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British Communist Party Talks Sense on Labour Party Reforms (!)

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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.

He asks,

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.

Suffolk People’s Assembly: Defend Our Unions Public Meeting.

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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?

Kevin stated,

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!

Labour Representation Committee Conference.

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This year’s Labour Representation Committee (LRC) AGM was the first the Tendance has attended.

We joined, because Labour Briefing is now the official journal of the LRC. It seems a good idea to go along to the meeting of  a left paper that has played a significant role on the left for several decades.

The turnout for the event was as Stan Keable in the Weekly Worker describes,

There were slightly more than 100 comrades attending the November 23 annual conference of the Labour Representation Committee in London’s Conway Hall. That is down by a third compared with last year. Bad news for what is an umbrella organisation of the pro-Labour Party left, but surely reflective of the general state of the left in Britain.

He puts the LRC’s importance in this context,

The LRC also has significant organisational affiliates, including six national trade unions (Aslef, BFAWU, CWU, FBU, NUM and RMT), numerous trade union branches and regions, constituency and branch Labour Parties, Welsh Labour Grassroots, Campaign for Socialism (Scotland), and a variety of communist and socialist organisations.

It is hard to comment on Comrade Keable’s detailed remarks about the functioning of the LRC, and the “office problem”,  since we do not have direct information on this. The Briefing is something we can all judge. Against the Weekly Worker article we would  that Briefing has changed, though perhaps “renewed” – for the better – is a more balanced description.

Of the speeches Owen Jones was uplifting, pointing to the successes of such initiatives as the People’s Assembly. Keable dismisses this as his “usual fare” – ignoring the importance People’s Assemblies have taken on the ground.

John McDonnell MP was excellent. You can take this argument whatever way you wish:  “People are still voting Labour,” he said. “We must nourish struggles within the party by building struggles outside.”

Stan rightly underlines the importance of the contributions made by “two activists from the Boycott Welfare campaign, Clive and Robert, gave a moving contribution from the platform as guest speakers. Unemployed people and benefit claimants are clearly being badly maltreated by the system. Half a million have been already denied benefits under the workfare system, they reported.”

These are issues dear to our heart and the LCR, and associated Labour MPs, are to be congratulated for making the campaigns against  of Workfare, Universal Credit and Sanctions, not to mention ATOS, a priority. We were able to develop our contacts with Boycott Workfare by talking to the activists during the break.

Jeremy Corbyn MP gave a more nuanced  portrait of the 1945 Labour government than has recently appeared (notably in the Ken Loach film, the Spirit of 45). Its record was exceptionally largely positive, but it had been Atlanticist and a far from a consistently principled anti-colonialist government.

Mark Serwotka is patronised by Comrade Keable (whose style is rapidly tiring). “he would not waste time repeating “how bad it is”. We need to talk about “what we’re going to do about it”.

I did not get a chance to speak to guest speaker Philippe Marlière of the Front de Gauche (Left Front) – with whom I have contacts. He  must have felt cheered by the serious speakers listed above, though less encouraged by some of the others.

Of these, Stan does not mention the antics of Graham Durham who seemed eager to hog the limelight at every opportunity. His virulent attacks on Len McCluskey  and the LRC elected Committee (amongst others) and his support for Murdoch’s man in UNITE, Jerry Hicks,  struck a sour note.

Durham’s only accurate observation was on the lines that every meeting he attended got smaller.

We wonder why.

There was also an extraordinary  motion by something called Socialist Fight, on Syria.

This noted that “Negotiation with Russia and Iran disarm Syria of its chemical weapons and Iran from developing nuclear weapons and so prepare for a future attack against weaker enemies.”

It ended, “The defeat of this utterly bogus ‘revolution’ will defend a relatively secular administration, strengthen the Syrian working class against Assad and dent chauvinism  in US, Britain and France.”

This was roundly defeated in favour of a policy of defending democratic movements in Syria against Assad and opposing the Western backed jihadists.

There was a debate on the Labour-Union link.

Andrew Berry from Unison, Maria Exall of the CWU and Ian Hudson of the bakers’ union (BFAWU) all made pertinent speeches – Ian Hudson was particularly rousing.

Labour Party Marxists made an appearance.

Stan Keable led off by citing the phrase, “The Labour Party emerged from the Bowels of the Unions” – a quote he attributed to Ralph Miliband.

Ernest Bevin, who actually made the observation, was hardly a model of democratic practice in his use of the union – T&GWU -  block vote. 

Perhaps next time former members of the CPGB begin talking about the Labour Party they might care to familiarise themselves with its history.

The motion that was passed broadly re-affirmed the importance of keeping unions affiliated to the Labour Party. Keable, this time accurately, mentions that their motion,, which sought “the end of individual ‘opting out’ of trade union political funds”, was voted down by a two-thirds majority. Sadly that majority included the LRC’s political secretary Pete Firmin, though Graham Bash, the de facto editor of Briefing, abstained. “

The motions passed on Europe were, as the Weekly Worker reports, equivocal on the need to defend a perspective of a social, socialist, Europe – a view put forward by both Labour Party Marxists and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. They left space for both this genuine internationalism and a more narrowly focused ‘anti-Brussels’ stand. As the article  states, there was a “refusal to recognise that advocating withdrawal means nationalism.”

The AGM was well worth attending.

I particularly enjoyed the atmosphere during the evening that began in the Dolphin and ended in China Town the most.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 29, 2013 at 11:53 am

Suffolk People’s Assembly Against Austerity. A Report.

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The Suffolk People’s Assembly held a very successful meeting on Tuesday night.

Around 150 people crammed into the Co-op Education Centre in Fore Street to hear speakers on “It’s Time to Fight Back’.

People came from Lowestoft, Bury St Edmunds, Saxmundham, and Hadleigh as well as Ipswich and its surroundings.

As  the trade union UNITE noted, “The assembly intends to act as a focal point for a general campaign against the tide of austerity that is hitting the 728,000 people living in this predominately rural county. “

The meeting was organised by trade unionists, and a range of  campaigners from across the county. Many had been active in the Suffolk Coalition for Public Services which had held large demonstrations against the cuts in the region.

The Suffolk People’s Assembly (originally the Ipswich People’s Assembly, formed in April) after the June People’s Assembly Conference in London , attended by 4,000 people.

There were banners from Ipswich and District Trades Council, UNITE, the NUT, the GMB and Disabled People Against Cuts.

Graham White, Suffolk county secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) led off the meeting. he talked of the privatisation of education and the attacks by the Education Minister, Michael Gove, on teachers  Graham called for support for the coming joint NUT/NASUWT strike action.

Teresa McKay, Secretary of Ipswich Trades Council, talked of the way austerity and poverty hit us, particularly women. She backed the Living Wage campaign, and a one-day national protest general strike to oppose government policies.

David Ellesemere, Leader of Ipswich Council Labour Group, began by dissecting  the disaster created by the Liberal-Conservative  Coalition’s economic policies. He cited,  Winston Churchill to back the argument that low wages ended up by making everybody worse off.

David made the Living Wage,calculated as the salary needed for a decent standard of living without tax credits, * the centrepiece of his speech.

He observed that the state was now subsidising bad employers by refusing to introduce this standard. He said that Ipswich Borough Council had brought the Living Wage, and banned zero hour contracts  for their employees. A Suffolk Living Wage Campaign would bring pressure on those companies which refused “A fair day’s pay for a fair day;s work”.

Ipswich Borough Council was proud to announce that it had begun building Council Houses, for the first time in many years.

The Council had, so far, resisted cuts – though the Coalition was now set to introduce centrally imposed  reductions in Ipswich spending.

David’s speech, which took a clear anti-austerity stand,  was well received.

Dianne Holland, Assistant  General Secretary of UNITE, spoke of the broader effects of austerity. We needed an alternative that could grip people’s imaginations and inspire opposition, Unity, People sticking together, was what we need.

Owen Jones, the keynote speaker, made just such an inspiring speech.

He talked of the politics of hope, opposed to the Government’s efforts to create fear and envy, setting the working poor against the unemployed, the healthy against the disabled, and the stigmatising of migrant workers.

Owen slammed the disability ‘testing’ firm, ATOS, one of many of the government’s welfare ‘reforms’, the bedroom tax, and the fact that people now had to be fed by Food Banks.

Many people react to the decline in living standards and policies designed to foment division, with frustration and anger.

Hope, he said, was as essential to life.

In place of the Government’s politics of hatred Owen offered plans for public housing, for decent wages not tax credits, and for welfare. It was a scandal that rents were so high that the Housing Benefits were going into landlords’ pockets, without helping solve the housing crisis. In their place rent controls and a massive programme of public sector housing were needed instead. Banks, bailed out during the financial disasters of the last few years, should be brought under  public control and used to promote investment. tax avoidance should be stemmed.

The movement, he observed, had a knack for division, into rival  Judean Fronts.

But now we were working together towards common goals.

Owen’s speech ended with a standing ovation from the audience.

There was ample time for debate.

There was concern that over the weekend a  ‘Love Music, Hate Racism’ live music charity event at The Steamboat Tavern on the Waterfront had cancelled by organisers after threats from the English Defence League. Around 11 members of the  EDL had turned up. **

Members of the audience raised issues such the cuts in education locally, Labour Party Policy, the NHS’s use of agency workers. Concerns about the Labour Party’s policies in these areas, and over squatting,  were raised. Women from the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) called for people to support their campaign against the service’s sell-off.

One speaker, indicating how the politics of division could be fought,  said that the local UNITE had recently recruited a substantial number of Eastern European Haulage drivers.

Sandy Martin Leader of the Labour Group on Suffolk County Council noted that unlike Ipswich Borough, the Tory-run County employed people on zero-hour contracts. Its privatised services, such as Home-care service exploited workers still further.

After the Assembly people remarked on how heartening they had found the meeting.

Serious follow ups are planned.

The Suffolk Living Wage Campaign will be organised in the coming weeks.

People will be out on the September the 29th NHS demo outside the Tory Conference in Manchester, and the November the 5th Day of Action.

Tuesday was a springboard for a much wider campaign against austerity in Suffolk.

Suffolk People’s Assembly meeting at the Coop Education Centre Ipswich, on September 17th 2003 resolves to:-

* Oppose the Austerity policies being carried out by the Coalition government and develop political and economic  alternatives to them. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Newman Next Labour MP for Chippenham!

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Marxists back Newman in Chippenham!

Andy Newman is the Labour Party prospective candidate for the Chippenham constituency.

Congratulations!

On the excellent Andy Newman For Chippenham blog Labour’s proud record is defended,

We should be very proud of what was achieved by the Labour government between 1997 and 2010.

The Labour government with Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, and Alistair Darling as Chancellor, had introduced a number of specific and targeted measures that boosted the economy.

Comrade Newman spent much of this time backing the Labour Party by supporting candidates of Respect and Socialist Unity.

He was Swindon spokesman for the Respect Party and, amongst other activities,  invited George Galloway to speak at the town.

Newman ran the Socialist Unity site.

We say, phooey! and whatabout?  to this past.

In a gesture of solidarity we announce our intention to campaign for Comrade Newman.

Chippenham Map for Socialist Canvassers. 

Hat-Tip, Facebook.

Update: a bit tardy but worth waiting for, Andy Newman announces his candidacy on his own site.

The Wiltshire Daily Small Pig Breeder and the North Wiltshire Digital DJ, Alan Patridge Jnr, have given this extensive coverage.

The contest looks a close run with Labour scoring 6.9% in Chippenham at the last election.