ought surely to be obvious.
If anybody can make much sense of the last sentence (or indeed most of this) please contact a very large dictionary. We assume it was quickly translated from the original Etruscan.