Socialism 2009: An excellent weekend!
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1,000 people attended Socialism 2009 over the weekend of 7 and 8 November.
First time attenders said:
Socialism 2009, photo Rob Emery (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)
“If I could buy my ticket for next year’s Socialism event now I would.”
– Alicia, (age 17) Durham
“This event allowed me to really understand what the Socialist Party is actually about. I also learnt a lot of new things. I also think it’s a great environment where people can voice their views. I joined the Socialist Party at the event.”
– Jessica, Peckham, south London
“I loved the Saturday rally. It really made me want to do something and get out there and get really involved. I’m still trying to find myself politically and I found the sessions and all the debates really enlightening.”
– Abigail, Southampton University
Socialism 2009, photo by Rob Emery (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)
The Socialist Party held its annual Socialism weekend event on 7 and 8 November. Socialism 2009 organiser Tom Baldwin reports that this was the biggest and best Socialism event so far.
A thousand people came over the weekend to participate in the various discussions and to be inspired by the two rallies.
Continues below …
Listen to Speeches
Click to listen to mp3 audio recordings to speeches at main Saturday Rally for Socialism. Right click to download.
In order of appearance:
The following MP3 audio files are from the Saturday and Sunday sessions of Socialism 2009
Capitalism in crisis
Session one: Marx was right: the roots of the current economic crisis – Lynn Walsh
Session three: The case for socialism: how a democratic planned economy could work – Hannah Sell, deputy general secretary of the Socialist Party
How can we defeat the far-right?
Session one: Why does racism exist? Hugo Pierre, Socialist Party Black and Asian group
For fighting, democratic trade unions
Session one: Building a mass shop stewards movement: the role of the National Shop Stewards Network Speakers, Rob Williams, Linamar Unite Convenor and Linda Taaffe, secretary National Shop Stewards Network (both in personal capacity)
Session two: Fighting witchhunts. Can right-wing led unions change? Experiences of the PCS and Unison unions. Speakers: Glenn Kelly, Defend the Four, and Chris Bough, (both in a personal capacity)
1989: Consequences and lessons of the fall of the Berlin wall
Session one: Why did Stalinism collapse in the Soviet Union? What have the consequences been? – Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party
Session two: Germany; could the working class have taken power? – Bob Labi, Committee for a Workers’ International
Young people: the fight for a future
Session two: The crisis in education – Matt Dobson, convenor, Socialist Students
Women and Socialism
Session one: Are socialists feminists? – Jane James, Socialist Party executive committee
Session two: What are the origins of women’s oppression? – Eleanor Donne, Socialist Women
50 years since the Cuban revolution
Session one: Che: symbol of struggle – Tom Baldwin, Socialism 2009 coordinator
Iran in revolt
Session one: 1979 revolution: why did it end in Islamic dictatorship – Bob Labi, Committee for a Workers’ International
In defence of Leon Trotsky – Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party
Where now for the Left Party? (German party called ‘Die Linke’) – Stephan Kimmerle, secretariat, Committee for a Workers’ International
Continued from above …
From long-standing Socialist Party activists to those attending their first ever meeting, everyone got something out of it.
A large number were young and many were trade unionists who have been involved in some of the inspiring struggles this year.
The weekend took place against a background of capitalist crisis and as the three big business parties compete to slash our public services. But Socialism 2009 was about a different kind of politics. We discussed the fightback of working-class and young people and about an alternative to the rotten capitalist system.
Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union RMT, addresses Socialism 2009, photo Rob Emery (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)
The message came through loud and clear, we don’t have to accept the attacks the bosses throw at us. If you fight you can win and we heard from people who have done just that.
The daytime sessions covered a diverse range of subjects, from transforming right-wing led trade unions to Darwinism in the modern era, from fighting the far-right racist British National Party to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Everybody had a chance to contribute and learn from the discussions and debates. Also diverse was the range of music for those at the Saturday night gig.
People left the weekend keen to boost their commitment to the struggle for socialism. This was reflected in the financial appeal which raised close to £25,000. Added to this were the first pledges towards the Socialist Party’s appeal for funding our general election campaign.
We already know of 25 people who have taken the decision to join the Socialist Party during or following the weekend. The bookshop, selling socialist literature, sold over £1,500 worth of books – another expression of the interest in ideas. Socialism 2010 will be bigger and better still – so make sure you are there!
Below Sean Figg reports on the Saturday night rally for socialism and Dave Carr reports on the closing rally.
Rallying for struggle, solidarity and socialism
Socialism 2009, photo Rob Emery (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)
This year will be remembered for the “re-awakening of the industrial working class” declared Keith Gibson, a leader of the Lindsey oil refinery construction strikes in February and June, at the Rally for Socialism on Saturday. All of the rally speakers talked about the heroic fightbacks that began this year against the bosses’ onslaught in the wake of the financial meltdown.
Up and down the country workers are standing up and being counted, from the ‘unofficial’ strike action at Lindsey, to the occupations at the Visteon and Vestas factories, to the successful battle to reinstate sacked union convenor Rob Williams at the Linamar plant in Swansea and the determined strike action shown by postal workers and bin workers.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), had just returned from South Yorkshire. FBU members there are involved in a “bitter dispute” over imposed shift changes and the fire and re-hire threats of the Labour Party-run council to get them through.
Internationally the fightback is underway too. The election of Joe Higgins to the European Parliament by the Dublin working class was a stunning victory on the political field. At the rally Joe spoke of this achievement, which followed the tireless involvement of the Socialist Party in Ireland in the struggles of ordinary people over many decades.
Young people in struggle
Tracy Edwards, a member of the Youth Fight for Jobs (YFJ) campaign steering committee, spoke of the brilliant example set by the young workers at Vestas in occupying their factory to defend their jobs. Tracy said that the demonstration called by YFJ on Saturday 28 November has the potential to be a turning point in the struggle of young people.
Matt Wrack reported that youth in the FBU are entering into struggle. He spoke of the dozens of young firefighters who had been on the picket lines determined to see the struggle through to the end and rubbished the attempt to portray the new generation as “Thatcher’s children” with no interest in struggle or socialism.
The fighting spirit developing among the new generation was shown in a text message read out by Keith Gibson from a young striker at Lindsey: “I’m not giving my life, my kids’ life or my girlfriend’s life up for no one. Together we’ll win, together we’ll get a slice of the pie instead of the crumbs they want to take away from us.”
Senan, Tamil Solidarity international coordinator, spoke of the tremendous movement of young Tamils rising up in Britain against the barbarity being inflicted upon the Tamil-speaking people in Sri Lanka, and the campaign of international solidarity that has been organised. As Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party, pointed out, all of this puts a lie to the idea that class struggle and the ideas of Marxism, socialism and internationalism have been “buried under the rubble of the Berlin Wall”.
A political voice for workers
Brian Caton, the left-wing general secretary of the Prison Officers Association (POA) spoke of the shackle the anti-trade union laws are to the efforts of his union members to defend their pay and conditions. “Trade union rights are human rights”.
Criminally, many workers’ disputes have received only half-hearted support from the majority in the trade union leadership. The reason for the timidity of these right-wing trade union leaders is bound up with their continuing support for the Labour Party and the abandoning of a socialist perspective.
Peter Taaffe argued for a “militant class struggle policy for the labour movement” and the need to link that to the ideas of socialism. Keith Gibson warned that although a tremendous victory had been won at Lindsey, the bosses would be back and that “a political voice is needed as well as an industrial one”.
Bob Crow, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers’ union (RMT) announced that, in five weeks time, he will be recommending participation in a coalition for the 2010 general election to the RMT executive. This coalition, which will include the Socialist Party and others, is a practical step on the road to solving the crisis of working class political representation.
Anticipating the accusation from pro-Labour union leaders that any challenge to Labour will let the Tories in, Bob declared defiantly: “New Labour has let the Tories in with their betrayal!” Joe Higgins congratulated the RMT on its bold stand and implored the RMT, the Socialist Party and the other coalition partners to “declare early” to ensure the most successful electoral challenge possible.
Capitalism in crisis
Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary addresses Socialism 2009, photo Rob Emery (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)
Peter Taaffe, in analysing the world economic crisis explained that the Socialist Party had anticipated the devastating collapse of the capitalists’ bubble economy. In contrast to the arrogance of the ‘banksters’, Peter compared the Socialist Party’s warning to the lone phone call from the Isle of Wight warning of the impending 1987 hurricane that devastated Southern England. That warning too was scorned and laughed at but ultimately proved correct.
Peter also warned that not since 1922 with the ‘Gedes axe’ budget have such cuts been proposed. The result of that budget? Four years later the famous general strike of 1926 where the workers of Britain stood on the threshold of power.
Tracy showed where extra money could be found if there really is such a public spending crisis – £100 billion in uncollected taxes, £4.6 billion every year on war, £12 billion on PFI deals in the NHS and of course the £1.4 trillion poured into the banks!
Speakers condemned the divisive role of the far-right racist British National Party. Brian Caton described how the POA has “sought out and kicked out” BNP members within its ranks. Keith Gibson described how rank and file trade union members chased the BNP away from the Lindsey pickets. But crucial to stopping the rise of the BNP is the development of a mass political alternative that would raise the ideas of working-class solidarity to counter the BNP’s divisive racism.
What unites all the issues facing the working class and young people of the world is the need to replace the rotten capitalist system with an alternative.
Peter explained how socialism is not a utopian idea but “flows from the incapacity of capitalism” to deliver. Young people and workers will again find the ideas of Marxism and socialism and the traditions of solidarity and class struggle. The Rally for Socialism was a celebration of recent victories, but it was also a call to the future, a future that those present will doubtless have been inspired to ensure is a socialist future.
The fightback begins
“WHICHEVER PARTY or combination of establishment parties win the next general election, they are all saying working-class people must pay for the crisis in the capitalist system. Tories, Labour and LibDems all plan around £90 billion of cuts each year – the equivalent of the entire NHS budget.”
This stark warning was spelt out by Campaign for a New Workers’ Party secretary and Socialist Party councillor, Dave Nellist, at the Sunday closing rally at Socialism 2009, entitled ‘the fightback begins’.
But what are we going to do about this situation? To paraphrase TV comedian Harry Hill: “Fight”! That was the message from the platform speakers.
Rob Williams, Unite convenor at the Linamar car components factory in Swansea, explained that despite the worst economic crisis since the 1930s his fellow workers were prepared to go on all-out strike to secure his reinstatement, following his unjustified sacking earlier this year. The Linamar workers clearly understood that if Rob was removed the employers would see it as open season on jobs, wages and pensions.
Commenting on the attacks on workers’ conditions during this recession, Rob’s advice was: “The worst thing is to lose without a fight… Because the employer will come back for more.”
Another group of workers occupying the headlines has been the postal workers who, having suffered the imposition by management of ‘modernisation’ (ie cuts) in many Royal Mail offices, said “enough is enough” and went on strike.
London divisional secretary John Denton spoke to the rally: “We balloted our members for action and won. We took 18 days’ strike action, with each postal worker typically losing over £2,000.”
John said that the agreement between Royal Mail and the CWU union concedes to some of the union’s demands. He reckoned it was a “significant step forward, but if we don’t make progress the strike ballots are still live.”
Also in the media spotlight are the British Airways workers. Cabin crews are currently balloting for strike action following the imposition of job and pay cuts – while BA boss Willie Walsh continues to enrich himself.
BA’s ‘New Fleet’ working arrangements will mean new cabin workers will receive only half the wages of current crews. Heathrow Airport GMB workers’ rep, Chris McNulty, pointed out that the man involved in Royal Mail’s vicious modernisation plans – Tony McCarthy – has been head-hunted to British Airways!
Chris told the audience that airport workers are determined to resist the biggest ever assault on their working conditions. However, he warned that some trade union leaders “seem more determined to sue for industrial peace by making concessions [to satisfy the Labour government] than in standing up to the employer.”
But it is not only the current but a new generation of workers whose future is in jeopardy because of the bosses’ crisis, as Sean Figg of Youth Fight for Jobs (YFJ) explained.
Sean pointed to Sunday’s Observer headline that revealed the Labour government is secretly cutting funding to its own flagship youth job creation programme. He slammed TV celebrity bosses like Alan Sugar who peddled “the idea that young people simply have to project a better image of themselves” as a “patronising big lie.”
YFJ’s response to one million young unemployed in Britain is to organise a march for jobs and free education on Saturday 28 November. “The bigger the demo, the bigger the wake-up call,” said Sean, appealing to all young people, trade unionists and anyone who cares about future generations to attend.
Summing up the rally, Socialist Party deputy secretary Hannah Sell said there is a battle royal looming in the public sector after next year’s general election. The Socialist Party has a vital role to play in advancing workers’ struggles.
However, under this system workers will continually face attacks and be forced to battle back “unless and until a new generation of fighters succeeds in transforming society along socialist lines.”