Monday, 29 June 2009

Breadbasket Africa

Here's an interesting piece from the latest New Scientist:
DOOM-MONGERS have got it wrong - there is enough space in the world to produce the extra food needed to feed a growing population. And contrary to expectation, most of it can be grown in Africa, say two international reports published this week.

The first, projecting 10 years into the future from last year's food crisis, which saw the price of food soar, says that there is plenty of unused, fertile land available to grow more crops.

"Some 1.6 billion hectares could be added to the current 1.4 billion hectares of crop land [in the world], and over half of the additionally available land is found in Africa and Latin America," concludes the
report, compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

If further evidence were needed, it comes in a
second report, launched jointly by the FAO and the World Bank. It concludes that 400 million hectares, straddling 25 African countries, are suitable for farming.

Models for producing new crop land already exist in Thailand, where land originally deemed agriculturally unpromising, due to irrigation problems and infertile soil, has been transformed into a cornucopia by smallholder farmers.

As in Thailand, future success will come by using agriculture to lift Africa's smallholder farmers out of poverty, aided by strong government measures to guarantee their rights to land, say both reports.
Proof, as if it were needed, that the chaos of producing for markets dominated by foreign-based multinational capital is the root of the continent's food crisis.

The Limits of the Individual and Authority

In the previous discussion of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty we talked about the deleterious effects unchecked erosion of individual liberties has on human development. In the penultimate section of the essay, Of the Limits to the Authority of Society Over the Individual, Mill asks a series of interrelated questions. Are their limits to individual sovereignty over one's self? At what point does the authority of society begin? Where does the individual and society exercise shared sovereignty - are the poles apart? The starting point for Mill is this; "to individuality should belong the part of life in which it is chiefly the individual that is interested; to society, the part which chiefly interests society" (1929, p.92). Easier said than done.

Unpacking this Mill turns to a social contract perspective. Despite its encroachment upon liberty society manages to afford individuals a measure of protection, in return for which it can reasonably expect a certain mode of conduct. This expectation does not injure individual interests, the sorts of responsibilities he had in mind - bearing a share of social responsibility and sharing the costs of society - can be unproblematically justified by the very act of preserving society. But also they can act as a benchmark for judging conduct. If the harm or injury caused by someone's conduct is less than the inconveniences social responsibility burdens the individual with then the appropriate sanction is punishment by opinion. If it is greater, then it's a matter for the law. What this means for individual conduct is as long as someone is "capable", they have the full freedom to act in a manner harmful to their self-interests, even if it is more damaging than the responsibility society levies.

This for Mill isn't a recipe for hard-heartedness - quite the contrary. He believes it's part of our general responsibility to promote good over ill and favour the cultivation of our higher faculties while avoiding the debauched and the degrading, and this includes a benevolence towards others. But that is where the line is drawn. We can promote good living, we cannot make it compulsory - even against those damaging themselves. For Mill the principle can be justified in terms of self-interest. The individual is the person most interested in their well-being. The interests others have in this, apart from close friends and family, is comparatively small. Therefore the interest society has in this well-being is less than even this and is necessarily indirect. The individual then has a greater understanding of the self than any other, meaning that not only do they have the right to exercise their spontaneity within generally accepted limits they are also the final judge of things that pertain to them. Regardless of how damaging or self-destructive they are, forcing behaviours on them is more injurious to liberty than anything they could do to themselves. Others are perfectly free to warn them and others of the dangers of their conduct, free make known their disapproval, free to avoid them, free to enforce customary (non-institutionalised) sanctions, but no freedom to force them to look after themselves. The flip side of this is (provided the individual is capable) there is no one but themselves to blame for their situation, and they have no cause to complain about the opprobrium they call down on their heads.

Obviously if the conduct injures others and infringes their liberty society reserves the right to apply legal sanctions. But, Mill asks, what if their behaviour causes to heap burdens indirectly onto the shoulders of others? Examples here would include making life difficult for dependents, causing unhappiness, reducing resources held in common by the community, and setting a damaging/subversive example. For Mill if it violates a distinct obligation then the demands of the obligation outweigh the liberty to discard it, but punishment and correction is a matter of those to whom the obligation is owed. Society should, as a rule, avoid getting enmeshed in such disputes.

A good example of this is religious liberty. While there should be freedom of religion, it should be accompanied by an equivalent freedom from religion. Communities of believers only have the right to morally enforce their doctrines on other believers. Sanctions that go beyond this, or attempts to extend them to non-believers is not in their interest as it invites resentment and opposition.

Mill's overall argument in this section is pretty simple and speaks for itself, but one problem is the vagueness he treats authority and society with. Society has a right under the social contract to enforce certain expectations, but what is society? Is it the state? Is this the only body with the legitimacy to compel people to meet the basic obligations of the social contract? And what about liberty and authority in a society riddled with conflicting classes and fractions of classes? These issues will be explored in the last piece in the series as Mill attempts to theorise practical applications for his philosophy.

Edit: A complete list of posts on On Liberty can be found here.


Saturday, 27 June 2009

Idolaters, Fornicators, Murderers ... Repent!

After doing regular Socialist Party stalls on Saturday mornings for a while, you get to know who the local mad heads are. Sometimes the entertainment is provided by a goggle-eyed charity joke book seller who approaches the great Potteries public with the line "I'm not a weirdo!" Or by a woman who often drops by our stall who credits Stoke SP for getting her laser eye treatment sorted on the NHS(!). We get the occasional fool who thinks things would have been better off under Hitler - cue much firm but patient explanation. There's another lad who drops by and insists on signing all our petitions stretching right back to our solidarity work with the Burslem 12. And from time to time a Workers' Power supporter tries to sell us a copy.

Unfortunately, our favourite devil-dodgers,
Park Evangelical did not grace Hanley with their saintly presence today. But this isn't to mean souls weren't saved! That cross was bourn aloft by a solitary middle-aged woman who doled out fundamentalist Christian leaflets with meek abandon. And we're talking fundamentalist with a capital F here. She is to Park Evangelical what the cpgb-ml is to the Communist Party

While reading her leaflet I was struck by a stark similarity between it and much ultra-left propaganda - neither pay any attention to framing their ideas intelligently or relating them to existing (religious, political) consciousness.

But I was so taken with her uncompromising message (and grammar!) I couldn't resist preserving the leaflet's text for all eternity. Behold!


ULTIMATE
Time is running out on you
REPENT

Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. No one knows the date, month or year this world was created, no one knows the ending.

Gen.1: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Rev.1 verse 8: I am Alpha and Omega the beginning and the ending. Repent.
Rev 20: God has appointed a day in which he is going to judge the world, all nations.

What God is going to judge you for is sin. Stealing, lies, racism, adulterous fornication, idolatries, evil thoughts, murderers, drug users and pushers, lustful and rejecting Jesus Gods gift to you. Occult involvement such as fortune telling, witchcraft and palm readings. Repent or perish the choice is yours. This is a warning Jesus is coming soon. Repent. The animals in Noah's days went into the Ark and were safe, run to Jesus for safety because he is the only one that can save you. It does not matter what you have done for the love of God is more than your sins. He is waiting for you with open heart to receive you. Turn to him before it is too late. Time is running out on you. Repent.

You cannot say you have not been warned on the judgment day. Repent.

Lessons of Lindsey, Visteon and Linamar

The news of the clear victory at Lindsey Oil Refinery may have been lost among yesterday's coverage of Michael Jackson, but it will not have escaped the notice of labour movement activists. The dispute demonstrates how tightly organised workers backed by solidarity action can brush aside the anti-trade union laws and win a battle against a seemingly intransigent management.

Even before Thursday's welcome news the latest
Socialist Party pamphlet, Lindsey, Visteon, Linamar: Lessons from the disputes of Spring 2009 was a timely publication. And though in a sense dated because it does not carry material from the recent events at Lindsey it remains a must read for all trade unionists and socialists.

The separate sections on Visteon and Linamar provide background to what's going on in the car industry. In short falling sales and overproduction are being seized upon by bosses to force through an industry-wide offensive determined to make workers pay for the crisis. Their favoured methods are slow downs and wage cuts - lays offs are supposed to be a last resort. Unfortunately most unions have accepted these measures without question, an acceptance that could weaken workforces when it comes to collective bargaining and defending existing conditions now and in the future.

Visteon, which was spun off from Ford in 2000, closed down its loss-making UK operation this year. It attempted to circumnavigate previous agreements with the workforce over the size of redundancy payments by simply tearing them up. Workers in Belfast, Enfield and Basildon were given just six minutes notice and were expected to melt away as Visteon/Ford paid over a measly redundancy and made off with their pension pot. In the pamphlet, Frank Jepson (
Unite site convenor at Basildon and now SP member) gives a stirring account of the struggle to win back what Visteon/Ford owed them.

Linamar purchased its Swansea operation from Visteon less than a year ago. Rob Williams, Unite convenor and SP member threw himself into solidarity work with the occupations and struggles that broke out at the three remaining Visteon sites, and for his pains was summarily dismissed by Linamar management on grounds of an "irretrievable break down of trust". This of course was merely a pretext for getting rid of a trade unionist who had the temerity to not only stand up for workers' interests, but also had scored some important victories against management. Linamar believed that by removing Rob they would succeed in beheading the union in their factory. They were wrong. Thanks to impromptu wild cat action, strong union organisation and astute tactics Linamar caved in completely and Rob won his job back. The discussion in the pamphlet shows us how.

Finally, the Lindsey Oil Refinery dispute earlier this year was, from the standpoint of the left, probably the most controversial strike for many years. There is no use raking over the coals here seeing as this blog
commented on the controversy at the time and is extensively discussed in the pamphlet itself. But is is suffice to say that this week's successful defence of the national agreement would not have happened without the winter stoppage. That's something those who were opposed or at best were luke warm toward the strike ought to consider when hailing this victory in the pages of their journals.

But above all, what all three of these successful struggles show is that where socialists are present or have an influence over the work force, the small forces of the far left can have a decisive influence.

The pamphlet is £1.50 or £2 including postage and packing.
Buy online from Socialist Books, or order at PO Box 24697, London E11 1YD. Or ring 020 8988 8777.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Marxism and Michael Jackson's Death

Michael Jackson, the self-styled King of Pop is dead.

But why should a socialist bother caring? Aren't there better things to write about? Why not leave the coming orgy of retrospectives and comment to the hypocritical media?

It would be a mistake to ignore the passing of Michael Jackson for the same reason why the deaths of Jade Goody and Diana Windsor were analysed and commented on by Marxists: his life and death says a great deal about contemporary celebrity, which is a major hegemonic prop of advanced capitalist societies.

From a celebrity point of view, Michael Jackson's person was more or less in a league of his own. When I was growing up in the 1980s, the only other two pop megastars that could touch him in the fame stakes were Madonna and Prince. But Jackson was always a more alluring figure as far as the media were concerned. A household name from the age of six, his star shot into the stratosphere off the back of groundbreaking records that help
define modern pop music - not least because Thriller remains the best-selling album ever. His celebrity assumed cult of personality proportions.

But celebrity began taking a darker turn at the moment Jackson reached the height of his powers. The Gods among us were placed on pedestals by the media, but this self-same media began realising it was more in their commercial interests to knock it away. This was different from the gossip and muck-raking columns of the past. The new capriciousness achieved two seemingly contradictory but simultaneous moments of celebrity: of destroying its deifying aura, of using the media lens to cut celebrities down to size by revealing their all too human foibles; but paradoxically making celebrity more obtainable and more seductive, as a path to an easy life that trades the pressures of mundane life for a seemingly effortless existence in the spotlight.

And Michael Jackson's celebrity epitomises this shift. At the unassailable heights of his 80s career, tabloid stories began circulating about his erratic behaviour: Neverland, the oxygen chamber, the childlike behaviour, surgery, Bubbles - all rumours parodied by Jackson himself in his 1987 single
Leave Me Alone. But as long as he churned out the megahits Jackson was able to incorporate the eccentricities into his aura, which served to mark him a star apart from the rest.

Though his career was past its peak by the time he released 1991's
Dangerous, the almost crippling blow came from the initial set of child abuse allegations. Jackson never really recovered from this - partly because of the depth of the coverage, partly because the allegations were never comprehensively refuted in court. Though HIStory performed creditably, the media feeding frenzy around his life was matched only by the growing hubris of Jackson's celebrity, a hubris that saw him humiliated during his Christ-like performance of Earth Song by Jarvis Cocker on 1996's Brit Awards. His two year marriage to Lisa Marie Presley (widely seen as a cynical move to boost his "straight" credentials) was followed by a short-lived relationship to Deborah Rowe, the bizarre appearance of three children, the exposures by Martin Bashir and Louis Theroux and the second round of child abuse allegations finally and fatally compromised Jackson's aura to all but the most devoted die hard fans.

The passing of the corporeal Michael Jackson is a phase in the evolution of his celebrity. Already comparisons are being made with the late and very much lamented Elvis Presley, and it would be very surprising if he doesn't "ascend" to the disembodied state his ex-father in law has led these last 30 years. His celebrity will continue as it has done - it will fascinate, it will dazzle, it will feed the myth of individual (celebrity) redemption.

Friends, hangers on, journalists, and biographers will profitably mine Michael Jackson for many years to come. But peel away the artifice and grotesqueries there lies a real tragedy behind the fame. His death is a personal trauma for his family and young children, but marks an end to a deeply alienated life.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Model Lindsey Trade Union Motion

Please circulate as wide as possible and act on it.

Model TU resolution

Support Lindsey workers!

This union branch notes with utter disgust the mass sacking of 647 skilled construction workers by Total at the Lindsey Oil Refinery site.

Hundreds of Lindsey contract workers walked out on Thursday 11 June to stop 51 redundancies being imposed without consultation or the opportunity to transfer to another contractor, in breach of the NAECI national agreement.

This branch believes Total’s refusal to enter into negotiations and their mass sackings in response to the walk-out represents a conscious decision to take on unionised construction workers and break the NAECI agreement.

This branch fully supports those construction workers at other sites across the country that have downed tools and walked out in solidarity with Lindsey contract workers – this dispute is not just about getting all jobs back at Lindsey but is about defending trade union rights, standards of pay and conditions across the construction sector. It is a fight against the ‘race to the bottom’.

This branch affirms that this is a struggle every trade unionist, across the workers’ movement must support. Total are attempting to break a union so that they can run rough-shod over workers hard won rights and conditions, if they are successful it would set a precedent for other employers. If, however, the workers in Lindsey win it will set a shining example of how workers can stand up, organise and take on the bosses – an example we all hope to see at a time of economic crisis and recession when workers, more than ever, need strong trade unions to defend their interests.

This branch resolves to:

1) Send a message of support to Lindsey strikers at geminis@geminis.karoo.co.uk and doyle_a5@sky.com.
2) Make a donation of (insert amount) to the striker’s hardship fund.
3) Circulate a copy of this resolution to all union branch members and urge them to send personal messages of support and make personal donations to the strikers' hardship fund.
4) Participate in or organise a local blockade of a Total petrol station to raise the profile of the dispute and help show public support for workers at Lindsey and across the construction sector.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Against Post Office Privatisation

Another step toward the full rejuvenation of North Staffs Trades Council was taken last night when it held a public meeting against the privatisation of the post office. 31 people were in attendance to hear the panel of speakers, and the proceedings were overseen from the chair by our very own Brother S.

Mick Kavanagh of the
Communication Workers' Union executive (post) took to the floor first and spoke about what the CWU was up against. Contrary to statements put out by Royal Mail, the government and the media the simmering disputes between the union and management do not come down to unreasonable stubbornness on the part of the workers, it's about the nature of the modernisation the company is going through. Management are using the introduction of new technologies and working practices to not only destroy jobs in the industry, but break the influence of the union too. Their contempt for the union and the workers can be seen in the way they are implementing modernisation. For example, last week's localised walkouts happened because management reneged on prior agreements over the phasing in of modernisation. As a result of this the CWU are preparing to organise for a nationwide dispute, and the executive is pushing for a ballot.

Dave Nellist,
Socialist Party councillor in Coventry and long-time campaigner against privatisation argued that now the three mainstream parties represent a triple alliance for privatisation. And what Royal Mail are trying to ram through the postal service are a package of measures that will throw 50,000 workers on the dole, open the door to full privatisation and put the universal postal service at risk. And no one thinks this is a good idea, apart from the government, management and Royal Mail's competitors who are looking forward to cherry picking the most profitable services. Dave also attacked the main excuse they always trot out to defend part-privatisation - the claim the business hasn't got enough of an income stream to sustain it and fill the pensions black hole. For starters, that's because the government has deliberately sabotaged Royal Mail's capacity to make money. Its departments already use private firms to deal with their vast quantity of mail, a move that could only be justified in terms of neoliberal ideology. And the problems with the pension have far more to do with the company taking a 13 year holiday from paying into the pot. But in sum the attacks on Royal Mail are part of a wider canvas designed to give the bosses the whip hand over workers. Privatisation, the export of jobs overseas, the importing of migrant workers on inferior pay and conditions - all these three combine to force wages, conditions and workplace organisation down.

H O'Harney spoke for the
Public and Commercial Services union, gvae the CWU his support and spoke of the state of play in the civil service. At present, the PCS are having to fight 236 separate privatisation schemes - and this is despite no empirical data proving private provision offers a superior service. It's now got to the point where the government want to go down the US route and contract out army training to private contractors. What is needed, he concluded, was an alliance for the public sector between all the unions to see off privatisation and get our services back into the public's hands.

Last of all came Lee Barron, the CWU Midlands regional secretary. He likened the position assumed by management and the government to blackmail. They are basically saying to the workers they either roll over and accept part-privatisation or they will do nothing to fill the hole in the pension fund. Already the final salary scheme is closed to postal workers and the retirement age raised to 65. The 13 year pension holiday was management's mistake, but it is the workers who are paying the price. Furthermore the government and management have another ally in their quest to break Royal Mail up. The "independent" watchdog,
Postcomm claims to be the guarantor of the universal service, and yet now spends most of its time encouraging privatisation. Finally, Lee reminded the audience that Royal Mail is no millstone around the taxpayer's neck. The group as a whole made a profit last year despite years of having its monopoly being chipped away and services forcibly withdrawn from the post office. If indeed it was that much of a donkey, why are firms lining up for the juicy bits?

Brother S than opened it to the floor. First to the microphone was
Arthur Bough who set the political tone for the rest of the meeting. He said we keep fighting the same battles decade after decade - he asked when are we going to stop fighting rearguard actions to save public services and instead put them out of reach of the privateers permanently? He argued for a different kind of nationalisation - one that puts workers' control at its heart. Dave Nellist agreed and argued the postal service should be run by a partnership of the workers and consumers. Mick added the present set up is a step backwards from the management under Thatcher when the union had members on the board.

Another recurring theme from the floor was the issue of political representation. A
Unison comrade felt we had lost our relation to a party that has the chance of changing things for our interests. But what comes next now Labour is lost to working class people? A PCS comrade argued for a public sector alliance that can bring trade unions and socialists together in a campaign that would include contesting elections.

Returning to the theme of workers control, Boffy argued there are £500bn in workers' pensions invested as capital sloshing around the British economy. And yet neither individual workers or trade unions have any degree of control over it. Because it is our money, should we be agitating more around this issue? For starters - no investment in firms looking to take advantage of privatisation.

In sum, this meeting was an encouraging beginning for building a wide campaign against privatisation across all the public services in the Potteries. It demonstrates the role a campaigning trades council can play: as a facilitator of relationships between trade union activists at a local level. The next step for the local TUC is to play its part helping coordinate this public sector alliance in North Staffs while drawing more union branches and activists into the organisation.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Socialist Party Replies to SWP on Left Unity

The Socialist Party replies to the Socialist Workers' Party open letter, Left Must Unite to Create an Alternative.

To the Socialist Workers’ Party

Dear comrades,

Your open letter, entitled ‘It’s time to create a socialist alternative’, poses the important question of how a left alternative can be created to contest the general election. The Socialist Party has always been prepared to support genuine left unity, provided it is on open, pluralistic terms. Unfortunately, in the past your organisation has not done so. You have taken a sectarian ‘rule or ruin’ approach – your own party’s narrow organisational dominance has been put before the interests of the workers’ movement. This is not just our experience, but the experience of a host of other organisations and individuals. If this open letter represents recognition of your past mistakes that would be welcome. However, there are a number of points in the letter that give the impression that this is not the case.

The need for such a left alternative in the general election is clear. However, you make no mention in your letter of the attempt to provide such an alternative in the European elections,
No2EU-Yes to Democracy. No2EU was set up precisely in order to provide an alternative to both the three establishment capitalist parties, and to the far-right racist BNP. In the coming weeks the components of No2EU will discuss trying to build on the campaign in order to create a broader challenge for the general election. To put out an ‘appeal for unity’ which writes No2EU out of existence – with no prior formal or even informal approach to its constituent organisations – will not be considered serious by those seeking a way forward.

As you know, No2EU was initiated by the transport workers’ union, the
RMT, and involved ourselves, the Socialist Party, as well as the Communist Party of Britain, the Alliance for Green Socialism, and others. This was the first time in over a century that a trade union stood on a national basis independently of Labour. Its candidates included many of the most militant fighters in the trade union movement today – including Rob Williams, Linamar car plants convenor, the convenors of Basildon and Enfield Visteon plants, and members of the Lindsey construction workers’ strike committee. Yet you make no reference to it in your letter, saying only that, when SWP members were asked who people should vote for, “the lack of a single, united left alternative meant there was no clear answer available”. We find this incredible. As you know we have argued in favour of the development of a new formation to the left of Labour for many years. Whenever attempts have been made in that direction we have called for a vote for them, including for Respect, even though we had criticisms of it. Yet many of your members called for a vote for the Greens rather than No2EU in the European elections.

If, as seems to be the case, you were opposed to No2EU, you should honestly and openly explain why, in order to allow a discussion to take place on what the basis for a new left alternative would be. To try to ignore the existence of an initiative as significant as No2EU undermines your stated aim of opening a discussion on creating an electoral alternative for the general election. Nor is your dismissal of its vote in
Socialist Worker a serious analysis (which, incidentally, was only the second time No2EU has ever been mentioned in Socialist Worker). You state that “despite Labour’s vote collapsing, overall the radical left did not register gains in last Thursday’s elections. Between them the Socialist Labour Party and No2EU gained two percent of the vote nationwide, the latter trailing Arthur Scargill’s party. Five years ago Respect polled 4.84 percent across London, beating the BNP. The combined left vote in London was down this year to 2.1 percent.”

No2EU received 153, 236 votes, 1% of the total cast. Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party (SLP) gained a marginally higher 173,115 votes, 1.1%. Given that No2EU was founded only weeks before election day, we believe its vote was creditable and, particularly when taken alongside the vote for the SLP, gives an indication of the potential to create a fighting left electoral alternative. In 2004 you struck a very different tone than you have this time, when you declared that: “Respect [which you were then part of] got the best votes the left has seen for many years” (
Socialist Worker 19 June 2004). Yet Respect’s national result was 252,216 or 1.65%, less than the combined vote of the SLP and No2EU this time around.

Unfortunately, we believe that your brushing aside of No2EU is an indication that your methods have not changed. You claim that: “Unity is not a luxury. It is a necessity” but as a party you have never been prepared to countenance working together with others in an honest and open fashion unless you hold the reins; hence your wrecking of the Socialist Alliance and your splitting from Respect. Far from playing a positive role, your approach has actually complicated and delayed steps towards a new mass workers’ party in England and Wales.

More recently you have almost completely withdrawn from electoral politics, except as an echo of the mainstream capitalist parties appeal to ‘vote against the BNP’. However, you have continued with the same high-handed ‘rule or ruin’ approach in the industrial and trade union fields. Your organisational high-handedness has been combined with a completely mistaken political approach to the significant struggle of the Lindsey construction workers, which you have dismissed as nationalist. We, by contrast, as Mark Serwotka pointed out at
PCS conference, were able to intervene in Lindsey and win the strikers to a clear, class programme.

Your organisational methods were starkly demonstrated at the
Fight for the Right to Work conference (which itself was called in direct competition with the conference of the National Shop Stewards’ Network conference taking place two weeks later, despite the SWP having members on the NSSN steering committee). The NSSN has been established for three years and has national backing from the RMT and POA trade unions. Yet your members voted on bloc at the Right to Work conference to defeat the following motion moved by a Socialist Party member:

“To recognise the important position of the National Shop Stewards’ Network (NSSN) in acting as the central coordinating body for rank and file union members, unorganised workers and the unemployed in the fight against unemployment. The NSSN, open to all workers, in its three years of activity, has brought together militant workers from many political traditions with a recent history of defeating the bosses’ offensives and has national backing from the RMT and POA trade unions. As such, conference resolves to direct its efforts through this body.”

Our approach to working with others is very different to yours. We have worked together with trade unionists from different political backgrounds to build the NSSN. And we enthusiastically took part in No2EU, despite differences between ourselves and other participants on some issues, because we saw it as a serious attempt by a national trade union to try to build a left political alternative. This does not mean we abandoned our own programme. No2EU was an electoral bloc that brought together different organisations around a common programme in order to maximise its electoral impact. The programme of No2EU was inevitably limited as a result, although not, as at least some of your members have suggested, nationalist. On the contrary it called for “international solidarity of working-class people”.

At the same time, the different component organisations had complete freedom to produce their own material. The Socialist Party, for example, was able to produce leaflets putting forward our socialist programme and explaining that our candidates, if elected, would only take a workers’ wage. This is a considerable advance on the position you adopted in the Socialist Alliance, where you opposed such latitude being allowed for constituent organisations. Have you since changed your position on this?

A new electoral alternative will not be created simply by any of the existing socialist organisations declaring their initiative to be ‘the’ alternative for workers, as the mistakes of the previous fifteen years demonstrate. Only the active participation of broader sections of militant workers and young people in any new electoral alternative will mark it as a significant step forward. This was the importance of No2EU, which we believe should now be built on, with a new name, for the general election, with the aim of involving, first and foremost, larger numbers of militant trade unionists and young people. However, as part of such a broad project we would support the right of all socialist organisations, including the SWP, to take part.

The election of two BNP MEPs does add even more urgency to the need to create a genuine mass voice for working class people. The BNP vote in Yorkshire and the North West actually went down, but the collapse of New Labour’s vote allowed them to get MEPs elected. Moreover, the BNP’s vote did increase markedly in some areas, all of which were working class communities which historically were bastions for Labour. As a recent YouGov poll of BNP voters concluded the BNP made gains “because many voters feel insecure and let down by the main parties”.

As we have repeatedly argued against yourselves and others, the BNP will not be undermined just by campaigns denouncing them as Nazis. Alongside the development of mass demonstrations against the BNP by the trade unions and young people, a crucial part of undermining the far-right will be building a political alternative.

If you were serious about creating an electoral bloc for the general election, why did you not approach the Socialist Party or, as stated before, any of the other component parts of No2EU, for a discussion on the way forward? Selected individual Socialist Party members around the country, largely members of our party in prominent positions in the labour movement, have been sent copies of your open letter, yet you did not approach the democratically- elected National Committee of the Socialist Party to discuss your appeal. Nor have you invited the party to debate these issues at
Marxism this year, despite us debating with you at our national event, Socialism 2008 last year, and our request that you reciprocate at your event. This method has elements, albeit on a smaller scale, to the approach of the Communist Parties in the early 1930s, who made declarations for a ‘united front from below’ but who refused to engage in negotiations with the leaderships of other workers’ organisations.

Our experience, and the experience of others on the left, regarding your party’s willingness to engage in serious collaboration, is not encouraging. However, if you have reassessed and changed your methods, and are now willing to work together with others towards the creation of ‘a socialist alternative’ for the general election, we will of course welcome this. Unfortunately, all the indications are that this letter is an attempt to convince your own members, who must have doubts on your previous approach towards working with others, that you stand for ‘unity’, rather than a serious proposal to facilitate a step towards independent political representation for the working class.

Yours fraternally,

Socialist Party Executive Committee

Friday, 19 June 2009

Lindsey Oil Refinery Strike, Round Two

Readers will be aware that the owners of Lindsey Oil Refinery (LOR), Total, have sacked 900 construction workers at the site after a week of strike action. This is the text of Socialist Party leaflet being handed out on the picket lines this morning. Encouragingly workers had already printed it off and distributed it themselves. So far, the employers' clumsy attacks have provoked solidarity walk outs at at least 11 other sites. The SP site will carry further updates as the situation develops.

Supported by Keith Gibson ex LOR strike cttee, Trevor Grewar Hull Amicus/Unite branch chair, John McEwan national stewards forum, Steve Jones LOR steward (all in personal capacities)

APPEAL FOR SOLIDARITY ACTION
SUPPORT LINDSEY STRIKERS

The Facts:- Last Weds 10th June, 51 Shaws workers were give “imminent redundancy notices” to take effect from Friday 12th. THERE WAS NO CONSULTATION. On Monday 8th June, Blackett & Charlton (RBC) had taken on 61 recruits in almost identical numbers and trades to those being sacked by Shaws. The Shaws workers were given NO OPPORTUNITY TO TRANSFER. Remember that RBC are only at LOR as a result of the 102 new jobs created by January’s strike which was provoked by a third of Shaws contract being awarded to anti-union firm IREM. On Thurs 11th, Shaws workers walked out of the gate, supported by scaffolders from S.G.B, electricians for B.K., and other trades from B.I.S. O’Hares and RBC, and have all stayed out on strike. Jacobs’ management, who’s strings are being pulled by Total, have refused to negotiate unless there is a return to work. But have stated that the 51 will still be sacked anyway. Faced with this ultimatum, a mass meeting of LOR workers yesterday (Weds 17th) voted unanimously to continue the strike until the 51 redundancies are withdrawn. It is clear now that the LOR bosses are using this dispute (caused by their own mis-management and their reneging on agreements made in February) to seek revenge for their forced climbdown by the strike earlier this year. Taken with the leaked ECIA advice to employers on subverting the official union strike ballot, the bosses have declared war against the trade unions, shop stewards and the NAECI agreement. That is why we appeal for your support. Unity is strength. Together we will win. AGAIN.

YESTERDAY’S MASS MEETING (Weds 17th) VOTED TO:
• Continue the Strike at LOR until 51 redundancies withdrawn
• Place pickets at all LOR gates and appeal to tanker drivers not to cross
• Call for solidarity strike action across all NAECI sites

WHICH SITES ARE SUPPORTING STRIKE ALREADY:
Fiddlers Ferry (since Monday)
Aberthaw (300 walked out yesterday)
Conoco (2-300 walked yesterday and joined LOR pickets)
Dragon, BOC Scunthorpe & Hartlepool Power Station

SITES BEING DIRECTLY APPEALED TO BY LOR PICKETS THIS MORNING:
Ferrybridge, Stanlow, BP Saltend, Eggborough, West Burton, Cottam, Ratcliffe, Staythorpe, Wilton and maybe more.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

The Curious Silence of Political Islam

Dave Osler earlier noted how some sections of the left are all sixes and sevens over the events unfolding in Iran. I don't know why this should be so surprising. The far left has long standing strategic differences over the Middle East. But what is really strange is the unanimity of response from the various strands of political Islam resident in Britain.

Let me start with the definition of political Islam. I understand it in a broad sense, as political movements that draw on Islam to meet their objectives. Applied to the British context this includes relatively innocuous organisations such as the
Muslim Association of Britain, who aim to integrate British Muslims into the country's political and cultural mainstream while promoting Islamic teachings. It would also include the to be re-launched Al-Muhajiroun, who campaign for an Islamic UK state. In other words, political Islam encompasses movements right across the spectrum. It should not be confused with Islamism, which denotes a particular strand of political Islam that simultaneously treats the religion as a political philosophy.

It would be reasonable to assume organisations of political Islam would have something to say about the situation in Iran. I know if I was a young Muslim I would be interested to hear the opinion of organisations that claim to represent my interests or would like to recruit me. I'm pretty sure the musings of the local Imam - if he touched on the crisis in the Islamic Republic at all - would not be enough. So what are these groups saying?

Let's have a look at the more mainstream sites. The
British Muslim Forum apparently aims to represent the political thoughts of Muslims resident in the UK and boasts of being the largest Muslim umbrella organisation in the country with 600 affiliates. Alas its not doing a great job of representing any kind of thought - at least on the internet - as the website has not been updated since February. The Muslim Association, the pressure group some on the ultra-left think is "Islamofascist" because of its links to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood doesn't have much to say either. Its last news item is Obama's speech in Cairo at the beginning of the month (the MB website is no better - seems every topic under the sun gets a look in ... apart from Iran). The story is the same for the Islamic Society of Britain, The Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, and Progressive British Muslims (another organisation who, online at least, looks like it's gone into abeyance).

What about the extremes? Over the years the mainstream political establishment have been pressuring so-called community leaders to aggressively stamp out the extremists and Islamists. The silence of the mainstream offers the head bangers an ideal opportunity, doesn't it? You would think ... but
Hizb ut-Tahrir - an organisation no one could accuse of being idle - hasn't got a thing to say. US designs on Pakistan? Check. The global recession? Check. Revolution in Iran? Nope.

In fact, the only organisation that does is the two man show, the
Muslim Public Affairs Committee. They carry a couple of snippets from Youtube, but don't really offer any opinion on the events.

This is indeed a curious silence on the part of British political Islam. Could it be for sectarian reasons? Or is it more likely they are utterly bewildered by events?

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Iran: A Socialist View

Preliminary report from the Committee for a Workers' International website.

Mass protests and demonstrations have erupted in Iran in opposition to the apparent rigging of the Presidential elections by the Mahmoud Ahmedinejad regime. According to reports, the largest anti-government demonstration of over one million people took place in the capital Tehran. Reports coming out of Iran claim that over a dozen have been killed in clashes with the police and hated Basij militia. With heavy press censorship, much of the movement has been co-ordinated through the use of
Twitter – Iran has the highest number of internet bloggers per head of population. Although the picture is unclear at the time of writing, reports of mass protest in other cities such as Shiraz are also emerging. Tehran University has been surrounded by armed police and brutal repression has been reported of students in their dormitories. Other reports speak of gunfire being heard throughout the capital during the night following the election. Ahmedinejad, who announced victory within a few hours of the polls, has apparently simply left the country and is in Russia attending diplomatic meetings.

These mass demonstrations against the regime in Tehran have taken place despite the threat by the regime to authorise the use of live ammunition against the protestors. Although the situation still remains unclear it appears that big sections of the urban population have lost their fear of the regime and are prepared to take to the streets to protest against it. This represents a crucial turning in the struggle against any dictatorship. BBC video footage of the protests shows protestors refusing to disperse when faced with attacks by the military police. To the forefront of these protests have been the students but clearly with the active support of older sections of the population – especially white-collar workers. There are divisions within the regime about how to deal with this mass movement. This, combined with the mass mobilisation of the middle class and students, clearly indicates that important elements of a pre-revolutionary crisis are developing. At this stage however, the working class has not yet decisively joined the struggle and there is confusion in the political consciousness of those involved reflected in some of the religious slogans which are also being chanted such as “God is great”. However, it should be remembered that the first demonstrations of the Russian revolution in 1905 were led by a priest, Father Gapon.

How this movement will now develop is not yet clear but it has already forced the regime into an abrupt about turn. The Guardian Council, in the face of this mass opposition, has been compelled to overturn its previous decision and allow a recount of contested votes. This is a clear attempt to calm the situation as the regime fears that the protests will erupt further and develop into an uprising against the regime itself.

Fuelled by rising mass unemployment and a yearning for democratic rights, especially amongst the youth – 60% of the Iranian population is under the age of thirty. The urban youth in particular are in revolt against the theocratic repression which they have suffered. An important feature of this movement have been the mobilisations of young women, demanding “equality”. This was reflected in the enormous popularity of Zahra Rahnavard, wife of the main opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, during the campaign. It is unprecedented in Iranian elections for women to play such a leading role. At the same time, while the mass opposition in the cities has rallied to Mousavi, he is no socialist or defender of the working class and the poor. A former Prime Minister, his pro-capitalist programme is limited to reform of the current theocratic state. However, the attempt to rig the election by Ahmedinejad has possibly opened the flood gates to a mass movement that could topple his regime and open a new era in Iran. At the same time there is an apparent division between the rural poor and some sections of the most down trodden and oppressed in some of the cities and urban centres who have tended to support Ahmedinejad because of his right-wing reactionary populist stance against corruption and the rich liberal elite and “anti-western imperialist” stance.

Iran has been transformed in recent years with nearly 70% of the population estimated to be living in the urban areas with a highly educated layer of young people.

The decisive question in the short term is if the working class now moves into action following reports of trade unions discussing calling a general strike which is the main fear of the regime. At the time of writing the opposition has called off a mass protest scheduled to take place in Tehran to avoid clashes with pro-government forces. This illustrates the fear reformist pro-capitalists like Mousavi have of unleashing mass mobilisations which can easily get out of their control and move in a more radical revolutionary direction. It is possible that Mousavi may try and reach a compromise with the existing regime to avoid bringing the masses onto the streets. Alternatively, the regime may be forced to accept Ahmedinejad’s defeat in order to try to maintain control of the situation. Attempts may also be made to wind down the protests for fear of their consequences. Mousavi has already called on protests planned for tomorrow to be cancelled.

However, the genie is now out of the bottle and a decisive new phase of the struggle has been opened in Iran. The struggle for genuine democratic rights, the right to strike, to hold free elections, form free trade unions, political parties and equality for women needs to be fought for by all workers, youth and socialists. The emergence of the working class into this movement can give it the necessary cohesion and power to defeat the regime. The formation of democratically elected committees of struggle from the workplaces and universities linking with the middle class and urban poor can form the basis of a united struggle. The calling of a general strike and forming a defence militia along with a class appeal to the rank and file of the army are steps which are necessary to take the movement forward to overthrow the regime. Such committees could also convene elections to a revolutionary constituent assembly to decide the future of Iran. The guarantee of democratic rights and a solution to the mass poverty and unemployment can only then be assured with the formation of a workers’ and peasants government on a revolutionary socialist programme to transform society in the interests of all working people.

Monday, 15 June 2009

More Blogs You May Have Missed

A day behind the usual blogging schedule but better late than ever! So what new(ish) left blogs have lit up the radar screen this month?

First off, two members of the
Weekly Worker crew have managed to break from their energetic interventions in the class struggle to produce a couple of blogs. The first of these is from Anne Mc Shane who seasoned sect watchers will know as a prominent figure in the pocket cpgb, but who moved back to Ireland a few years ago. Her blog, Marxist Appeal "is to open debate on the building of a mass working class Marxist party in Ireland." Unusually for a cpgb comrade nuggets of lefty trainspotting are relatively thin on the ground, choosing instead to carry opinion pieces on the state of Irish politics and updates/news on the Hands Off the People Of Iran from both sides of the Irish Sea. Next up is Milton Keynes Communists, which serves as the blog for the MK members and supporters group. Unfortunately they haven't really got the blogging game, choosing to merely repost articles from the Weekly Worker. Come on comrades!

The newest blog doing the rounds is
The Curious Happenings of Airstrip One. So new it is that there's only one post to its name! As the author puts it "the task of those journalists, politicians, academics and artists who are somehow able to free themselves (however partially and for however long) from the long tentacles of Empire is nothing less than to become faithful guardians of the truth. It is in view of this awesome responsibility that this blog begins."

And then there is
The Sauce. Most blogs are made up of commentary on ongoing local, national and international events. In a modest way The Sauce breaks with this tradition: "The Sauce is a news blog containing raw copy, photographs and videos relating to protests, politics, theory, and events." What's more, if you've got a story needing coverage drop author Brendan Montague a line. And yes, he is a proper journo!

When you're reading The Sauce, you can't help notice the blogs it links to are those variously aligned with the
International Socialist Tendency. That brings me neatly to the next blog, which is also of that stable. Luna17 promises to be "an activist's blog reporting, and reflecting on, anti-capitalist and anti-war resistance". Yes, it's been heard all before but Luna17 (AKA Tyneside SWP supporter, Alex Snowdon) is a blog with plenty of promise.

Fatal Paradox is one of those blogs that defy easy categorisation. Hailing from New Zealand, it offers commentary on history, art and theory with a slight Spanish tinge to proceedings. Well worth checking out.

Nick Long is another name familiar to inveterate left-watchers, being one of the main movers of the
Alliance for Green Socialism in the capital. I was wondering what he was up to just the other day when I stumbled across his blog! Green Socialist offers pithy comment pieces on topical issues in an engaging style. Recommended.

Now time for two departures from the norm. First is
The Global Communist, an aggregate news feed from select left blogs and websites. There are a few blogs British readers will recognise but also perhaps some that aren't so well known.

Second is good news for long-term comrades.
Big Flame is back! Well, not really, but very gradually materials from what was Britain's best known left-libertarian revolutionary organisation are being uploaded on this blog. It's well worth checking out for anyone interested in that strand of labour movement history. as well as crucial debates that have yet to fully play themselves out.

Last but not least I have to make two
Carnival of Socialism announcements. During last weekend's election excitement the latest edition of the Carnival hit the streets with little notice. So get yourself over to New Direction now for Tom's compilation on the theme of 'Socialism, democracy and personal ethics'. And we're scant days away from the next installment too. It will be hosted by Penny Red. Don't forget to rush your Carnival nominations to Laurie ASAP!

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Political Tweeting

It is easy to get caught up in the hype around Twitter. With reported massive growth rates, its astronomical expansion has fed into its own hype attracting ever greater numbers. However Twitter's rapid success obscures some uncomfortable facts for the owners, who after all would like to turn it into a money spinner some day. According to this piece from The Telegraph, just 10 per cent of Twitter users are responsible for 90% of content. Even worse it suggests the typical user sends only one tweet before abandoning their accounts. The Telegraph says some 60% of users desert month on month, with only half as many staying loyal. The equivalent figures for Facebook and MySpace are double that - despite the latter's long-term decline.

If Twitter is over hyped, then why bother writing yet another unpaid commercial for it? Because if used in the right way, Twitter can be an invaluable political tool for leftist politics. It's not all about Stephen Fry's bowel movements.

First there is straight forward promotion. The
Telegraph piece noted "Twitter resembles more of a one-way, one-to-many publishing service than a two-way, peer-to-peer communication network.” This is certainly how Paul "Guido" Staines makes use of his account - it's just another extension of his self-publicity machine. Contrast this with the other Big Boy of British political blogging, Iain Dale who treats it as a musing board. He does however occasionally draw attention to his latest blog posts, which is transmitted to his (at the time of writing) 4,000 plus followers. And as a self-promotion tool it works brilliantly. For example, in Staines' statistics for April, Twitter came fifth in referrals, delivering 9,079 visits to his door.

But there's more to it than just raw numbers. There's the creation of loyalty and identification with a particular Twitter user, an aspect of the service not lost on some organisations who've tried to take advantage of this. Most UK political parties now have Twitter accounts, though the far left as per are slow on the uptake. At least
No2EU has one, even if no promotion was done outside the efforts of its supporters already using the service. That aside, anyone interested in how to use a Twitter account for party political purposes could do much worse than look at the Green Party. During the European elections not only was it regularly updated with Green news, activities, other events and environmental factoids, it often signalled its appreciation of its followers by retweeting some of their (interesting) offerings. This brings coherence to its follower base (who may then in turn follow those retweeted) et voila! A nascent online community is born around the party.

The importance of weak ties have long been
theorised in sociological circles and exploited by political actors of all stripes. Twitter offers another avenue for weak relationships to flourish. Thanks to Twitter I've built links with No2EU supporters, Labour lefts and politically mainstream people (including normal Stokies, of course) and we banter, exchange information, read and comment on each other's blogs, etc. And like all weak ties these can pay dividends down the road in terms of solidarity, publishing opportunities, dissemination of ideas, accumulation of political capital, etc.

And there are plenty of opportunities for connections to be made. Going by the top ten trending topics, British political developments often feature. Last week for example, Nick Griffin and the BNP were more or less permanent fixtures thanks to the European elections and
UAF's disruption of Nazi Nick's press conference. BBC's Question Time and Prime Minister's Questions also regularly turn up. This is because among the UK 10 per cent responsible for the bulk of Twitter's content, a disproportionate number are politically engaged people drawn from activism, blogging, the media and the Westminster circus. Furthermore, whereas the myth is the centre right dominates British political blogging, it seems the centre/liberal left has the upper hand on Twitter in terms of active participants. For socialist bloggers there is a ready potential audience for our humble contributions to the sum total of human wisdom.

There's more. When you follow and engage with a small cross section of the liberal-left fraction of the political establishment and subject yourself to the hundreds of 140 character long messages that pour out every day, you capture snapshots of their thinking. During the election results you got a real sense of their anger and bewilderment at the fascists' success. I read dozens upon dozens of messages condemning the 940,000 who voted BNP as irredeemable racists, as well as the attempts to scapegoat No2EU and the
SLP for letting them in. Similarly as Gordon Brown's premiership hung by a single thread, voices among Labour twitterers cheering on the Blears and the Purnells were few and far between.

So there you have it. Like all social media you get out of it as much as you're willing to put into it. Twitter does not offer leftists an internet shortcut to "fresh layers" or young people (who do not appear to be taking to Twitter in disproportionate numbers, anyway). But it can be used to bring together like minded people, promote socialist ideas to a wider layer of politicos, improve the profile of one's organisation and/or blog(s), build up contact networks, and understand what's exercising elite, notable and activist opinion. Twitter is no substitute for real world political work or the existing internet presence leftists have built up, but it can be a useful aid.

Branch Meeting: Election Analysis

Stoke Socialist Party met last night for a post-match analysis of Sunday's European election results. It fell to me to present the lead off, which was heavily based on this blog's three previous posts. The ensuing discussion was quite wide ranging and might be of interest to readers and Socialist Party watchers.

On the
No2EU vote, Brother C thought that setting it against the 940,000 polled by the BNP there is not really a like for like comparison. From the 1999-2004 period the BNP's vote rose from 102,647 (1.1%) to 808,200 (4.9%). The latter result was after 22 years existence as a party. No2EU went from nothing to 150,000 in only three months of existence, despite the political weaknesses, refusal to take seats in Brussels and lack of media coverage.

On the point of taking up seats, A thought this was a bigger issue among SP comrades and other lefts than the general public. Going by the work we did on stalls, this was not mentioned once - even by people who knew a bit about No2EU. Regarding the BNP and why so many voted for them, the reason why this question represents no mystery to our comrades is because of our consistent street activity. Over the years we've spoken to thousands of workers, some of whom have told us why they're willing to give the BNP a go. There is a thrashing around for a political alternative and at the moment it appears the BNP's populist message chimes with their experience. On votes themselves, A argued we should avoid parliamentary cretinism - votes are not the be all and end all. Election results are a snapshot of history and indicate some of the processes going on in the depths of society.

N drew attention to the content of the BNP's campaign. They placed extra emphasis on nationalisation, jobs and expenses - while pushing the usual racism and xenophobia. In effect the fascists fought part of their campaign on the left's policy platform and undoubtedly won some votes on that basis. Turning to No2EU, he talked about how he was originally uncomfortable with the name but had changed his mind as the campaign wore on. The European Union represents the interests of an ascendent fraction of European capital and have to remember that its internationalism is nothing to do with ours. We seek to unite workers across borders in the fight for our class interests. The EU's internationalism seeks to turn workers against each other by playing off different nationalities.

Brother F noted the tendency of the liberal left to view the BNP vote in moralist terms - far better to write nearly a million people off as incorrigible racists than ask tough questions about the liberal left's inability to connect with them. On
Hope not Hate, it appears at every election, makes a big fuss about the fascists, ends up campaigning by proxy for a Labour vote but at the same time purges mainstream anti-fascism of politics. It does nothing to fill the vacuum the BNP have been successfully exploiting these last 10 years. Also, F thought it's worth remembering that our collective experience shows us only a minority of BNP supporters are hardcore racists. Most may espouse casual racism, but then again such attitudes were not uncommon among the miners - who are often held up as Christ-like figures by some on the left.

Returning to the name again, C argued that No2EU's name may have rubbed well-meaning and liberal left people up the wrong way, people who identify with some of the positive discourses and values that have begun to accumulate around the EU. Anyone approaching the campaign for the first time without prior knowledge could be forgiven for thinking it a crude and simplistic europhobic platform along the lines of
UK First.

In sum, my reply to the discussion touched on three areas (with an aside on the
SLP. The first of these were No2EU's name - I agreed with Brother C's comments and suggested the name was always going to see us placed with the eurosceptic populist right. And on top of that, the name was completely naff too. Second on the European Union, again our message was too simplistic. The EU is a proto-state and therefore it would be a mistake to merely write it off as an instrument of capital. After all, the UK state is a bourgeois state but that doesn't mean our party raises demands to 'smash the police' and 'dispand the army'. Democratic demands are about weakening the hold capital has over political authority to create more space for socialist politics, which is why, among other things, we call for the abolition of the Lords, the scrapping of the monarchy and fixed short term parliaments. We should extend this method to the EU. Finally, the one thing the BNP teaches us is that unity and consistency reaps political capital in the long run. The left should take a leaf out of their book instead of turning up at major elections in a different guise every time.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Dissecting No2EU

The results are in and the debates on No2EU have begun in earnest. The platform's 153,236 votes (one per cent of total cast) is well within the percentage range one can typically expect from a far left challenge in Britain. Taken together with the vote achieved by the phantom SLP, the SSP, SPGB and Peace Party 2009's 350,339 votes (2.3%) is barely any progress on 2004's 343,424 aggregate votes (2.1%). A factor complicating the picture is the character of the No2EU vote. We've already discussed the complexity of the vote for unambiguous socialist organisations and the same will be doubly true of No2EU. Because of the slate's relative lack of profile, it is quite likely a fair proportion of voters put their cross next to us on the basis of our name while being ignorant of the politics of the coalition. Therefore it is difficult to say if No2EU has much of a 'base' to build on.

This problem is directly traceable to how No2EU came into being. I first got wind of talks with the
RMT in February and it wasn't until 18th March the coalition was formally announced. Then there was another period of waiting before the candidate lists were arrived at, which didn't help the already tiny campaigning window, and more waiting for national material. It was all very ad hoc and quite amateurish up until the last few weeks before the election, but even then it continued to creep in - for example No2EU's web presence wasn't utilised to the full, which is unforgivable when you consider its prominence in the election broadcast and claims it was attracting 10,000 visitors a day. Much effort was put in but the rushed last minute launch was a big mistake. If you want to be serious about electoral politics you have to play the long game.

The other down side of No2EU's genesis was its top down nature. The
Socialist Party was only invited in after the name and the substance of the platform had largely been predetermined. One can understand why the RMT and Communist Party weren't keen to have the SWP and sundry ultra-lefts on board after their behaviour over the Lindsey Oil Refinery strike (though to be fair to the SWP, their position was more nuanced than some of its online advocates would have you believe), but it was a mistake in my opinion - especially when the RMT and CPB held all the cards and there was zero chance of No2EU being hijacked. What would have been lost by the addition of hundreds of activists, more resources, and Britain's highest circulating socialist weekly giving No2EU their support?

There was another political price to pay for its top down nature: it unnecessarily alienated many among the hundreds of active independent socialists across Britain. You can undersatnd why large numbers of them would question why they should get involved when they have very little say over the campaign's strategy and policies.

Politically, if you compare No2EU to previous far left electoral coalitions it did not differ too much, though one could see the impression left by the CPB's
British Road to Socialism. But all that could be lived with. The most serious political mistake was the stated refusal of elected No2EU representatives to take their seats. The call for a workers' representatives on workers' wages is a good populist point at the best of times and would have helped differentiate No2EU from the rest had the expenses scandal not broke. But to stubbornly cling to the initial position, leaving the SP and Solidarity to unilaterally declare that their No2EU candidates would take their seats but not the full salary when it was the big story of this election was an utterly unnecessary own goal. It probably wouldn't have made much difference to the outcome because of the pinched campaign, but it certainly would have if the coalition had pulled together earlier and had already made the workers' wage a clear plank of the platform.

The No2EU experience was not all negative. Despite political weaknesses it did represent a left wing critique of the European Union and did manage to get its message into millions of homes. In many areas working relationships between comrades from the RMT, CPB and SP were established where previously there were none, and these proceeded without the rancour and the bickering that bedeviled the old Socialist Alliance. For a layer of workers disillusioned with
Labour and were preparing to vote UKIP or the BNP out of protest, No2EU provided a left alternative. But most significant of all was the fact Britain's most militant trade union took those vital first steps into electoral politics. The SP were absolutely right to accept the invitation to join No2EU, despite its problems and disadvantages, if only to assist the RMT. And it is a decision that has paid off - already Bob Crow has indicated here and elsewhere the RMT's support for unified left action and electoral activity in the future. There is talk of a convention coming together soon to discuss this issue in which unions, left groups and interested others can decide how to proceed in the run up to the general election.

Judged on votes counted alone, No2EU was a failure. But it was never just about the votes, it was part of the process of refounding and renewing working class political representation in Britain. No2EU was the vehicle through which the RMT became committed to that project, and that ultimately is how it will be remembered.