This text was agreed at the SR NC in October for the SR conference on February 7th, where it was adopted. Some sections were updated in January or February and where this is the case it is noted in the contents.
1.The political situation in Britain
2. Economic situation and super-exploitation
3. Our orientation to the trade unions
4. Campaigning against austerity
5. Building Left Unity
6. Building on the 45 per cent – perspectives for Scotland
7. Ecology and Climate Change
8. Women’s liberation (Updated in January)
9. Palestine (Updated in February)
10. Ukraine (Updated in February)
11. Syria (Updated in February)
12. Revolutionary unity (Updated in January)
1. The political situation in Britain
Osborne’s message at the beginning of 2014 was bleak and to the point. The crisis, he said, was not over, in fact it was ‘not even half over’ and as a result ‘difficult sacrifices’ would have to continue. ‘2014’, he said, would be ‘the year of hard truths’.
If the national books were to be balanced by the end of the next Parliament, and the Tories win the election, he would introduce an additional £25 billion of cuts—on top of those already planned—for the period 2016–2018. At least half of this, he said, would come from the welfare budget, mostly working age benefits, with state pensions excluded—with Tory voters defecting to UKIP, the grey vote was too politically sensitive to touch.
According to the OBR this would mean that government day-to-day spending, as a proportion of the total economy, would fall below pre-1948 levels by 2018—i.e. before the welfare state existed.
His speech was a sharp change from the rhetoric at the end of 2012 when we were told that the worst of the crisis was over, that a corner had been turned, that the ‘recovery’ would increasingly take hold as long as austerity was not ended too soon, and we were heading back towards some kind of pre-crash normality.
His original plan had been to balance the books by the general election in 2015. This has now sunk without trace—showing that it was a cynical ploy to force through his cuts agenda.
At the last (2014) Tory Party conference, however, his ‘year of hard truths’ line was reasserted with a vengeance. If the Tories won the next election they would launch a massive new attack on the ‘undeserving’ poor. There would be a two-year freeze on all in-work benefits—under conditions where the signs are that wage levels would continue to fall. This would save £3bn a year and would hit ten million families, most of which are in work. The public sector pay freeze would also continue.
At the same time, the cap on welfare payments would be cut from £26,000 a year to £23,000 and a benefits payment card introduced to restrict purchases to ‘essential items’ only.
All this will hit the poorest third of society with the poorest families loosing up to £1,300 a year.
He also launched an extraordinary attack on young people. The under 25s would be excluded from jobseekers allowance and housing benefit in order to force them into the worst paid and most precarious jobs. Disabled people who are deemed ‘possibly able to work’ would suffer further cuts and pressure. The environment would also be further downgraded with a new commitment to fracking.
In sharp contrast he announced a give-away to the middle class by abolishing inheritance tax on pension pots.
As he spoke Britain’s multi-billion pound bombing campaign in Iraq was getting underway which served to demonstrate not only Britain’s continued role as an imperialist power but that money was no object when the government decided to spend it.
At the end of the Tory conference Cameron launched the Tory election campaign with the promise of £7bn a year of tax giveaway by 2020 if the Tories win the election—overwhelmingly benefitting the middle class—and paid for by an additional package of welfare cuts that would hit the poor. The threshold for the 40p rate of tax would be increased from £41.500 to £50,000 and the personal allowance up from £10,000 to £12,500.
This is worth three times more to the higher rate taxpayers than 20p payers because people earning above £50,000 would benefit from both threshold increases. Those earning less than £10,000 would get nothing.
In order to appeal to UKIP supporters, Cameron also pledged to prevent judgments of the European Court of Human Rights being enforced in Britain and to withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights, a move that would lead to Britain’s expulsion from the Council of Europe.
This brutal right-wing Tory agenda is designed to bring back votes from UKIP, but whether it will do so is another matter altogether. It is also designed to take full advantage of the opportunities opened up by the recession to bring about the biggest possible transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich with a small state and minimal welfare provision. Cameron has ditched his early posturing around ecological and social issues with a vengeance.
The rise of UKIP
In the May 2014 European elections, UKIP won 27.5 percent of the vote. At the same time in the council elections in England, they won 163 seats; around 17% of the national vote. The question remained, however, as to whether UKIP could hold its support until the general election next May, or whether it would fade.
At the end of August Douglas Carswell defected to UKIP and resigned as an MP creating a by-election in Clacton. He was followed by Chris Kelly the Tory MP for Dudley South, who, although he said he is not joining UKIP, congratulated Carswell for doing so. Then Mark Reckless, Tory MP for Rochester, defected to UKIP on the eve of the Tory Party conference inflicting maximum damage on the Tory leadership and setting up another by-election which UKIP might also have a chance of winning.
The Clacton by-election was held on October 9 along with a by-election in Heywood and Middleton in Manchester caused by the death of Labour MP Jim Dobbin. UKIP won Clacton by a landslide (13,000 majority) over the Tories on a 40% turnout—which has boosted their momentum further and gave them a good chance of winning the more difficult challenge in Rochester. In Heywood and Middleton they ran Labour a very close second (only 600 votes difference), on a 36% turnout—although the bulk of their votes came from the Tories with Labour holding their percentage of the poll.
And more defections are in the offing. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the maverick Tory MP for East Somerset, has called for a pre-election pact with UKIP and for Nigel Farage to replace Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister. UKIP is now heavily funded by Stuart Wheeler, who previously funded the Tory Party.
UKIP is at root a split in the centre-right, reflecting long-standing divisions in the Tory Party itself. The Tory rightwing always resented Cameron’s (now abandoned)
Tory Party reform agenda from gay marriage to green-wash and to what they have seen as his weak and vacillating Euro-skepticism. They resented the removal of the climate denier (and Eurosceptic) Owen Patterson as environment secretary in the summer reshuffle. They are strongly attracted by UKIP’s core racist, anti-immigration, and anti-EU message. And Cameron has no answer to this. Each time he panders to the racist agenda he is outflanked by UKIP. Labour to its shame has pandered to the racist agenda in exactly the same way.
UKIP’s rise has been made possible by a significant shift to the right in the whole political spectrum in the last five years and a compliant media, which has endlessly done their bidding and has given Farage the status of a mainstream politician. UKIP has been allowed to make racism appear respectable.
Whether this will result in a full-blown split in the Tory Party remains unresolved. Some of the Tory right-wingers are clearly more interested in destroying the Cameron leadership—which they see as pandering to liberalism—than in winning the general election. Many of them see Cameron’s pledge of a referendum on EU membership if the Tories win the election as a move to stay inside the EU. They think that he will get some meaningless concessions from the EU, declare a victory, and then campaign to stay in. Their ‘big opportunity’ would then be lost for a generation.
Labour’s response and the general election
With a Tory crisis on this scale, Labour’s fortunes for the general election are being shaped more by what is happening with the Tories and UKIP, than by anything that Labour is doing itself. Labour is helped by the constituency boundaries (because the Lib Dems blocked their reform), by the fact that the impact of UKIP is greater on the Tories than Labour when it comes to a general election and by the indications that Labour will gain most from the collapse of the Lib Dems. On top of this Labour is polling better in the Labour/Tory marginal seats than in the country as a whole.
All this means that the general election is Labour’s to lose. They are, however, more than capable of doing so, as the recent Labour Party conference demonstrated in shedfulls. The conference reflected the massive contradiction that has existed at the heart of their politics since the coalition was formed. On the one hand there were some progressive though timid policy proposals but on the other a high profile pledge to continue the cuts—although with “better choices” than the Tories—and to prioritise balancing the books. This is a formula that hands the initiative to the Tories at every stage.
At the Labour Party conference (2014), they pledged to raise the minimum wage to £8.00 by 2020, to repeal the Health and Social Care Act, to raise £2.5bn for the NHS from a mansion tax, to repeal the bedroom tax, to freeze energy prices and a ban on zero hour contracts that restrict other employment and restore the 50% top tax rate. They also pledged to build 200,000 new houses and introduce some form of rail public ownership that falls short of nationalization and do something about climate change.
Some of these are important proposals, to repeal the Health and Social Care Act and the bedroom tax for example, but others are not what they seem. The minimum wage would be £7.50 anyway by 2020 and whilst a mansion tax on properties over two million and a windfall tax on the tobacco companies would be a very good thing, £2.5bn is a fraction of what is needed to stabilise the NHS after 5 years of frozen spending under Tory rule—with the threat of five more years of freeze if the Tories get back in 2015. It is good that they have pledged to build 200,000 new houses and tackle climate change but explanations as to how this is going to happen are far from convincing.
It is all a long way short of the kind of bold programme aimed at relieving low pay, lifting people out of poverty and tackling the housing crisis that would have ensured a Labour victory. People are crying out for a programme of this kind.
Labour are trapped by their disastrous decision at the beginning of the coalition to accept that austerity cuts were necessary and their later and logical decision to continue with Tory cuts for their first year in office. In fact Ed Balls repeated his pledge to continue austerity at the Labour Party conference. They may see their cuts as slower and shallower, but they are cuts just the same.
Labour, therefore, far from having an answer to the coalition austerity programme have helped to facilitate it. The coalition have repeatedly utilised this to carry through brutal attacks on welfare and living standards, particularly in regards to women, young people and disabled people, with a minimal response from the unions.
Although there have been some good mobilisations, and the development of the People’s Assembly to unite the anti-cuts campaigns, the unions have failed to develop a response to the cuts and the level of strikes and struggles remain at historically low levels.
The impact of Scotland
The political situation in Britain has been turned upside down by the fallout from the referendum in Scotland. Through a combination of a fake carrot and a big stick, and a strongly supportive media, the Westminster establishment and the pro-union parties have defeated independence at this stage. Repeated threats from the banks, the supermarkets, big business, and the EU, plus a dishonest panic ridden pledge of devo-max just before the vote, was enough to swing the result.
Cameron’s claim, however, that that the union is now the settled view of the Scottish people is wishful thinking. The margin was just was big enough for Cameron to claim a clear victory but not big enough to settle the issue.
An hour after the announcement of the result Cameron kicked the devo-max pledge aside by linking it to English devolution and challenging the role of Scottish MPs in Westminster — the so-called West Lothian question. This has thrown Britain into a constitutional crisis that is likely to continue up to and beyond the general election next year. Meanwhile the remarkable and dynamic grass roots Yes campaign has transformed the political situation in Scotland. It has created a political dynamic and involvement that is unlikely to go away, particularly amongst young people.
Labour, on the other hand, paid a very heavy price for their shoulder-to-shoulder act with the Tories and other (even less desirable) unionist forces. Swathes of Labour supporters voted Yes in Labour’s Red Clydeside heartlands from which the modern Labour movement was born. Cameron even persuaded Gordon Brown (whom he had been blaming for everything for four years) to re-launch himself and intervene in support of Unionism. In fact Labour figures in Scotland led by Darling and Brown, outdid the Tories in Unionist fervor. The Rule Britannia-singing Orange Order taking over St Georges Square to celebrate the result was a measure of what they have created.
All three main Westminster parties have been damaged by their role in all this, whilst the smaller pro-independence parties have been strengthened. In the latest UK wide poll the Green Party, that played a good role in the Yes campaign, is on 7% the same as the Lib Dems. Of the main parties the Tories could suffer the most since Cameron was the architect of the about face. In Scotland the pro-independence parties are experiencing unprecedented recruitment.
The West Lothian question is an anomaly created by the way partial devolution was introduced. Raising it throws up a range of issues around the democracy of the British state, one of the most centralised in Europe. These issues range from the unresolved national questions in Scotland, Wales and Ireland, regional devolution in England, the role of the House of Lords and the Church of England, to the voting system and the voting age for Westminster.
The full impact of the referendum on political opinion in England is not yet clear. The political situation in England, however, has shifted sharply to the right over the past two years as the Tory right and the 2010 intake of right-wing Tory MPs have made their mark in relation to the anti-EU and racist anti-immigrant agenda. Cameron’s raising of the West Lothian question plays not only to these people, but directly to English nationalism and the UKIP agenda – all of which has serious implications for the Tories at the general election.
Labour’s approach to the West Lothian question is to call for a constituent commission of some kind to look at English devolution and the Tories are using this to paint them as prevaricating on English demands in the election. The left should demand a fully representative constituent assembly to promote a wide-ranging discussion on these issues and refuse to allow them to be stitched up by the main parties.
2. The economic situation and super-exploitation
We are told that Britain’s recovery is now well under way, and that the economy is amongst the fastest growing in the G7. And indeed in August (2014) unemployment fell again from 6.5% to 6.4%, the lowest since the banking crash of 2009. Even if we take into account the fact that the official figures are deeply flawed and that the real figures are very much higher, unemployment has been falling for nearly two years.
At the same time, however, neither the ‘recovery’, nor the fall in unemployment figures, has translated into higher wages. As unemployment has been falling so, too, have wages. An increased availability of jobs has created no upward pressure whatsoever on wage levels. They remain stuck below the rate of inflation with no sign of change. In the quarter from April- June 2014 wages fell by 0.6% and are likely to stay below price inflation levels for some time. The average household has lost around £1,600 a year since the coalition came to office in 2010.
This is why few, other than the rich and the ruling elites, have celebrated it. Few feel any benefit. To the extent that there is a recovery, it is based on increased household spending and rising house prices – mainly in the South East.
People are spending money that they don’t have or have borrowed from loan sharks. The economy, we are told, is growing but spending power is declining. It is a ‘recovery’ based on falling living standards, poverty pay, depleted welfare, precarious employment and personal debt. Women and disabled people in particular are suffering the greatest impact with mental health services and those for older people seen as soft targets for cuts by health authorities and local government.
Public debt is still rising by £100m a year and personal debt has reached a staggering two trillion pounds. Household debt is now 140% of income, higher than either in the Eurozone or the USA.
We are witnessing a fundamental (structural) change in the relationship of forces between the employers and the working class in Britain. The British ruling class has had a good crisis. Although real wages have been in decline for many years—since trade union strength was broken in the 1980s in the name of a flexible labour market—this has accelerated since the banking crash and wage levels have fallen by 6% since 2008, which is the biggest five-year drop since 1921-26.
Public sector pay, frozen or subject to below inflation increases for the past 5-6 years, has fallen even more, encouraged by the timidity of the public sector unions that have mounted only the most tokenistic show of resistance.
Britain is now a cheap labour, high exploitation economy compared to most of the rest of Europe.
Although there are more people in work (even taking into account the growing population) both pay levels and conditions of employment have plummeted. Poverty wages are now endemic and young people have been by far the hardest hit. According to the low wage think tank, the Resolution Foundation, the proportion of young people (18-30 year olds) on low wages has tripled since 1975 whilst the proportion of 51-60 year olds on such wages has declined. This represents a structural shift in the labour market.
The result is that the gap between rich and poor is reaching record levels. In the OECD Britain now ranks 28 out of 34 in the economic equality league table. The top 1% of earners accounts for 14% of total income. We have the biggest fall in living standards for over 100 years and a new generation that is set to be worse off than its parents for the first time since the Second World War.
Inequality was at its lowest in the 1970s when 58% of workers were in trade unions and 82% were covered by collective bargaining agreements. Today only 26% are in unions and 23% covered by collective agreements.
Wages and working conditions have been eroded to the extent that the majority of those who live in poverty are not the unemployed but the working poor. Almost 1.5 million workers are on the minimum wage of £6.31 an hour. Many more—the official figure is 350,000 but the reality is certain to be higher—are paid illegally below the minimum wage. But virtually no prosecutions take place. Rather than legislate for a living wage, billions of pounds are spent subsidising poverty wages though tax credits.
Alongside this has come a huge rise in precarious employment. Over 40% of all jobs created since 2008 are self-employment, much of it involuntary. People forced out of relatively well-paid jobs end up on very low and insecure incomes without holiday or sick pay or state benefits. Employers have become increasingly aggressive in enforcing such conditions. Patterns of employment previously seen as temporary are becoming permanent.
According to the GMB, job splitting is now a major feature of employment. What were once 40 hours a week jobs are split into three or four jobs on zero hours contracts. The GMB claims that 8 million people now suffer precarious employment. Part time work is rife and 92% of them are women. People are working for nothing in the hope of getting a job at the end of it – meanwhile the employers cash in.
At the same time the cost of living for the poor is rising faster than for any other section of society—creating an unprecedented cost of living crisis. The working poor are trapped between rising rents and mortgages, and essentials such as food, gas and electricity, and falling wages and benefits. In fact 1.6 million homes are now forced to spend more than half of their disposable income on either a mortgage or rent. Even households with two jobs often cannot make ends meet. Tax credits, though essential to the working poor, subsidise the employers and institutionalise low wages.
This is all part of a conscious plan with the Coalition and the employers working hand in hand.
An important part of Tory election preparation is a revival of the housing market through their Mortgage Guarantee Scheme that puts public money into private mortgages. They hope that this, alongside a large dose of racism, xenophobia, anti-immigrant, anti-foreigner rhetoric between now and the election, alongside bashing the poor and branding claimants as scroungers, will be enough to win them a majority.
Such high-risk state intervention into the mortgage market has indeed stimulated the housing market. House prices are now rising 5 times faster than wages. Even the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors has called on the Bank of England to impose a cap on house price inflation in order to avoid what it called a ‘dangerous debt bubble’— the same kind of bubble that caused the crisis in the first place.
The real housing problem, of course, is that prices are being kept high by a deliberately created shortage. Fewer than half the new homes needed are being built every year. Public money that is thrown at the Mortgage Guarantee Scheme is therefore finding its way to developers and landlords rather than to people who need housing.
This leaves young people, in particular, in a desperate situation. They no longer have access to the kind of secure jobs or the pay levels that would allow them to save for a deposit or get a mortgage under normal market conditions—or pay the ever-increasing rents. Even if they can get on to the Mortgage Guarantee Scheme they might end up with a house which they cannot afford if they lose their job or get a pay cut.
According to the Office of National Statistics, 3.3 million 20 to 34-year-olds were still living with their parents last year, 25% more than in 1996 when records of this began. Between 1997 and 2007 the numbers increased to 2.6 million but after the banking crisis it leaped by a further 700,000. In June 2014 just 3% of buyers were between 18 and 30 years old.
There is another problem as well. The historically low interest rate of 0.5% for the past five and a half years has kept mortgage payments down but it can’t stay at this level forever. It is a ticking time bomb that threatens to explode not only into a wave of repossessions when the rate goes up, as people are unable to cope with an interest rate rise, but into a second credit crunch this time affecting large numbers of individual people rather than the banks.
The question, therefore, is how and when interest rates will start to rise again and what will be the consequences when they do? It is a huge unresolved and unprecedented problem. People who could pay their mortgages at the old rates, before the crisis, may well find it impossible to pay such rates today with declining incomes and bigger bills. Even a small rise in interest rates could result in large numbers of defaults.
Even a small increase would have a big impact on mortgage repayments. Matthew Whittaker, the chief economist of the Resolution Foundation, calculates that should the base rate go up to 3% a third of all mortgage holders would be dangerously stretched to meet their payments. There would also he says be 770,000 ‘mortgage prisoner’ households who because of the precarious employment and low pay would be trapped in deals that they could not get out of.
Both the coalition and the Bank of England would like to hold to the current position until after the general election next year and then give the problem to Labour to deal with. That, however, might be difficult and the Bank of England is already split on the issue.
The more they talk up the economy the more difficult it is for them to hold the line on interest rates. In any case house prices in London are rising by 17% a year and the official unemployment figure is down to 6.4%. Whilst this does not amount to a recovery it does amount to a case for an interest rise in the eyes of the Bank of England.
The continuation of the ‘recovery’, however, cannot be taken for granted, even in its current fragile form. In fact the economy is more fragile than the ruling elites care to think and the current fragile growth may stall well before the election date. Growth in the service sector has slowed down over the summer. Some of the growth was in any case long term stock replacement rather than new orders and the external factors are not good.
The world economy is still faltering and the Eurozone is stagnant. Industrial production has declined in recent months by an average of 3%. In the Netherlands and Ireland it has declined sharply and even in Germany it has declined by 2%. The problem therefore might not be so much whether to raise interest rates but how to explain what happened to the ‘recovery’.
And of course they are caught in another contradiction as well. The sharp and structural decline in the income of the majority the employers and the ruling elites have brought about has a knock-on effect on the economy itself. It people don’t have money they are unable to spend it. The producers by paying rock-bottom wages are helping to destroy their own customer base. This is now an ongoing problem that British capitalism will have to face.
3. Our orientation to the unions
The successful offensive by the ruling class during the recession has created a far less favourable relationship of forces between the working class and the employers. However the employers’ offensive long pre-dated the recession, both in Britain and internationally. From the late 1970s, through the introduction of new management techniques in key industrial sectors such as the car industry, productivity was driven up and the ability of workers to have any control over their working environment was substantially eroded.
Notions such as team working on the shop floor, partnership working between trade unions and management were introduced tying the supposed interest of workers to those of the employer and undermining the independence of shop stewards’ organisation.
In Britain New Labour enthusiastically supported this approach. The response of the majority of trade union leaders was to capitulate to this offensive and to the increasingly blatant class collaboration that it encapsulated.
Following its success in large swathes of the private sector, the same approach was increasingly introduced in the public sector where class-consciousness and shop stewards’ organisation had been developing in the previous period.
Rock-bottom employment conditions and an intensity of workload is now the hall-mark of most workers’ situations whether they work for Nissan, for local government or universities or for McDonalds. This harsh reality is however not often discussed—making divide and rule between different types of workers much easier.
This restructuring of the working class combines with the defeats imposed under Thatcher; the dockers, steel workers and of course the miners together with more recent defeats such as Grangemouth, to create a very problematic relationship of forces. More recently the austerity squeeze has been taking its toll on the public sector unions which are now the largest part of the TUC.
The last year for which we have statistics for trade union membership is 2012 when the total trade union density in Britain stood at 25.8% (23.1 for men, 28.7 for women). This was a minuscule increase (from 25.7%) from the previous year but with that minor exception the rate of unionisation has been falling steadily for example from 28.9% in 2002 and 39% in 1992. 1986 is the earliest year for which this data is available and at that point the figure was 49.3% so in that period density has fallen by almost 50% – graphically summing up part of what we have been arguing.
In terms of international comparisons the current rate of density in the USA (2012 figures) is 11.3%, in Sweden 80.9% in China 41.2% in Canada 31.4% in Australia 18.2%.
In 2013, 443,600 working days were lost in the UK from 114 stoppages of work arising from labour disputes. In 2013 there were 50 stoppages in the public sector compared with 64 in the private sector showing a decrease in the overall stoppages from the previous year particularly in the public sector. In 2013, 443,600 working days were lost in the UK from 114 stoppages of work arising from labour disputes. Looking at the number of days lost from 1994-2013, the greatest number of days was lost in 2011 with 1996 and 2002 being the two next largest.
There have been significantly fewer strikes in the 2000s on average compared with the 1990s. However, the average number of working days lost per strike since 2000 is generally in line with or higher than that in previous decades, showing that although the number of stoppages appears to be reducing, large scale stoppages are becoming more common.
All of this means that not only young people (many of whom are almost completely unaware of unions) but most trade unionists today have few memories of any but the most minimal local victories against the employers or the government. Even the larger scale and more prolonged strike by over 200 clerical staff at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals Trust, backed nationally by UNISON, and led by a strong left wing branch, was unable to secure a clear victory.
This means that strikes, which have the potential to win even partial victories, become disproportionately important: one such example is the Ritzy strikers. The victory of the support staff who took strike action over pay at Ealing hospital stands out as a lone beacon of hope in the public sector.
The introduction of the anti-union laws by Thatcher shackled the unions in a dramatic manner and gave timid and defeatist union leaders a golden excuse for inaction. This has been an essential tool for the ruling class. These laws prevent effective legal action across companies where privatisation has introduced different accounting units, as well as effective picketing or solidarity action without the unions being threatened with sequestration. They have also imposed and institutionalised passive postal ballots as opposed to the collective democracy of mass meetings which also undercut the effectiveness of trade union organisation.
However even in this context there is some trade union action outside the law for example in the post office where workers have regularly walked off the job in unofficial action or action which sails as close to the wind as possible as in much action organised by the RMT. Right-wing trade-union leaders, however, have not been unhappy with the anti-union laws as it has strengthened their hand over the membership and prevented ‘wild-cat’ actions by local unions outside of their control.
The recent ballot of NHS unions over the derisory pay ‘offer’ in which less than half of staff would even get the pitiful 1% increase awarded to them by the Pay Review Body, was an indication of the low level of organisation and awareness, coupled with the reluctance of union leaders to spell out a clear and bold pay demand: just one sixth of staff voted, although of those voting a clear majority favoured strike action. The result: a 4-hour stoppage on October 13, followed by a campaign to take tea breaks and go home on time.
None of this means we accept the argument put forward by Guy Standing and others that what we see today is a new class, the precariat. Instead precariousness is a restructuring of the working class, making employment conditions for large sections more like that of the end of 19th century in Britain or large parts of the Global South.
Of course none of this is to forget that union leaderships in general play a key role in blocking effective union organization. At a strategic level there are many aspects of the way they are themselves an impediment, which should be restated:
- The majority of union leaderships have at best failed to effectively oppose the very changes in working practices which have increased productivity and super-exploitation and precariousness for many workers, and in other cases they have been their enthusiastic advocates. The introduction of new management techniques, of privatization and marketisation as well as cuts in large swathes of the public sector have not been frontally opposed by the TUC or the central leaderships of most unions.
- Even where the majority of unions and the TUC itself have paper policies opposing these changes for example on questions like public sector pensions or zero hours contracts, the actions they have been prepared to take are extremely lily livered.
- While one day strikes on a cross union basis especially when combined with mass picketing, large demonstrations and drawing service users in as appropriate, can be <!–
- important tools in building confidence as part of a serious campaign, when they are seen as the pinnacle of action this can quickly become problematic especially when the employers/government are self-evidently more intransigent than the union leaderships.
- The weakness of internal democracy within most trade unions in Britain today is a further important factor. In many key situations it is unelected officials rather than directly elected (and recallable) activists who are involved in key discussion both with management – and sometimes in reaching agreements without any reference to the workforce. Where consultation does take place postal ballots rather than meetings of the affected workforce are often the mechanism – obviously lowering the level of political engagement and the articulation of alternative views and courses of action
The argument that trade unionists should put their faith and their energy into campaigning for a Labour government rather than trying to build a fight-back in the here and now is a familiar refrain. With some small but important exceptions—RMT, FBU, in some respects PCS—it remains the position of the overwhelming majority of the trade unions.
The role of the RMT in supporting TUSC on the one hand and of the FBU in almost leaving the political stage has not, however, been entirely positive. Perhaps this is an inevitable consequence of the negative relationship of forces but it needs more consideration
Unite leader Len McCluskey’s position has been interpreted by some as proposing a break after the election. In fact what he argues is, unfortunately, a classic repeat of the left version of this approach: ‘we would like to fight but not if it endangers a Labour government’.
In terms of a political approach we should argue for unions to only back credible parliamentary candidates who support the union’s programme. This may be Labour (e.g. Corbyn & McDonnell) but others as well (e.g. Lucas, etc.). This opens up the debate about affiliation to Labour and what sort of political intervention a union should have.
We see the line of division in the unions in terms of class struggle versus collaboration, as running vertically rather than horizontally (rank and fileism). This latter position is unfortunately the one argued by large sections of the revolutionary left either explicitly or implicitly.
It is positive to have general secretaries like Serwotka, Blower, the late Bob Crow and even McCluskey as opposed to Prentis. Those that adopt a rank and fileist approach often downplay the importance of the role those more progressive leaders play and can play, including in actively fighting for industrial action, dismissing them instead as nothing more than bureaucrats.
This doesn’t mean that we have no criticisms of those leaders when they make errors, for example the NUT leadership’s vote against support for industrial action on October 14th alongside unions in local government. Health unions have also gone their separate ways and called action for the 13th instead.
The concept of rank and fileism can be confusing. The SWP for example were historically opposed to their comrades even taking shop steward positions whereas at other points they have put comrades forward as branch secretaries and members of National Executives.
The idea of social movement trade unionism is something we support. At the most basic level we understand the idea that trade unions should only act on issues that directly affect the situation in the workplace feeds into the notion that the Labour Party, or more generally parliamentarians are the political voice that is needed, is a profoundly reactionary one. Particularly for women, black workers, those receiving benefits etc. we fight for political trade unionism.
In the public sector in particular community support for industrial action or more broadly for the political aims of the union – such as the NUT’s Stand up for Education campaign are things we support. The RMT for example have worked with community groups against fare increases or station/ticket office closures to break down the notion of selfish well paid workers only concerned about themselves.
The setting up of UNITE community branches which can involve the unemployed and precarious workers are another positive development we should support, as is the campaign of the Baker’s Union and others to organise fast food workers. In general the better organisation of precarious workers strengthens trade union organisation everywhere – and workers that have no history of organisation can often move quicker when they come into activity.
4. Campaigning against austerity
After four years of a Tory-led coalition government, the anti-austerity/anti-cuts movement has failed to win any significant victories. The employers and the government have successfully imposed privatisation, cuts in public services, as well as in the pay, pensions and conditions of those who work in them.
Demonstrations and strikes have taken place to protest and resist the cuts. The TUC organised a 500,000 strong demonstration in October 2012 calling for “A Future that Works”. This was the largest trade-union event for a generation — since the miners’ strike. Since then, demonstrations have been getting progressively smaller. There were over 50,000 marching in Manchester outside the Tory party conference in 2013. Over 25,000 (50,000 according to the organisers) marched in London in June 2014 following a call by the People’s Assembly and unions such as UNITE, the PCS and the NUT.
The anti-cuts movement also got off to a good start following the election of the coalition government in May 2010. The broad-based Coalition of Resistance was launched at a conference attended by 1,200 in November 2010 at the Camden Centre. This conference attracted a wide range of individuals and local groups, while the main forces of the radical left, the SWP and the SP, were peripheral. CoR provided an umbrella at a national level for local and national campaigns, alongside some unions, parties and left Labour MPs, to organise initiatives against austerity and the cuts in addition to the yearly TUC events. CoR also organised in September 2011 a European conference with 600 attending
The size of the November 2010 CoR conference indicated a surge in spontaneous organisation and mobilisation across the country as trade-union and left activists understood the scale of the attacks threatened by the newly-elected Tory-led coalition and wanted resistance. Trade-union strike action also increased, with days lost in strike over 1.5 million in 2011, the highest level for over 20 years, while it had been under 0.5 million a year for the previous decade. But this rise was due to a few strikes in the public sector.
The Tories had given very clear indications in the election campaign that they were going to use austerity to roll back the welfare state and public services. This level of mobilisation carried on until the October 2012 TUC demonstration where McCluskey was cheered as he called for a general strike while Miliband was booed. The TUC Conference in September 2012 had just adopted a resolution which committed it to look at the feasibility of calling a general strike.
The position of the TUC provided the opportunity for some on the left (SWP and SP) to organise a campaign of petitioning calling on the TUC to name the date for the general strike. But as this was happening, the anti-cuts movement and resistance in the workplace were declining. What was necessary then was a re-launch of the community-based anti-cuts movement. This was to provide the confidence to trade-union members so that they could all strike together for at least a day of co-ordinated strike action and have the backing of a substantial proportion of the population who supported their aims.
The term “general strike” was misleading, as all that the unions envisaged was a one-day strike by unions, and not strikes and civil disobedience involving large sections of society over a sustained period of time. It was the latter that SWP and SP were implying. Given the lack of response of the TUC over its decision, some unions looked at co-ordinating action over a common issue. This turned out to be the attack on pensions (paying more, working longer and receiving less) over which the NUT and the PCS co-ordinated days of strike in the spring of 2013, forcing UNISON to join them in a further common day of strike in the autumn of 2013. The dispute was lost, partly because UNISON settled, leaving the NUT and PCS on their own and thus feeling that they could not win this big battle. But it was also lost because of the determination of the Tory government to face down every strike and refuse concessions.
The (relative) rise in industrial action, the continued imposition of austerity, and support of Labour for austerity gave the opportunity to CoR to re-launch itself into a broader organisation, the People’s Assembly Against Austerity (PA) at a conference of over 4,000 at Central Hall in June 2013. An overflow hall with 1,000-seat capacity had to be booked in two days before the event due to enthusiastic attendance. The PA, and CoR previously, was established clearly on the basis of opposition to austerity and defence of public services, and adopting the People’s Charter platform. This was clearly in opposition to Labour.
The establishment of the PA was an enlargement of CoR as it brought in the PCS and UNITE, as well as War on Want, fully into the running of the campaign. Meanwhile the SWP still carries on with its Unite the Resistance front and while the SP seems to have dropped the NSSN. The operation of the PA is relatively democratic as demonstrated by its conference, while it also has to operate on a consensus basis. This reflects the need to keep all the organisations together within this united front type organisation on the simple issue of opposition to austerity. This united front can only be built outwards from the radical left, which is now at its core, towards the more moderate left which is still nevertheless opposed to austerity.
The success of the PA is such that a resolution at the TUC containing support for the PA was adopted. However, the inclusion of major unions in the PA has encouraged some on the left to denounce it as a bureaucratic top-down organisation which gives a left cover to Labour, and that what is needed instead is a rank and file type organisation. But it is a major step forward to have a national campaign, clearly against austerity and for mass action, and which includes significant organisations of the labour movement.
Whether the PA can organise mass actions independently of the TUC and Labour to stop austerity is a different question. But the demonstration of June 2014 showed that it is prepared to organise national mobilisations independently of the TUC. But what the PA cannot and should not do itself, is to call for strikes independently of the unions. It should mobilise communities to create the conditions in which union members can push their leaderships to call for strike and to massively back the action.
The need for a national umbrella campaign against austerity and the cuts is clear. This should not cut across existing local organisations and other specific campaigns, such as Keep our NHS public (KONP).
Large rallies with big name speakers such as the 1,300 attending the Q&A in East London on the 9 October with Brand, Bennett, Serwotka can draw a big crowd. They do indicate that there is a desire to hear how to resist austerity and what is the alternative.
But they can be organised by a relatively small number of people and can give a false impression of the strength of the movement. They are necessary but no substitute for long-term patient work in the communities.
The anti-cuts/anti-austerity movement on the ground has been in decline over the last two years: there are fewer functioning groups and these are less active. This is reinforced by the lack of struggle by local trade-union branches that would provide a focus for the local anti-cuts groups. With the failure to stop the austerity steamroller, there is a natural tendency to pause and wait for the outcome of the general election, hoping and working for a defeat of the Tory coalition government to change the relationship of forces.
Pay freezes have been imposed since 2010 in the public sector, and even the pay review board for the NHS which recommended a 1% rise saw this overturned by Jeremy Hunt. The cumulative effect of pay freezes has now provided a favourable context again for one-day strikes to be organised, but the outcome is very mixed. Health unions are out for 4 hours, on the 13 October 2014, the one in local government has been called off, the PCS are due out on the 15 October, but the UCU action on October 14 was called off because of threat of legal action, and the RMT also suspended its action on the London Underground over those days.
The last-minute calling off of action reveals the weak position that unions are still in. The legal shackles are still an important tool by of the employers. Furthermore, weak organisation means a low turnout in ballots and provides a reason for a leadership to call off action if a marginally improved offer has been made. The industrial action in mid-October is being followed by the TUC demonstration on 18 October under the catchy and radical slogan of “Britain needs a pay rise”.
The political issues which are mobilising activists and communities are those at the heart of the welfare state: the NHS, Housing, Education and Transport. The recent NHS “Jarrow” march and demo organised by the “Darlo mums”, and the current mobilisations around the E15 mothers and the MIPIM property fair are an indication of what concerns working class communities. The NHS march even drew the reluctant but official support from Labour. The NHS is still the major issue that the right is vulnerable on. This explains the massive mobilisations in Lewisham, Ealing, Stafford and elsewhere.
The ideological battle over Council housing is being lost with Right to Buy, and the new housing now just “affordable” with a programme of social, let alone council housing, barely on the agenda of New Labour. Nevertheless battles erupt over social cleansing (e.g. E15, West Hendon, Southwark) as estates are demolished with tenants dispersed, and no new subsidised social housing. Speculative new housing development is geared for wealthy private owners, and only has a much smaller number of “affordable” or social rent units, often accessed via a “poor door”. The Heygate estate in Southwark is being demolished with 1,200 mostly social rented units being replaced by twice that number, but only 79 will be for social rent with a further 500 either for rent or part-buy at the higher “affordable” levels. A new militant campaign, the Radical Housing Network, is providing a focus for housing on a wider scope than just Council housing.
In Education, the battle is being lost with university fees at £9K/annum, and Academisation and free schools, introduced by New Labour, gaining momentum. Nevertheless, Education is still the fourth most important issue for voters, behind the NHS, Immigration, and Jobs Prices and Wages. This indicates the potential basis for a campaign for properly funded comprehensive education, against increasing selection and fragmentation of provision
The attacks and cuts of welfare rights “benefits” are also stimulating the creation of new campaigning organisations such as around the Bedroom Tax, or the withdrawal of the subsidy for the council tax, leading to tens of thousands being dragged through the courts, in particular the most vulnerable such as the elderly, those with disabilities, single mothers.
5. Building Left Unity
The launch of Left Unity (LU) was inspired by the development of broad left parties across Europe, particularly the growth and impact of Syriza, and later by the extraordinary rise of Podemos in Spain.
SR has strongly supported this approach as the most effective way for the left to make its weight felt under today’s conditions. We have also sought to take into this process the lessons of previous attempts at building parties of the left in Britain and of other experiences from Europe.
We have therefore been fully involved in the emergence LU from the initial informal steps towards it in early 2013 through to the founding conference in November 2013 and subsequent developments. We strongly supported the orientation put forward by the Left Party Platform in that regard which was towards building a party that is feminist and environmentalist as well as socialist.
The way we work inside LU is important. Independent socialists need to be sure that LU can become their political home. We therefore seek to avoid working within LU as an organised caucus always taking the same position as a result of prior discussion through our own structures. Although our overall approach to building broad parties and our wider agreement on strategic questions will often lead us to a common view. In this way we can help to build LU as a healthy organisation with its own internal life and external projects.
Left Unity remains a fragile organisation. The path on which it has embarked is not straightforward; that is to build a broad party under conditions where although the political space for this definitely exists the relationship of forces between the classes is profoundly unfavourable and the legacy both of previous failed attempts to fill this political space and of the sectarianism and fragmentation of the radical left weigh heavy.
Left Unity, which established a formal membership structure in August 2013, has just under 1900 members today. It has 40-50 functioning branches with others in the process of creation. Its infrastructure remains relatively weak with most of the political work done by people with jobs and other political responsibilities. It currently has one worker for two days a week but this will be increased to six days in the relatively near future.
The response from branches to LU’s campaigning priorities over the summer was good overall but with some weaknesses
The overwhelming majority of branches were involved in campaigning over Gaza—many working locally and supporting some or all of the national initiatives in London. The LU postcard on Palestine was extremely well received. Left Unity supported the relatively small anti-Nato march in Newport at the end of August, led by the Welsh branches and with a national leaflet.
Participation in the highly successful 999 call for NHS march was more of a challenge because of the nature of the campaign marching across the country. The intervention of LU branches across the country was patchy—partly because LU doesn’t have branches in some of the areas through which it was passing and because the marches took place when people were working.
We underestimated the extent to which some of the key organisers would use the march to project support for Labour — even if sometimes critical— epitomised by the weak platform at the rally in Trafalgar Square. Nevertheless the LU leaflet on the NHS was extensively distributed in many of the major centres through which the march passed and Ken Loach was extremely well received when he addressed the march in St Albans.
In the wake of the Scottish referendum the LU conference, a two-day event in London on November 15/16, will take a discussion on our approach on constitutional reform. It will need a programme of radical democratic reform to take forward in that context—PR, abolition of the House of Lords, votes for 16 and 17 year olds.
It also also needs to develop a discussion on local government—which has been gutted of any real power over the last decades—for example we have not discussed what changes we would make to the London Assembly and that needs to be developed. On the other hand it needs to be conscious that reactionary notions of English nationalism are coming to the fore not only amongst the Conservatives worried about the rise of UKIP but also in parts of New Labour. Neither do the Green’s constitutional solutions have all the answers as they also talk about four nations—i.e. including the North of Ireland.
In terms of the General Election, Left Unity’s position remains that it will not join TUSC as a part of its coalition. This was a positive discussion at the LU NC with a number of newer voices arguing very cogently why and how Left Unity’s project is a different way and the way that entering such a coalition would undermine this project on the ground. On the other hand discussions about which seats we definitely plan to stand in remain embryonic and need to be firmed up.
It is important that the conference is a positive and outward facing event and gives a voice to new forces coming into politics for the first time or breaking with Labour.
6. Building on the 45 per cent in Scotland
The campaign around the referendum in Scotland was a remarkable and unique example of political engagement the like of which most of us have never seen.
It is partly summed up by the numbers — a 97% registration rate in a situation where voter registration has been falling across Britain — and where many in Scotland have never reregistered since the country was used as the testing ground for Thatcher’s hated poll tax. A 84.6% turnout where the 1997 referendum which led to the establishment of the Scottish Parliament was only 60.4% and where the highest previous turnout in a British election since universal suffrage was achieved was 83.9% in the 1950 general election.
But it was also obvious in so many of the interviews which eventually broke through into the mainstream media south of the border that the majority of people on the streets of Scottish towns and cities knew what the issues under debate were — and had an informed opinion on them.
And the media reluctantly conceded that it was the Yes campaign with its dynamism and diversity, which was the motor force behind this mass engagement. Mass canvasses around the housing schemes (estates), street meetings and stalls and public meetings were combined with a consistent and imaginative use of social media not only to announce initiatives but to engage in discussion. There was a consistent message up to the moment that the polls closed that every single vote count— that no one should be taken for granted in a way that completely contrasts with the way the three big Westminster parties have behaved particularly in the last decade or so.
Millions of people who had been previously sold a message that politics was not for people like us were engaged in vibrant debate—and responded not by staying at home in apathy but by going out to vote — with queues at some polling stations before they even opened.
When the results were announced, both the fact of the defeat for this magnificent campaign and the size of the gap given the fact that everyone had been saying it was too close to call was initially rather deflating. That may well be at least part of the context of Alex Salmond’s resignation as leader of the SNP and as First Minister. But the Yes campaign had gained a massive 15% -20% increase in support for independence from that showing before the campaign started. And it is clear that a huge amount of the energy that was generated within the campaign itself has not been dissipated by the result
One significant consequence of the campaign is that Scottish Labour under the lack-lustre leadership of Johann Lamont is likely to get a drubbing both at the General Election in 2015 and at the Scottish Parliament elections in 2016.
They worked hand in hand with the Tories in the Better Together campaign in a sickeningly bipartisan way (it’s difficult to take the Lib Dems seriously enough to say they played any real role). It was clear from the beginning that in order to defeat Yes it was Labour voters that had to be delivered for the No campaign. The role that Alistair Darling played heading up Better Together has certainly sealed the hatred against him in the schemes across Scotland – including in his own constituency. Douglas Alexander was also a central figure in that campaign. And of course Gordon Brown played a significant role in those vital weeks after the panic when the first poll showed a majority for Yes.
But despite this huge effort made by unionist leaderships, along with the deep tribal hatred of the SNP (long known as Tartan Tories despite the fact that this hasn’t summed up their programme or practice for some time) in many Labour households, over 40% of Labour voters voted yes on September 18. (In fact Chris Bambery points out here that this may be an underestimate as these figures are based on 2010 voters and so ignores those who abstained in 2010.)
Appeals from Shadow Scotland Secretary Margaret Curran that everyone voted for change so the divide is not so important are very unlikely to have a warm reception. One of the co-convenors of Labour for Independence has resigned his membership of the Labour Party following the vote—and he is clearly not alone.
And fury with the unionist parties—particularly Scottish Labour—is not confined to those who voted Yes. The unionists won in the end with a stick and carrot—the carrot being the ‘vow’ of devo-max and the stick the dire threats delivered not only by politicians but by representatives of banks and supermarkets of what would happen if the Yes campaign won.
David Cameron’s statement immediately after the result was announced was an illustration that he is more concerned with trying to deflect UKIP’s political impact in his own backyard—by pandering to their most reactionary ideas—than with talking to people in Scotland.
Ever since the discussions started which eventually led to the creation of the Scottish Parliament, unionists of every stripe have peddled the myth (and often convinced themselves of its veracity) that a tiny modicum of self-rule will satisfy the Scottish electorate. That hasn’t been the dynamic of Scottish politics for more than 30 years and it is not going to become so now.
Twenty percent of those who voted No did so because they had believed the promise of more powers for Holyrood and were hostile to Cameron’s speech. These are people who can be won to supporting independence in the longer term because their No vote wasn’t cast with the reactionary unionism of the leadership of Better Together
When the Smith Commission was established to draft proposals for further devolution the SNP proposed that all powers other than foreign affairs and defence are devolved to Holyrood. The unionist parties began fighting between themselves particularly on the question of income tax. Gordon Brown seems determined to continue a high profile role of mediating between the unionists and denouncing the SNP as trying to introduce independence through the back door. The Smith commission will publish its initial proposals at the end of October but with formal proposals coming at the end of January.
The Yes campaign was remarkable. There was the official campaign, which alongside the SNP who were the dominant force also included the Scottish Green Party (whose leader Patrick Harvie played a prominent and positive role) and also the SSP as well as many individuals.
There was Women for Independence in which three of the previous women MPs from the SSP, Carolyn Leckie, Frances Curran and Rosie Kane played a prominent role and which managed to get quite a lot of coverage even in England during the campaign. Scottish Asians for yes were another strand in which Jonathan Shafi of the ISG played an important role. Websites such as Bella Caledonia also played an important role in developing and elaborating such a high level of political debate.
Then there was the extraordinary Radical Independence Campaign which organized two massive conferences of over 1000 strong before the referendum and was probably the single most important element on the left of the Yes campaign. RIC was the key organizer of many of the mass canvasses and other work which was successful in delivering a yes vote amongst the most excluded and deprived communities in Scotland—even while losing the overall vote.
Contrary to the accusations made by the No campaign, including their supporters on the ‘left’ it was not a message of nationalism that was propagated by campaigners for independence. It’s true that the formal message of the SNP itself can be understood as independence-lite—with its maintenance of House of Windsor, retention of NATO membership, and the failure to break with the Bank of England and its chains by putting forward an independent currency.
But for the majority of Yes voters what they cast was a vote against the neo-liberalism Westminster has imposed on them—without a democratic mandate. It was a vote against tuition fees, for free prescription charges and against the privatization of the NHS. It was a vote for getting rid of Trident.
SNP politician George Kerevan, in an important reflection in The Scotsman on September 19, put it like this: “The reality is that, by the end, the Yes campaign had morphed into the beginnings of a genuine populist, anti-austerity movement like the ‘indignant’ citizens in Greece or the May 15 Movement in Spain. Put another way, it was class politics—not old-style nationalism—that fired the Yes campaign”.
While thousands more saltires have been sold and waved on the streets of Scotland over recent months, Palestinian flags have also fluttered alongside them. Hundreds of Catalans came to Scotland to work in the campaign, joining the many young people from across Southern Europe who have found a welcome haven there in recent years from the effects of Austerity Max at home.
Indeed it is no exaggeration to suggest that the No campaign with its grotesque appeal to Empire and Union was much more nationalist than the Yes campaign. For anyone who missed this fact initially the scenes of the Orange Lodge canvassing for the No campaign and then waving the Butcher’s Apron in Glasgow’s George Square with their chants of No surrender should have made it clear.
The enduring nature of this dynamic for a better Scotland has been illustrated by the remarkable number of people joining the pro-independence parties since the close of poll.
Unsurprisingly the SNP has been the main beneficiary of this—and by the evening of 22 September had achieved the remarkable result that they now exceed the membership of the Liberal Democrats. The party grew by 63% in 85 hours from 5pm on Thursday 18 September, an increase of 19,558 and reaching a total off more than 44,000. In 2013 the Liberal Democrats registered 43, 451 members. The Scottish Greens also saw over 3,000 people joining in a few days while the smaller SSP have had 1,600 new members.
This all takes place in the context that many people are saying that they have never been in a political party before but see joining one as the obvious way to continue to be involved. There have been many call outs on social media for people to join one of the pro-independence parties—a sentiment which has contradictory dynamics.
On the one hand what is positive about it is that it recognizes that there is a danger of the energy of the campaign becoming dissipated, of people dropping back out of politics if they don’t find a political home. But on the other hand, as we will return to, it wrongly implies that there are no significant differences between the three parties.
The other key element in the post referendum context is the Radical Independence campaign. RIC which has twenty-one branches across Scotland has made it clear that it absolutely isn’t going away and still is and it has been much more than a single issue campaign. It is organizing meetings across the country to discuss where next—at the Edinburgh meeting on September 22 the meeting had to be moved outdoors because that was the only way the 150 people who turned up could participate.
They have called a major conference in Glasgow on November 22 which has had to be moved from the Radison Hotel which has a capacity of over 1000 to the massive Clyde auditorium because of the huge interest shown on social media before tickets were even issued. It also called for a Yes vote contingent on the STUC demonstration on October 18.
The parties that lost the vote on September 21 won the political argument and have demonstrated their renewed energy in the weeks that have followed. The Scottish left is certainly in a stronger position coming out of the referendum defeat than it has been since Sheridan’s ego destroyed the SSP (though the divisions that resulted from this have not gone away).
A new initiative would in principle be welcome but only if it has at its heart a genuine commitment to women’s liberation as a key part of its core commitment and an understanding that collective leadership is essential to win the struggles ahead. The left in the rest of Britain and indeed across the world has in the meantime much to learn from what the Yes campaign did in the run up to September 21 and the continuing vibrant discussions and initiatives that those involved in that process are now putting forward.
This would have advantages over assuming that only the SNP on its own can channel the continued campaign for Scottish independence, based on an aspiration for greater democracy and for an end to the neo-liberal policies which continue to wreak so much devastation.
Kerevan in his article in The Scotsman talked about the possibility of a Scottish equivalent of Podemos which he believes could get 15% in the Scottish Parliament elections of 2016. Such a possibility seems to be the key impetus behind the newly launched Scottish Left Project, which seems to be gathering important support including from former SNP Deputy leader, Jim Sillars, from the editor of the Scottish Socialist Party’s newspaper Scottish Socialist Voice, Ken Ferguson and from other key figures in the Yes campaign.
Their launch statement seems determined to take forward the energy and enthusiasm generated in the streets and the schemes through the diversity of the Yes campaign—a project in which Socialist Resistance wishes them every success.
7. Ecology and climate change
Ecosocialism is a declaration that the designation ‘socialist’ is no longer adequate; that the ecological issues cannot for us be an add-on but are central to everything we do, a fundamental component of our programmatic identity. It is a signal that we reject the capitalist logic of insatiable growth, which is built into the nature of the system and fuels the requirements of capitalist production. It means striving for a society based on ecological rationality, democratic control, social equality, and the predominance of use-value over exchange-value.
The primary aim of an ecosocialist government should be for growth in quality of life rather than in quantity of output, for abundance of free time rather than abundance of unnecessary commodities. This means that growth in total output could well be zero or even negative yet, when combined with redistribution and a massively enhanced social wage would still allow for a major improvement in the quality of life.
The most effective way of pursuing this objective would be to progressively take the decisions on production and distribution out of the hands of the ‘free market’ and submit them to rational democratic planning. The extension of the (western) capitalist model of endless commodity promotion and production to achieve maximum growth to emerging countries such as China, India and Brazil is the single biggest threat to the environment.
An eco-socialist answer to the crisis implies a planned and coordinated approach which can only be met by the nationalisation of the banks and of bankrupt industries with the participation of, and control by, workers and consumers. This should apply to other critical sectors such as housing, energy, infrastructure, pension system, education, and health.
Capitalism’s requirement for continuous growth, competition and the pursuit of profit are at the heart of its inability to prevent climate change and other ecological destruction. These three factors mean that the economic system is bloated, selling unnecessary and useless products, relies on various forms of planned obsolescence, organises production for individual rather than collective use and replicates effort and resources in the name of competition. The working classes of the world sustain the decadent lifestyles of the “1%” (the 70 million individuals with—non-mortgaged—assets exceeding £800,000).
The result is that current use of energy and resources is far greater in the major economies than that required for the working class and its allies to attain a healthy and fulfilling quality of life. In the less developed economies, capitalist waste and the resulting drain on resources in one of the factors preventing the vast majority of the populations from attaining a reasonable standard of life.
Ecosystems cannot sustain these levels of use/waste of resources (land, soil, water, minerals, energy, biodiversity), so the requirement is that such use be drastically reduced. Production should be geared towards use value and not exchange value.
On climate change itself, because of repeated failures to achieve an international agreement on climate change and the high profile given by the media for the climate deniers, the environmental movement has been on the back foot and struggling to make its voice heard. The urgency of responding to the wider campaign against the cuts being imposed by the coalition has exacerbated this problem.
Climate change itself, however, continues to develop apace along with the climate chaos it generates. In September 2013 the IPCC report pointed to an increasing pattern of extreme weather since 1950 with more heatwaves, droughts, high winds, hurricanes and rainfall resulting from global warming. The recent and important Living Planet Index report from the WWF confirms that the ongoing catastrophic situation with biodiversity continues apace.
In Britain, the 2013/14 winter was the wettest since records began. This combined with strong winds and high waves led to widespread flooding and coastal damage, causing significant disruption to both housing and the economic and transport infrastructure.
Far from doing anything to prevent this, however, or give protection against it, the coalition government has been moving in the opposite direction. With climate deniers Osborne and Patterson at the helm, the Climate Change Act of 2008 that requires Britain’s carbon emissions to be cut to 80% below the 1990 baseline by 2015 has been ignored. Every aspect of environmental spending, including flood defences, has been cut. Even the environmental agency responsible for flood protection has been the subject of cuts and redundancies.
The floods raised the long-term issue of strengthening the infrastructure against extreme weather events, with restrictions on building on flood plains and in vulnerable areas and a whole new approach to water management with storage in the uplands, returning some farmed areas to woodland. They also show the need for a completely new publicly owned energy infrastructure based on renewables that can protect the planet from global warming as well as providing the energy necessary.
As well as cutting back on environmental spending and protection, the coalition are planning a new generation of fossil fuel in the form of shale gas from fracking and a new generation of nuclear power stations when we have seen disasters like those at Fukishima.
In order to escalate the scope for fracking the coalition are introducing their Infrastructure Bill, which removes control over decisions to sell or develop publicly owned land from the public sector. Under the Bill a private company will have the power to sell publicly owned land for Fracking, new nuclear, or whatever else it likes – and a public say over such developments will be a thing of the past.
A opportunity has opened up, however, to put new energy into the movement by the remarkable protests around the World Leaders’ Climate Summit in New York in September convened by the UN. Around 2500 protests took place across the world demanding that leaders take effective action. The biggest was in New York saw with 400,000 on the streets but there were protests in cities as diverse as New Dehli, Melbourne and Istanbul.
In London the Campaign against Climate Change helped to coordinate a 40,000 strong demonstration under the banner of the People’s Climate March along with many other organisations including Avaaz, People & Planet, Oxfam, CAFOD, Greenpeace UK, Rising Tide and many more. There were protests in other parts of Britain including Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and Edinburgh.
In Britain the most dynamic ongoing part of the movement against climate change is the movement against fracking – a form of extreme energy which opens up a new generation of fossil fuel based extreme energy – and which has triggered a series of protests and actions around the country, often involving people who have never previously been involved in activity around environmental issues – or indeed sometimes politics at all – alongside experienced climate activists.
These campaigns are particular strong at a local level in the North West and to a lesser extent in Sussex but it has not been so easy to give a national focus to them despite the clear role of the government in facilitating this attack on the environment and on the communities which it is clear from the experience in the US where fracking is more developed will suffer from the results of this devastation.
After a period of reorganization the Campaign against Climate Change (CACC) is becoming more organised and effective—which is demonstrated by its role in the recent demonstration. Its major project at the moment is the Time to Act demonstration on March 7 2015, a staging post for an intervention at the UN COP climate summit in Paris at the end of the year.
The CACC’s trade union group (CACCTUG) has continued to be active and recently held a successful conference.
SR’s ecosocialist orientation has given us a strong political identity and a strong framework for our overall work. We have maintained a good ecological content in our magazine and on our website and we have been involved in some good events, for example the joint conference with RS21 and the ecosocialist event in Wigan. We have been central to organising Left Unity’s environmental work.
We have also been involved in the European Ecosocialist Network organised by the Front de Gauche. We have argued with some success to increase the ecological content of the HM conferences.
We have maintained our relationship with the Green Left and have produced two editions of the Ecosocialist broadsheet with them. This is important since it gives us a relationship with the Green Party itself which shifted to the left under the leadership of Caroline Lucas and Natalie Bennett and has increasingly taken up the economic and social issues giving it more the shape of a left social democratic party than a party in the green tradition. Membership of the Green Party has surged up 45% this year and just passed 20,000 for the first time and it has risen in the polls to around 7%.
Most of the far left, however, continue to refuse to recognise the urgency of climate change, at least in terms of their main orientations, and reject the concept of ecosocialism. Debating these questions will continue to be important.
We call for:
- An end to fracking and other extreme energy initiatives—maximise our involvement in anti-fracking campaigning.
- Reverse staff cuts at the Environment Agency, increase its budget, and drop the requirement to consider economic growth in its spending plans.
- Bring water back into public ownership.
- For a nationalised integrated transport system.
- For a sustainable, publicly owned, energy infrastructure based on wind, wave, and solar power to create millions of new green jobs in manufacture, construction and engineering. Bring the energy companies back into public ownership.
- The insulation of housing and public buildings to conserve energy
- No to nuclear power.
8. Women’s liberation
There is an attack occurring against women that has had, and is having, significant impacts. Gains that have been won through reform have been steadily eroded. Women, themselves, as well as the feminist analyses of women’s oppression and economic exploitation have faced ideological attack following a backlash against feminism that began in the late 1970s-early 1980s by the right, followed by post-feminist analysis; these have led to the loss of both a coherent women’s movement that was capable of moving beyond the reforms advocated by liberal feminism.
Additionally, with the rise of the 3rd wave of the women’s movement, aspects of the backlash and post-feminist rejection have been incorporated into mainstream feminist analysis which has led to further fragmentation of the women’s movement.
The rise of fundamentalist religious ideology and its successful combination with the political process has led to an attack on women’s reproductive rights which has sought to undermine years of struggle and threatens to overturn our most basic control over our reproduction.
The weakness in the feminist movement itself, combined with the economic attack against the working class since the late 1970s, has culminated with a vicious attack on women’s incomes and access to services that enable their participation in the workplace, protection of our families, and the provision of care for children, families, disabled people and the elderly.
We are facing a broad attack, ideological, political and economic with a weak trade union movement, a weak and divided women’s movement, and a divided left where some hold anti-feminist positions viewing feminism as a threat to class unity.
Women and Austerity
Along with disabled people, women have felt the impact of austerity the hardest. Most job losses are in the public sector where 65% of public sector workers are women and almost a quarter of working women are in public sector jobs in Britain.
Given that the public sector is strongly unionised, it is no surprise that union membership in the UK is almost 55 per cent female—and in one of the largest unions, UNISON, nearly 80 per cent. However that is not matched by union leadership at the highest levels as only 15 of the UK’s 54 unions are currently led by women.
The demonstrations against public sector cuts contained large numbers of women participants and the unions and the TUC prepared the first pamphlets on women and the impact of austerity.
It has been recently estimated by Jerome de Henau of the Women’s Budget Group that between the periods of March 2010 – December 2013, job loss in the public sector was at the ratio of 60:40 for men to women. This was not due to selective firing but to which parts of the public sector were cut back.
However, men also accounted for 60% of total employment increase over the same period; while women’s unemployment increased by 5%, men’s decreased by 15%. According to de Henau if we examine changes in conditions of employment (2010-2013) we find:
“Self-employment increased faster for women than men (16% vs 9%); women now account for 31% of self-employed, compared to 27% in 2008. (50% of women and 21% of men among them are part-time);
Men took up many more part-time jobs than women but women’s share of part-time employment was still very high at 74%; the same for involuntary PT employment (which has more than doubled since 2008 for men and doubled for women, but women still 56% of all involuntary part-timers).
Temporary employment also increased by about 10% for both men and women (with women’s share of temporary employment at 52%)
Pay freezes in the public sector have lowered women’s income Disabled women in employment still earn less than disabled men and women that do not have impairments. This combined with low pay for part-time work and the concentration of women there (both as employed and self-employed), means that women’s incomes are lower.
Women are more dependent on benefits to top up their incomes and on the welfare state to obtain services that they cannot access in the absence of state provision. With incomes falling in the advanced capitalist world as part of the general economic policy since the late 1970s, women face greater threats than men. Women receive lower incomes, lower pensions (due to historically lower incomes), and face the increasing reluctance of the state to support women in the workplace through the provision of childcare and after-school programmes or by shouldering caregiver responsibilities for the elderly and disabled people.
Single parent households are predominately female (92%) and suffer the impacts of the cuts far harder. According to the Fawcett Society, single mothers have been hardest hit by the benefit cuts and tax rises of this government; it was estimated that they would lose 8.5%, on average, of their income compared to 7.5% for single fathers, 6.5% for couples with children and 2.5% for childless couples.
The government’s cap on benefits at £500 per week for households composed of couples and lone parent households; for single childless adult households, benefits will be capped at £350 per week . There has also been a further benefit cap of one percent (so that benefits cannot increase by more than one percent each year) which is lower than the rate of inflation, even that calculated under the Consumer Price Index. The government justifies this by arguing that the real wages of employed people are falling and that people on benefits should not get an increase in income greater than those that are working.
While the government claims that it is “helping people into work” that clearly does not include women as they cut the childcare portion of working tax credits from 80% to 70% in the 2010 budget. This particularly affects single working mother households as they are 60% of the recipients of the childcare element. The government has increased the number of working hours needed to qualify from 16 to 24 hours per week; finding eight additional hours to access childcare will usually mean working a second job. This is reflected in the latest statistics from the ONS, of the 1,203,000 doing two jobs to make ends meet, 510,000 are men (increased by 12.3% this year; 42%) and 693,000 are women (increased by 4.1% this year; 57.6% are women).
Women are still primarily responsible for the majority of social caring and reproduction in our society. Moreover, as privatisation increases, more and more will be unable to afford the services that they used to be able to obtain from the state. This means that women once again will face the full responsibility for provision of caring services. This is one of the serious problems of income payments rather than provision of services as it makes provision of services dependent upon ability to pay the private sector. Invariably, those services will become the preserve of the wealthier and those on higher incomes leaving working class women to pick up the slack.
Osborne’s benefit freeze for working age people, will affect 10 million household, 5 million of those being working households indicates that again it is the working poor that are bearing the brunt of this attack. Should we be grateful that the disability, maternity and pensions benefits will not be included in the freeze? These benefits have already faced serious impact from the first round of cuts. Labour’s insistence that the freeze in child-care benefits (at 1%) will continue will cut income for working women to the point where remaining in employment actually is harder than receiving benefits. While they can increase child-tax credits, that only will impact upon those that are working and will have little or no effect on those single mums that do not work or whose income is very low and do not pay taxes.
Ideologically, we are still hearing the argument that those on benefits must receive a lower income than those that are in employment. However, Osborne’s policies have not only impacted those that receive benefits due to not being in paid employment. There are benefits and services that are available to those that are in employment; women’s incomes are far more dependent upon benefits and services and as a result women have borne the impact of benefit cuts substantially. Moreover, given falling incomes for those in employment which is undermining the social subsistence level of income, it means that for those dependent on benefits (overwhelmingly women given lower incomes and need for assistance with social reproduction) incomes must be falling harder and faster.
The women’s liberation movement
The women’s movement in Britain is extremely fragmented. Moreover, it is currently dominated by liberal and radical feminists. Socialist feminists are less visible in the feminist movement itself; although in the second wave socialist feminism was very widespread.
Whilst there are several yearly conferences of radical feminists and liberal feminists groups, unfortunately rarely do socialist feminists have conferences together. Socialist feminists are active politically, but have few forums for debate and discussion.
There are divisions in the women’s movement between second and third wave feminists as well as between liberal, radical and socialist feminists. Many of the divisions between 2nd and 3rd wave feminists are between liberal and radical feminists; radical feminists tend to be older and from the second wave while younger feminists tend to be liberal feminists.
There is also a lot of confusion amongst feminists themselves as to which strand of feminism they adhere to as knowledge of historical feminist theory and practice and the differences between earlier strands of feminism is weak among younger women. This is reflected in confusion between what can be addressed through reform and what must be changed as part of a revolutionary transformation where the elimination of private property that underlies women’s oppression is necessary. This makes discussion of complex issues very limited.
Additionally, there is clear division among feminists of the 2nd and 3rd waves especially around the issues of the sex industry/prostitution and pornography.
There are also some serious differences about inclusion of transwomen in the movement itself as there are groups of radical feminists that strongly advocate that only women that are “born” women should be included in certain parts of the movement. There is not the general exclusion and attacks on transwomen that are stronger in the US where transwomen have been outed to their employers, landlords and friends. This vicious hostility is less common in Britain, but there are radical feminists that have been opposing the general inclusion of transwomen at events.
The rise of 3rd wave feminism is positive especially considering the dearth of feminist analysis and practice following the backlash against feminism and post-feminist analysis. However, third wave feminism is expressed and conducted through an individualist perspective towards addressing women’s oppression in contrast to the more social transformations that characterised the 2nd wave of feminism.
While the 2nd wave began in the same way, it moved towards a notion of general liberation of women; this has not happened in the 3rd wave and that is probably due to the preponderance of the dominant liberal feminist discourse, the lack of presence of socialist feminist voices, and the general confusion over the understanding of women oppression and how to struggle against it. Often, there is the use of radical feminism slogans attached to a liberal feminist framework of reformism. The absence of a strong socialist presence will keep 3rd feminism trapped in an individualist perspective.
We have recently seen a very welcome revival of interest in socialist feminism and the rise of anarchist feminism which has a young audience (the Brick Lane debates discussion on feminism had a clear anti-capitalist perspective).
The issue of intersectionality is one place where socialist feminists should be taking the lead as our analysis of the oppression of racism and sexism and the exploitation of women as workers is well developed. We need analysis on disability and its impact on women both as disabled people and as carers and to include this in our work as well. This is an area where we can make some contributions that will aid the struggle for women’s liberation.
In many senses, socialist feminism is less well-known and our analyses are not clearly understood and differentiated from radical feminists and liberal feminists. We need to take advantage of opportunities that arise to rectify this.
There is a need to discuss how the oppression of trans women in particular fits into an overall analysis of women’s oppression and the relationship between sex and gender. Similarly socialist feminists need to develop our analysis of violence against women – from rape to FGM (an area where radical feminism has often been at the forefront), the objectification of women, child abuse and exploitation including in its historical and organised manifestations and the economic, social and political exclusion of women.
There is a worldwide attack on reproductive rights stemming from a retrenchment of patriarchy being articulated through religious organisations and through right-wing and conservative parties in political power. The rise of and retrenchment of fundamentalist religions in both the advanced capitalist world and in the capitalist periphery will certainly increase further attacks on women’s reproductive rights articulated through the ballot box, the legal system and through legislation.
In Britain, anti-choice politicians have been trying to place further limits on the availability of abortion which have been eroded over recent years, and the Christian fundamentalists (both Catholic and evangelical Protestants) have begun demonstrating outside of abortion providers as they have been for some time in other countries. Solidarity actions with women facing attacks on abortion in other countries – particularly Ireland and Spain – have also been the focus for important mobilisations. The victory in the Spanish state against an attempt to revise already inadequate abortion law demonstrates that a retreat in the face of mobilisations both domestically and international solidarity and condemnation can still be effective in the face of a strong attack on reproductive rights.
Campaigning around abortion raises general issues about reproductive rights and women’s basic control over their bodies. This is an issue that remains a fundamental part of patriarchal control over women.
Abortion rights must be addressed in the context of the general struggle for women’s liberation containing both the oppression of race and gender and class exploitation. Access to education, health care, birth control (choices of various forms depending upon women’s perceived needs) and the means to determine whether, when and how many children we want are fundamental issues for women around the world.
Reproductive rights not only relate to the decision when you do not want to have children; the flip-side of the coin is our ability to determine the number of children we do decide to have in the context of a society where your ability to have and raise children depends on your income, access to health care and/or access to a social welfare state that actually provides for childcare, education, housing and food.
These decisions are ultimately not determined by the individual, but rather by the society, the culture, and religious and political authorities. The fact that the slogan, “Not the Church, Not the State, women must decide their fate” is still all too relevant indicates that we still are not treated as equal subjects in the societies in which we live.
The issue of social reproduction (i.e., that women are still primary caretakers of children, the sick and infirm and the elderly in our societies) is an extremely relevant to discussions of reproductive rights.
The role of women in our societies is not independent of race and class, nor independent of our incomes and abilities to care for children, it is not independent of the perceived and real rights of women, and it is not independent of our reproductive choices.
We want to raise the profile of feminism explaining why women’s self-organisation is vital to defend our existing gains and fight against women’s oppression. We also explain what socialist feminism is and how it differs from liberal and radical feminism. We try to clarify the differences between the practice of socialist feminism and other forms of feminism by examining history.
Left Unity a feminist party
For Left Unity as a feminist party a strong and vibrant women’s caucus is very important and Socialist Resistance strongly supports this.
Not all women in Left Unity define themselves as feminists or have experience of the women’s movement. And amongst those who do, many different strands of feminism are represented.
The caucus has been relatively good at reaching out to other feminists – participating in protests around reproductive rights and violence against women and in a number of feminist meetings and conferences. But it has been less involved in struggles led by women around general social issues such as the Focus E15 mothers. This needs to change
The huge demonstrations last summer in protest at Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza (grotesquely named Operation Protection Shield), in which more than 2000 Palestinians were massacred, brought into sharp relief both the advances of the solidarity movement, and the extent of the obstacles still to be challenged. In this changing situation, our collective experience over many decades, both analytically and as solidarity activists, has much to offer the solidarity movement.
Despite growing governmental disdain for some of Israel’s behaviour, and for the antics of PM Benyamin Netanyahu and his government, western support for Israel remains strong and apparently unshakeable. At a time of increased instability in the Middle East, with the dwindling of the “Arab Spring” and the threatened collapse of the imperialist carve-up of the region following World War One, Israel, which has no strategic alternative since it is dependent for its survival on western military and financial aid, remains the west’s only reliable ally. Netanyahu flaunts this, making no pretence of respecting, or even of listening to, US opinion, and attempting to mobilise the Republican-dominated congress against Obama; while the Israeli “opposition”, more closely aligned with the Democrats, would place a more diplomatic gloss on the same policies.
Last summer’s massacre (it completely obscures its genocidal nature to call it a “war”), was merely the latest in a seemingly endless sequence of such attacks. There were several reasons for the attack, though it has become clear that Israel does not really need a pretext for its relentless slaughter of Palestinians. The immediate motivation for this particular offensive was an attempt to sabotage the reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas and the creation of a unified Palestinian “government”. The attack can also be seen as an opening manoeuvre in the Israeli election, due on 17 March, in which Netanyahu appears to be losing ground to the Labour Party (now renamed the “Zionist Camp”). Such attacks have preceded nearly every Israeli election for the past twenty years.
In fact the attempt to isolate Hamas through the invasion of Gaza has backfired both within Palestine itself and in terms of international public opinion. The Israeli state is more isolated and solidarity with the Palestinian people more widespread. At the same time there has been a further move to the right inside Israeli society itself leaving those who oppose the occupation more isolated and under threat of constant repression.
Amongst young people in particular, Palestine solidarity is a touchstone issue. A new generation of activists came onto the streets this summer not only in the massive mobilizations in London but in every locality in Britain. International students coming to London for the first time are not likely to be excluded from these developments as the protests took place across the globe.
The visible organization of Jewish blocks as part of Palestine solidarity has strengthened internationally, including here in Britain. These blocks are not composed exclusively of anti-Zionist Jews but of all those Jews who oppose the actions of Israel in this particular offensive. Their presence – and the regular appearance of speakers from the block on the platforms at the beginning and end of the marches– is a strong rebuttal to the claims of antisemitism with which the Zionists have tried to attack the movement. We support the development of this block and participate in it as appropriate and are completely opposed to any antisemitism within the solidarity movement.
This strengthening of solidarity has led to the inevitable backlash; an attempt to delegitimise, and even criminalise, opposition to Israel and its war crimes. Thus we have seen, for instance, the dismissal by the University of Illinois of a professor of American Indian Studies, after complaints about his pro-Palestinian views; BDS activists in France, Australia and elsewhere have faced trial for their activities; and, at the end of January, a court in Germany ruled that verbal attacks on Zionism were acts of antisemitism. We have also seen an increase in physical assaults of pro-Palestine activists, such as the attack by members of the “Jewish Defence League” on the Haringey Palestine Literature Festival, which hospitalised one of the (Jewish) organisers of the event.
We actively oppose any efforts to brand supporters of Palestinian rights as antisemitic, or to criminalise pro-Palestine activity. At the same time, we must be vigilant in exposing and opposing any manifestations of antisemitism within the solidarity movement.
Much of this solidarity has taken the form of winning support for the international movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. This has met some notable successes over the past year, with SodaStream, Veolia, G4S and other major companies losing major contracts after high-profile campaigns against their complicity with Israel’s repression; more trade unions, student unions, and churches across the world (including, significantly, the US Presbyterian church) have voted to boycott and divest from Israeli companies; and the EU responded to years of grassroots pressure by reminding European companies of the dangers of trading with companies in the illegal settlements. Another, and very significant, development, has been the blocking by US trade unions of Israeli cargo ships on the US west coast. This strategy, which shows some signs of spreading to South Africa and Scandinavia, represents a major step forward for the BDS movement.
A greater proportion of the solidarity movement – and more generally of opinion within the broader labour movement – has been convinced that the labelling of Israel as an apartheid regime and the need for sanctions boycott and divestment is appropriate. BDS covers a wide range of tactics and targets but legitimately includes cultural and academic boycotts both of which have been the subject of vitriolic attack. The Palestine BDS National Committee has rightly targeted firms like G4S and Veolia, because they are everywhere, and therefore we can have co-ordinated action. Also the decision to go for Soda Stream because of its production on a settlement raised awareness of the issues, and has been very successful in relation to John Lewis de-stocking, and the firm moving (to territory belonging to Bedouin). These have created targets for both direct action, and leafleting and organisational activity. This bears out the national Committee’s position of supporting all forms of action. This policy fits in with the huge range of support BDS now has.
At the same time, we must bear in mind the warning by Joseph Massad that, “Palestinians must insist that those in solidarity with them adopt BDS as a strategy and not as a goal, in order to bring about an end to Israel’s racism and colonialism in all its forms inside and outside the 1948 boundaries. Otherwise, BDS can and will be used to strengthen the Jewish settler-colony and the Israeli liberal project that backs it”. For solidarity activists, this must mean that we continue to explain that the goal of the BDS movement is not the establishment of a disarmed and powerless Bantustan, but the establishment of Palestinian self-determination through the end of the occupation and dismantling of the apartheid wall, recognition of the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality, and implementation of the Palestinian right to return.
These are all issues which SR and its predecessor organisations, and the FI as a whole, have analysed and explained in depth. The changing climate of opinion, and the growth in the solidarity movement—to which we have made a significant contribution—offers a broader platform and a more receptive audience for our ideas.
PSC remains the most important national framework for solidarity, and it was problematic that in some of the mobilisations over the summer it was the Stop the War Coalition that tried to claim the leadership of the movement, both nationally and at local level. While welcoming the commitment of StW to the solidarity struggle, we should try to ensure that this does not lead to a cynical takeover, and an eventual deprioritisation of Palestine work.
But there are weaknesses in PSC, which has sometimes failed to promote BDS sufficiently, and which has focussed too much on Parliamentary lobbies. Parliamentary activity helps to focus on bigger targets like pension funds and investments, as well as the arms trade. But it has too often been counterposed to direct action and building direct links.
We support PSC and others in trying to ensure that Palestine becomes an issue in the forthcoming General Election campaign. Comrades should take part in and promote the PSC Vote for Palestine online lobby.
We also support the well-reasoned “Five point action plan for political advocacy in the UK on Palestine around reconstruction”, which is designed to ensure that the cost of rebuilding Gaza falls on Israel rather than British taxpayers, while the benefits go to Palestinian, not Israeli, companies.
We attempt to be active in/remain active in other campaigns such as Stop G4S, Harringey Justice for Palestinians, No Pinkwashing, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods and others.
Many trade unions have quite developed policy on Palestine including support for BDS and affiliation to PSC. The TUC General Council statement on Gaza, unanimously passed by Congress, is a relatively strong position which can be used to take debates forward.
Comrades should explore the situation in relation to their own trade union’s position on Palestine and take any opportunity to extend existing policy. Comrades should also look for opportunities to use formal policy to deepen discussion and activity on Palestine within their workplace, trade union branch etc.
Our aim whether in Palestine Solidarity groups, in Left Unity or in the Trade unions is to focus action on targets which have the potential to be as hard hitting as possible on the Israeli State, and which complement the struggles of people in Palestine. Campaigns such as those around G4S, Veolia and Soda Stream, action to gain divestment of pension funds, and the building of twinning arrangements with groups in Palestine should be key axes of this work. Our comrades should support BDS wherever possible, particularly because the Palestinian BDS Campaign, as a civil organisation not controlled by Fateh, is amongst the most radical, and critical, on the West Bank.
We do not push for groups in which we are working such as PSC and Left Unity to adopt our detailed analysis, but we consistently emphasise an internationalist understanding, and promote activities which reinforce the daily struggles of Palestinian activists, rather than simply promoting the diplomatic manoeuvres of the so-called “leadership”.
The current war in Ukraine is partly a legacy of the unresolved national question left over by the USSR, a fight for democracy and economic and social justice against the oligarchs and their political representatives, as well as an imperialist carve-up of the country between the “West” and Russia.
Sixty years of Stalinist bureaucratic rule, followed by over 20 years of “structural adjustment programmes” of privatisation and de-industrialisation have resulted in social fragmentation, the rise of nationalism, and the illusion of social and economic progress to be achieved through Ukraine joining the EU.
The Maidan Square mass movement was an explosion of anger against the corrupt rule of Yanukovych. With the left very small and marginal, the movement came under the leadership of the far-right who provided defence against the attacks of the police. But the mass character of the movement, which was victorious in that it forced the departure of Yanukovych, has resulted in a radicalisation with the development of the consciousness amongst layers of society that change can happen through self-activity. Unfortunately, the left being small and isolated, the political outcome has been the new neo-liberal authoritarian and nationalist government of Poroshenko.
The Poroshenko government is rapidly losing the confidence of the country and stoking up discontent. It has lost the war over the integrity of the country. Crimea has been annexed and integrated into Russia. In the eastern regions, Russian-backed separatists have defeated the Ukrainian regular troops, and the more motivated volunteer battalions, starved of supplies, have also suffered a similar fate. A law adopted in September by the Kiev Parliament grants an amnesty to separatist fighters (previously described as terrorists) and allows the eastern regions self-government for three years including the right to appoint their police and judges. With over 3,000 dead, there is both resistance to further conscription from soldiers’ mothers and cries of treachery against Poroshenko.
The deteriorating economic situation will also increase disillusionment. In the last year there are has been a drop of 13% in the GDP. In the east, mines and industry are barely functioning following destruction and lack of power. The Kiev government has entered into a free-trade agreement with the EU, which will abolish custom duties on EU goods by the end of 2015. Meanwhile, Russia is punishing Ukraine with sanctions including turning off the tap on the gas supplies, which could lead to a severe crisis in winter.
Putin has seized upon the crisis in Ukraine to deepen his nationalist rhetoric and crack-down on democratic rights, imprisoning in greater numbers anti-war and pro-democracy activists. Putin paints Russia as being on the road to being again a “super power” and the defender of “Russian minorities”. This renewed nationalism is proving successful at least at home with a rise in his popularity, while he hopes to renegotiate commercial and energy deals with the West and prevent further states entering the NATO and EU orbit. Putin’s actions in Ukraine have been carried out in the knowledge that NATO does not want war over that country, as it does not fit into its major geostrategic interests. The sanctions imposed are symbolic and Western countries are divided over further actions against Russia, who in turn could cause greater damage with its own sanctions by for example turning off the gas and cancelling commercial contracts. At the end of the day, the West would rather cut a deal with Putin.
The imperialist carve-up of Ukraine has divided the left in Britain and elsewhere in a way not seen since the Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest and Prague.
While much of the left does not describe Putin and his regime as progressive or democratic, there is silence about, and even support, for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in Eastern Ukraine. Ukraine Anti-Fascist Solidarity campaign only opposes UK, NATO and Western involvement but not Russian intervention in Eastern Ukraine.
The basic aims of the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign, which is backed by SR, are “to support and build direct links with the independent socialists and the labour movement in Ukraine; (and) to support the right of the Ukrainian people to determine their own future free from external intervention from Russian or Western imperialism”.
Left Unity and the SWP have rightly opposed the attempt by Britain and the USA to seize the opportunity of the crisis in Ukraine to expand yet again NATO’s reach and ratchet up the threat of war. But they have also condemned Russia’s attempt to annex as much as possible of Ukraine.
There is a resurgence of “campism” as some on the left believe that the event in Maidan was a western organised coup against a legitimately elected government. They also believe that today the major threat of war comes from Western imperialism, in particular the USA and NATO, and that therefore it is best to have a “multi-polar” world of rival states in which Russia and China are a positive counterweight to the USA’s military and economic dominance. This “campist” left look uncritically and with dewy-eyes at those states who claim to be anti-American, even anti-imperialist, and fighting fascism and Nazism, regardless of the character of the regime. For them, the only thing that matters today is to stop our own government’s drive to war and NATO expansion.
While obviously in the first instance we oppose our own imperialist government, we should also oppose the imperialism of other states, including that of Russia, in their attacks on working people and smaller nations. This means not just opposing NATO expansion and interventions, but also the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the carve-up of Ukraine by both the EU and Russia.
11. Syria, Iraq and the War on Terror
The war on terror, launched following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, is now in its 13th year, and with no end in sight. The invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, ousting the Taliban from government, has resulted in failure: the Taliban is undefeated, the corrupt Karzai government and its successor remains in place, and women have not been “freed”. In Iraq, the military victory against the Baath regime and Hussein in 2003 has resulted in the sectarian and corrupt government of Maliki, more friendly with Iran than the West, and who refused the US to have bases in the country from which to police the area.
The failed intervention has given birth to ISIS, a more barbarous version of Al-Qaeda. This new organisation was born out of the sectarian divisions in Iraq left by the US and Britain, but also by the al-Assad in Syria who freed Islamists from his prisons to weaken and divide the nationalist opposition forces in the FSA. The melting away of the US-trained Iraqi army facing ISIS is partly a result of the corruption of army officers and also of the tentative support given to ISIS by Sunni populations who have temporarily preferred the lesser evil.
ISIS and other Islamist forces in Syria were able to achieve an ascendancy over the FSA when they received funding and resources from donors in the Gulf States and from the Turkish state. This was compounded by the refusal of western powers to provide the FSA with military equipment necessary with which to defeat al-Assad. This was a deliberate policy of western powers, who feared that a defeat of al-Assad would renew the stalled Arab movement for democracy of 2011. Al-Assad, with massive backing from Russia but also Iran and Hezbollah, has turned the tide through a war of attrition against the “moderate” bourgeois opposition forces of the FSA.
The failed intervention of western imperialism in the Middle East is now followed by yet another military intervention, the third since 1991. The warning back in 2001 that military intervention under the guise of a war on terror would spawn and encourage further radical Islamist organisations has unfortunately been proved to be correct.
Despite assurances that the current intervention will be “smart” with just air strikes and drones and no US “boots on the ground”, there are already over 1,600 “advisers” back in Iraq. The motion that went through Westminster stated that there would be no “combat troops”. The US is now indirectly co-ordinating military actions against ISIS with Iran, while having previously described Iran as part of the axis of evil threatening its own existence. More remote indirect co-operation with al-Assad is likely, bringing him back from the cold in order to win the fight against terror.
Imperialism has always preferred loyal but brutal dictators rather than independent mass movements for democracy and social justice. The US bombing of ISIS in Syria may well also strengthen Assad politically. He will argue that imperialism, by attacking ISIS in his country, is also helping the FSA and that the nation should therefore unite around him against the threat of imperialism and its allies in Syria. It also allows him to bomb ‘the terrorists’ in Syria, i.e. the democratic opposition, which despite reversals in still undefeated.
Air strikes and drones alone will not defeat ISIS, just as they failed to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan. Highly mobile and motivated small forces can quickly evaporate, as they suddenly appear out of nowhere. We are now faced with a re-invigoration of the war against terror, which will be a “30-year” war of the 21st century. Days after the motion in Parliament authorising air strikes, the government warned that this war would take at least 3 years and may have to go beyond Iraq.
This war is being argued for by Obama, Cameron, Hollande and others as necessary to defeat ISIS militarily because it is a brutal and savage movement, which it undoubtedly is. Air strikes alone are already proving to be insufficient, as demonstrated by the long siege of Kobane. Imperialism is reluctant to put its own boots on the ground because of recent history, but neither do they want to arm to any significant extent extent the FSA or the Kurdish guerrillas or Peshmergas who are now the “boots on the ground”. It is only the local progressive and democratic forces that can defeat both the religious extremists and the brutal dictators.
Without addressing the political, social and economic causes for the emergence of ISIS and similar organisations, decisive military victory will be elusive. The leaders of the West do not mention the failed wars of Iraq and Afghanistan, the 500,000 dead in Iraq caused by the US and British war, the imposition of a sectarian regime by Paul Bremer, the US pro-consul following the fall of Hussein, their continuous unconditional support for Israel and for dictators in Egypt and other Arab countries, let alone the impoverishment of the region through the imposition of neoliberalism and theft of natural resources.
The peoples of the “western” countries have been ideologically softened up over the last 13 years with the need to defeat extremist Islamism in a clash of civilisations. Leaders of the west have sown the seeds of racism and Islamophobia with talk about good and bad Muslims, while the record of the west backing the brutal dictatorships of Saddam Hussein, Bashar al-Assad and Mubarak, or that of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Israel, is forgotten. As a result the popularity of the US and the west in the Middle East is at a record low. The discourse about a clash of civilisations is attracting young Muslims to Islamic fundamentalism. This is compounded by a failure of the left and a collapse of social democracy. The “clash of civilisations” was not abandoned when Obama replaced Bush. In a speech in September 2014, the US President said that the US is not “at war with Islam” but nevertheless nations are staring into the “heart of darkness”.
The seeds of racism and Islamophobia sown in the west are starting to grow into dangerous fruits with the repression of Muslims, isolated through the need to prevent “extremism”, including with measures to be taken in nursery and primary schools. The recent “Trojan Horse” case in Birmingham is a clear example of this alarming trend. The never-ending war on terror is justifying a dramatic increase in the police state, with surveillance and controls more extensive than anywhere else in Europe, and more draconian than against Irish people during the “Troubles”.
Islamophobia, fed by the ideological justification for the war on terror, has led to the growth of far-right, anti-immigrant political organisations. This new political far-right does not attack Arabs, and others, because of their ethnicity but because of their culture, i.e. Islam, which they argue is incompatible with progressive and enlightened western culture.
The brutal killing of western civilian hostages, on the background of Islamophobia in the West, has provided popular quiescence, if not support, for another military intervention. According to Gallup, 60% in the US back military strikes against ISIS, while in Britain there is a ConLibLab consensus in Westminster for war. The recent StWC demo attracted just 2,000, despite many anti-war and peace activists opposing imperialist intervention. But when cities like Kobane are under siege from ISIS, the air strikes from Britain and the US are giving some relief and advantage to the resistance against ISIS. While not embracing “humanitarian intervention”, it would be hard to call upon US and Britain to stop its air strikes around Kobane. This would partly explain the small turn-out on the October 2014 demo.
The left, trade unions and peace movement will need to renew the campaign against foreign imperialist intervention. Air strikes are only provided if they fit into imperialism’s geo-strategic interests, but it will sit on its hands rather than empower local people to defend themselves against the religious extremists and the brutal dictators.
The collapse of the Iraqi government under the ISIS attack has not only lead to yet another massive flow of refugees into adjacent countries, but has also put back on the agenda the question of the self-determination for the people of Kurdistan. These two issues will grow in importance as the western military intervention develops.
The UNHCR estimate 500,000 refugees from Iraq and over 2.5million from Syria, excluding 6.5million internally displaced people in Syria and 1million in Iraq. The British government has allowed only 24 refugees from Syria to enter Britain by June 2014, while there may be more than 1million in Lebanon. To help overcome this disaster, the call for opening the borders across Europe to welcome refugees is urgent along with massive humanitarian aid to be sent to the region. In Britain, the left, trade unions and the peace movement should also raise money for aid with charities such as Hand in Hand for Syria, Heyva Sor (Kurdish Red Moon), and Medical Aid for Palestinians in the case of Gaza.
Kurdistan is a nation of over 20 million people divided between Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq. The nation is also divided politically, with parties, some of them of the left, having different orientations according to the state in which they organise. We should support the right of the people of Kurdistan to determine their own future democratically including the creation a unified country, and at least to have political autonomy and cultural and linguistic rights in each state. We should support other oppressed nationalities to fight for their democratic rights and self-determination in the other states of the region.
The emergence of ISIS is the result of the combination of lack of military aid to the democratic opposition, the arming by Russia and Iran of Assad, and the freeing in 2013 of Islamist militants by Assad to divide the opposition and its financing from sources in the Gulf States and by the Turkish State. This has been a successful tactic by Assad, as the FSA has at times engaged in military actions against ISIS and other fundamentalists.
Since 2012, Socialist Resistance has campaigned to support the democratic and progressive opposition to Assad by promoting the Revolutionary Left Current of Syria and its website Syria Freedom Forever, organising a 200 strong conference in February 2014 on Syria to give a voice to the left and democrats of Syria. This conference was organised on the clear basis of opposition to all imperialist intervention and support for the people of Syria in the fight for democracy, and economic and social justice. The conference created a solidarity network, the Syria Solidarity Movement, on that basis.
The Stop the War Coalition has recently come under the influence of “campism” following events in Syria and Ukraine. It has put itself in problematic situations such as when it invited Mother Agnes, an apologist for Assad, to a StWC conference and with its relationship with Kargarlitsky over Ukraine (see SR website for a more extensive discussion of the positions of the StWC over Syria and Ukraine). Despite this important political problem, the Stop the War Coalition, is still the only umbrella organisation that can call initiatives against imperialist military interventions by the British government. We will continue to support the initiatives of the StWC as appropriate and participate in local groups, but we will not be renewing our national affiliation to the StWC.
12. Revolutionary unity
The left in Britain, including the far left, is weaker than it has been for many years. The SWP is discredited and its influence has declined dramatically since its heyday in the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s when it initially ended decades of isolation and worked within the then mass Stop the War campaign and the electoral projects of the Socialist Alliance and Respect. However its longstanding desire to be in control of all projects it was involved in led to its abrupt exit from the Respect project in 2007. After that its influence began a significant process of decline and in 2010 a group of members most associated with Respect left and formed Counterfire. Counterfire began to try to operate rather as an SWP Mark II, though with only a fraction of its influence. Counterfire were followed out of the SWP in 2011 by a similar group based in Scotland, which formed ISG-Scotland.
The SWP entered a further crisis in January 2013, its most severe to date.
The SP has retreated into left sectarianism and workerism with TUSC and NSSN, and into CPB-type nationalism with the NO2EU initiative. Some of the smaller organisations of the far left, notably Counterfire, Socialist Appeal and Workers Power (WP) have politically collapsed (along with the CPB) into campism over Ukraine. Permanent Revolution wound itself up into the ACI. Socialist Action lost what influence it had following Livingstone’s defeat and remains heavily influenced by a campist perspective. The fragments of the WRP are tiny propaganda groups with no influence. Respect has collapsed entirely. The AWL remains completely toxic to most of the left due to its longstanding position on Israel. The CPGB/Weekly Worker group remain tiny and a firmly ideologically hardened ultra left nuisance.
Although a number of the politically better former members of far left organisations have been attracted into the Left Unity project, in terms of the overall situation of the existing far left groups it is a very difficult situation.
This crisis, however, particularly that of the SWP, has also opened up an opportunity for recomposition and renewal of the far left that has not existed for many years. The chance has existed to tackle the disunity of the revolutionary left that has been so damaging for so long. The possibility opened up not only of a regroupment of far left forces but of building something new that could transcend many of the political problems that have hampered the far left for many years, not least on democratic functioning and internal democracy.
Unfortunately these possibilities have still not come to fruition despite the various initiatives and there is a danger that the opportunity could be missed. The process, however, is far from over but is entering a new but more fragmented stage. It is crucial therefore that we continue to give this issue a very high priority because the objective need is even more urgent.
It is a process that begun two and a half years and a half ago (in March 2012) with the emergence of the Anti Capitalist Initiative (ACI) partly from a youth split from Workers Power. Towards the end of the year we began discussions with it around Luke Cooper and Simon Hardy’s book on a new kind of far left.
It broke out in earnest, however, in January 2013 with the crisis of the SWP over the denial of the abuse of women comrades. A special SWP conference in March when the leadership simply defended its actions compounded the problem rather than resolving it. After the conference several hundred members resigned and formed the ISN at a meeting just before our conference took place in April. We attended, and spoke at it. The meeting adopted a set of objectives that looked towards regroupment (rather than building another separate organisation) and mentioned ourselves (as SR) as one of the possible partners in this.
Comrades from both the ISN and the ACI attended our conference in April 2013—which called for a regroupment process to be established with some urgency and with the aim of a regroupment in the short to medium term possibly within 12 months.
In May 2013 we began a series of meetings with the ISN and the ACI with regroupment as the objective. Discussions were held around internal democracy/democratic centralism and around Left Unity. It was clear that a successful three-way regroupment would attract others from outside of the three organisations.
At the second meeting, however, the ISN proposed the inclusion of Workers Power into the process. Invitations to several small groups of autonomists were also mooted. We objected to WP in particular arguing that this would hamper the process since WP embodied exactly the narrow dogmatic conceptions we were trying to get away from, and they showed no signs of change. Although the inclusion of WP was not agreed the ISN continued to press for it and it remained an unresolved problem.
We were invited to observe the ISN conference in October 2013. The strength of the ISN was that they were prepared to challenge the SWP tradition beyond the immediate issue of the treatment of women comrades that had been at the heart of their decision to form a faction in the SWP and then to resign. It was also, however, far from clear that there was a majority in the ISN for the kind of regroupment that we were proposing. In fact there appeared to be several competing conceptions. Some within the ISN, it appeared, were being pulled in the direction of ultraleftism, syndicalism and spontaneism.
By far the closest comrades to ourselves in the ISN were a dozen or so comrades including Richard Seymour and China Mieville. Most of them were not on the steering committee of the ISN. They were opposed to those inside the ISN who prioritised the relationship with Workers Power and the autonomists but were losing the battle on these positions. They were in favour of a regroupment with ourselves and argued for it inside the ISN. They drew very negative conclusions from the ISN October conference and afterwards were involved with some of our comrades and others in the production of an edition of Exchange (originally the publication of the ACI) with articles reflecting aspects of their politics and of ours, for example an article on the FI and an article by Richard on Grangemouth. This issue of Exchange was distributed at the founding conference of Left Unity.
In December 2013 a national meeting of the ISN — termed a politics conference — took a decision that effectively brought the three way delegation meetings to an end. It called for a wider regroupment process involving Workers Power, Plan C, the IWW and others, which would conclude with a regroupment conference in the spring. We were initially reluctant to become a part of this but since it was a non-negotiable proposition we were reluctant to walk away and agreed to participate.
Soon after the politics conference in December 2013/January 2014, several hundred more comrades split from the SWP after their annual conference. They formed RS21.They differed from the ISN in that they contained more long-standing SWP cadre than had been the case with the ISN. RS21 included a layer of leading intellectuals, writers and former full timers of the SWP. At the same time the bulk of the group including Richard and China split with the ISN and (contrary to our hope that they would regroup with us) ceased to continue in an organised form. And our attempts to continue to keep in touch have been less successful that we would have liked.
Meanwhile on February 15th 2014 we organised a remarkably successful conference, jointly with the ISN, in solidarity with the Syrian revolution attended by around 150 people.
The regroupment conference was scheduled for April 26th 2014 and was organised by a series of delegation meetings that included WP—though it had ceased to be a regroupment conference as such since it was now clear that a regroupment would involve a much longer process.
Just before the April conference RS21 joined the process, which for us gave it an added significance. Three bulletins were produced as a pre-conference discussion and RS21 submitted a number of texts. Meanwhile the ACI had been in decline and prior to the conference most of its remaining members went into the ISN and the ACI ceased to exist.
The April conference was successful. There were around 120 at it, it was well organised and comradely and a packed agenda of discussion was completed. The only practical conclusion was for the organisations concerned to meet quite soon afterwards to discuss a balance sheet of it. This however has never happened despite some prompting from ourselves.
Instead of holding this follow-up meeting the ISN proposed that we continue a further round of discussions with WP still involved. We made clear that we did not want to continue to be involved in any process that included WP but were keen to continue discussing and working with the ISN and RS21. RS21 said they did not see their involvement in any regroupment process continuing but wanted to concentrate on joint work.
On June 7 we jointly organised with RS21 a highly successful event on “Eco-socialism, Fracking and revolution” with around 120 in attendance. This was our first successful joint work with RS21 and established some strong relationships at individual level.
Since then, however, there has been a hiatus in the regroupment process. This is partly because the inclusion of WP in the process sharply polarised the situation (as was the intention), particularly after WP adopted a campist position on Ukraine. The involvement of WP also made RS21 more cautious and strengthened their view that the way forward at the moment is not regroupment but joint work.
Having insisted on the involvement of Workers Power, the ISN then allowed to join them and to be represented on their internal bodies a small group of ultra-left Morenists based in Liverpool, called the International Socialist League. They produce an occasional sectarian journal called Socialist Voice. This was a very negative development in our view and made (and makes) regroupment between ourselves and the ISN more difficult.
At the same time the ISN seems to have been declining apart from in Birmingham. They felt unable to take any ‘major decisions’ at their national members’ meeting in August because of low attendance.
All this makes RS21 even more important for us in terms of regroupment. We have common positions with them on some of the most contentious issues of the day, in particular around Syria and Ukraine and of course we had the joint ecosocialist event. We are also in the process of organising a meeting with their organiser and with members of their steering committee with an in-principle agreement to hold more joint events.
Like the ISN, in our view, RS21 suffered from a lack of clear projects around which to build themselves and seek a way forward. Some members have gone into Left Unity with some enthusiasm, which is very important, but others have remained hesitant.
Recently there has been fragmentation taking place from both the ISN and RS21. We are in contact with individual comrades and small groups from RS21 and ISN with whom we work in Left Unity and elsewhere. Left Unity is particularly important in this regard and we should do all we can to encourage as many of them as possible to work with us in Left Unity.
A group of comrades, some of whom we had been working closely with in North London, have resigned from RS21. We are seeking to discuss with them as to how they see the way forward. More recently a group of comrades have spit from Counterfire and are planning to launch a left book club, which is certainly something we should get involved in. There are also discussions taking place in Birmingham between SR and a group of young comrades from the ISN.
Many of those who have left the SWP have broken with aspects of SWP politics, and with SWP norms of functioning, but have yet to articulate clear alternative. Frustration at this lies behind some of the reasons for splinters from the ex-SWP groups emerging. Conveying and demonstrating in practice an alternative model of revolutionary democracy is something we have to work further on.
In terms of joint work we are promoting the idea of a joint event on the developments of the right and the far right and how most effectively to campaign against it. This comes out of a meeting that was organised by the ISN in August on the subject which was also attended by RS21 and SR comrades. There was a good deal of consensus at the meeting about the fact that repeating the UAF model is wholly inadequate in the context that today the main threat is UKIP rather than the fascists per se. This has been followed by articles from all three organisations putting a similar line on the UKIP electoral threat. The discussion at the ISN meeting was written up and has been published in the ISN internal bulletin. It has also been sent to RS21 with the suggestion that they publish it. We will also circulate it and hope that the proposal for a joint discussion and possible event will take the process of regroupment forward.
The ISG-Scotland has evolved in a different and more positive direction than those groups based in England, but this is due to the distinctively different nature of developments in Scotland particularly around the referendum and this will be discussed under the section on Scotland. We should note that future developments in Scotland may be capable of having an effect on some of the English-based far left groups, who in general, with the key exception of RS21 and ourselves, have struggled to understand the dynamics or have taken totally wrong positions.
Our main priority is to seek to develop discussions and joint work with RS21 locally and nationally while continuing to fight for regroupment more generally and bringing as many as possible of those we work with into Left Unity.