Getting ready for upheavals

Author: 
Martin Thomas

The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty meets for our annual conference on 27-28 October, to map out our broad lines of policy for the coming year and to elect a new national committee.

In order to get informed decision-making, this conference is prepared for with discussion bulletins and regional pre-conference meetings. Last-minute extra discussions have also been set up — an evening meeting in London on 24 October, an e-meeting, by webchat, on 21 October.

The overall perspectives document which the outgoing committee will put to conference highlights two levels of the political situation.

On one level: unresolved capitalist crisis, which means continued depression at a global level and a high possibility of further economic dramas, for example in the eurozone. In Britain working-class conditions are being squeezed deeper and longer than in the 1930s or under Thatcher.

All that makes upheavals likely before long. Maybe not mass strike waves, which are more likely to come with some economic recovery than in the depths of the slump; but explosive local industrial struggles, street protests, and “molecular” radicalisation of individuals.

On another level, Britain now has a period of working-class lull following the setback on pensions on 19 December 2011, which with each passing month becomes more like an outright defeat.

We cannot end the lull at will. We can refuse to allow it to depress our activity. We can and must make sure that AWL uses the relatively quiet time for political education and training, for sharpening our routine of public political advocacy — stalls, sales, meetings, etc. — and for our own education and training.

In pre-conference discussion the first draft was criticised for not grasping the urgency of the political dilemma of the labour movement: the contradiction between the implicitly Labourite anti-Toryism of a thick seam of workers and Labour’s commitment to cuts, pay freezes, etc.

An amendment adopted by the AWL national committee calls for us to address this dilemma by arguing “for the need to regroup, from out of the currently fragmented and incoherent militant anti-Tory constituency, a purposefully class-conscious force that... organises in the unions and the Labour Party for working-class policies” such as rescuing the NHS as a public service, reversing the cuts, expropriating the banks, winning workers’ union rights.

The amendment warns that this idea means setting ourselves to spread ideas in the movement, and not just administrative busywork (drafting statements, collecting signatures, organising meetings) so as somehow to concoct a token semblance of a broad union-Labour left.

The other long documents for conference are on “recruitment, education, and training” and on trade union activity. Quoting Plekhanov — “the promotion of the growth of the class consciousness of the proletariat is the sole purpose and the direct and sacred duty of the socialists” — they argue that our educational and self-educational role is central everywhere: not just being “best builders” or “best helpers”.

Despite the industrial lull, we can and should build up union rank-and-file caucuses like the school workers’ LANAC and develop and multiply the few workplace bulletins which AWL branches have recently started alongside the longstanding Tubeworker bulletin. The report warns that these bulletins demand hard work, but explains their value for building roots and influence in workplaces.

A report on publications details the progress AWL has made by moving to a weekly paper from early 2011, and argues for boosting the distribution, sale, and discussion of the paper as central to AWL’s political profile. It notes the new possibilities for publishing books and booklets with new technologies, and an amendment calls for investigating the possibilities of a new AWL magazine.

A lengthy report on activity among students analyses the Government’s plans in detail, but expects a range of piecemeal battles rather than a “big bang” of cuts and fightback. It prioritises the development of a consistent AWL profile of general politics (not just student-unionist concerns) on campuses.

A report on feminist activity notes soberly that last year’s hopes for sizeable mobilisations of working-class women against cuts, and of student women, have not come good. It maps realistic plans for activity in those spheres, and notes the success of the Women’s Fightback discussion group in London and the possibilities of extending that model.

There is controversy about the details of how to elect the new AWL committee.

Some comrades have proposed the conference elect a nominating commission, of members who have experience and knowledge but are not candidates for the committee. The commission would discuss and recommend a slate to AWL conference.

The vote at conference would then be entirely free. No-one would have to vote for or against the slate. Members would vote for individual candidates just as they would as if there were no commission.

The argument, however, is that the nominating commission can help structure the debate by giving a proposal for a balanced NC, as a whole, which comrades can then propose amendments or alternatives to, rather than a discussion dominated by rival recommendations for individual candidates.

Last year’s AWL conference debated a similar idea, and rejected it as cumbersome and likely to dampen debate in the conference about the new NC. We will see whether opinion has shifted.

Another proposal calls for a commission that would not recommend a slate, but would just collect and publish information about the candidates nominated.

A third proposal, supplementary rather than alternative, calls for AWL to organise more joint-union-fractions meetings and national and regional day schools so that we all gather more information about each other’s activities, qualities, and defects over the year.

The discussion on the international report should be interesting. AWL has livelier prospects for international connections than for some time.

Observers will attend from the Iranian Revolutionary Marxist Tendency and L’Etincelle (France), and the conference should receive greetings and messages from many other groups, including Marksist Tutum (Turkey) and Workers’ Liberty Australia.

AWL members in Britain have become more aware of the activity in Australia recently, with the Queensland Children’s Hospital strike. We’ll be discussing a new international campaign, in defence of our comrade Bob Carnegie who is being pursued for “contempt of court” by the main contractor at QCH.