Workers' Liberty winter school 2009

Submitted by Matthew on 19 November, 2009 - 3:45

Friends, sympathisers, members of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, and many other leftists interested in exploring ways to rearm the labour movement, will be meeting in London on 28-29 November for the AWL’s winter school.

Unlike many other weekend gatherings of the left this month and next, this event will be about serious debate and study. It aims to be a focal point from which thought-through, collectively-understood ideas and strategies — and people inspired by those ideas and strategies — can radiate out into the labour movement.

Lenin once summed up the job of socialists as “study, propaganda, organisation”, and explained: “You cannot be an ideological leader without theoretical work, just as you cannot be one without directing this work to meet the needs of the cause, and without spreading the results of this theory among the workers and helping them to organise”.

And we cannot do any of those things without coming together, exchanging ideas face-to-face, and organising ourselves into a coherent collective.

The twelve years of New Labour rule are probably nearing their end at the same time as the long capitalist expansion since 1991-2 which made it easier for the New Labourites to keep the labour movement politically stifled. A long period of the labour movement rethinking, reorganising, rejuvenating itself lies ahead.

That may happen slowly and gradually, or in rapid spurts interrupted by setbacks. We cannot know. What we can do is prepare — “study, propagandise, organise”.

In the period ahead, the labour movement will also have to come to terms with the legacy of Stalinism. The old USSR collapsed in 1991, shortly before the latest long capitalist expansion began.

The collapse — because it came with a triumph of capitalism — dismayed and confused the left. The dismay and confusion is still with us. This capitalist crisis, shaking up our thoughts, can open the way to go beyond that dismay and confusion, and to get rid of the ideas and practices that seeped into the left over decades of Stalinist domination and are still with us.

Our winter school comes at a pivotal point in the crisis.

Many banks have returned to making profits. Those that have not, like RBS, the Government can nurse. The bosses and the bankers are regaining confidence.

Their next step will be big public service cuts, to offset the huge borrowing the Government has made to bail out banks. As the bankers’ bonuses rise, the crisis will be hitting the working class even harder than it has already done.

On the whole — though there have been important exceptions, some occupations like the one at Vestas — this crisis has at first stunned the labour movement more than it has mobilised it. In that it follows the pattern of previous big capitalist crises.

The revival of profits will start to convince more and more people that the outcome of a crisis like this is not mechanical. It depends on struggle, and struggle depends on ideas and organisation.

The adage, “never waste a crisis”, should guide workers and the left as it is guiding the bosses, Tories and the BNP.

Don’t “waste the crisis”! Join us in London on 28-29 November.

Book and get more details at, or phone 020 7207 3997

The full programme for the event:

Sessions and speakers

How can the left move forward?

Saturday 11.45am

Elaine Jones is vice-chair of Wirral Trades Council.

Mark Serwotka is general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), and had been a long-time socialist and rank-and-file PCS activist before being elected general secretary.

Joe Marino is general secretary of the Bakers' Union, and had been a long-time socialist activist before being elected.

Anti-semitism and the pitfalls of anti-capitalism today

Saturday 1.50pm

Moishe Postone is professor of history at the University of Chicago, best known for his book Time, Labor and Social Domination, a wide-ranging rediscussion of the foundations of Marxist theory.

Do we really need a revolutionary party?

Saturday 1.50pm

Sean Matgamna is a founder-member of the AWL tendency, and edited The Fate of the Russian Revolution: Lost Texts of Critical Marxism.

Occupy! Lessons from Vestas and other battles

Saturday 3.15pm

Mark Smith was one of the workers who occupied and then blockaded the Vestas wind turbine blade factory this summer to stop closure.

Vicki Morris is press officer of Barnet Trades Council, and was one of the AWL members active in supporting the Vestas battle.

How Australian building workers made the environment a working-class cause

Saturday 4.55pm

Verity Burgmann wrote the book Green Bans, Red Unions, telling the story of the New South Wales Builders Labourers Federation in the early 1970s.

Also on Saturday:

• What happened to the anti-capitalist movement? (3.15pm) Roger Geffen and Ian Fillingham, who were active with Reclaim The Streets, discuss with Mark Osborn, AWL member and formerly an organiser for No Sweat.

• Coal and the environment with Paddy Gillett, an activist with Plane Stupid and Climate Camp, and Paul Hampton, a researcher at the Labour Research Department and editor of a forthcoming AWL pamphlet on environmental politics. (3.15pm)

• Indian Marxists Jairus Banaji and Rohini Hensman discuss with AWL member Dion D’Silva on democracy, capitalism, and the left in India. (11.45am)

• London postal worker Pete Firmin and Edward Maltby from the AWL on the postal workers’ battle. (6.50pm)

Is class struggle out of date?

Sunday 11.00am

Jean Lane is Unison convenor for education workers in Tower Hamlets, and an AWL member.

Neil Davenport will be speaking for the Institute of Ideas, a grouping originating from Living Marxism magazine which now organises events jointly with The Times.

When does capitalism change direction?

Sunday 12.50pm

Dick Bryan is professor of political economy at Sydney University, and author (with Michael Rafferty) of Capitalism with Derivatives.

Simon Mohun is professor of political economy at Queen Mary University of London, and author of many articles investigating the US economy with the Marxist concepts of “productive” and “unproductive” labour.

Camila Bassi is a lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, currently researching the political economy of Shanghai, and an AWL activist.

The labour movement in Iraq

Sunday 12.50pm

Ruth Cashman was delegate from No Sweat and Iraq Union Solidarity to the international labour conference in Erbil, Iraq, in March 2009. She is an AWL member and an activist in Unison.

Muayad Ahmed is an activist with the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions of Iraq and the Worker-communist Party of Iraq, recently returned from Iraq.

Can we replace capitalism?

Sunday 12.50pm

Meghnad Desai is the author of Marx's Revenge: The Resurgence of Capitalism and the Death of Statist Socialism.

Mark Sandell is an AWL member who has been active as a student, a postal worker, and a full-time union organiser.

AWL in the general election and “son of No2EU”

Sunday 2.05pm

Jill Mountford is AWL candidate for the Camberwell and Peckham constituency in the general election, and former organiser of the Welfare State Network.

Tony Byrne is a longstanding RMT union activist and an AWL member

Socialists in local government

Poplar and GLC compared

Sunday 3.20pm

Janine Booth is an AWL member, London Transport regional secretary of the RMT, and author of Guilty And Proud Of It, an account of the Poplar battle.

John McDonnell was deputy leader of the Greater London Council under Ken Livingstone. He ran for the Labour Party leadership after Tony Blair resigned.

LGBT liberation today

Sunday 3.20pm

With Maria Exall, LGBT rep on the TUC General Council, Peter Tatchell from Outrage, Alan Bailey from the National Union of Student LGBT campaign, and Tom Unterrainer from AWL.

Dealing with high finance

Sunday 4.25pm

Costas Lapavitsas is a professor of economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and author of Political Economy of Money and Finance.

Martin Thomas coordinated the symposium in Solidarity of Marxists on the economic crisis.

Imperialism today

Sunday 6pm

Leo Panitch, editor of the Socialist Register, an organiser of the Socialist Project group in Toronto, and professor at York University, in discussion with Martin Thomas from AWL.

Also on Sunday:

•The revolutions of 1989 with Sean Matgamna.

Pete Radcliff, AWL member and leading activist in Notts Stop the BNP, on fighting fascism today.

The miners’ strike of 1984–5 with Dave Douglass, who worked as a miner for 29 years, and Jill Mountford from AWL.

AWL member Cathy Nugent discusses with Andy Littlechild, a trade-union activist on Metronet on the London Underground and an anarcho-syndicalist, on anarcho-syndicalism and Marxism.

Reel News on using film to help the struggle.

Why vote Labour?, with Sean Matgamna from AWL

Introductory sessions

Clive Bradley on the ideas of Karl Marx (Sat 11.45am), Daisy Forest on the ideas of Lenin (Sat 1.55pm), Caroline Henry on the ideas of Trotsky (Sun 11.15am), and Peter Thomas (author of The Gramscian Moment) on Gramsci (Sat 6.50pm).

Saturday evening, from 8.30pm at “Dusk till Dawn” (the Archway Tavern), Archway Road, N19 3TD. A night of live hip hop and spoken-word poetry in support of the postal workers’ dispute, featuring: CAPTAIN OF THE RANT (punk-poet), CLAYTON BLIZZARD & BLACK JACOBINS FEATURING THE RUBY KID. PLUS SKRIBBO & LOKI (of THE BEING)

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