Saturday, November 17, 2012

Resist the Unity?

I couldn't get along to today's Unite the Resistance (UtR) meeting in London (http://uniteresist.org/) but hope it's going well. I hope it will put the emerging organisation on some sort of democratic footing and provide a useful opportunity for networking.

There are some on the left who decry the somewhat ironic name of the most recent arrival amongst the national bodies seeking to co-ordinate anti-cuts activity, and others who level at UtR the allegation also made about the Right to Work (RtW) (http://righttowork.org.uk/2012/10/new-sanctions-regime-will-punish-the-poorest/campaign) (that it is essentially a front for the Socialist Workers Party).

We do, however, need to try to develop more effective national coordination of anti-cuts activity, and UtR will draw together some of those who should be part of that, including many outside the ranks of the SWP (I have put my name forward, if wanted, for the steering committee).

Others, around the Socialist Party, see the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) (http://www.coalitionofresistance.org.uk/) as the vehicle for the coordination of struggle. I was at the founding Conference of the NSSN and continue to believe it to have been a good idea with considerable potential.

Many of those previously involved in the NSSN have fallen away as the dominance of the Socialist Party has become more pronounced, but the NSSN retains official links with several national unions, and those who look to it are not insignificant, although their determination to prioritise their distinctive "selling point" on the left (visceral hostility to the Labour Party they left twenty years ago) can make "united front" work a challenge.

The Coalition of Resistance (CoR)(http://www.coalitionofresistance.org.uk/)has also aimed at the same target of coordination for some time, without the participation of the largest far left parties, but with high profile support and strong European links. Although on paper a likely candidate to draw people together (and is, of all these initiatives, the one for which I feel most warmth), CoR includes among its leading lights some groups whose relationship with the SWP is like a recent, raw divorce.

Away from the "Trotskyist" left, the People's Charter (http://www.thepeoplescharter.org/) (which I support) is a project (though not exclusively) of the Communist Party of Britain which has, characteristically, by far the stongest "official" labour movement backing and - equally characteristically - a low activist profile.

Looking just at the picture I have sketched out above, there are many on the left who will bemoan the "sectarianism" of the left groups which appears to be the cause of the divisions, at a national level, in an anti-cuts movement which is at its best (at a local level) when it is united.

This complaint mistakes the symptom for the cause and makes the mistake of blaming those who are present in the struggle against cuts, rather than those who bear responsibility for these problems - those who are absent.

The anti-cuts movement is not weak at a national level because it is divided. It is divided because it is weak.

The responsibility lies with the leadership of the Labour Party and, to a somewhat lesser extent, the trade unions.

The Balls/Miliband line on cuts - which could be summed up in the chant; "What Do We Want? Fewer Cuts! When Do We Want Them? Later!" Is testament to the continuing influence of vile Blairite forces around the Sainsbury-funded Progress faction. It seeks to place the Labour Party outside the anti-cuts movement and encourages Labour Councils to see anti-cuts activists as enemies as much as the Tories (a grave misjudgement which is then just as foolishly reciprocated).

In these circumstances, the responsibility to lead and unify a struggle against assaults upon working class living standards and public services unprecedented in a lifetime falls upon the trade union leadership.

The TUC have called a couple of major national demonstrations and the unions (led by UNISON) have organised one major national strike.

The trade union leadership lack confidence in our ability to defeat the Government and are therefore prone to seeing our campaigns (such as UNISON's Million Voices - http://www.unison.org.uk/million/) as being as much aimed at our members and potential members (with a view to recruitment and retention of union members) as at defeating our enemies.

If the Labour Party or - failing that - the TUC (or failing that the big unions) organised an effective anti-cuts campaign then that would be the one national anti-cuts campaign we need.

If they won't do that then we socialists need to do a number of things.

First, we need (if we can) to find an effective substitute to unite our struggles. If this can be done it may be that the General Secretaries of unions in the Trade Union Coordinating Group (TUCG) hold the key.

Secondly, we need to mobilise to hold to account - and force to the left - our union leaderships. This does require organising at a rank and file level, focusing on local activity and building workplace organisation - but those who concentrate only on these things are not doing all that is required.

We must stand candidates of the left wherever and whenever we can in our trade unions and (as much as this may divert our energies) we must campaign for their election (of course we must also build the rank and file organisation and grassroots struggle which will ground, and hold to account, whoever is elected).

Thirdly, we must press our trade unions to take our fight into the Labour Party. Our goal is not so much to ensure the selection of trade unionists as Labour candidates for public office (thought that is a worthy cause) as to fight for policies we can support and then for candidates, and democratic structures of accountability, which give hope that these policies may be delivered in practice.

We need to reclaim the Labour Party not in the sense of capturing official positions but in the sense of making the Party a campaigning organisation fighting for working people in our communities as we fight for our unions to do in our workplaces.

Of course, we must also work with socialist comrades who may not agree with every point above (and I guess the third may not appeal to every reader of this blog). I do, however, think it quite important that socialists grasp that division and sectarianism on the left is much more a consequence than a cause of our problems, and that the struggle to hold to account the leadership of our movement (whilst building and strengthening our movement) is where our energies belong.
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