Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/465/1798
"A brilliant and inspiring experience"
SOCIALISM 2006 more than lived up to the expectations of those that attended. Almost a thousand people took part in debates and discussions over the course of the weekend. BOB SEVERN reports on the main rally, IAN SLATTERY on the closing youth rally and ALISON HILL on the How to Defend the NHS rally. All photos PAUL MATTSSON. More reports and your comments next week.
"Almost half the world lives without clean water or modern sewage systems," said Hannah Sell, introducing the Rally for Socialism. "In Zimbabwe, the average life-expectancy for women has fallen to 34 years, lower than the Bronze Age. The richest 356 people on the planet now have more wealth than the poorest 40%."
"The discussion this weekend is how we can change the world".
After a short film showing action taken against hospital cuts around Britain, Len Hockey, the Unison joint branch secretary at Whipps Cross hospital in Waltham Forest, spoke on behalf of porters, domestics and switchboard staff and their battle against privatisation and to achieve parity of their pay and conditions. Len spoke of the solidarity between the older workers on better conditions and the new workers, who had maintained almost 100% attendance on the picket line during the eight days of victorious strike action this year.
"When we are told by the Whitehouse, the Kremlin and now Beijing that socialism is history, it is even more urgent that we fight for it!" said Chris Baugh, assistant general secretary of civil service union PCS. "The obituary of trade unionism has been written and rewritten since the industrial revolution but with globalisation unions are more important than ever."
The PCS, which is prepared to take strike action against cuts, privatisation and low pay, are encouraging young workers to join the union and fight. Unfortunately, Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, was unable to attend due to a family emergency. However, he sent his greetings to the rally.
Introducing Solidarity MSP Tommy Sheridan, the rally saw news footage of a young Tommy holding a street meeting during the anti-poll tax struggle in Glasgow. His Labour Party branch was suspended for recruiting too many working-class people!
The next clip showed Tommy speaking after he won his libel case against the News of the World. Unfortunately, some socialists and former comrades - the current leaders of the Scottish Socialist Party - had supported the wrong side, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation empire.
On the new party Solidarity, Tommy said: "All over Scotland, we are rebuilding the Scottish Socialist Movement, based on sticking together - socialist ideas are back on the agenda. Tommy urged people to join the socialists: "Fight for socialism locally, but think globally - replace the billionaires' values of hate, war and poverty, with socialist values of love, peace and humanity".
Salonika university student and Xekinima (CWI Greece) member Anna Kleitsa reported on the biggest movement in Greece since the military dictatorship ended in 1974, against the government's moves to privatise higher education. University occupations began in May and by June 460 of the 485 university schools in Salonika were under student control.
From September, school teachers went on strike for six weeks, then pupils occupied one-third of the schools in Greece. However, "because trade union and 'left' party leaders didn't want to fight, the opposition lost" said Anna. "What we need is real democratic structures, based among workers and youth, that won't sell out and will win!"
"This year British business announced record profits, thanks to low pay and privatisation," said Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, speaking for International Socialist Resistance (ISR). "The wages of 368,000 Tesco workers have been cut by 8.8% while the supermarkets' profits are up by 12%."
France and Greece are not so different to Britain, said Sarah, young people here are angry too! Both ISR and Socialist Students are linking up with young people to fight against low pay, for free education and a socialist alternative to the big business parties.
"The PDS (formerly the East German Communist Party) talk socialism on Sunday but carry out cuts on Monday", said Lucy Redler, SAV (CWI Germany) and WASG (the new Left party) national committee member. In September, the PDS lost half their votes in Berlin but continue their coalition, and policy of privatisation and cuts, with the SPD (Social Democratic Party). Ex-finance minister Oscar Lafontaine joining the WASG made it well known, but working with the PDS has stopped the party from growing.
As a result, WASG Berlin, led by Lucy and other SAV members, stood separately in the November elections. If merger with the PDS goes ahead based on carrying out cuts and privatisation, Lucy said this would end the first chapter in building a new workers' party. But thanks to the WASG Berlin, the next chapter will not start on page one!
"How is it possible to fight the juggernaut of capitalism?" asked Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary. "It is a lie that working-class people aren't prepared to struggle, as shown by the millions taking action in France, Chile and Greece. There has been a mid-term electoral uprising by American people, but no overthrow of Bush thanks to the cowardly Democrats.
"Saddam is on trial, but sharing the dock should be Bush and Blair. Iraq has cost one and a half times the spending on Vietnam. If this money went to everyone who lives on $1 a day, they would have $2,000 each."
Peter pointed out that only 12 Labour MPs voted for an enquiry into the war: "No time should be lost in breaking union funding of New Labour." The working class needs to raise its own voice, which is why the Socialist Party helped launch the Campaign for a New Workers' Party. If there is no left alternative given, as shown in Germany, more disillusioned workers will turn to racist far-right parties.
"Five hundred firms control the majority of resources on this planet. Even capitalists are worried about environmental damage, but their reaction is like the late Victorian sewage crisis, only taking action to protect their own wealth, as shown by the Stern report. The bosses organisation the CBI said that they're in favour of saving the environment, as long as there are no tax increases - we can't trust profiteers to save the earth! For China to get to the living standards of the USA, we'd need four times the world's current resources, only a worldwide democratic socialist plan could safely achieve this."
Peter said it is the historic task of the working class to achieve socialism. In Venezuela, left president Hugo Chávez no longer speaks of humane capitalism but of socialism in the 21st century. "This change didn't just happen in the head of Hugo Chávez, but from the pressure of the Venezuelan masses.
"In the future, in a socialist world, there'll be a museum with effigies of Blair, Bush, Saddam Hussein, of unemployment and poverty. This is the historic task for the Socialist Party in England and Wales, and the CWI around the world."
In The Socialist 29 November 2006:
Workplace news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party review