Socialist Party documents

British Perspectives: a Socialist Party congress 2011 document


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The NSSN, the anti-cuts struggle and the Trade Unions

63) This is one indication of the social war that is in its first stages in Britain. The first large front in this war will be on the issue of the cuts.

But it won't be conducted on just one battleground, in local government and in the state sector generally involving job cuts and the slashing of services.

It will be a multi-front battle involving the defence of all the accumulated gains in the working class in many fields. It is, however, necessary to have an overarching approach on the national level in order to give a focus to the kind of campaign which is necessary from the standpoint of the working class.

That is why the Socialist Party successfully fought for the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) to become central to the campaign and organise with the local anti-cuts groups from a consistent working-class standpoint.

Why is this necessary, shriek some of our 'left' opponents? Yet it seems incredible that we are being accused of 'splitting the movement' when they organised separate campaigns after the formation of the NSSN.

The Right to Work was actually condemned by the NSSN as a specifically 'splitting' tactic - unfortunately normal for the SWP - when they could not get their own way through the NSSN.

The Coalition of Resistance was formed after the NSSN first mobilised at its national conference in June 2010 to oppose the cuts following the announcement of Osborne's initial budget.

Everything that has been proposed by the Socialist Party on this issue was there in an incipient form in the NSSN decisions and approach.

64) We are prepared to collaborate with anybody who has a consistent fighting position on this issue. It is a programmatic divide, as well as an organisational difference on the need for a democratic campaign.

The SWP carries no credence with serious workers whatsoever after their previous disastrous attempts at 'unity' in the Socialist Alliance, which they split from top to bottom, in Respect which also split, followed by a breach in their own ranks.

This is now manifested in the divisions between the Right to Work and Coalition of Resistance organisations. The SWP, recognising their weaknesses, is seeking itself to 'coalesce' behind the Coalition of Resistance but their 'partners' are not keen to embrace them.

65) Our objectives are not at all 'sectarian', as they maintain. From a Marxist point of view, sectarianism represents an inability to relate to the real level of understanding, the consciousness, of the working class at each stage of the struggle.

We oppose all cuts in jobs and services. Formally, the Coalition of Resistance and even the SWP subscribe to the same idea.

But they are prepared to link up with and to actually reinforce illusions in those who do not accept this, particularly Labour councils and councillors.

These councillors are prepared to proclaim 'opposition to all cuts' and then march into the council chambers to endorse cuts, thereby inflicting misery on working-class people.

These satraps of local government are wielding their little axes on behalf of the Coalition. Marxism seeks to face up to reality.

It is easy to do this when it hits you, sometimes brutally, on the nose! But Marxism seeks to anticipate events, to warn about the trajectory of different political formations, particularly those who will ultimately let down the working-class.

But we are prepared to work with anybody on the basis of a struggle programme.

Lessons of Liverpool

66) In the Liverpool battle, we firstly elaborated a programme of 'no cuts in jobs and services'. We ceaselessly campaigned for this and convinced the Liverpool Labour Party - when it was a workers' party at the bottom - and the unions to adopt this.

We organised a mighty mass movement, which swept along councillors who, before the battle, would not have dreamt that they would defy Tory laws and vote for a 'no cuts', as well as an 'illegal', budget.

Only a handful - the 'scabby seven' - refused to accept this programme, the view of the overwhelming majority of the labour movement. The Liverpool councillors demanded that all accept this programme as a precondition for taking part in the campaign.

They would have driven from the stage those who indicated in advance that they should vote for 'Labour' cuts while marching and campaigning against 'government cuts'.

67) This is why the Liverpool struggle has left such an indelible impression on all who understand and are conscious of the real struggles of the working class in recent decades.

The possessing classes are certainly aware, hence their attempts to extirpate the memory and lessons of Liverpool. The right wing of the labour movement is of like mind.

They are alongside some on the left who had a less than glorious and positive approach in this crucial battle, because the leadership was provided by Militant (now the Socialist Party).

But the Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee does not mince words. She frequently invokes in her column the 'spectre' of Derek Hatton, Tony Mulhearn and Liverpool as the anti-cuts battle looms.

Toynbee contrast Liverpool - unfavourably - to the current Labour Manchester council leader who is presiding over cuts and 2,000 job losses, 17.5% of the council workforce - no doubt with tears and much wringing of hands! Ask workers what they would prefer: the chop - la Manchester - or a mass struggle of resistance and defiance of the government along the lines of Liverpool in the 1980s? For working-class people, it is a no-brainer!

68) It is sometimes necessary to act together with allies who may not want to go the whole way. But we must be prepared to warn and to criticise those who are not prepared to carry through this struggle to a conclusion.

The Liverpool and poll tax struggles - which we led - inform our attitude in this struggle. Despite initial hesitation and even objections from even some workers at the outset, our programme for this battle will be supported by the best workers who are prepared to see the struggle through to a conclusion.

In turn, perspectives for the outcome of the cuts battle are conditioned by the broad political perspectives for developments in Britain in the next period.

Trade unions

69) This year could be one of the most convulsive, also, in the industrial field. Lenny McCluskey, newly-elected secretary of Unite, has already argued, as Mark Serwotka did before, that strikes are 'inevitable' against the background of the cuts.

The private sector could be affected with Unite threatening to bring out on strike lorry drivers! A new tanker drivers' strike is not ruled out. But it is a question of not just recognising the 'inevitability' of strikes but of consciously preparing with a plan and organisation to actually stop the government and its cuts programme.

70) The ConDem government, backed by the bosses, is seeking to bolster its position, including through the CBI, one of its mouthpieces, in raising the question of further anti-trade union legislation.

It is determined to inflict a resounding defeat on our side, the working class and the labour movement. Gone is the image of Cameron as a 'compassionate Conservative', as 'hugging a hoodie' - distancing himself from Thatcher, etc.

That now appears to have been from a bygone age, yet it is only a year or so since he adopted this position. In its place is a capitalist barbarian - every bit as vicious, if not more so, than Thatcher - threatening to sharpen the anti-strike weapons inherited from her.

He wants to add further limitations on the right to strike, agreeing with the CBI's requirement that at least 40% of those eligible to vote must do so if a ballot is to be valid.

His henchman, Boris Johnson the London mayor, openly boasted at a City dinner that he and the Tories hope to defeat the RMT through the introduction of trains on the London underground which do not need drivers! Also, sacked workers will now be charged a fee if they appeal to Employment Tribunals, it is suggested by the government.

71) They will also not hesitate, as they already have done, to use the courts to try and frustrate the will of the working class to fight. But while coordinated industrial action, for instance at local government level, has some legal impediments which has been spelt out in our material, this must not stand in the way of a determination to organise a unified struggle in defence of every worker and every job.

Coordinated action on pensions was threatened in 2005 and this could be successfully carried out today. The growing opposition to the government is aired even in the 'Murdochised' Sunday Times.

It headlined a piece on union defence of pensions: "All-out - unions plot general strike"! If only this could be guaranteed! But the head of steam building up from below could force the bureaucratic, conservative unions like Unison into action, even coordinated action between public-sector unions on the issue of pensions.

The Sunday Times even quotes a YouGov poll - commissioned by them - which showed that 53% of those polled "think public-sector workers would be justified in taking strike action to defend pensions".

Even if action is initiated on pensions, we must argue for it to be generalised into action against the cuts.

72) Particularly important is the defence of trade union militants who are going to be in the firing line as the first obstacle to the bosses. There are significant possibilities now in the trade union movement with the position that we have built up.

PCS and Unite, in particular, will be in the front line. Given that their members are under attack, Unison should be alongside them but the woeful - nay the conscious ingrained conservatism - approach of the national officials of Unison is a big impediment to that union mobilising officially in the struggle.

In the NHS their officials have already urged acceptance of a cut in wages as a precondition for allegedly 'saving jobs' although the rank and file Health Executive overwhelmingly rejected this position.

Cuts in wages will not save jobs. The axe is already deployed by Lansley to jobs and services; 3,000 NHS jobs went in one week at the beginning of the year! On the other hand, such is the scale of the attacks at local level an eruption of working-class anger could manifest itself within the ranks of this union.

The blatantly complacent leadership of Prentis can be pushed aside in the heat of the struggle, just as the old NUR leadership of Sydney Weighell was replaced.

This was, in a sense, over a less immediate concern to the workers, the internal democracy of the Labour Party in the 1980s. Unison members - facing massive job cuts - cannot roll over in the face of criminal complacency by the union's leadership.

A huge campaign must be launched for a recall conference of Unison to prepare a militant struggle and a leadership capable of carrying out such a policy.

73) We are in an unprecedented situation. We have no fetish on organisational forms.

We continue to support and argue for the idea of the viability of the existing trade unions as the main, general means of conducting the struggle of working-class people in defence of union members and the working class generally.

This, however, has always been supplemented by us through initiatives from below: broad lefts, etc. We do not contemplate ultra-left 'revolutionary' splits from the trade unions.

On the other hand, where there is a vicious attempt, which sometimes temporarily succeeds, to exclude militants from Unison or other right-wing unions, it would be conservatism to rigidly adhere to right-wing imposed structures and not to seek to continue by other means of struggle.

Our comrades in Unison fought a heroic battle to remain within Unison and will continue to do so in the next period. But at the same time, when their workmates up and leave right-wing unions in disgust - and this has happened in Unison - we must be flexible.

While seeking to retain or to return to membership of the original union, it is correct also sometimes to seek to join another in order to be able to continue to struggle alongside workers who have left.

74) The 26 March demonstration will be one of the main focuses for the labour movement in the next period and promises to be immense. But nothing can be taken for granted; we must press in all sections of the unions not just for a turnout but the biggest turnout for 20 or 30 years.

Also, it must not take the form as it did in Scotland on 23 October of luminaries from the church and media being wheeled onto the stage in place of class fighters.

It should elaborate a class struggle fighting programme. The idea of a one-day strike of all public-sector workers should form the core of our demands.

This should be a step towards a 24-hour general strike if the government does not back down.


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