Splitting headache over Respect

[Sunday]

 I’ve not posted for the last week because of technical problems. Bloody computers. I had planned to write something on the Respect affair, but alas, I’ve not had the time. Note that a new site, Respect Renewal is up, see the Socialist Unity blog for all the gory details.

There now follows a critique of the whole Respect project by the Socialist Party:

Respect in crisis – what lessons for socialists?

The transformation of Labour into a thoroughgoing party of big-business has left the working class effectively disenfranchised. The Socialist Party has been calling for the trade unions to stop funding Labour and for the creation of a new mass party of the working class for over a decade.

Unfortunately, in that time there have been a number of false starts on the road to a new party. These include the Socialist Labour Party, the Socialist Alliance and, more recently, the Scottish Socialist Party. The latest formation to hit severe problems is Respect, which is currently heading rapidly towards a split between the two main forces who founded it in 2004 – George Galloway MP, on the one side, and the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) on the other. Inevitably, particularly given Galloway’s election as an MP for Respect in 2005, the crisis will lead to disappointment amongst those layers who welcomed Galloway’s election, and will be used by New Labour supporters, and those who believe Labour can be reclaimed, to argue that it is impossible to build a new formation to the left of New Labour.

Potential for a new mass workers’ party

The Socialist Party entirely refutes this. Since 1997 New Labour has lost more than half its membership and over four million predominantly working-class voters. They have stopped voting for New Labour, and in most cases stopped voting at all, because they rightly see all three main parties as virtually identical, offering up an unrelenting diet of cuts and privatisation. Never before in history has there been such a vast gulf between the mainstream political parties and the mass of the population – the overwhelming majority of whom stand far to the left of the mainstream parties.

At the same time, workers who enter struggle are increasingly demanding that their union disaffiliate from New Labour. It is not a coincidence that it is unions who have been involved in important strikes – the fire-fighters union, the FBU, and the railway workers union, the RMT – that have been the first to stop funding New Labour. And, after New Labour’s brutal treatment of the postal workers, there is now the possibility that rank-and-file postal workers will follow the FBU in campaigning for the breaking of the Labour link, pushing the pro-Labour leaders of the union aside. If a new broad workers’ party already existed, it could quickly win the active support of these layers of workers. In the absence of such a party, the process will be more complicated. Nonetheless, it shows the objective need and the potential for such a party.

The situation today has many similarities to the circumstances that led to the foundation of the Labour Party over one hundred years ago. Unwilling to any longer accept the capitalist Liberal party, trade unionists and socialists fought for their own independent working class voice. However, the process which led to the foundation of the Labour Party, in which Marxists played an important role, was not quick, simple or straightforward. It took place over twenty years and included, just as today, many false starts.

Socialist Party discussed with Respect

The Socialist Party discussed with the leaders of Respect at the time of its foundation in 2004 and again in 2006. However, we concluded that we could not join Respect because we felt that the mistaken political approach and methods of its leadership would mean – unless there was a change of direction – that Respect would not be a step on the road to a new mass workers’ party, but rather would complicate the process towards the development of such a party. In the current faction fight within Respect, both sides can make “correct” criticisms of the other, but unfortunately, this does not necessarily mean that they have actually learnt the lessons of the Respect experience.

There are a number of prerequisites in order for a new party, or pre-party formation, to be a positive step towards a mass political force representing the working class. Firstly, it must be able to actively involve significant sections of workers and young people entering struggle. If, as we argued for at the time, George Galloway had launched the call for a new party from the platform of the massive, two million strong, anti-war demonstration on 15 February 2003, it could have been an important step towards such a party. Unfortunately, Respect was launched after the peak of the anti-war movement, and was seen by its leadership primarily as an electoral vehicle rather than a genuine attempt to build a new broad, class-struggle based party. It has attempted to take short-cuts to win electoral support and is now suffering the consequences.

Respect not filled vacuum

Respect has never claimed more than 4,000 members and has clearly not come close to filling the huge vacuum to the left of Labour. However, this has not stopped it taking an extremely arrogant approach towards groups of workers moving towards independent political representation. Respect, for example, has recently demanded that the RMT do not contest the London Assembly Elections because Respect is standing. The starting point for socialists should be to welcome the RMT’s discussion on putting up a trade union-based, anti-cuts, anti-privatisation slate in the elections. The Respect leaderships approach, by contrast, could slow down or prevent potentially important steps towards a new workers’ party.

The leadership of Respect has taken a similarly high-handed approach within its own ranks. As the failure of Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party (SLP) in the mid 1990s demonstrated, a bureaucratic top-down approach repels the new generation of activists who, given their experience of the establishment parties, have an understandable suspicion of parties. For any new broad formation to be successful it is crucial it has an open, welcoming and federal approach. Federalism was adopted by the early Labour Party, enabling it to bring together many different organisations and trends, preserving the rights of all to organise and argue for their particular points of view. Unfortunately, Respect, despite calling itself a coalition, has a centralised structure which bears no resemblance to a coalition or federation.

Until recently the SWP and George Galloway formed a bloc within Respect, with the SWP using their weight of numbers to force through whatever policy they thought fit. This meant, for example, that the entire membership of the national council and the overwhelming majority of decisions on election campaigns and candidates were effectively decided by the SWP.

On specific issues, for example the call for Respect MPs to take a workers’ wage, the SWP have used their numbers to try to prevent criticism of Galloway, who argues that MPs should be paid twice as much as their existing salaries of £47,000 per year, plus expenses. Socialist Party public representatives have always taken a workers’ wage, and we would argue for a new party to adopt this policy. This does not mean that it is necessarily wrong to work together with individuals, like George Galloway, who do not support this demand, but it was a major error for the SWP to try to prevent a discussion on this and other issues.

Socialist banner lowered

The leadership of the SWP are now arguing that they are being pushed out of Respect because they are socialists. Galloway is adding to the impression that the SWP are ‘too left wing’ by attacking them as ‘Leninists’. In reality, the undemocratic methods of the SWP bear no resemblance to genuine Leninism. And, unfortunately, it is the SWP that led the way in arguing that Respect should lower its socialist banner. At the founding convention of Respect, Lindsey German, of the SWP, argued that the Socialist Alliance had failed because it was too explicitly socialist and that Respect would succeed by being ‘broader’ (i.e. less explicitly socialist). This argument was mistaken, as the Socialist Party has been able to show repeatedly. For example, in the 2004 euro-election in Ireland, Joe Higgins received 5.5% of the first preference votes across the whole of Dublin on a clear socialist programme. This is broadly comparable to the vote Lindsey German received in the 2004 London Mayoral Elections, of just under 5%.

Nonetheless the Socialist Party would welcome a new mass workers’ party, or significant step towards one, even if its membership didn’t initially adopt a fully-rounded out socialist programme. Provided a new mass party was rooted in struggle, had a democratic and federal approach, and stood clearly against cuts, privatisation and war, it would represent a step forward. However, as socialists we would argue within such a party for it to stand for socialism, as the only means to permanently and completely end cuts, privatisation and war. The vast majority of Respect’s members, however, are longstanding socialists, who argued for Respect not to be ‘too socialist’ because they hoped to ‘broaden’ Respect’s electoral appeal.

In fact, far from broadening Respect’s appeal, its leadership’s approach has narrowed it. A new mass left formation cannot be built on one issue, or by appealing to just one section of the working class. Respect has concentrated in the main on one section of society, the Muslim community, which it is important to win, but Respect has largely failed to reach out to other sections of the working class. Today, the SWP are criticising Galloway on this issue, even suggesting he has a ‘communalist’ approach, but they have supported Respect’s strategy up until now.

For socialists, the programme we put forward should always be aimed at raising the confidence and combativity of the working class. This means doing everything possible to encourage the unity of the working class. For example, that is why our sister organisation in Northern Ireland has always fought for unity of the Catholic and Protestant working class.

In Britain today, the reactionary policies of New Labour are fostering division. This makes it all the more important that socialists attempt to overcome these divisions rather than exacerbate them.

Where now?

Most non-SWP activists within Respect appear to be opposing the SWP in the current split. The National Council of Respect has put a motion to Respect’s conference in opposition to the SWP. It states that they “welcome the discussion” on standing in the London Assembly elections inside the RMT and will “offer the best possible conditions to the RMT for a joint slate”. It would be to be welcomed if at least part of Respect retreated from its previous, sectarian position on this issue, but not if this is part of a general move to the right. In addition, if they are serious about reaching out to the RMT, in the current situation, and given the importance of a national trade union beginning to take steps towards independent workers’ representation, Respect should be prepared to go further and support the RMT if they do decide to initiate a trade union led, anti-cuts, anti-privatisation slate.

The resolution goes on to say that they will try:

“To discuss with the RMT, the Labour left, the CPB and others the possibility of a jointly organised conference to extend the discussion on a solution to the crisis of Labour representation.”

Potentially, such a conference might be useful, but only if organised on an open and democratic basis and if there are forces within it clearly arguing the case for breaking the trade union link with Labour and founding a new mass workers’ party. Neither wing of Respect has up until now supported breaking the Labour link, but the argument for doing so is growing with every passing day. Galloway has even previously suggested that Respect’s role might be to force New Labour to the left. Today, even key figures on the Labour left, such as John McDonnell MP, are concluding that “the old strategy” of reclaiming Labour is now “largely over”. However, McDonnell does not as yet have a worked out alternative, beyond supporting single issue campaigns.

To be productive, a conference must not just be a Respect rally but a genuine discussion on the way forward involving all serious forces. Given the Socialist Party’s longstanding campaign on this issue, and our significant base in the trade unions (we currently have 22 elected members of trade union NECs), it is not a good sign that neither we nor the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party, which we initiated and now has over 3,000 supporters, are mentioned as organisations to be approached.

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Anger at New Labour sweeps through CWU

[Wednesday]

Essential reading from this week’s Socalist Worker, a look at attitudes towards the Labour Party amongst its working class donors/victims.

In both Scotland and Wales, the CWU and other unions can apply pressure to Labour by threatening to support the nationalists instead – something which has been suggested by the GMB’s Paul Kenny, and others.

But in England, where is there to go? Not back to the Liberals – that’d be absurd. Not the Greens – the name implies a single issue, and one other than working people. Nor Respect – not in its current form, at any rate.

Yuri Prassad isn’t foolish enough to suggest unions in England should start backing Respect instead of Labour – in fact, it’s hard to discern the SWP’s vision for the coalition – rather, he reflects the view of many CWU members who would rather the union backed people who support their struggles instead of funding the Blue Labour backstabbers.

Anyhow, for those too lazy to click a hyperlink, here’s the article:

Anger at New Labour sweeps through CWU

The union’s dispute with Royal Mail has raised sharp questions over its political fund, writes Yuri Prasad

There is a deep crisis in the postal workers’ CWU union that centres on its political fund – but reflects much wider troubles in the relationship between the unions and the Labour Party.

There are also “rumblings within the GMB union” over the union’s link to Labour, according to a report in last Sunday’s People newspaper.

Questions about union funding of Labour have emerged in every trade union that has taken strike action under New Labour – and on a scale not seen under previous Labour governments.

At the root of the crisis is the way the Labour leadership has wholeheartedly embraced privatisation and neoliberalism – the ideology behind Gordon Brown’s public sector pay freeze.

According to the Electoral Commission, between February and June this year the CWU donated £277,627 to the Labour Party – yet with every cheque signed, attacks on the union have increased.

In the week of the first postal strike in June, the Labour Party accepted £3,500 from the CWU to help pay for its leadership contest.

Within days Brown was condemning the postal workers and telling parliament that their union must show restraint.

“The question of Labour and our strike has been massive in Scotland,” says Tam Dewar, area delivery rep for the CWU’s Glasgow Amal branch.

“I know of at least four unit reps in my branch that have left the union’s political fund during the course of the strike. I’m not at all surprised by that because it’s not just Brown and the ministers who are against us.

“I wrote to eight local MPs asking them to support our strike and only got replies from four – that’s a disgrace. If we want to stop the haemorrhaging of the political fund, we must ensure that we only financially support those who support us.”

This feeling is now widespread in the union. At a mass meeting during last week’s unofficial postal strike in east London, the greatest cheer went to the rep who said she would take forms to leave the political fund around all her workmates at the end of the dispute. “There must be no more money for Gordon Brown,” she said.

She was absolutely right. The union should not be funding those who are attacking it. Money should only be going to those who broadly support the union’s policies and back it in key confrontations – even if that means battles with government ministers.

This doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning the political fund. But it does mean radical change.

Political funds do not exist simply to fund Labour – more broadly, they give workers a collective political voice.

There are some within the trade union movement who believe that unions and politics should not mix. They would like to see unions concentrating simply on economic issues and ignoring the ways in which politics impacts upon every workplace struggle.

This would be a major mistake. For example, where working class people are divided by racism, it undermines our ability to fight back in a united way. Therefore it is good that the CWU is affiliated to anti-racist campaigns such as Unite Against Fascism.

But anger against Labour is now so strong that without significant changes to how the CWU’s political fund is used, it may well be abandoned – leaving the union without a political voice.

The firefighters’ FBU union is an example of this. The union voted to disaffiliate from Labour in 2004. This followed a prolonged strike in which Labour ministers played a critical role in backing employers.

But when the union broke with Labour, it had no alternative political project in mind and has since played no significant part in the creation of new voice for working people.

The CWU can do much better than that. Across Britain many CWU activists are demanding change. They want action now that enables the union to fund left wing MPs and councillors from parties other than Labour, such as Respect.

There will be strong resistance to this move from some in the CWU’s leadership. But without such a change, the numbers of union members leaving the fund will become so great that the potential political voice that it offers will be gravely weakened.

Co-ordinated action needed as Brown threatens to privatise Royal Mail

[Tuesday]

Reports from The News Line on yesterday’s rally for the postal workers which took place before the anti-war march:

‘WE SHOULD ALL COME OUT!’ – Serwotka tellls CWU rally
‘We offer our full solidarity,’ civil servants’ union PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka told a 500-strong rally of striking postal workers in central London yesterday.

Serwotka added: ‘Every member of the CWU (Communication Workers Union) deserves a decent pay rise, pension and a job.

‘We face the same as you – 140,000 job cuts, with 30,000 cuts at the DWP and charities being brought in to deal with benefits.’

He said: ‘I take my hat off to every postman and postwoman who refused to cross our picket lines, it’s time for us to return that solidarity.’

Serwotka said of the government: ‘If they are not prepared to support us we have to force them.
‘We are balloting for national strike action.’

He concluded: ‘Think of the message if 130,000 post workers, quarter of a million civil servants and 30,000 UNISON council workers took action.

‘If this government won’t settle, we’ll all have to take action if we have to.’

CWU general secretary Billy Hayes told the rally: ‘This dispute is about decent pay, people being treated with dignity and decent pensions.

‘It’s also about the future direction of our industry, about privatisation.

‘People told us we couldn’t defeat privatisation but we did.

‘But Leighton and Crozier want a privatisation agenda.’

Hayes asked: ‘Where is John Hutton, the minister in charge of the Post Office? He can’t be found.

‘If it was Northern Rock, they couldn’t get on the telly quick enough.

‘But Royal Mail is a company they own.’

Hayes said: ‘We will win this dispute because the issues are right and the solidarity is there.

‘We are at a turning point. We’re more solid than ever in terms of support.

‘We are going to win this because the government are going to have to start listening or they will pay the consequences.

‘Our message is Gordon Brown get this dispute sorted.’

CWU deputy general secretary (postal) Dave Ward said: ‘This dispute is about postal workers defending their jobs, the postal service and terms and conditions.

‘The Labour government says it shares values with the trade union movement.

‘It has been slow to show that support.

‘I don’t know how they can sit back and allow what is going on.’

NUT deputy general secretary Christine Blower said: ‘If teachers don’t get a decent pay award, we will be taking action.’

London Transport RMT rep Unjum Mirza said: ‘We offer our solidarity to this magnificent rally.

‘Our enemy is your enemy – Gordon Brown.

‘He is our problem and we need to take him on.’

TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O’Grady told the rally: ‘I bring you the solidarity of the General Council representing seven million workers.’

Labour MP John McDonnell said: ‘This dispute is about a choice between public services with decent pay and pensions and low pay and casual labour.

‘This is Gate Gourmet-type management as we have seen elsewhere.

‘The PCS have been threatened with 140,00 job cuts, 30,000 jobs are under threat at the DWP and even UNISON are balloting for industrial action.

‘People have had enough. The reason Brown is not having an election is the depth of anger across the trade union movement.

‘We’ve had enough of privatisation, pay cuts and a management that is trying to break our unions.’
He added: ‘One phone call from Brown can settle this dispute.’

Indeed, but Brown doesn’t sound like he’s up to making that call:

GORDON Brown yesterday, at his monthly press conference, condemned the striking postal workers and their union the CWU.

He called their strike action in defence of their conditions of service and pensions ‘unacceptable’ and continued to threaten to cut the financing of the Post Office and the Royal Mail if the strike action continued.

He said: ‘When we the government are investing a huge amount of money in the postal services it is not something that we can either condone or we can stand lightly by and say it is an acceptable form of behaviour. I want these people back to work. I want people to have the postal services immediately and we the government that is providing money for the post office will have to consider our position in the light of the events.’

John4Leaving?

[Monday]

I have been wondering for some time: will John McDonnell jump ship? His latest article for the Morning Star was published on Saturday.

I doubt that there will be any movement from McDonnell or others on the Labour left until after the general election (which, I expect will be held in November – unless Brown bottles it).

Still, the gist of the piece is that “Reclaim Labour” is a dead-end; the focus should instead be on building a “movement of movements” – green activism, rank-and-file unionism, campaigns for council housing and workers’ rights. Where does this lead, I wonder?

AFTER the events at the TUC and Labour Party conference, it is time for the left to take a hard-nosed look at where we go from here.

First of all, we have to face up to the harsh realities of the new political world in which we are operating.

The historical path of the left stems from working people coming together in the workplace and discovering their strength through solidarity. Nourished by socialist ideas, they recognised that, if they wanted to exercise power beyond the workplace, they needed political representation. So the Labour Party was born.

Democratic party structures were established to develop the policy programmes to be implemented when power was achieved.

This week’s vote to close down democratic decision-making at the Labour Party conference and Gordon Brown’s first speech as leader demonstrated that the old strategy is largely over. The conference is now virtually irrelevant and its replacement, the National Policy Forum, is a behind-closed-doors exercise of centralised control of party policy-making.

Brown’s speeches at both the TUC and Labour conference demonstrated decisively how much he fundamentally believes in the principles of neoliberalism – the dominance of the market, flexible labour and privatisation.

Even if there was the potential to use what is left of the party’s structures to attempt to influence him, it is clear that the overall political direction of the Brown government is non-negotiable.

The left has the difficult task of accepting and explaining to others that the old routes into the exercise of power and influence involving internal Labour Party mobilisations and manoeuvres have largely been closed down. We have to face up to the challenge of identifying and developing new routes into effective political activity.

The contradiction is that the more undemocratic the Labour Party becomes, the more it cuts itself off from the real world at a time when new social movements are emerging.

People may be increasingly giving up on political parties, but they haven’t given up on politics. They still want to challenge the injustices they meet in our society and they are devising a multitude of mechanisms to do so, from independent media and climate camps to affinity groups organising direct action.

New social movements have mobilised on a vast array of issues ranging from climate change, asylum rights, to housing and arms sales. Many trade unions have also rediscovered their roots as social movements themselves in their new campaigns on everything from private equity to the exploitation of migrant workers.

New alliances are being forged and, where trade union leaderships have been incorporated as supporters of the status quo, rank-and-file activity within their unions is re-emerging and organising.

The difficult task for the left now is to appreciate that new strategies, new coalitions of forces and, above all else, a new dynamism are needed to deal with the new political environment where the traditional routes have been so narrowed.

The left needs to open itself to co-operation with progressive campaigns within our community, learning from them, treating them with mutual respect, rejecting any patronising or sectarian approach and, where needed, to serve as the catalyst to instigate and facilitate campaigning activity. Creativity is also needed to stimulate the analysis, debate and discussion of the ideas and principles which we may share in our wish to transform our society.

The main political parties are increasingly seen as irrelevant to the real-world issues facing our communities, resulting in declining participation rates and election turnouts and deepening scepticism.

This doesn’t mean that people are apathetic. Far from it.

There is a growing radical nature to our times and an opportunity for a period of exciting, frenetic activity capable of creating a climate of progressive hegemony which no government could immunise itself from no matter how ruthlessly it closes down democracy in its own party. [Emphasis added]

CPB to drop support for Labour Party?

[Thursday]

The following article by the CPB’s general secretary was printed in The Morning Star on Monday and is now available online at the Scottish Committee’s site. The implications of the article are discussed by Liam Mac Uaid, who concludes:

“The defeat of John Mc Donnell’s campaign, the upcoming likely fights around public sector pay and the amputation of what remained of Labour Party democracy are obliging the CP and its supporters to re-assess their traditional support for Labour. This is one more stage in the process of making the socialist party to replace it. Now who is going to start organising the spaces where these debates can be had?”

It is worth noting that when Respect was initiated, the CPB debated joining the nascent coalition. Alas, a majority voted to stick with Labour. Times have changed, as Liam notes, but there would be obstacles to the CP signing up to Respect – the Mayoral elections, the fact that Respect does not operate in Scotland, etc.

I think Griffiths is right to try to open a debate within the CPB, and the Labour left, about the representation of working people. Though they might be considered by the CPB as part of the sectarian left, the Socialist Party have been campaigning for a new workers party for a while now and the SWP make up the majority of Respect – The Unity Coalition.

(Respect is going through some internal wrangles at the moment, which can be used to attract the Labour left and might give the CPB pause for thought: I cannot view John Rees’ recent statement in isolation from the recent debates and last Friday’s hit-piece by Newsnight: “Labour not only wants to avoid having rows in the media but it wants to avoid having any debate at all.” Rightly, Respect refused to talk to Michael Crick, who cut his teeth witch-hunting Militant in the early eighties, but unfortunately the debate was not carried out openly within the party. In future, I suspect that things will be different.)

Whilst holding the “reclaim Labour” position, the CPB have stood candidates in elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, and in England as part of Unity for Peace and Socialism, the development of which is still being considered. The Socialist Campaign Group has failed to challenge the leadership at Westminster or Edinburgh and is haemorraging members: the latest loss was Bob Wareing who has been deselected as MP for Liverpool West Derby, a position he has held since 1983.

The stark reality behind new Labour’s plans for conference
Wed 26 Sep 2007

ROBERT GRIFFITHS highlights the stark reality behind new Labour’s plans for conference.

OVER 100 years ago, the TUC initiated the steps which led to the founding of the Labour Party.

This was a great political leap forward for working people and their families. They had seen through the Liberal Party’s claims to speak for labour, to represent the interests of workers as well as those of factory owners, coal barons and shipping magnates.

Although many delegates to the Labour Representation Committee were still wary of socialist ideas, the resolution adopted at the committee’s second conference in 1901 urged trade unionists to unite on an independent political platform for:

“(1) The defence of the legal rights of combination.

“(2) The passing of such laws as will put an end to a system under which the producer of wealth has to bear an enormous burden in the shape of rents and profits which go to maintain large classes of non-producers.”

Millions of working-class voters subsequently elected Labour governments in 1924, 1929, 1945, 1951, 1964, 1966, 1974 (twice), 1997, 2001 and 2005.

They did so not because they believed that it would lead to a socialist society. Most people long ago realised that Labour Party leaders “played the game” to win votes and not upset the Establishment too much. Compromises came to be expected from Labour governments in office, some sellouts even.

But all Labour regimes tried to redistribute wealth, improve social and welfare provisions for workers and their families, defend and enlarge the public sector, extend democratic rights, oppose overt forms of racism and, in international affairs, uphold the League of Nations and the United Nations in the face of naked military aggression by one sovereign state against another.

Labour often fell a long way short. The Communist Party in Britain was formed in 1920 to mobilise workers and people generally to fight for progress and socialist revolution. Communist attempts to stay in and then affiliate to the Labour Party were rejected by right-wing Labour leaders, despite at times winning substantial trade union support.

Nevertheless, a large section of the working class has stayed loyal to Labour. The Communist Party has long recognised this reality, working in alliance with others on the left to improve Labour’s policies rather than try to replace it as the mass party of the labour movement.

But the “tectonic plates” have been shifting in ways which the trade union movement and the left can not ignore.

In its first term, the new Labour government honoured commitments to a national minimum wage, increased employemnt and trade union rights and devolution for Scotland and Wales. But, since 2001 in particular, new Labour has governed primarily in the interests of big business.

Wealth has been redistributed, but to the richest one-tenth of the population, who now own 71 per cent of Britain’s vast wealth, while the poorer half of the population own just 1 per cent, down from 6 per cent when new Labour first took office.

The basic state pension has been continuously devalued and future workers will have to get to 68 before qualifying for it.

‘Transforming Labour’s annual conference into half big business seminar, half Nuremberg rally will do nothing to make it “more democratic”.’

Unlike those trade union delegates in 1901, Gordon Brown and new Labour believe that our anti-trade laws should remain as repressive as they were 100 years ago, and that the real wealth producers in our society are the multimillionaire City fat cats, PFI pirates and private equity tax dodgers.

New Labour has indulged in an orgy of privatisation and contracting out. The profiteers have been given a red carpet into our state education and health services. PFI repayments will cost more than £100 billion over the next 12 years.

Our civil liberties have been curtailed to a degree unknown in peacetime, with internment without trial and expensive ID-card “dog licences” on the way. Incessant government attacks on asylum-seekers and migrant workers have stoked up racism, turning the BNP into the most successful fascist party in Britain’s history.

Blair – with Brown’s shameful acquiescence – has locked us into the foreign policy of the most reactionary circles of US monopoly capitalism. The United Nations has been treated with contempt. Hundreds of thousands of civilians and soldiers have died so far in Afghanistan and Iraq, while the giant US energy, construction and armaments corporations have reaped the benefits.

Now, Prime Minister Brown is ripping up international disarmament treaties by committing Britain to the US Star Wars project and a new generation of nuclear weapons.

We do not have a Labour government in any social democratic sense. Brown’s latest proposals to abolish contemporary motions at the Labour Party annual conference will complete the anti-democratic, anti-trade union drive begun by Partnership in Power.

His claim in last Saturday’s Guardian to want “every member to have an equal say from the start of the policy process to the end” would make a cat laugh.

Completing the transformation of Labour’s annual conference into half big business seminar, half Nuremberg Rally will do nothing to make the Labour Party “more open and democratic.” Nor will giving members a plebiscite every four years or so on the basis of take it all or leave Labour without an election manifesto.

If Brown really is keen to “show members – and future members – that what they say counts,” when will they get an opportunity to vote for a referendum on the EU constitution – sorry, reform treaty – for public ownership of the railways, for withdrawal from Iraq, against replacing Trident or for fair taxation of the super-rich?

One wonders how and why trade union representatives on Labour’s national executive committee fell for such tosh last week.

As experienced negotiators, would they go back to their members in a workplace and say: “The boss and his management team have asked us not to table proposals at the annual pay negotiations in future, because it embarrasses them. So, we have agreed that our ideas will instead go direct to a joint policy forum which may, after a year or two, put unamendable proposals to a future annual meeting.”

What has been conceded in return? “The boss has promised to listen more as he continues to cut our pay, raid our pension fund, outsource our jobs and spend our taxes on new weapons of mass destruction.”

And what if he doesn’t listen? “We will review the situation after two years and ask him to restore our right to table proposals.” And if he doesn’t hear you or refuses? “We’ll table a resolution.”

Sharp-witted Morning Star readers may now be spotting a flaw in the logic.

Trade unions, the Communist Party and the non-sectarian left must do all in their power to combat the most reactionary new Labour policies, despite this latest feeble cave-in by union representatives.

The Left Wing Programme provides a unifying, coherent and progressive alternative with its proposals for a wealth tax on the super-rich, a windfall tax on banking and oil superprofits, public ownership of transport, energy, banking, armaments and pharmaceuticals, an end to privatisation, equal pay audits and a huge programme of council house-building.

But we can no longer ignore the elephant in the room, which is that the Labour Party in the grip of new Labour.

Some unions have already disaffiliated and more may regretably follow as their members have enough of attacks on their jobs, pensions and living standards.

Individual membership has more than halved – from 407,000 in 1997 to 182,000 today – and millions of former Labour voters have deserted the Labour Party at the ballot box.

The trade unions and the people of Britain need a mass party of labour. If, as in the US, we all agreed that we do not have one, we would be united in trying to create one. Opting out of the struggle to reclaim or re-establish a mass political party of the labour movement offers no solution.

From this Labour Party conference, every trade union, whether affiliated or not, and every socialist organisation has a responsibility to outline its proposals for reclaiming or re-establishing Britain’s mass party of labour.

New Labour rescues the bankers, rubbishes the postal workers

[Saturday]

Today’s News Line editorial is brilliant (if rather excitable):

THE Brown government has not just guaranteed all of the Northern Rock bank deposits, it has also underwritten its so called ‘commercial paper’, that is all of the worthless ‘promises to pay’, which cannot be honoured, and left the bank with many tens of billions of debts around its neck.

The Bank of England has turned this worthless paper into being as good as cash for the bankers, for the moment anyway.

This inflationary action is in line with the role of some of the most extreme right wing governments in the recent history of Europe.

Mussolini for example followed the same policy in relation to the bankrupted Italian capitalists in the period following the 1929 crash.

His regime took over and even nationalised bankrupt industries, pumping money into them, and then handing them back to the grateful employers.

The Brown government has, in fact, agreed to provide the same service for all of the banking institutions that are currently keeping their indebtedness as quiet as possible, but in reality need massive amounts of ‘liquidity’, that is untold billions of cash pumped into them.

The full depth of the current financial crisis has yet to emerge.

As it is, Britain’s position is that of the most indebted of the advanced countries, with a record balance of trade deficit, and a record level of domestic debt, where £1.3 trillion of debt dwarfs the gross domestic product of £1.2 trillion.

Brown’s pledge to bale out the banks will return to haunt him, when the deepening of the crisis sees the major banks demanding rescue.

This moment may come with the start of a major run on the vastly overpriced pound sterling.

We saw at the time of Black Wednesday that the Bank of England was powerless to stop the run, and capitulated, bringing Britain out of the ERM.

This time round it will be national state bankruptcy that stares capitalist Britain in the face, a huge catastrophe for a country that imports much more than it exports, including most of its food and fuel.

Brown’s policy is now steering Britain towards the rocks.

The fact that the whole state is concentrating on preserving the bankers and the capitalists leads it directly on to the prosecution of a permanent and desperate war on the working class and its trade unions, to seize much more of the surplus value that the working class produces, to hand it over to the bosses.

The economic crisis and this class contradiction is the driving force of the current struggle to smash the CWU communication workers union, by sacking 40,000 workers, terminating the industry’s final salary pensions scheme, bringing in extreme flexibility that puts the worker at the disposal of the employer, and bringing in a new code of industrial relations, which can be summarised as ‘the boss can do no wrong’.

What is happening to the postal workers is what is in store for every section of the workers as the Labour government goes all out to save the banks through robbing the workers using savage wage, benefit and pensions cuts.

The only solution for the working class is to get rid of this bankrupt capitalist system whose contradictions are recreating on a much bigger and more intense scale all of the features of the 1930s – extreme poverty in the midst of plenty in a situation of imperialist wars with rising class struggle at home, and revolutions.

That this is not just a British question can be seen by taking a glance at the US or at France where Sarkozy the new French president has raised the banner of class war against the workers, declaring that they will have to work much harder for less wages, and work much longer for a smaller pension.

The capitalist crisis is producing world revolution.

The workers of the main capitalist countries are now faced with overthrowing the capitalists, to go forward to a socialist society, as the only way to preserve their standard of living and their basic rights.

This report on the postal dispute from Respect points to the way forward for workers faced with Brown’s pay freeze:

The CWU has announced a resumption of strike action for 48 hours on 5th and 6th October, and another 48 hours on 8th and 9th October. The plans come in response to the “draconian and destructive proposals on pay and business changes” of Royal Mail management. Union members are said to have been strongly in favour of further industrial action.

After several days of strike action by 130,000 postal workers last month, the CWU agreed to negotiations with management. But to date there remains no agreed pay deal, and the pay deal that is on offer is linked to “unacceptable propositions on flexibility and decreased pensions benefits,” according to the CWU leadership.

A regular programme of weekly strikes is planned from 15th October until the resolution of the dispute. In the meantime, Royal Mail management have imposed a number of operational changes, including executive action on pension proposals and a cessation of employee savings schemes. David Ward, Deputy Secretary General said that “strikes are a proportionate response to an employer that is completely out of the control.”

Union members have spoken of building on the momentum of previous strikes and ensuring that the union does not compromise over attacking Brown’s role in the dispute, particularly during the Labour party conference next week.

Respect supports the planned strikes by CWU members and calls on other trade unions facing threats to pay, privatisation and jobs for united strike action. John Rees, National Secretary of Respect said “Royal Mail management have made it clear they are not in the mood for meaningful negotiations. Strike action over an indefinite period of time will force a pay deal that finally benefits postal workers, not the bosses.”

The public sector pay freeze that Brown is determined to impose can only be broken if the unions fight it together.

Tony Benn’s last straw?

[Friday]

Tony Benn, writing in The Guardian yesterday, expressed his fears about New Labour’s plans to exclude the membership from proposing policy debates at the party’s conference.

You would think that a protest vote on this or that issue, with no outcome in terms of party policy, would not be enough to keep people in the Labour party. I kind of hope that the leadership succeeds in its intentions – then at least those genuine socialists in the party might consider challenging New Labour from the outside…

Bob Wareing had to be ousted before he would admit there is no future in Labour. Perhaps it will take this year’s conference to get Tony Benn to admit there is no way that the party can be “reclaimed”.

Here’s the body of his article:

Next week’s may be the last real Labour conference I shall attend after 65 years membership of the party. For if constitutional amendments put forward by the leadership are accepted, delegates will no longer be permitted to pass any resolutions on any policy questions.

The argument put forward is that when there is a Labour government it is unacceptable for members of the party, at conference, to be able to vote for policies that are in conflict with government policy. This process began in the 90s, when New Labour came to power and most proposals were referred to the national policy forum in which the government had a permanent majority.

But it was agreed that eight resolutions could be put to the conference every year – four from constituency parties and four from the unions. The conference was able, for instance, to vote for a restoration of the link between pensions and earnings. The government did, however, succeed in preventing discussion on other sensitive issues like Iraq and its decision to go ahead with Trident.
If the new proposals – now endorsed by the NEC and apparently some major trade unions – are accepted, delegates will only be allowed to identify issues they want looked at by the policy forums, and the manifesto that emerges will be put to a referendum of party members to accept or reject in full, with no possibility of amendment. This would complete the New Labour project under which the conference becomes a platform for ministers and a few handpicked delegates – and, of course, a big trade fair. There would be no point in joining the party locally or affiliating as a union in the hope of discussing policy.

In short, party members will only have one campaigning function – to get councillors and a government elected with policies which they have played no part whatsoever in formulating. If this divorce happens, policy campaigning will revert to those outside the party and parliament. This would be a tragedy, but it would indicate clearly that the New Labour leadership’s attitude to the party and the movement is not only that they don’t want certain policies passed but also that they don’t want any decisions reached they do not control.

Of course this would also affect MPs, who would become elected “civil servants”. I very much hope conference rejects the change, and makes clear that it intends to strengthen its role in policymaking; this the delegates in Bournemouth will have the power to do. But those who want to deal with issues not on the government’s agenda will have to campaign vigorously outside parliament and build a body of opinion so strong no political party would be able to ignore it. Since I left parliament, all my work has been along those lines – against the Iraq war, privatisation, student loans; and for comprehensive education, union and workers’ rights, civil liberties and public housing. The focus of these campaigns has hitherto been the conference, but if that opportunity is removed, the party will deprive itself of the support of activists when polling day comes.

Conference will then be an annual meeting for the fan club of the parliamentary bigwigs and their business friends. Even the fringe meetings which are now so vibrant could disappear, because those who attend them will know the issues they are interested in will never get on to the conference floor.

That is the choice that has to be made in Bournemouth – and it is the biggest decision since the party was founded, for it could also end the role of parliament as the buckle that links the demonstrations on the street to the legislation on the statute book upon which democracy itself depends.

An excellent article from this week’s issue of The Socialist, offers the way forward:

Time for a new party

The new merged union ‘Unite’ is leading a lobby of Labour Party conference on Sunday 23 September. A whole list of grievances will be presented to the Labour leadership in defence of the rights of working people. But millions of trade union members will be asking, how can the big unions still remain handcuffed to New Labour, in the face of its pro-business agenda?

Rob Williams, Unite convenor, Swansea Visteon plant, personal capacity

These union general secretaries correctly denounced Brown for his ‘meet and greet’ session with Thatcher. Aware of the disgust that workers will have felt looking at the pictures, they embarrassingly rushed out statements attacking Brown.

Yet the very same leaders refuse to carry those sentiments through to their logical conclusion – stop giving millions of our union subs to New Labour and launch a new mass workers’ party. Thatcher called the miners “the enemy within” and is now paraded by a Labour prime minister in front of No.10.

Of course, New Labour prime ministers, like Thatcher herself, are war leaders as well. Millions live in poverty but billions are spent in the illegal war and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tens of thousands of miners and steelworkers were sacked by Thatcher, just as Brown announced over 100,000 civil servants losing their jobs live on TV when he was chancellor. Yet the union leaders have been doing their best to try and persuade us that Brown is different to Blair. But he is an architect of the New Labour regime.

He is planning to remove the last vestiges of democracy and trade union representation from the already neutered Labour Party conference. Why do we need to waste more time and money? We need to cut the links with Labour now.

The trade unions are campaigning to get the Trade Union Freedom Bill passed. The anti-trade union laws were used to defeat the miners and the printers at Wapping. Yet these laws remain today, even after ten years of a Labour government.

Surely, if Labour MPs don’t deliver yet again, the penny needs to drop, lets cut the links and launch a new party that can link together the millions that have opposed this government, from the anti-war protestors to the anti-NHS cuts campaigners.