Solidarity 165, 7 January 2010

Mandelson’s higher education cuts will speed "marketisation": occupy! strike!

Submitted by Matthew on 14 January, 2010 - 2:37 Author: Ed Maltby

On 22 December, Peter Mandelson wrote to the Higher Education funding body outlining nearly £400 million in cuts in higher education for 2010-11. The figure exceeds by £135 million the £180 million cuts and £83 million in “efficiency savings” announced in the 2009 budget.

And in last month’s pre-budget report the government announced a total of £600 million in cuts by 2013. On 12 January the Russell Group, the UK’s 20 “leading” universities accused the government of bringing higher education “to its knees”.

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The dynamics of the 2010 General Election

Submitted by Matthew on 14 January, 2010 - 2:29 Author: Tom Unterrainer

Under the banner of the obvious (“A Year for Change”) David Cameron has ushered his party, the media and “political classes”, if not the rest of us, into full election mode.

The Tories have issued a draft manifesto, scheduled news conferences, the unveiling of posters and new internet campaigns some five months before the expected election date on 6 May. Labour has begun to enter the fray — but unless Brown experiences a Damascene conversion he has little new to say, and none of it positive.

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The 'Loftus affair' and the left in the unions

Submitted by Matthew on 14 January, 2010 - 2:16 Author: Ed Maltby

The behaviour of Britain’s two biggest revolutionary socialist organisations where they have trade-union positions is coming to resemble more that of the old Communist Party than any of the best elements of the Trotskyist tradition both the SWP and SP claim affinity with.

Jane Loftus, President of the Communications Workers Union and the SWP’s [Socialist Workers’ Party’s] most prominent trade unionist, recently resigned from the SWP after she supported the Interim Agreement that brought the big strike movement over jobs and conditions in Royal Mail to a halt.

Comments

Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Fri, 22/01/2010 - 01:22

Yes, Loftus misrepresents the left and workers. But Metropolix is guilty of some pretty serious misrepresentation too; s/he grossly misrepresents the SWP's current industrial strategy to a staggering degree.

The projects that s/he cites at the end of the posting - Postal Worker, Right To Work and The People's Charter; I'll leave aside NSSN for now because, as a front controlled by a rival group (the SP), the SWP's orientation towards it is a bit different - are very, very, very far indeed from genuinely rank-and-file united front-type projects. The People's Charter is a soft-soap, left-liberal set of platitudes originating with the Stalinist CPGB that has no independent life of any kind and exists mainly as a statement for TU leaders and MPs (including several Lib Dems and one ex-UKIP far-right independent) to sign. Right To Work has a similar lack of independent life, and my experience locally during the recent postal strike was that, far from trying to set up open, local support groups, the SWPers just came down to the picket line to plug whatever latest adventure the party was (the risible 'Rage Against Labour' demo, for example) and grab a couple of interviews for Socialist Worker. Their erratically produced bulletin for the tube (I think it's called "Over The Tracks") is another good example; hardly ever comes out, no independent life (contrast that to our own Tubeworker bulletin which has regular open editorial meetings) and when it comes to the political crunch the SWP lines up behind the worst kind of bureaucrats in the union (they backed right-winger Neil Hodgson against the militant left-winger Steve Hedley for the London Regional Organiser position; fortunately Hedley won).

We'd love to get involved, "in a non-sectarian manner", in joint activity with the SWP around genuine rank-and-file initiatives. Show me the SWPer who feels the same and we'll get cracking.

As Ed's article shows, none of this is new for the SWP. Their leading trade unionists have been advocating, voting for or failing to organise against (sometimes all three) shitty, sell-out deals for years, as well as moving against other left-wing initiatives to protect some sectarian interest. The episode in the CWU where they moved against a motion of no confidence in Blair because they wanted to keep Hayes and Ward (who opposed it) sweet in order that they might be inveigled into the then-nascent Respect project was particularly nauseating.

Metropolix's central contention - that the SWP really understands the difference between rank-and-file and bureaucracy, whereas everyone else just sees things as being divided between "left and right" - is exposed as pretty nonsensical if you look at the UCU, where the SWP is particularly strong (UCU leader Sally Hunt seems to be the SWP's new favourite bureaucrat, despite never having said or done anything remotely radical in her life as far as I can tell). The SWP has run UCU Left like a party propaganda machine for their politics on Israel/Palestine, making no attempt whatsoever to build it as a genuine rank-and-file caucus around industrial issues. Their activity in the union around the serious workplace issues has been minimal, whereas their activity around the boycott of Israel has been extremely vigorous. They have helped create, and in fact are largely to blame for, a culture in unions like the UCU and others where being "left-wing" does not mean having a rank-and-file perspective, fighting for greater democracy, advocating industrial militancy etc. but rather it means talking about Palestine a lot. I was at the founding conference of UCU Left (I was on the NUS NEC at the time so it made a sort of sense for me to go) and remember Alex Callinicos talking about how young lecturers weren't interested in boring issues like pay, hours and conditions but could be brought into activity around sexy global justice issues (I think the three he mentioned specifically were climate change, Bolivia and Venezuela. Nice.). Rank-and-file perspective? Hardly.

Clearly, having a "rank-and-file" perspective doesn't mean just banging on about low-level industrial issues all the time, and clearly any healthy rank-and-file movement in which revolutionary socialists had any influence, much less were in the leadership, would lead the way on internationalism (although hopefully not in the Stalinoid way the SWP does now) and fight for the union to take action on wider domestic and global politics. But a rank-and-file perspective does require a real strategy for fighting and winning industrially on the key workplace issues, as well as a strategy for a top-to-bottom (or bottom-to-top) transformation and democratisation of the union. In the unions where they have any influence at all, the SWP offer neither.

Just to finish, it's probably worth saying a word about why we (Workers' Liberty) would bother spending any time going on about this sort of thing; why not just get on with our own rank-and-file work in the unions and let the SWP do their thing? It's because the SWP, as the biggest, most prominent and most influential group on the left will embody for a lot of workers what "the left" is and what it means to be a "revolutionary socialist". It's necessary for those of us who have a very different idea from the SWP about what "the left" should be and what being a "revolutionary socialist" means to explain that. It's not about sniping, in-fighting or arguing for the sake of it - it's about clarifying extremely fundamental differences of approach in terms of how we think the labour movement can rebuild, grow and become a powerful social force again. If the only "left" on offer is that represented by the SWP, then we're going to be waiting a very long time.

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Socialist candidate Jill Mountford to stand against Harriet Harman in Camberwell and Peckham

Submitted by Matthew on 14 January, 2010 - 1:44 Author: Sacha Ismail

In many ways, the coming general election does not seem an inspiring one for socialists and militants. Faced with the choice between a discredited, right-wing, anti-working class Labour government and a revived Tory party, some will be tempted to sit it out. Things are made worse by the fact that there are few left Labour candidates, and that the main “left” coalition outside Labour (the “son of No2EU” effort) looks very thin and shaky politically.

Do not despair, however. There is something positive you can do in this election.

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Immigration: Tories play "race card"

Submitted by Matthew on 14 January, 2010 - 1:02

In a depressing piece of political jockeying, David Cameron has played a race card, with a sweeping pledge to cut immigration to “tens of thousands” (down from around 200,000 a year).

He has said he will cut immigration to the levels of the 1980s.

He could get near that only by trying to ensure hardly any migrants at all are allowed into the the UK.

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Islam4UK and the English Defence League: mobilise against both

Submitted by Matthew on 14 January, 2010 - 12:50 Author: Gerry Bates

After announcing a “March 4 Sharia” in London on October 31 (and then calling off at the last minute), Anjem Choudary’s Islam4UK — a far-right descendant of al-Muhajiroun — recently pulled another bluff by announcing and then cancelling another action, this time in the small Wiltshire town of Wootton Bassett.

The march was banned, and that ban was swiftly followed up by a legal proscription on Islam4UK as an organisation.

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Anti-fascism: linking up the activists

Submitted by Matthew on 14 January, 2010 - 12:31 Author: Jack Yates

Nottinghamshire Stop the BNP group, together with similar organisations, is planning a conference some time in March to create a network of groups, national materials and resources for the upcoming struggles against the BNP and EDL.

We need a working class campaign against racism and fascism. This means campaigning to mobilise the working class, through trade unions and community campaigns, on the basis of their own politics. This means building open, democratic political and organisational structures where they do not exist.

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Anti-fascism in Barking and Dagenham: "we have to offer an alternative"

Submitted by Matthew on 14 January, 2010 - 11:38

Lee Waker, Labour councillor for Dagenham Village Ward and a CWU activist, spoke to Solidarity about fighting the BNP in Barking & Dagenham, where BNP leader Nick Griffin will stand in the General Election.

The responsibility for the growth of the BNP in Barking and Dagenham lies with the Labour government and its policies.

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English Defence League in Stoke, 23 January

Submitted by Matthew on 14 January, 2010 - 11:30 Author: A Stoke anti-fascist

There is a strong Stoke division of the EDL, based around Stoke City supporters, and unofficial Stoke City internet message boards are full of talk about their mobilisation in the city on 23 January.

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