Is the People’s Charter the answer?

Submitted by Anon on 26 June, 2009 - 7:45 Author: Joe Flynn

The groups involved in the “No2EU” coalition for the Euro-election — the RMT union leadership group around Bob Crow, the Communist Party of Britain (Morning Star), the Socialist Party, and the Alliance for Green Socialism — are due to meet again before 28 June to discuss a “son of No2EU” project for the coming general election.

What may it look like? CPB secretary Robert Griffiths has written that for him the People’s Charter (PC) launched by the CPB last year is central to “realistic and non-sectarian” electoral initiative, so a meeting called on the People’s Charter in Lambeth Town Hall, London, on 16 June, with Crow and left Labour MP John McDonnell, may give the best clues we have so far.

50-odd people turned out for the meeting. The Socialist Party (SP) outnumbered the SWP considerably. To my knowledge only one person there was a member of the CPB. A couple of Greens were also present.

Ted Knight, in the chair, stated that the PC “is not a petition”, that it is something for “us all' to unite around.

Sara Tomlinson, an SWP member and local National Union of Teachers Activist, was the first speaker. She mainly spoke about NUT issues, but also used her speech to attack the “British Jobs for British Workers” slogan, saying Visteon was an example of a dispute where “only the [trade] union flag was flying”. She said nothing about No2EU.

She did talk about the left forming “a united pole of attraction”, and said it was good that a socialist, Kevin Courtney, is standing in an NUT election. Tomlinson didn't say that she thought the “pole of attraction” needed to be openly socialist, and Kevin Courtney is not exactly promoting himself clearly as a socialist.

Crow talked about the PC being a way of “raising the level of people’s consciousness”, a tool for engaging people in discussion. He then said “some time down the road, a convention of some sort” could be held at national level.

But unless you pose the question of power to people, how is the PC going to be politically useful? How do people change the world through the PC? Logically, a government of some kind would have to enact its demands, and what sort of government is that?

If the PC is used as criterion for a sort of “kitemark” for approved “left” candidates — Labour, Green, SNP, Plaid, maybe independents — where does that get us?

Of course people's consciousness is low, but the only way to change that is through being organised and socialist. One Labour Party member made a good point from the floor — why will members of organised left groups spend their time promoting it rather than their own programme? Well exactly, they won't. If all I'm doing is trying to raise people's consciousness in ones and twos or through small local meetings, I might as well do that with a real socialist programme.

John McDonnell said the real target of the PC, as far as he is concerned, is disgruntled Labourites. He was talking about using it to build a different pole of attraction... but in the Labour Party! He continued his recent rhetoric about Labour “change candidates” (getting together a left slate of candidates within the general Labour election campaign), but also bizarrely seemed to suggest that soft-Blairite group Compass are moving left and “could be worked with”.

He said at one point that “Marx and Engels would be ashamed of it [the PC]”. So why is he involved in it? Because of the defeatism in most of our movement at the moment.

McDonnell repeatedly said we’ve moved “beyond” attempts to unify the left, “which always end with the ‘fun’ of expelling dissenters”, and counterposed solidarity in the workers' movement with left unity.

It was all intensely frustrating. Despite the general agreement that, with the election of the BNP, we have an emergency on our hands, the only talk of standing local working-class candidates came from a CPB comrade from the floor — and of course his definition of a “working-class candidate” would not be ours.

It is worrying enough that Crow and McDonnell attempt to portray political defeats as potential victories, but worse is that people accept this so readily. I was not called to speak, but a Workers’ Power comrade who intervened stressing the need for a unified socialist pole of attraction was heckled quite aggressively, including by people who genuinely seemed to think “we're doing that now!”

We should however continue to engage with PC events, making our points about the need for a socialist alliance and the political demand of a workers’ government.

• What’s wrong with the People’s Charter?