Friday, 30 May 2008

Meeting: How can we fight for a working class political voice?

Before the start of the Campaign for a New Workers' Party conference, the CNWP is hosting a discussion on the way forward for the left and the fight for a working class political voice.

Speakers confirmed so far include:

* Bob Crow, RMT General Secretary

* Simeon Andrews, Labour Representation Committee secretary

* Rob Hoverman, RESPECT co-ordinating committee

* CNWP speaker

CNWP Conference 2008 Sunday 29 June 11am - 5pm. South Camden Community School, Charrington Street, London NW1. (Nearest Rail/Tube stations - Kings Cross/St Pancras, Euston, Mornington Crescent)

More information click here

Comment: A positive step forward, let discussion be the first step towards action!

In particular, Bob Crow and the RMT, alongside PCS and FBU should take the lead! If they lead, they will take on board the disperate sections of the left, and crucially any new party or coalition would have far more appeal.

What do you think? Feel free to add comments...

McDonnell's 'May Manifesto'

Following New Labour's meltdown on May 1st, John McDonnell issued the following 'May Manifesto' which he has criculated as a petition. (see

The aim of the petition is primarily an effort to force a change in the policy of the Government and the Labour Party. Many of us think that this is not possible and / or highly unlikely. Even if conference voted for these policies the Government would ignore it, as it has done in the past so many times. It's not necessary to repeat the arguments against the strategy of reclaiming the Labour Party again here.

The points in the manifesto are all fully supportable. Of course they are limited, it's only a very short manifesto after all! Nonetheless, these points could form the basis for discussion on forming a new party, or a pre-party / coaltion, between the left-led unions and sections of the left. Hopefully this would include John McDonnell and other Labour Lefts.

A coalition, around even a very basic and short manifesto, could be the starting point towards a new party in the future, a party that could then develop a much fuller programme and structures in time.

Certainly, a coalition of the left-led unions (RMT, PCS, FBU) alongside other working class activists and socialist organisations, and maybe former Labour-Lefts, would have been far preferable to the recent London GLA Elections where a number of left lists stood against each other.

May Manifesto

* Nailing the 10p tax mistake by the introduction of a fair tax system removing the low paid from taxation and ensuring the wealthiest and corporations pay their fair share

* An increase in the basic state pension, immediately restoring the link with earnings, lifting people off means tested benefits and providing free care for the elderly

* An immediate start on a large scale council house building programme and assistance for those facing repossession

* Immediate end to programme of local Post Office closures and liberalisation of postal services
An end to the privatisation of our public services

* A new pay deal for public sector workers to protect their living standards and tackle low pay

* Abolishing tuition fees and restoring maintenance grants for all students

* Scrapping ID cards and abandoning 42 days detention

* Introduction of a trade union freedom bill and measures to protect temporary and agency workers

* Rejecting the proposals to renew Trident

Opposition to war and privatisation must come from The Left

John Nicholson

The Convention of The Left is a bold venture that comes as a result of people from different left and radical traditions – or none – getting together in Greater Manchester to say that there IS an alternative to Labour’s policies of war and privatisation.

We are from green, left, internationalist, communist, socialist, radical and anarchist backgrounds. We are involved in civil liberties, anti-deportation, trade union, climate change, peace and public service campaigns. What we have in common is that we believe the wealth exists in society to pay for our essential needs – but we do not believe that an unbridled free market is sustainable.
We cannot have socialism if the planet has been destroyed, but we [probably?] can’t save the planet unless we have socialism. As Derek Wall has said today in the Morning Star,“To solve ecological crisis, we need to put workers in control of production using green plans to cut pollution.”

So when New Labour comes to Manchester for its so-called “Conference” (an event generally believed to be without debate or decisions), we have decided that we want to host a “Convention of The Left” – just a stone’s throw (or a balloon’s flight) away from the security-surrounded official event, we will be holding a day of action, a full day conference, and three days of themed debates and discussions (Saturday September 20th - Wednesday September 24th 2008).

Our Convention will be both a protest at Labour’s war and privatisation, racism and pollution, authoritarianism and inequality, and a practical demonstration that there is an alternative.
Our Convention will be about an entirely different world – one that can be built by working people for working people.

Our Convention will be united in our determination to combine our strengths and develop through open and participatory debates the rebuilding of The Left today.

The agenda is evolving, because we have been seeking the comments, suggestions and involvements of many more people – and we are going on doing so, between now and then. We don’t just want a one-off conference (good though we hope the debates in September will be). We want to encourage everyone to start debating the topics and the possibilities across the pages of the left press and the websites and blogs, all the way from now till then.

So our blog ( has started with a few contributions for debate – on Planet, Peace, People not Profits, Politics: Power and Participation – and hopes to encourage both responses to these and suggestions on many more (including Prejudice and Oppression for example). The topics don’t all have to start with “P” – but, for the meanwhile, Give “P”s a Chance… and we look forward to the comments that come in.

Then, as we get closer to the event itself, we hope we will have a body of material already debated widely across the left that can start the Convention off on a sound footing – and encourage yet more participation and debate in the sessions that follow – all of which may lead to the development of “charters” or even a “manifesto” of The Left, on which we can all agree to mobilise our forces in unity so as to campaign more effectively.

The Convention is currently organised by an Organising Group, meeting in Manchester. All meetings have been open to others to come and make suggestions. As a practical result of this, we have agreed that we must take some action already – anti-fascist work for example is not going to wait until September, but is starting now.

Similarly we have been looking for ways to involve the left around the rest of the country, who cannot necessarily make meetings in Manchester (and from our neighbours north and west of the borders – in Scotland and Wales – and hopefully from the European Left and beyond). Debate in hyperspace is encouraged, but maybe people can also organise their own meetings in their own localities; to which those of us in Manchester would be pleased to come along and give some information on the progress so far.

Confirmed participants include Tony Benn, John McDonnell, Jeremy Corbyn, Mark Serwotka, Sue Bond, Jeremy Dear, Matt Wrack, Rahila Gupta, Tariq Ali, John Lister, Jonathan Neale, Kate Hudson, Andrew Murray, Bill Greenshields, George Galloway, Abjol Miah , Ken Loach and Derek Wall. Sponsoring organisations include the Labour Representation Committee – and the Left Women’s Network and Left Economics Advisory Panel; Scottish Socialist Party; Communist Party of Britain; Green Left; Respect; Greater Manchester Association of Trades Union Councils and others.

So if you want to support actions ranging from stopping the war(s), supporting the anti-nuclear blockades, fighting racist deportations, stopping housing sell-offs, defending the NHS – do feel free to get involved. If you want to hear (or even to organise) debates and discussions on Palestine, Iraq, Pakistan, or the break-up of the UK, climate change, human rights (including the rights of migrants and refugees), reclaiming health and (secular) education, and the struggle for a fairer economic system – do make suggestions and put your own contributions onto the blog.

We want to start defining a new way of working (even to reclaim that word “new”) so that we can work together in practical campaigns, regardless of the organisations we may belong to, and so that we can stop the war and nuclear proliferation, the cuts and privatisation. Much more than elections and individual campaigns, we want to develop a critique of capitalism as we now know it and an alternative strategy that is environmentally and socially just, inclusive and peaceful, pluralist, tolerant, and doesn’t rely on “top-table” speakers but on discussion from us all – in pursuit of a bigger common objective that benefits the many and not the few.

Diverse but not divisive, we want participation in debate and unity in action.

decisive leadership needed to reverse fortunes of the left

John McDonnell, Tony Benn, Bob Crow, Mark Serwotka, Matt Wrack, George Galloway, Ken Loach, Tommy Sheridan, Dave Nellist and other leading figures on the left, together with the organisations they represent, along with others from the socialist and labour movement, need to urgently hold discussions with a view to launching a new political party.

A new party is urgently needed to reverse the dismal fortunes of the left. Disintegration and decline cannot be allowed to continue. The leaders of the left and the principle organisations that make it up have a duty to take decisive action.

Over the past decade thousands have stopped being active through disgust or demoralisation as Labour moved right and the unions embraced 'social-partnership'. These former activists and Labour Party members would flock to join a new party, but ONLY if it was credible.

For a credible new party of the left

Credible means it must have the support of leading individuals and organisations, including the left-led trade unions. These individuals and organisations, particularly the left-led trade unions, still command massive respect and carry social weight.

It must also be fully democratic and inclusive - anything less would be repulsive. A new credible party of the left would be a pole of attraction to these activists, whether the hundreds of thousands of ex-Labour members, former union militants, or those who have passed through other parties or coalitions to the left of labour in more recent times.

A credible new party of the left could unite with a whole new generation of younger people, those politicised through the anti-war or environmental campaigns, or younger workers newly involved in the unions.

It's not only the activists and former activists that need a new party to give them renewed hope and enthusiasm and a political home to belong to; the wider working class and labour movement also needs a new political party. A new credible party could quickly gain affiliation of the left-led unions, the PCS, RMT and FBU. Many rank-and-file members in the other unions would also come on board and fight for their organisations to sign up.

Without a new party the vacuum to the left remains unfilled and workers have no party that will fight in their interests or support them when in struggle. This is a dangerous situation, one that presents big opportunities to the far right and fascists.

A demoralised, disorganised and divided left vacates the political stage, leaving it for our enemies to dominate. A left like this has no real imput into the key debates and discussions of the day.

A credible new party of the left would command at least more media attention than present, it would be able to put forward socialist policies, present the class arguments, and support those in struggle. This would help to politically re-arm the working class after the defeats of the 80s and 90s, and breed new confidence to fight back.

The question of a new political party of the left, a party that aims to become a mass organisation of the working class, cannot be side stepped.

Most people see politics as political parties that fight for power. United front campaigns on single issues (i.e. for affordable housing, against war and occupation etc.) are fine. No one opposes this inherently sensible idea. However, this is nothing like an alternative strategy to a new party. In fact, a new party is central to fighting on single issues, for affordable housing, against occupation, racism etc. etc.

A new credible party of the left could make a huge splash, reinvigorate interest in politics, organise thousands of activists, bringing them together to discuss ideas as well as in action, and attract far wider support in the working class than a few single issue united front campaigns could do.

The leaders of the left, its principle organisations and the unions who avoid the party question or fail to act on it are letting down the movement and the wider working class.

And so, it's over to John McDonnell, Tony Benn, Bob Crow, Mark Serwotka, Matt Wrack, George Galloway, Ken Loach, Tommy Sheridan, Dave Nellist, LRC, CNWP, Respect Renewal, Left List, SP, CPB, Solidarity, SSP, RMT, PCS, FBU and other leading individuals and organisations to act.

Pro new party activists need to add pressure and constructive input to the discussions and debate.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Respect has split: set back or new opportunity?

The split in Respect - The Unity Coalition has been well documente elsewhere. I've no intention of going over the details here. (See for the major documents of the split).

The fact is there are now two Respects. Respect-SWP, which is exactly that, the SWP, and maybe a hand full of their friends, and Respect Renewal, which is George Galloway - the sole MP, Salma Yacoob, most of the Tower Hamlets Cllrs, Linda Smith, Ken Loach and virtually all the independents.

The SWP's control freakery was a barrier to Respect developing. Key sections of the socialist and labour movement, as well as numerous individuals with negative past experiences of the

SWP, were clearly put off from joining it. Others joined and then left it again fairly quickly when the SWP acted to silence critical voices or were too domineering. As the largest component by far within Respect the SWP had a responsibility to tread carefully, to act in an ultra-inclusive and democratic fashion, and in doing so to prove their doubters and critics wrong. They failed to do this in quite some style.

So what next?

The Respect-SWP is not going to attract anyone to it. It is not a coalition in any way, just an SWP electoral front.

Respect Renewal (RR) on the other hand does appear to be looking outwards towards new forces. They also stand by the idea of building a pluralistic and democratic party.

One problem RR faces is that it is very small, maybe 800 members when the dust settles and the organisations are fully seperated. The SWP did provide most of the activists, especially so outside of Birmingham and East London. So RR will need to attract new members, and new organised forces, if it is to develop branches and activists across the country.

Another problem is the question of accountability, and specifically, George Galloway. He is a controvercial figure on the left to say the least. True, he is a fine speaker. And true again, he was the most outspoken critic of the war on Iraq.

However, there are some issues where most of the left and George Galloway clearly do not agree. This would not be such a problem if Galloway was democratically fully accountable to the organisation. His comments to the press, in parliament, his actions, income, business dealings etc. should be inline with the organisation's democratic decisions and appropriate for a socialist MP. He is such a dominant figure that this may not be easy. How would he respond to any attempt to make him fully accountable?

Democratic accountability would also need to be applied to the Respect Cllrs. Would they attend local branch meetings? Would they adhere the collective democratic decisions reached at? Would they act inline with national policies and decisions?

These questions are unknowns. The fact that Respect has not seemingly been able to hold its representatives fully accountable in the past does make sections of the left, the trade union movement and individual activists warry of joining it. If RR can quickly prove that it will operate in a different way to the past, and that the elected representatives will be fully accountable, then maybe these doubts can be overcome and more forces can be attracted on board.

There are also political issues that need to be resolved. It's absolutely crucial that RR turns away from opportunism. It must appeal to all sections of the working class, whatever race, sex, religion or nationaloty, on a class basis. There can be no hint of appealing to people on a religious, ethnic of national basis.

Of course, defence of religious and ethnic minorities from attack, defence of civil liberties and opposition to racism must be key policies and areas to campaign on. But this is entirely different to deliberately highlighting the religious beliefs or ethnicity of a particular candidate. Likewise, the support of religious leaders or scholars should not be sought after in an attempt to deliver more votes.

RR must be clearly a party for the working class, the oppressed, and for socialism. It's public material needs to contain far more class content and, at the very least, to mention what socialism is and why we struggle for the creation of a democratic socialist society.

If RR can overcome these problems, if it takes an outward looking and welcoming approach, then it could potentially grow, attract new forces on board, and play an important role in the creation of a new mass party of the working class and for socialism.

As a first step RR should open discussions with other forces including the RMT, FBU, PCS, CNWP, SP, CPB, Bob Wareing MP, LRC, AGS and others. RR should also invite these organisations to send visitors to their conference on November 17th.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

RMT and PCS unions must take the lead

The objective conditions exist to successfully launch a new working class socialist party.

- Brown is no different from Blair. He has been thoroughly exposed to those who harboured illusions in him.

- Industrial struggle is on the increase. A whole wave of public sector strikes now looks likely.

- The democratic channels within the Labour Party have been closed down. The Labour left is now undergoing a discussion on the way forward.

In these conditions one thing is absent: leadership!

A new party wont come out of thin air. Individuals and / or organisations need to take action. The organisations which would have the most authority and the most ability to launch a new party at the moment are the trade unions.

Clearly, most of the unions are still led by the right, by Blair-Brown apologists or open collaborators who will never take this action. But there are some unions led by the left. The leaders of these unions have already declared themselves for a new party. Chief amongst these left-led unions are the RMT and PCS - also the FBU might be included in this group.

If the RMT and PCS were to lunch a serious initiative to create a new party then undoubtedly they would attract towards it many left-wing union leaders and activists from all the major unions, as well as other organisations and individuals.

What are the leaders of the RMT and PCS doing?

The RMT has, to be fair to them, organised a conference on the question of working class political respresentation. They are also reportedly discussing launching a new party for the London Elections. As soon as this is passed by the union themselves, they need to open up discussions with other unions and left-wing union activists, as well as working class and socialist organisations, with a view to launching a new party as a matter of some urgency.

What about the PCS? This union is led by the left-wing - Mark Serwotka, General Secretary, has been a supporter of parties to the left - including the Socialist Alliance and Respect. The NEC includes a large number from the SP.

Unfortunately the union have not taken any initiatives. True, a large number of the NEC have signed up to the CNWP declaration. In these circumstances however this is not enough - they are leaders of an entire trade union. Have they organised or sponsored any meeting or conference to discuss the question of a new party for the working class?

The PCS should now, at the very least, approach the RMT and others for discussions on jointly launching a new party. If those on the left in the PCS leadership cannot pass motions on the NEC for lack of support, there is nothing stopping them as individuals launching an intiative or discussing with others - they need to be pro-active leaders on this question.

Whether they like it or not, the prime responsibility for launching a new party currently lies with the leaderships of the RMT and PCS. These left-led unions have the authority and resources to pull together thousands of activists as well as different organisations into a new party.

Why is it left to them?

Unfortunately there are currently no other forces that are capable or willing to act. True, mass struggles in the future will throw up new leaders or push existing ones into action. But as we are at the moment, then I'd suggest that the RMT and PCS leaderships have by far the most important and decisive role to play.

There are other left-wing union leaders, but they are less cemented in position and some are in fact isolated. They must still act in a personal capacity to help build any new party or any initiative towards a party.

What about the Labour left?

Undoubtedly somebody like John McDonnell, or any of the other respected socialist MPs, would have the authority to launch a new party and draw towards it thousands of activists and some entire unions. Unfortunately, despite some soul searching and discussion on the way forward, the Labour left are highly unlikely to take the initiative to launch a new party themselves.

A large section of the Labour left would probably jump to something new once it was established. They are either not prepared, or have not yet drawn the conclusions at this stage, to actually take a lead and launch something themselves however. I would of course still encourage them to break with New Labour and lauch a new party. Possibly they could be forced into this action by future events, such as de-selections or even expulsions from the Labour Party. The best way to encourage them to break with New Labour would be a sucessful intiative by the left-led unions that leads to the creation of a new party.

What about Respect?

The fact that Respect is apparently going to approach the RMT, CPB, Bob Wareing MP and others for open discussions is a positive sign. However, given the factional crisis within Respect, which may threaten it's very existance, I would seriously doubt its ability to attract new forces on board at this stage.

It must also be said that many in the labour and socialist movement are critical or wary of the methods of the largest component within Respect, the SWP, as well as their MP George Galloway. How the crisis will play out I've no idea, but I think it unlikely that Respect can go forwards from this.

Any initiative from the RMT and PCS should definitely invite Respect to join with them. Hopefully the best elements, if not the entirity of Respect, would opt to join forces. Any new party or initiative must ensure that it is truly democratic, open and inclusive to avoid the worst mistakes of Respect, as well as having a clear working class and socialist perspective.

What about the CNWP?

The CNWP has attracted a few thousand union activists and leaders to sign up to its declaration. I'm sure that the CNWP would join any new initiative from the RMT and PCS. On it's own however it does not have the same weight as two entire trade unions - an obvious point which I'm sure most CNWP signitories would agree with. It can still play a positive role in developments. What the situation demands now though is conrete initiatives.

What next?

The leaders of the RMT and PCS need to be encouraged / pushed into action. Clearly those active within these unions have the most opportunity to do this. In the wider movement we can help by discussing and debating the strategy needed to launch a new party and trying to engage the leaders of these unions in this.

If a new party or initiative is launched, that's when we can all really get to work, using all the networks we can to help build support and make it a success. The launch of a new party, one backed by entire trade unions from the start, a party that brought together thousands of activists to organise as well as discuss ideas, would be a massive step forwards for the working class and the struggle for socialism.

What do you think? Add your comments!

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

London Elections 2008: a test for the left

If a new viable party of the left is not created within the next few months, then can the various components of the left at the very least create a united front to stand ONE list in the 2008 London elections?

Recent history suggests not. But maybe, with recent developments in the Labour Party and in the unions, the drive for a united challenge of the left may finally gain enough momentum to succeed.

Can the largest sections of the left, the RMT, Respect, left trade unionists, possibly former Labour lefts, the SP, the CNWP, CPB and others, agree to a united front, based on an agreed programme, and a single slate?

Being presented with numerous 'left' slates, all of which look similar and receive relatively low votes, will only demoralise those looking for a viable left alternative to Labour. This can only help the New Labour and the parties on the right - including the Fascist BNP.

Respect is best placed to get the highest left vote. But Respect alone cannot unite sections of the left, as well as individuals, who are currently warry, skeptical or critical of it. Respect has also been engulfed in a factional dispute recently - plunging it into crisis. This is documented at length elsewhere on the internet. However, a recent Respect NC Resolution suggests that it is about to turn outwards towards other forces in an open non-preconditioned manner, and this should be welcomed. What develops will be of great interest.

There are no sizable left-wing or working class parties in existance in Britain. There is a huge vacuum to the left currently unfilled. This is the background.

If, for example, we had a mass social-democratic party, a mass communist party, and maybe a medium sized radical left or Trotskyist party, and they all had serious levels of support, and assuming that they all had different programmes and strategies to promote, then it would be entirely understandable that they stand against each other in elections. They would be fighting for the leadership of the working class no less. It would still be entirely correct to fight for united action of all the parties and their members in the class struggle, and against the repressive actions of the state and against fascist parties. Maybe even some electoral collaboration would be possible depending on circumstances. But this is an entirely different dilema - far removed from today's situation.

In the current circumstances the main aim must be to create a viable left-wing party that can attract many thousands of members, bringing them together to organise as well as discuss and debate strategy and ideas. Such a party could become a pole of attraction to millions. The differences between the various components on the left are not unimportant. Many of these differences centre on the best way to build a new party and what programme it should stand on. But these differences are not so important as to justify not fighting for a united front of the left, especially at this stage.

Surely, all the components can at least agree on some key policies to fight an election around? True, this would be a compromise and would likely be a fairly basic programme. It might not explicitly fight for a socialist society even, although I'd hope it would do. Certainly there is no reason for it not to do so. Some contentious issues may have to be left out, for example, the question of the EU, or even the entire issue of standing for Mayor against Ken Livingstone.

A united front of the left does not mean that the various components are not free to propagate their own views. They can raise whatever criticisms they like. They could, for example, stand for Mayor seperately from other components of the united front if they so wished, or alternatively, they could call for a vote for Ken. They could all critique and supplement the policies with their own - and argue them openly.

A united front would mean a compromise. All components would have to make concessions. But this is necessary to present a unified left-wing challenge to the capitalist parties. A good vote for a unified left-wing slate, even on a very basic working-class socialist programme, would be a far greater step forwards than modest to poor votes for a few left-wing slates. Who knows, a successful electoral united front that attracted thousands of workers towards it could even lead towards greater unity and the creation of a new party of the left.

Respect, the RMT, current and former Labour lefts, the CNWP, the SP, the SLP, the CPB and others should start discussions straight away.

Surely these components and others can agree on a programme that includes policies such as; a massive building programme of affordable and social housing; no to privatisation of the tube - bring all public transport back into public ownership; an end to all privatisation in the public sector; for the renationalisation of the railways and the other privatised utilities; massive public investment into the NHS; complete and immediate withdrawl from Iraq and Afghanistan; no to war on iran; for a decent minimum wage of at least £7 an hour without exemptions; for trade union freedom - repeal anti-union laws; defend civil liberties - no to ID cards; against racism, sexism, homophobia and all discrimination; tax the super-rich and big business to increase funding for public services; and many more besides...

Sure, this is very basic - and just my own unworked out suggestions. But you get the idea. Key demands that all components agree to are more than possible. They could go much much further than those above and be far more detailed. This is for negotiations and discussions to agree on.

I would hope that they would all be able to agree on wording to the effect of 'for a democratic socialist society in britain and internationally'. Yes, that's really vague. The components have different ideas about what socialism is, how you get it, whether it's a break from capitalism or not, and so on. They can all debate this is their own propaganda, at meetings, on the door-step or wherever they like. But the point of a socialist 'clause' in any programme is to acknowledge the fight for an alternative form of society - namely socialism. At least this would make a start at re-promoting the notion and the very word socialism - after so many years in decline.

A united front is necessary, especially at this stage when there is no viable left-wing party and we are struggling to establish one. To borrow a well used phrase, the forces of the left need to unite and fight around the 80% we agree on, whilst discussing and debating the other 20%. The more sucessful we are in developing a mass party of the left - the more people we will be able to discuss and debate the 20% with! It's well worth remembering that ideas only gain material force when they are accepted by a mass of people. The fight for ideas in a mass party will therefore be of vital importance for those who want to achieve a socialist society.