Left Luggage

The socialist strategy site

Leftovers #8

Posted by Left Luggage on May 27, 2009

In this week’s Leftovers, we feature the latest developments around the RMT-backed No2EU platform, strategic differences around combatting the BNP, as well as some analysis on trade union militancy, the latest unofficial walkouts, and student occupations.

Plenty has been written about the forthcoming European elections on June 4, though much of it either regarding the failings of No2EU or the possibility of the BNP winning seats.

First, regarding No2EU, an interview with the platform’s Dave Hill (also of Socialist Resistance, which garnered a mention on Left Luggage last week) on Liam MacUaid’s blog has some interesting points and deals with some of the biggest questions that have been raised about No2EU. (It is from the Weekly Worker, however, so does contain some utterly barmy questions.) Regarding the platform’s attitude towards British capitalism and the accusation of Left nationalism, he says:

in my view the enemy is capitalism, based in both the European Union and in Britain. They are the same. What I have been arguing for in the meetings I’ve been involved in is workers’ internationalism with no illusions in the sanctity of British capital. We’re a movement seeking to replace capitalism with socialism – and I’m not just talking about neoliberalism, which is simply the current version of the class war from above.

Regarding immigration and the “no borders” position:

My view is that this is not a time to have completely open borders. On the other hand, I think that the current controls are racist and that people who are in this country should be treated with full human rights and have full workers’ rights. The conditions under which many refugees and asylum-seekers live are horrendous.

He also suggests the platform should become something more permanent rather than disbanding on June 5, as is its stated intention. He also advocated the idea of a “workers’ MP on a workers’ wage”, which is an advance on No2EU’s intention of not taking up seats in the European parliament if elected.

Nick Wrack, of Southwark Respect and a No2EU candidate gives his view on the formation, saying he hopes it will be the precursor to the formation of a new workers’ party.

To resist the shift to the right, and to defend working class people against the crisis and the inevitable attacks on jobs, wages and conditions that it will bring, the working class needs a political alternative that can gain mass support. The working class needs a new party to represent it. […]

NO2EU is a temporary platform for the European elections, not a new party but we hope that it will also be a step towards the new workers’ party we so desperately need. That is why we welcome this and support every step taken by the labour movement to find its own political voice again.

In other news, Alice Mahon, the former Halifax MP who recently left the Labour Party, has backed the No2EU platform and is appearing at the platform’s public meetings.

Andy Newman on the Socialist Unity blog would disagree about No2EU’s viability, arguing that those on the Left should vote for the Green Party in the Euro-elections to stop BNP leader Nick Griffin. This is the argument being pushed by the Greens themselves, as featured in an article in Red Pepper magazine this week, and like Searchlight’s “Hope Not Hate” vote-for-anyone-but-the-fascists campaign, it can only be a short-term desperate measure.

The fear of a BNP victory in the Euro-elections reached fever-pitch this week. Socialist Worker led with the headline: “Black and White Unite, Stop the Nazi BNP” and sets out the strategy of mainstream anti-fascism:

UAF uses mass propaganda to expose the Nazi face of the BNP and campaigns against it. […] We also have to build a real fightback over jobs, housing and public services to stop the BNP feeding off despair.

But crucially the article and the advocates of this strategy have yet to set out how to go about “building a real fightback” over these issues. At the same time, the author, the SWP’s Martin Smith argues that the BNP like historic fascist movements is middle class in its composition (he says it is 65% based on the occupations listed on the leaked membership list). He says: “The media likes to claim that it is the white working class that votes for the BNP. The reality is more complicated.” Though he admits the BNP does draw its main support from white working class people, as is transparent once we examine where it has performed well.

Richard Seymour at Lenin’s Tomb seems to dispute the notion of the “white working class” as a category and condemns the view that the BNP are the beneficiaries of working class people’s alienation with Labour as “both patronising and dangerous”.

An article by academic Matthew Goodwin in the New Statesman takes panic about the BNP’s rise to a new level, warning of its “shift towards an Obama-style online strategy” that is “sidestepping a hostile press and an indifferent political elite by delivering its message direct to the desktop”. However, he does provide a good analysis of the way in which the BNP seeks not to be perceived as “a mainstream party” but as a radical alternative to the established liberal elite. In a useful antidote to Smith’s and Seymour’s pieces, he says:

the durability of BNP support in areas such as Barking, Dagenham and Stoke shows that just simply bashing the party as “Nazi” no longer works. Voters in some areas are so exasperated with the political Establishment, and so desperate for an alternative, that they don’t care about the party’s extremist credentials.

There’s another interesting article on the New Statesman that examines the state of politics in Stoke, where the BNP have performed well, with the journalist talking to Hope Not Hate campaigners, local people and Jon Cruddas, who trumpets: “We are witnessing the biggest anti-fascist mobilisation ever seen – thousands of people are pitching in.”

Union strategy

The Commune continues its excellent supply of strategic thinking with a piece about focussing on how to build union militancy. This is particularly apposite given the new wave of unofficial strike actions that took place last week. Chris Kane argues a key weakness of the workers’ movement is its failure to deliver solidarity in the form of strike action. He argues militant trade unionists need to find ways to spread spontaneous actoins (which seems to have been successful in the Lindsey and Milford Haven cases) and to act independently of union bureaucracies. But he also says the Left needs to rebuild its organisations:

A clear sign of the weakness of the traditional left in the movement is its inability to deliver actual solidarity, by that we do not mean meetings, leaflets etc but strike action. If we are to resist the recession, then all the various struggle springing up cannot realise their full potential power if they remain sectional, fragmented and limited in their character. We need start finding a way to spread the spontaneous actions which are arising. […]

We need to re-build and re-organise our existing union organisations, part of that is the regeneration of the confidence to act independently of the law and the bureaucrats, so that when we see the next outbreak of action such as Lindsey or Visteon we can point to the common root cause and spread the action.

Gregor Gall argues trade unionists involved in these disputes must press their case hard ahead of the upcoming elections, while Seamus Milne in the Guardian is very optimistic about the recent unofficial strike wave and links these to the student occupation over Gaza earlier in the year, suggesting lessons are being learnt and a higher level of militancy is on the way: “after years in which the message has been that militancy doesn’t pay, even relatively small-scale breakthroughs can be infectious.”

The student occupations have taken up plenty of column inches in the Left press. There has been some debate over the significance of these developments, even here on Left Luggage, and a sober article in Red Pepper gives some insight into this phenomenon and does not back-up some of the more excited claims about a new radicalism.

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One Response to “Leftovers #8”

  1. davidbroder said

    Gregor has also written a piece replying to both Chris Kane’s article and the Seumas Milne piece on CiF: http://thecommune.wordpress.com/2009/05/28/still-the-same-old-story-two-swallows-dont-make-a-summer/

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