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.