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Archive for the ‘Leftovers’ Category

Leftovers #12 – Left (dis)unity and more on the equality debate

Posted by Left Luggage on June 29, 2009

Can the various Left parties, sects and groupuscules unite around a basic socialist programme in time for the General Election next year? Are they at all likely to attract electoral support if they do?

Judging by the responses to the Socialist Workers’ Party’s open letter to the Left, the first question is unlikely to be answered in the affirmative.

Unlike the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty – who responded immediately by requesting talks with the SWP over the creation of a Left coalition – the Socialist Party probably feels it is in a position of strength vis-a-vis other Left groups at the moment. As one of the players in No2EU, the SP has formed links with the RMT, and hopes to be part of an platform involving Crow’s union at the next General Election. On the industrial front, the SP plays a central role in the National Shops Stewards Network, which held a sucessful conference at the weekend. Leading shop stewards in the high profile union victories at Enfield,  Swansea and Lindsey were all SP members.

Confidence shines through in the SP’s reply, but so does its distaste for the SWP’s previous conduct. The first section of the reply is spent addressing the SWP’s failure to acknowledge the formation of No2EU (mentioned only twice in Socialist Worker). “To try to ignore the existence of an initiative as significant as No2EU undermines your stated aim of opening a discussion on creating an electoral alternative for the general election”, it says, before concluding:

Unfortunately, we believe that your brushing aside of No2EU is an indication that your methods have not changed. You claim that: “Unity is not a luxury. It is a necessity” but as a party you have never been prepared to countenance working together with others in an honest and open fashion unless you hold the reins; hence your wrecking of the Socialist Alliance and your splitting from Respect. Far from playing a positive role, your approach has actually complicated and delayed steps towards a new mass workers’ party in England and Wales.

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Posted in Elections, Ideology, Leftovers, New workers' party, Strategy | 2 Comments »

Leftovers #11

Posted by Left Luggage on June 21, 2009

Before this month’s European elections, the No2EU platform had been both written off as an undemocratic, nationalist stitch up and vaunted as laying the promising foundations for a new workers’ party. All of this became rather academic once the results came in and No2EU joined the long list of far left contenders to have received a derisory vote in national elections.

Gregor Gall produced a detailed analysis last week of the reasons for No2EU’s failure. In his view, these include the low level of understanding in Britain about the EU’s neoliberal role, the fact that No2EU chose to target the EU rather than the New Labour government, the absence of a British referendum on the EU (which would have polarised views and created an opportunity for anti-EU arguments) and the way the platform’s name was phrased to obscure any “class message”.

Given all this, there is a danger that, instead of advancing the struggle against new Labour and neoliberalism, No2EU actually sets it back.

A disappointing vote for a left-of-Labour project can dent the willingness of other forces to get involved in creating a united and progressive radical front because people’s confidence in the viability of such a project has been undermined.

As we reported previously, the disappointing performance of No2EU and the success of the BNP have lead to renewed calls for “unity” on the Left. Respect’s Salma Yaqoob has shown interest in a coalition with the Greens, while the Socialist Workers’ Party issued an “open letter to the Left” indicating the Party’s willingness to resurrect a Socialist Alliance-style initiative.

The debate (such as it is) on how to go about constructing an alliance has so far been narrow in scope, but there does seem to be some evidence of a divergence between those like Yaqoob, who aim to align themselves with liberal “progressives” and those who seek a coalition of the “hard Left”. (There does not so far appear to be much awareness of the need to address broader questions such as the way the Left is organised, its priorities and the best strategies for building support.)
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Leftovers #10

Posted by Left Luggage on June 12, 2009

It has been a busy week in the Left blogosphere with the Euro elections, the meltdown of Labour and the BNP’s victory. Plenty of questions have been thrown up, but most central is the need for the Left to get its house in order and begin rebuilding. This was addressed in a call by the Socialist Workers Party for a new left-wing political initiative to combat the BNP and to resist cuts to services and jobs in the next few years as the Government begins to introduce measures to cut national debt. Although there are some problems with this letter, it’s worth highlighting three important points that the SWP recognises:

Those who campaigned against the BNP in the elections know that when they said to people, “Don’t vote Nazi” they were often then asked who people should vote for. […]

The European election results demonstrate that the left of Labour vote was small, fragmented and dispersed. […]

The SWP is all too aware of the differences and difficulties involved in constructing such an alternative. We do not believe we have all the answers or a perfect prescription for a left wing alternative.

Many people will immediately cite the experience of both the Socialist Alliance and Respect – the Unity Coalition as evidence of the immpossibility of such a union being formed. Clearly the severe problems these organisations encountered were not unconnected to the groups involved and their modes of operation. Louis Proyect makes the point well in a post on Socialist Unity, arguing that another “united front” style formation with different “tendencies” coexisting, or contending, would be disastrous. Instead he suggests the Left should leave aside questions of socialist dogma, become more democratic, and begin to address the immediate problems facing the working class:

-Keep reading>

Posted in Anti-fascism, Labour Party, Leftovers, New workers' party, Strategy | 5 Comments »

Leftovers #9

Posted by Left Luggage on June 3, 2009

As we reported previously, the entry of No2EU into the political arena has ignited a lively debate on the Left. One positive result of the establishment of the union-backed electoral platform is the way it has raised the question of what the Left’s approach to the European Union should be. Last week, the debate reached the pages of Red Pepper, where European Union expert Leigh Phillips explained in great detail why “it’s hard to claim the EU is a continental-scale democracy”. On the record low turnout expected for this week’s European elections, she writes:

East and west, this is clearly not the apathy of the contented. Rather, it is the rational decision of those who may have little knowledge of the snakes-and-ladders hierarchy of the European institutions – but sense that however they vote, it will make little difference.

As a Brussels journalist, I can confirm that their hunch is mostly correct. The real power in the EU lies not with elected MEPs, but with a clatch of committeemen, civil servants and diplomats.

Phillips goes on to cite an estimate that the European Parliament has a substantive say in only 15% of EU legislation, with the unelected European Commission accounting for 70%.

Given these claims, it is perhaps surprising that Phillips argues against “the blinkered defence of national sovereignty” she attributes to No2EU, advocating instead “another version of European politics, one that is internationalist and democratic, not intergovernmental and technocratic.” The reader is not enlightened as to what that might mean in concrete terms. -Keep reading>

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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.
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Posted in Anti-fascism, Elections, European Union, Leftovers, Unions, Workers' struggles | 1 Comment »

Leftovers #7

Posted by Left Luggage on May 20, 2009

There’s been a lot of discussion recently of the role of unions in any potential rebuilding of a leftwing political culture in the UK. The RMT’s entry into the political arena through the No2EU platform for the European elections has stimulated some heated debate, and a number of trade unionists are involved in the promotion of the People’s Charter campaign. The latter initiative was the subject of a piece by former Morning Star editor John Haylett on Socialist Unity last week. Haylett was at pains to stress that the Charter is designed to gain the support of the trade union movement:

The entire charter can be read on the website http://www.thepeoplescharter.com and it reads a little like the roll call of motions carried at any trade union conference, which is certainly no coincidence.

Those who drew up the charter wanted to base the call for action not on a collection of left policies worked out among a small group of like-minded comrades, which could then be presented to the labour movement like biblical tablets of stone as the one true path to salvation, but on decisions that have already been taken by trade unionists themselves.

As with the many other Charter campaigns in the last two decades, the demands are broad, social-democratic and calculated to appeal to disillusioned former Labour voters. Many of the Left will have doubts about the campaign’s strategy, revealed in the concluding passage of Haylett’s article:

There is no political difference between Brown and Milburn, Clarke, Blunkett or the rest of yesterday’s windbags.

There is, however, a political choice to be made between Brown’s steady-as-she-sinks approach, which guarantees a trouncing in next month’s Euro election and next year’s general election, and a unifying, campaigning document that could enthuse the mass of alienated previous Labour voters by attracting a million signatures and serving notice on the government that an alternative way exists and must be tried.

The task is to build a tidal wave of public opinion that will either force Labour to change direction and save its electoral bacon or lay the basis for a united labour movement fightback to frustrate the Tories and work to deliver a government that would put principles and people before private profit.

The aim – at least for Haylett – appears to be to use the Charter to lobby the Labour leadership in the hope that this will push the Party leftwards and save it from itself. Judging from the article, it appears that the campaign is concentrating at present on getting union leaders to sign the Charter, rather than -Keep reading>

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Leftovers #6

Posted by Left Luggage on May 10, 2009

In this week’s digest, we feature debate on the Left over the outcome of the Visteon dispute, critical thoughts on union bureaucracies, differing reports on a demonstration calling for an amnesty for illegal immigrants, and an article blaming the media for knife crime.

In the aftermath of the Visteon dispute there has been some debate around the Left blogosphere as to what extent the outcome was a victory for the workers. We mentioned previously The Commune‘s analysis which, through speaking to some of the workers, questions the role of the Unite union bureaucracy, argues ending the Enfield occuaption was a tactical error, and raising the issue of pensions, which has not been resolved. Blogger Liam McUaid argues the outcome was a “partial victory” and posts an abrasive article by Socialist Democracy’s John McAnulty that focuses on the loss of pensions and jobs. In response, Andy Newman at Socialist Unity argues that the outcome was a clear-cut victory, and with a close analysis of the factors at play argues that the workers won the best deal possible:

It was an heroic and inspirational fight, that blew away the cobwebs of inertia that had greeted the closure of Woolworths, and other job losses.

But before we get too carried away with our assesment of the workforces’ bargaining position, let us consider that Visteon were seeking to close the factories, so the occupations were an interruption to cash flow stopping the selling the assets, but were not hitting their production; and secondly that through the use of threats of courts, police and bailiffs, only Belfast was still in occupation at the time a deal was reached.

That is, the leverage that the workforce had over Visteon and Ford was potentially peaking when the deal was agreed, and there was a substantial risk that if the deal was turned down, the bailiffs would have gone into the Belfast plant, and the pickets at Enfliend and Basildon would boil down to a hard core of last-standers, like the tragic defeat at Gate Gourmet, while the rest of the workforce melted away.

Now it is possible to construct other scenarios, but experience of the British labour movement over the last few years suggests that this would be a likely enough scenario to base calculations upon it.
-Keep reading>

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Leftovers #5

Posted by Left Luggage on May 5, 2009

This week, the mainstream and Left media have spent of lot of time covering the exploits of the British National Party. In June, the far right have their best ever chance of gaining a seat in the European Parliament, and with it hundreds of thousands of euros to fund the BNP’s activities.

Gone are the days when the liberal left attempted to deal with the rise of the BNP solely by painting them as criminals, sociopaths and “Nazis”. This strategy – developed by groups like Searchlight and the Anti-Nazi League – is still sometimes deployed, but anti-fascists now generally agree that the causes of ultra right growth must also be addressed.

ANL founder and former New Labour minister Peter Hain is frank about the scale of the threat posed. He begins his Guardian article by warning: “Unless the rest of us get our act together, the British National party could easily win three seats – and quite possibly six or more – in June’s European elections.” By “the rest of us”, Hain seems to mean liberal and decent-minded members of society from across the political spectrum, who should come together to stop the poisonous minority of fascists leading sections of the unwitting public astray. Hain does depart from liberal orthodoxy by referring to some of the underlying social causes of the BNP’s rise:

With unemployment and job insecurity rising, some major construction sites appearing to bar local unionised labour, and affordable housing in short supply, there are classic conditions for the BNP’s racist and fascist politics to thrive.

However, later in the article he suggests that the campaign against the BNP should be orchestrated by the Labour Party, which is partly responsible for creating the lamentable social conditions Hain refers to.

Hain’s article is contradictory throughout. He mentions the 1936 Battle of Cable Street, when anti-fascists prevented Oswald Mosley’s blackshirts marching through London’s East End, as an example of how to fight the BNP, but ignores the fact -Keep reading>

Posted in Anti-fascism, Leftovers, Strategy | 10 Comments »

Leftovers #4

Posted by Left Luggage on April 29, 2009

A slightly delayed view of the last week, featuring an interesting analysis of how the Left should deal with the police, a new blog aiming to address strategic questions facing socialists outside the “mainstream Left”, more school protests and a reflection on the political complexion of Labour after the next general election.

Following our article on how the Left should respond to crime, blogger A Very Public Sociologist has a very though-provoking piece on the other side of the coin: how should left-wing activists deal with the police (or, rather, for the moment, talk about dealing with them).

The obvious difficulty is outside a revolutionary situation, calling for the abolition of the police invites derision and dismissal. The far left in Britain has either tended to argue this position regardless, compounding their isolation from the bulk of the politically interested population (take your pick from among the colourful array of ultra-lefts), or have maintained a strategic silence […]

It may be good on the diagnosis of crime but is decidedly poor in what can be done about it, creating the impression the left is soft on criminality and completely unserious about it. Obviously, this is not good enough – it leaves us disarmed in front of those communities where crime and anti-social behaviour is endemic.

He cites the example of the Socialist Party, which has a set of “transitional demands” on law and order issues and suggests that democratic control -Keep reading>

Posted in Leftovers, News, Strategy | 1 Comment »

Leftovers #3

Posted by Left Luggage on April 20, 2009

We’ve had an eye of the US this week, following some remarkable poll results from across the pond and the publication of three of our articles on American websites. Our pieces on crime, the unions and strategy for the Left all went down well in the States, at a time when socialism appears to be creeping back onto the mainstream American agenda. We reported last week that only 53% of the adult population in the US prefer capitalism to socialism according to a Rasmussen poll (among under-30s support for capitalism and socialism was evenly split at 37% to 33%).

How should the Left take advantage of this promising situation? Liberal US magazine The Nation addressed exactly that question by launching a discussion last month on the way forward for socialism. Under the heading, “Reimagining socialism”, a range of leftwing commentators from around the world offered their views on the best strategy for the American Left. One positive aspect of the discussion was the way many authors stressed the need to focus on values and vision. Michael Albert’s contribution was a good example of this.

Perhaps predictably, most of the authors failed to identify the working class as the agent of social change, so there were few detailed prescriptions for how to build working class self-organisation. Barbara Ehrenreich and Bill Fletcher Jr. recommended that socialists try to build on “the social movements that are battling injustice every day” and argued that “we have to build organizations, including explicitly socialist ones, that can[…] develop leadership and advance local struggles.” Red Pepper’s Hilary Wainwright pointed to what she saw as encouraging developments: “traditional actors, most notably a minority of trade unions, showing a capacity to play a new and intrinsically political role, -Keep reading>

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Leftovers #2

Posted by Left Luggage on April 13, 2009

The second in our weekly round-ups examines some recent developments that suggest there is a renewed interest in engaging in a reassessment of strategies for the left, along with some forecasts of political radicalisation during this recession.

This seems to be an unusually fruitful time for discussion of strategy on the left. There have been a range of new initiatives launched in recent weeks alongside wide-ranging debate about the way forward. Some of this came in reaction to the G20 protests, but more generally is product of economic crisis and its potential to reconfigure the political scene.

We begin with Red Pepper, which examines the potential for resistance to government policies that aim to “[sit] out the social consequences of the recession.” The article, written by the editors, acknowledges the need for political organisation “to be connected to social forces rooted in the struggles of daily life against oppression and injustice”, in other words “engaged with the day-to-day disaffection in working class communities”. The magazine suggests a new political direction for trade unions, and is calling on activists to share their experiences of resistance and alternatives to further this debate.

In another article on the same site, Ben Lear discusses this year’s numerous international summits and the “counter-summit mobilisations” that will inevitably follow, questioning the efficacy of these “mega-spectacles”.

The factory occupations in Belfast, and Enfield, north London, have received widespread coverage and support. -Keep reading

Posted in Leftovers, News, Strategy | 2 Comments »

Leftovers #1

Posted by Left Luggage on April 6, 2009

The first of our series of weekly round-ups reviews the strategic discussions on the Left that accompanied the G20 protests, different union interventions into the political arena, an ill-advised statement from a teachers’ union and several militant actions around the UK.

Last week was one of those rare occasions when discussion about the best strategy for the Left entered the mainstream. The Guardian’s Comment is Free featured articles by a number of “critical voices”, who mostly agreed that the G20 demonstrations heralded the beginning of the end for neoliberalism. Authors differed, however, on exactly how the beast would be slain.

Will Hutton argued that the breaking of Fred Goodwin’s windows (which he was at pains to point out was “wrong”) was “part of a worldwide reaction that is generating change”. Other symptoms of this “reaction” apparently include AIG executives in America handing back their bonuses and RBS suspending its tax avoidance scheme.

Such transformation of attitudes and behaviour is good news. The even better news is that, partly in response to public opinion and partly because the risks of doing nothing are so obvious, the G20 countries increasingly look -Keep reading>

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