Motion passed at AWL conference 29-30 April 2006.
For many on the left the LRC and the crisis of working class representation in politics seems an abstraction compared to short cut demands for a new party now. We have called over the years for a campaign to link the issue of political representation to the defence of the Welfare State representing the independent political economy of the working class. Despite our best efforts and some well attended lobbies and conferences we failed to build the Welfare State Network (WSN) into the broader CND style campaign we desired.
Nevertheless the idea remains sound and remains part of our strategy for rearming the TUs and broader labour movement in the fight against the advance of the market and privatisation into all areas of life. Some positive developments described below should give us hope for the future but as yet the circumstances would not allow for us trying to just relaunch the WSN again.
1) John McDonnell is pushing for the development of a national Public Sector Alliance involving some of the more prominent members of the ‘awkward squad’ but also including some smaller TUs not usually seen as likely suspects. It’s clear that he sees a focus outside of parliament for this strategy.
2) The campaign against the Pension Reforms should not be written of despite the missed opportunities and sell outs documented above. The very successful Local Government strike day and likely follow up action is at risk of being marginalised. But as details of the individual sectional deals within the ‘reserved rights ‘ framework become clearer the possibility of getting back to some more generalised action improves. Already the FBU are considering action as the governments fine detail on the deal will include a strict limitation on ill health retirement etc. Similar ‘small print’ may lead to sectional action in the Health Service and beyond. Unison’s APF withholding funds from the LPs local election campaign, although a gesture, does demonstrate that they are willing to draw a line on this issue.
3) The development of the Education Alliance in defence of state education. The White Paper has seen an outraged response both inside the PLP and also the trade unions and some community campaigns. It is clear that Blair/Brown are committed to get the main thrust of their privatisation of individual schools through on the back of Tory votes. Local responses to public meetings etc do demonstrate a willingness to fight on this issue including a significant proportion of the LP.
4) Further rounds of commissioning for PFI, LIFT (PFI for primary care) and Independent (Private) Treatment Centres are likely to exacerbate the current financial crisis in the NHS. The recent round of redundancies, the ongoing job freezes etc are all the result of NHS budget being leeched by the private sector. The setting up of the Keep Our NHS Public Campaign/SOS NHS and the potential for UNISON and others to actually commit to a campaign are important changes to the previously isolated community campaigns and lone voices amongst professionals. Again the setting up of local groups which draw in community based campaigns, patient groups etc are significant. There seems to be a broader acknowledgement that local campaigns alone are limited within the framework of a developed national market for healthcare overcoming the localism that has limited these struggles.
Whilst these are all very positive developments they won’t automatically lead to a unified campaign to defend the Welfare State or transform the Labour Party. They are less likely to find any satisfactory outcome in the one solution, build our party prescription of RESPECT of CNWP.
It should be our task to build these independents campaigns separately and provide the political framework of the LRC to pull them together to force the pace of change and regroupment inside and outside the LP that we have long seen as necessary. Unlike the Stop the War Campaign these are clear class based campaigns where we are unlikely to be excluded for or exclude ourselves on the basis of our particular politics. Unlike the rest of the Left we still consider strategy to be an important part of the socialist struggle and will not be reduced to the empty rhetoric of more action now, build our party sloganeering of our competitors. Education and Health are relatively strong areas for us in terms of our trade union implantation and the respective campaigns will be open to all comrades anyway.
Conference therefore resolves: 1) To prioritise these campaigns in the next year.
2) For each branch to nominate a comrade to be in charge our local interventions into the campaign against the education white paper and KONHSP and take a lead in forming and building local groups.
3) To consolidate and formalise a page in the paper to Defending the Welfare State with an emphasis on local reports. These campaigns to be included as regular agenda items at branches, the EC, NC, TU committee etc.
4) Both the UNISON and NUT/NATFHE fractions to produce a monthly bulletin for activists in their respective areas circulated via our existing email lists and broader forums i.e. UNISON Health Activist e-list. Given the freedom of electronic copy these could be compiled from articles in the paper etc and would have the form of a sector wide workplace bulletin.
5) Through the SGUC, LRC etc. we seek opportunities for joint working on these issues. The recent adoption of a joint Pension Campaign strategy by the SGUC has been largely a paper commitment from the SP but we have worked jointly with the AGS on the issue and independents have picked up on the initiative.
6) We have the overall aim of recreating a national campaign, as circumstance allows, sponsored by the LRC etc. This is a longer term aim but one that should be present in our propaganda from the beginning.