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From The Socialist newspaper, 7 November 2012

Socialism 2012

A socialist alternative to rotten, bankrupt capitalism

Sarah Sachs-Eldridge

Short video of Socialism 2012

An inspirational weekend of socialist rallies, discussion and debate took place over the weekend 3-4 November, organised by the Socialist Party. Despite the fact that Socialist Party members were out in force just two weeks before for the national TUC 20 October anti-austerity demonstration, Socialism 2012 was very well attended with around 1,000 people taking part over the weekend.

Two large rallies took place in Friends Meeting House, Euston, on the Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon and there were three sets of smaller sessions giving an opportunity for everyone present to discuss and express points of view.

Video: Bob Crow, RMT general secretary

The first rally welcomed transport union RMT general secretary Bob Crow onto the platform, who opened the event with a rousing speech against the Con-Dem government and in favour of a one-day general strike against its attacks. [Videos of the speeches mentioned in this article can be viewed on this page - ed.]

Video: Claire Laker-Mansfield, Socialist Students national organiser

Claire Laker-Mansfield, Socialist Students national organiser, told the rally about the situation facing students today: "All those smashed expectations, hopes dashed" in the face of the "sneering smiles of the Tory boys, that represent the haves" leaving an "overwhelming feeling of anger, rage, against a system that shows us gleeming towers of wealth but only offers us pennies".

Video: Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary

"Did nobody see this coming?" At the opening rally for Socialism 2012 Socialist Party general secretary Peter Taaffe quoted the Queen's question in the aftermath of the immense banking and economic crisis. "No they didn't" Peter explained, referring to the legion of economic commentators. "But we did."

In the wake of the worst crisis for over 80 years is mass and rising unemployment and mass poverty. Peter reminded us of the child who starved to death in Westminster while millions of tonnes of food go into landfills. "This shows the character of capitalism - a system based upon production for profit and not social need. It pays them to destroy food, profits maintained, and hold back industry."

As capitalism continues to face its worst crisis since the 1930s Cameron has claimed a 'recovery'. Peter challenged this saying the PM is "whistling in the dark as he waves the figures for 1% quarterly growth". "In fact Cameron has promised ten years of brutal austerity, of mass privatisation - the biggest in history - and mass unemployment, used, as Marx said, as the "reserve army" - holding down of wages while the cost of living skyrockets."

Video: Joe Simpson, POA assistant general secretary

"Even if capitalism could stage a remarkable recovery", Peter warned, "it will be on the bones of the working class. Will the working class tolerate this? Absolutely not."

"We demand - the whole situation in Britain demands - at least a one-day strike. It will draw behind it all the oppressed layers - the youth denied job opportunities on slave or no wages, etc. It can draw in behind it the middle class - 30 shops are closing each day, 1,000 over the last six months with an avalanche of redundancies in the last week alone."

"But this cannot just be an industrial struggle - there is a crying need now for a new mass party of the working class... Five million voters, many of them workers, have abandoned Labour." Peter recounted how, in reality, New Labour prepared the ground for the Tories' attacks - in driving through the privatisation of the NHS and introducing tuition fees.

Socialist alternative

Video: Fran Heathcote, Department for Work and Pensions group president in the PCS

Fran Heathcote, Department for Work and Pensions group president in the PCS civil service union, made the point in the Sunday rally that Labour was the instigator of enormous cuts in the civil service - even before the crisis.

Explaining what fuelled the militancy in her union and her department she explained that while 30 billion was being gouged out of the welfare budget by the Con-Dems, 30 billion had been awarded to the rich in tax breaks. "If", Fran explained, "the main political parties are incapable of standing for us, we need to do it ourselves."

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is valuable in standing election candidates in an attempt to build a political voice for workers. Steve Hedley, RMT assistant general secretary, spoke at the Sunday rally and reported on the big number of disputes RMT members are involved in as privatised transport means attacks on workers. The union officially supports TUSC because as Steve said: "the working class needs an alternative and socialists fighting for that alternative".

Speaking about the campaign to build a new mass workers' party, Peter said that a clear programme will be vital. Syriza in Greece may create a 'left government'. But its leader Tsipras is not prepared to go the whole way - Xekinima, our sister party in Greece, pushes for this. But the programme we have campaigned around since the onset of the crisis: cancel the debt; nationalise the banks and commanding heights of the economy with democratic workers' control and management; and make an international class appeal, initially to the working class in Spain, Portugal, and even France which is wracked with crisis, is increasingly supported.

This is shown in the fact that notice has now been given for the coordinated action on 14 November. Peter called on trade unionists to emulate that here - starting with solidarity lunchtime meetings on the day to discuss preparations for a 24-hour general strike.

Rob Williams, national chair of the National Shop Stewards Network, made a powerful speech in the Sunday rally showing how the working class is on the road back to struggle after suffering some defeats over the last decades. He, as others had, gave a taste of what an alternative could look like. Instead of closing Ford factories they could be turned to alternative production under democratic working class control and management to make socially useful and environmentally friendly transport.

The Socialist Party's deputy general secretary, Hannah Sell, spoke at the Sunday rally. She pointed to the growing rage at the capitalist system where even Occupy's '99% and 1%' can't illustrate the gross inequality. The Economist pointed out that in America the share of national income going to the top 0.01% (some 16,000 families) has risen from just over 1% in 1980 to almost 5% now.

In Britain that rage is fuelled by every utterance of the Tories. Hannah reminded us of the salivating at Tory conference over 'hurting the feckless poor'.

Ed Miliband is terrified that this rage, channelled into a mass movement, could bring down the Con-Dems and sweep Labour to power. His 'One Nation' speech at Labour's conference was an attempt to convince big business that he is not 'Red Ed' but a safe pair of hands for British capitalism.

General strikes

Socialism terrifies the ruling class, Hannah explained. They try to convince us to accept the 'new normal' which they call 'muted growth' - in reality factory closures, more unemployment and more people forced to sleep in the streets while 800 billion lies idle in the bank accounts of the big corporations because they can see no profitable way to invest it. This will not be accepted.

Trying to play down the impact of a 48-hour general strike in Greece, where workers face up to 80% cuts in living standards, a spokesperson for one of the government parties said: "My own personal feeling is that social reaction will not correspond to the weight of the measures and will be much less than anticipated because people can see there is no alternative."

Part of our role, Hannah explained, is to show there is an alternative. There is no lack of wealth - 20 trillion is stashed in tax havens by the super-rich, more than the entire combined debt of the OECD countries.

She commended Matt Wrack, general secretary of the firefighters' union FBU, for taking a motion on nationalisation of the banks to the TUC where it is now official policy. Matt had already spoken from the platform of the rally making the case for taking this demand out into the trade union movement.

Hannah added that this has to be extended to taking the big corporations that dominate the economy out of the hands of a tiny elite and into the democratic ownership and control of the working class so the economy can be planned to meet the needs of the 99%.

Hannah pointed to how the ideas of socialism were, in the course of the struggle in South Africa, being heard by tens, if not hundreds of thousands of workers. This shows how such ideas can become a material force. She invited everyone to join the Socialist Party to play a part in this process.

Over the course of the weekend a number of those attending who were not already members of the Socialist Party said they would join. This included the assistant general secretary of the RMT, Steve Hedley, who announced his decision at the rally. He said he agreed with 90% of what the Socialist Party stands for and was willing to discuss the other 10%.

Sean Figg, organiser of the whole event, closed the rally, inviting others to do the same.


Help fund the fight for socialism - here and internationally

Bob Severn

Everyone at the rally was disappointed that Hoshoko Letshoba, a Lonmin miner and member of the strike coordinating committee, was stopped, by the visa agencies, from speaking at Socialism 2012. Letshoba, along with many other miners, recently joined the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), the Socialist Party's sister party in South Africa.

But Alec Thraves, from Socialist Party Wales, gave a report of his visit to South Africa when making the financial appeal at the Saturday rally.

A video compilation showed the Marikana massacre, Alec speaking to miners, media coverage of DSM's involvement in the miners' strike wave sweeping across Rustenburg, and interviews with leading miner and DSM member, Mametlwe Sebei.

The Marikana massacre on 16 August shocked South Africa and the world, including DSM members. But Alec described how the DSM, having a branch based in a miners' squatter camp, knew that major clashes could occur in the Rustenburg region. DSM aided the spreading of strikes across Rustenburg and beyond, and helped the formation of the joint strike coordinating committee.

The massacre has exposed, globally, the African National Congress (ANC) government, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the leadership of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). All three have backed the attempt to crush the strike.

As the Socialist has reported, Alec made it clear that the Marikana massacre was premeditated murder. But the attempt to drown the strike in blood didn't work. Marikana miners continued the dispute and won a 28% pay increase. Other mine strikes followed - not only over wages, but also in protest over Marikana and the horrendous social conditions which miners and other South African workers suffer.

In making the appeal for finance to fund the struggle for socialism Alec said that as well as helping with the campaigns in England and Wales this money would make a difference in South Africa, where DSM membership has more than doubled this year and may yet triple! Illustrating the urgent need for support for the DSM he reported that 40 a day is being spent on mobile phone calls and texts to communicate with miners in different mine shafts.

The appeal raised 17,310, with more donated at the closing rally. 550 was raised by disabled trade unionist Andrew Price's cycling fundraiser (see page 8). Isla Windsor gave 1,000 in memory of former Socialist Party councillor Rob Windsor. 200 was donated by Sue and Alan Hardman.

320 was donated by the Southampton Socialist Party including 100 from the city's rebel councillors Keith Morrell (who could not attend due to illness) and Don Thomas, who were suspended, then expelled from the Labour Party for voting against cuts. This appeal was in addition to the 11,500 given to the Socialist Party computer server appeal over the last three months.


Comments about Socialism 2012

I'm looking forward to Socialism 2013 already. I found it difficult to decide which discussion to attend because there was such a great selection.

Rhiannon Wright, Leeds

Peter Taaffe and Bob Crow's speeches impressed me, the rallies really gave off a feeling that you're part of something not only worthwhile but that also could really change things.

Ash Cawton, FE student, Sheffield

The discussion on Scotland and the referendum was detailed, lively, informative and well-presented. As socialists 'we are always learning' while being prepared to listen.

Pat Atkinson, Hackney

Hearing the eye-witness account of the struggle of our comrades in South Africa was a particular highlight and I will further my efforts to spread the ideas of the CWI.

Matt Whale, Hull

As I have only been a member a year this was my first Socialism event and I found the weekend truly inspirational. My message to people who attended the event and are not yet members themselves, is to join us in solidarity because you are not alone in the class struggle.

David Williams, Peterborough

An excellent opportunity to listen to discussions that affect us at a grassroots level. The rallies were inspirational.

Bridget Gilbert, Sheffield Social Work student

Young people and comrades with decades of experience took time to come from across the UK and overseas to discuss and plan action around many of the most pertinent issues of our time.

Meryl Jordan, Cumbria

Speakers were good, able to answer and clarify every question and weren't afraid to debate their point of view.

Andy Williamson, college student, York

Was an amazing weekend, I met some amazing people. So pleased I joined the party!

Serena Cheung, Brighton

I received lots of tips on what to say to people to convince them that socialism can make a difference to the world.

Dave Crane, Hastings

The session on Marxist Economics was particularly good as it was 'interactive' and allowed for questions throughout.

Michael Docherty, PCS rep at British Library, Boston Spa, North Yorks

The session on 'how to combat the far right" was eye-opening. Thanks to the contributions from comrades from Waltham Forest, Newcastle, and Leicester, and an update on the situation on Greece l learnt lessons that I can apply to a situation in my area.

Gareth Bromhall, Llanelli and West Wales Branch

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