Sunday, April 08, 2012

Confusion of the red-baiters

I am rather worried (in a charitable way) at the confusion afflicting the little-know “Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)” (who are not for one moment to be confused with the proper Communist Party) but who are sometimes to be found handing out a magazine at trade union events, or leaving copies lying around at Congress House.

In January, their journal “Workers” lauded (anonymously) the fact that “The unprecedented national stoppage of 30 November was the best possible riposte to the Coalition’s economic statement of 29 November. Two million workers striking, marching, providing emergency cover or showing solidarity with striking colleagues was a great uplift to the people of Britain. Over 30,000 people attended the central London rally. Across Britain thousands of picket lines and hundreds of marches and rallies proclaimed that organised workers still can and will act together.”

Yet, by April, the same freesheet had concluded that the Evening Standard of 1 December had been right that barely a million” had taken strike action, and went on to opine (equally anonymously) as follows;

“Barely a million – this was genuinely written as if to dismiss the biggest strike in a generation, when well over a million public sector workers took strike action to protect their pensions on 30 November. This was easily the biggest show of union strength since the “winter of discontent” and possibly since 1926.
But while the numbers are indeed impressive, and the attempt to belittle this demonstration of collective organisation ridiculous, another story is told if the number is converted into a percentage of all those entitled to take action.
Had the Evening Standard said only 35 per cent took strike action it would look quite different. A third take strike action doesn’t sound half as good as a million. So why is this important? Because 30 November was a paradox. On the one hand it was collective organisation in action, but on the other it showed that this action was not absolute, resolute or sustainable. The strike and its aftermath illustrate where unions are today.”


Whereas the conclusion of January had been that “We’ve already been forced to give our wages to the banks and now their government asks us to starve and freeze in old age. We need to wise up,” the conclusion of April was that “it is time to forget the fads and the political play fighting. Get back to the workplace. Build and develop solidarity at the most local level to the members.” This latter conclusion was based upon an uncritical acceptance of the figures used by our opponents, and an entirely downbeat assessment of the events of 30 November, completely at variance with the (rather exuberant) tone of the contemporaneous assessment of the day three months before.

Why should anyone care about the apparent degeneration of a political group noted mostly for its ferocious hostility to those whom it sees as “ultra left fantasists”? In part because they do occasionally say something sensible and give the appearance of being thoughtful about the trade union movement – but in larger part because I have the feeling that their pronouncements are a window into the opinions of some of those who (in our lay-led trade unions) don’t generally put their names to their thoughts.

The thing is, comrades, if your workplace is the Regional or national office of a trade union how can going “back to the workplace” serve to “build and develop solidarity at the most local level to the members?” And when you say that “Workers will organise themselves whatever we call the organisation.” – are you really sure that you mean this?

I’ll check back on the dear old CPBM-L next time I have some spare time. I really wouldn’t suggest anyone bothers with them whilst you have real trade union work to do (and those of us who are genuinely serious about building member-led trade unions certainly have plenty of that to be going on with).

5 comments:

Dorothy said...

the problem of course is that, while this organisation is tiny, its members hold some very influential (unelected) positions within the trade union movement - power without responsibility, one might say. As such their thought processes have a disproportionate effect on the union movement.

Anonymous said...

I think that the membership who came out on strike reflected the percentage who voted. Locally in the Hospitals in Southampton and Portsmouth union stewards estimate about 10% came out. While Unison predicted 10'000 would be out in Southampton on Nov30th, the rally attracted less than 2500 from all unions. While the figure of 2 million is impressive the density of on the picket line across the whole of the Public Sector was thin in a lot of areas.

Anonymous said...

I don't see what the contradiction is Jon. It was right to praise the success of the 30th Nov but all of us should have been making an analysis of it and concluding what may come next. The second article is an honest and welcome contribution to this.If we didn't pull off a bigger strike, it would have been deemed a failure.
My union cannot even get members out on a Saturday morning to lobby the Lib Dem Conference over pensions and all organising and admin staff were put on a three line whip to turn up as a rent a crowd.
The government has successfully divided the unions and my union is opportunistically using the split to try and recruit Unison members in the NHS.

Anonymous said...

at least they work for a living !

Jon Rogers said...

Dorothy, quite!

First anon, your glass may also be half full and - at the very least - I think we need to get accurate figures for strike deductions from employers and then make sensible estimates of the denominator of the fraction we are trying to calculate.

Second anon, if somebody wants to pretend to be a "Communist Party" they ought to be capable of an honest assessment in January of a strike in November. What accounts for the difference between the two articles is a desire to keep in with those elements of the leadership who have decided to try to persuade us all to give up, not any change in the objective conditions or an honest assessment of those conditions. The government has not successfully divided the Unions, our leadership have done that for them.

I think the last anon comment may be in the wrong place (either that or it is a somewhat brutal attempt at irony).