Assessment and orientation: "everything depends on our ability to act as Marxist educators" (document 1.0)

Submitted by martin on 20 May, 2007 - 7:32

1. The assessment we made in our long document last year on "Building a Marxist presence in the unions" remains cruelly true.

The shift to the left in unions at the level of general secretary elections has not been matched by a new organising or class-struggle effort by those general secretaries, or by an upsurge in rank-and-file organisation or confidence: witness the limpness of union reaction on local government pensions or civil service jobs and pay. Working-class confidence remains generally low. That can change, and maybe quickly, but for now it shapes the basic framework in which we work (and not only our trade union activity).

2. The essential qualification, and direction for our activity, spelled out last year also remains valid: "It is possible to talk oneself into a certain fatalism, simply comparing 2006 to 1979. However, if we compare to the 'long view' historical picture (rather than the unique circumstances between say 1945 and 1979), the picture for trade unionism in Britain shows considerable openings and opportunities...
In the workplaces, the branches, regional structures, left groupings and so on and so forth, we can and do come across workers ready to listen and be organised... If we have answers for dealing with the bosses, in which our criticisms of the union leaders flow from those answers (rather than our criticism of the union leaders seeming to be hinged on critical comments in passing on the bosses), then we will be able to organise bigger forces than ourselves and, vitally, recruit".

3. Where we have a consistent political profile in the workforce and union - as on the rail with Off The Rails and Tubeworker - we can make advances, even in the absence of any new general upsurge of the rank and file or of the left.

4. The state of the unions and the broad class struggle has shaped and limited what we have been able to do in welfare state campaigning, in which at our 2006 conference we decided to make a new effort. Almost all AWL branches have been usefully active in health service campaigns, and sometimes picked up new contacts. That activity should continue. But so far Unison officialdom has kept an effective lid on the development of a real national campaign. The poor turnouts on the 3 March day of action were testimony to that.

5. We should intervene in the "Organise For Fighting Unions" and mobilise for (e.g. seek delegations to) the RMT-sponsored Shop Stewards Network conference.

6. Our activity among students continues to improve, through more vigorous organisation of our own forces rather than through any general political upturn in the colleges or in NUS.

7. Mostly from our student work, we have been able to relaunch some socialist-feminist activity, notably the successful Feminist Fightback conference and the 3 March demonstration for abortion rights.

8. No Sweat continues to attract a sizeable number of contacts from the diffuse "anti-capitalist" sensibility that exists among quite large numbers of young people. It does that especially through Students Against Sweatshops, as exemplified most recently by the Oaxaca tour. It is clearer than ever now, though, that no large number of those contacts will come over to AWL, or even to being regular and consistent No Sweat activists, simply through "osmosis" or through observing our virtues as "best builders" of No Sweat. Energetic, systematic work with contacts on the level of individual conversations and discussions is necessary in order to build solid results out of the No Sweat and Students Against Sweatshops activity.

9. Following our debate on anti-racist work at our 2006 conference, we have developed activity in asylum-rights, anti-deportation, and anti-BNP campaigns, and are putting together a new AWL broadsheet on racism and anti-racism.

10. The harassed and beleaguered condition of the labour movement in Iraq limits what we can do through Iraq Union Solidarity, but the modestly successful launch of Iraq Union Solidarity Scotland shows that even in these adverse conditions good and useful work can be done. The rise in women's, students', and workers' struggles against the Ahmedinejad regime in Iran brings new duties, and new possibilities, for international solidarity work.

11. The moral and ideological decay of the kitsch-left - bigger groupings of the activist left - continues.

12. The McDonnell campaign has allowed for some big meetings, and in some places for the creation of small but useful ongoing McDonnell committees. We have participated, and it is important we continue to participate energetically in the remaining weeks of the campaign.

13. In this, however, the same general picture holds as in other areas: the situation is very far from a flat calm; there are important mobilisations; there are sizeable numbers (very sizeable, relative to our own numbers) potentially interested in independent working-class politics, if we can reach them and establish discussions with them; but there is as yet no general upsurge on which we can "surf" and, so far as building solidly for the future is concerned, everything depends on our ability to seek and carry through those discussions, in short, to act as Marxist educators.

14. That indicates a priority for self-education. The dayschools decided on at our 2005 conference have continued to be valuable. They have dropped off in attendance in recent months, mostly, probably, because of a shortage of resources in the office to chase up mobilisation. In the next year central resources must be given to education - not just to dayschools, but also small classes and individual educationals - with the aim of ensuring that more or more of our members become not just educated, but effective educators.