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Labour’s Electoral Rise – A Tepid Reformism Reconsolidates

Ed Miliband

The victory of the Labour Party in the local elections has consolidated Ed Miliband’s leadership of Labour and set the political direction of Labour for the next period. For the first time since the death of John Smith in 1994, Labour has a leadership whose politics can be broadly characterised as social democratic, albeit very tepidly and timidly so.

The first hesitant blow against the Blair/Brown legacy of aggressive privatisation at home and imperialist wars abroad was struck by trade union members in the autumn of 2010, when they overruled the purged, cowed and largely middle class ‘aspirational’ Labour Party membership and installed the Green-tinged soft-left former Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, as Labour leader, defeating his brother David whose entire political profile was as a clone of Tony Blair. David Miliband, as foreign secretary in the later New Labour years, is personally culpable in such crimes as ‘extraordinary rendition’ – i.e. illegal kidnapping (with torture) of Muslims suspected of Al Qaeda activities or even just sympathy, for transport to the United States or its then client regimes like Libya or Syria, in contradiction to even formal legal norms.

Ed Miliband, though not in parliament at the time, claims to have been opposed to the Iraq war as waged by Blair, Brown, his elder brother and the entire Labour leadership. It is typical of Ed Miliband’s vacuity that there seems to be no credible evidence that he ever said or did anything in opposition to that criminal invasion. Not a single speech or article can his supporters produce to substantiate this claim of opposition. His claims on this are not really credible at all – probably the most that can be said for Ed Miliband is that he wishes that he had had the courage of his claimed convictions and spoken out against the war waged by his own party leadership. But he didn’t. Read the rest of this entry »

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TUSC conference – a modestly encouraging day

The TUSC election conference met yesterday in Central London. It was a meeting of leading local and national activists in the main, necessarily quite small as TUSC does not have the membership structure in place to make for anything liable to draw more people to a conference. I would estimate the attendance as around 40, maybe a few more.

There were two sessions, the earlier one being on the broad political situation and the politics of the election campaign, and a later afternoon session discussing some of the practicalities. There has actually been something of a positive shift in the atmosphere around TUSC, previously the project has seemed becalmed in the post-general election environment and the vaguely soft-left aura generated around the election of Ed Miliband as leader of the Labour Party.

Miliband and Balls’ statements supporting the government’s public sector wage freeze, in fact a brutal pay-cut for millions of workers, and pledge to keep all the coalition’s cuts, has changed all that. It appears that the SWP, who previously were formally in the TUSC project but barely engaged in it, in verbal terms at least, have  shifted to a more positive position. It remains to be seen whether this translates into real mobilisation of SWP activists on the ground to build TUSC around the country, but the negativity that surrounded the SWP’s involvement previously was not present at this conference.

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New left-wing coalition to challenge for a seat on London Assembly

The following press release was issued by TUSC today:

Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
MEDIA RELEASE

27 January 2012
For immediate release:
New left-wing coalition to challenge for a seat on London Assembly

A new alliance, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), made up of trade union members and socialists, is to stand candidates in the Greater London Election on 3 May to challenge the all-party support for the government’s austerity cuts and pay freeze.

The coalition expects to win support from trade unionists and other voters who are angered by the recent statements of Labour leader Ed Miliband and the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, in which they stated that they will not reverse the Government’s cuts and that they support its pay freeze.

A list of candidates will challenge in the ‘top up’ section of the election and if it wins at least 5% of the vote across the whole of London it could win at least one place on the 25-seat Greater London Assembly.

The coalition has already selected prominent London trade union leaders such as Alex Gordon, the national president of the RMT rail and maritime union and Steve Hedley the RMT’s London Transport regional organiser, Ian Leahair, the Fire Brigades Union executive committee member for the capital, Joe Simpson, assistant secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association and Martin Powell-Davies, who is the London representative on the national committee of the NUT teachers union.

The Labour Party will be concerned that many public sector workers who participated in the 30 November pensions’ strike may be moved to vote for this coalition because of the failure of Labour leaders to support the walk-out.

Labour leaders will also be worried that rank and file union members of Labour affiliated unions could press for their funds to go to a party like TUSC instead of to Labour.

Steve Hedley, whose RMT union was expelled from the Labour Party in 2004 for backing the Scottish Socialist Party, said, “We need candidates who support the ordinary man and woman. TUSC is the only organisation that opposes all cuts, defends pensions and benefits for all working people. Labour just wants a compliant, silent union movement to hand over its money. TUSC will be a voice for all workers and will support trade unions in struggle.”

TUSC national committee member Nick Wrack, who is also a candidate, said, “London is a city of stark contrasts. There is a huge amount of poverty amidst the plenty. Corporate bosses and bankers still get their million pound pay and pension packages while one in six London workers is paid less than the Mayor’s £8.30 per hour living wage. Millions are suffering from the cuts to services and benefits yet last year the city paid out over £4 billion in bonuses. It’s extremely hard even for those on better wages to make ends meet. We believe that there is an opportunity for a party that will speak up for working-class London to make a real break-through and that would begin to change the nature of political debate in Britain today.”

TUSC believes it can get a candidate elected if it wins at least 150,000 votes across London.

– Ends –
For more information contact: Nick Wrack (m) 07812 063 409; (w) 020 7842 7562; nick.wrack@tooks.co.uk
Will McMahon (m) 07968 950 223; wsmcmahon@yahoo.co.uk
 

Candidates selected for the TUSC GLA list so far include (in alphabetical order):

April Ashley, UNISON National Executive Committee
Alex Gordon, RMT President
Steve Hedley, RMT London regional organiser
Ian Leahair, FBU National Executive Committee
Martin Powell-Davies, NUT national executive
Joe Simpson, POA assistant secretary
Jenny Sutton, UCU Chair, London Regional Committee (FE)
Nick Wrack, TUSC national committee member (former chair of Socialist Alliance and Respect)
There will also be candidates from the CWU postal union and the PCS public service workers union.

(All standing in a personal capacity)

The final list is not yet decided. Other candidates are still being considered.

The FBU has 5,500 members in London.
The RMT has over 12,000 members in London Underground alone.
 

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Miliband’s monumental Balls-up means a new left party is more essential than ever.

Ed Miliband

Len McCluskey

Ed Balls’ announcement at the end of last week that Labour now supports the coalition’s public sector wage-freeze (in fact pay cut, in the face of wages being whittled away by high inflation), and its intention to maintain it, and all the Tory/Lib Dem cuts, in the next parliament, has thrown the labour movement into a major crisis. Ed Miliband promptly went on Sunday morning televsion to back up Balls. These announcements totally rip apart the carefully maintained soft-left political profile that Miliband has maintained since he was elected leader last year promising to do something to address the ‘crisis of representation’ of Labour’s traditional working class ‘core’ vote.

Faced with a major, full frontal attack on working class living standards and vicious cuts consciously aimed at making the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society – the sick, the disabled, even those suffering from terminal cancer (!!) pay for the defecit resulting from a capitalist crisis caused by finance capital that has benefited for decades from low taxation (which as often as not they manage to avoid by ‘creative accounting’), and was bailed out with public funds when it faced ruin three years ago, Labour backs up the Tories on the fundamentals.

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Has Cameron Cocked It Up In Europe?

David Cameron

“We are disappear backwards into a flag-waving, nationalistic hell. One of the reasons I’m now looking at getting out while I can.”

So says a very pessimistic commenter on the Socialist Unity website, discussing the aftermath of David Cameron’s veto of the Merkel-Sarkozy proposed changes to the Lisbon Treaty in the early hours of Friday morning.

That’s a pretty dire, pessimistic perspective to put forward on the basis of a couple of opinion polls after Cameron’s priceless piece of political ineptitude. Opinion polls, in a situation of what is likely to be considerable volatility, say that Cameron has struck a chord with large sections of the public, possibly through being seen to ‘stick it to’ the French and Germans, show a bit of the ‘Bulldog spirit’ and similar nonsense. Though if anything, it is just as likely to involve a degree of disquiet at the unelected, technocrat governments now emerging from this crisis in parts of Europe. Given that the mission of this government is to impose similar extreme austerity on this country, and given that the parties, especially the Lib Dems, stood for election promising something rather different, even this could be a two-edged sword.

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Osborne Lights the Fuse to a Perfect Storm

Public Sector Strike, 30 November

Osborne’s mini-budget, spewed forth in the House of Commons the day before the two million-strong one-day public sector strike over pensions, is a big ‘fuck you’ to the majority of the population of the UK. In response to an imminent double-dip recession, and the potential collapse of the Euro, with its cuts in tax credits and its multi-year 1% public sector pay limit brazenly redistributing wealth away from the poor to the very wealthy, he has lit the fuse to a social explosion that will undoubtedly be very different from the lumpen nihilism of the August riots. This is a provocation to the organised working class, an incitement to strike, and also an incitement to those outside of the trade unions to get organised!

The Cameron myth of ‘we’re all in it together’ looks pretty sick now. This is an even more brazen assault on the vast majority than the Poll Tax, or the Social Contract wage cuts under the 1974-79 Labour government which turned on the working class at the very dawning of neo-liberalism. The latter, however, was not initially presented as an attack on the majority, but as a trade-off for social reform that never materialised. There is nothing of the trade-off in Osborne’s latest package, not even the ‘cuts for growth’ trade-off that the coalition was promising earlier. Going beyond pension cuts to years long-pay freezes and benefit cuts in the face of unpredictable and high inflation, is a brazen incitement to workers to combine together and smash the pay limits.

It may not come immediately, but an explosion surely must come in the medium term. The two main  countervailing factors are the anti-union laws, and the electoral cycle. But in a real explosion of anger from below, if it were wide enough, these laws would be worth very little. Years of planned austerity, going on beyond this parliament, put the coalition in an extremely difficult position as they now plan still to be cutting when they go to the polls in 2015. The Labour Party under Milliband promises very little, but may shift rhetorical gears if and when something kicks off simply in order to protect its left-flank from any possible challenge.

Millliband’s barely social-democratic profile could perhaps be expanded a little under pressure from the  base of the unions. It is also likely that the closer we get to the end of this parliament, the more restive the Lib Dems will become, fearing being finally dragged down to electoral oblivion by Cameron and Osborne. Such signs of weakness while trying to impose years-long austerity could be the signal for real resistance from below, most likely in the form of a strike wave.

The Occupy London movement, part of the whole international phenomenon of soclial protest flowing, at least at the start, outside of the framework of seemingly moribund trade unions, is another sign of an explosion to come. But it comes under conditions which threaten to make trade union action of burning relevance again to millions who have hardly looked to them since the defeat of the miners in 1984-5, or in some ways even earlier.

But on its own, trade unionism also has its dangers, and cannot solve the overall problem. Indeed, a successful trade union rebellion that swept away this government would then again confront the same problem that happened in 1974. The Labour Party. After the greatest working class upsurge and victories in the 20th Century, Labour under Wilson and Callaghan bailed out capitalism politically and sought by stealth, with the help of the pro-capitalist trade union bureaucracy, to restore capitalist profitability by means of a steady erosion of working class living standards.

This led by massive demoralisation in the working class, a wave of racist sentiment that led to a frightening growth of fascism, and then Thatcher was able to take advantage of this to inflict major defeats on the working class and the whole idea of socialism.

But in those days, market fundamentalism was a rising trend in bourgeois terms. Now it is deeply discredited. Labour’s prolonged crisis, never resolved, is fundamentally a product of the failure of those days, the failure of reformism to deliver real reforms.  Blair tried to resolve that by doing away with the reformism, but that adoption of market fundamentalism with a (barely) human face, even writing it into the Labour Party constitution, just led to Labour overseeing a major, world-historic capitalist failure in 2008-10.

The political vacuum to the left of Labour is thus as wide as ever. We need a real party, not a sect like any of the existing far left groups, that can politically organise and represent our class, develop a genuinely socialist economic and political programme in collaboration with others around the world, and fight to bury capitalism, not save it. How we do that has to be a matter of sustained debate and activity,  looking to a new left party initiative that can take things in that direction.

At the moment, the only formation that even hints at the need for a new party is TUSC. But this is not a party: it may be a bridge to one but that is not clear and in any case any evolution towards that is likely to be complex. Among the main political aims of this blog is promoting the kind of discussions that will help in solving this problem, which is the main problem facing socialists today.

 

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What kind of party does the working class need, part 2

In the previous part of this article I pointed to some of the problems of the existing far left, and also some developments in the real world that it has proven unable to properly analyse. Now I will turn to questions of organisation in as concrete a manner as possible, basing myself on historical analysis, recent practical experience, and some conception of what the tasks of a new working class party actually are.

The rationale for the existing state of extreme fragmentation that afflicts the far left is, believe it or not, the model of the Bolshevik Party. In historical terms, it goes like this: the Bolsheviks were the only major party of the Second International which stood up against the tide of betrayal that swept away the International when its component parties supported their respective governments in the First World War. This was because in practice, the Bolshevik Party was organised in a fundamentally different way. It did not include all shades of opinion in the working class movement, and in particular it did not include reformist trends; rather it had split in practice with the political equivalents of the pro-war socialists before war broke out, principally with the Mensheviks [the softer, more conciliatory and reformist-inclined trend in Russian socialism]..

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