AWL conference 2006

Wise Words from Yoda and Dumbledore

Published on: Sat, 13/05/2006 - 22:14

As requested, here is the speech I made to close AWL conference a couple of weekends ago ...

As you know, I and Charlie McDonald are standing as Socialist Unity candidates in Hackney Central ward in next week's Council elections.

I want to tell you about the area, and about some of the issues - not because I think there is anything special about Hackney (although there is!), but because you will recognise these issues from where you live and work.

  • We have a local Academy, Mossbourne. It operates a 60% adminssions quota to restrict the number of local, working-class kids who can get places. Even if your first kid gets in, there is no guarantee that your send will. A local mother has to take her three children to three different schools each morning. Presumably Mossbourne has this policy so that it can import youngsters from elsewhere to raise the tone - and the exam results.
  • The next Academy due to open is Petchey - named after a man who made his millions as a second-hand car dealer and a dodgy timeshare baron. It's like having the Arthur Daley Academy, or the Del-Boy Trotter Academy, open on your doorstep.
  • Over 100 jobs are going in the local NHS due to the funding crisis. And this in a part of London where babies are immunised against TB and hospitals treat cases of rickets.
  • A Council tenant on my estate had a problem with her central heating which flooded part of her house. It took the Council nine years to fix it. Another Council tenant - a young single mum - showed me the fungus growing in her flat that the Council has failed to deal with. Those two people are both voting Socialist Unity.
  • TfL has just announced that it will privatise the Tube's East London Line. ie. It will take one of the most unpopular policies of the last twenty years, and extend it.
  • The Council sells off its assets, with public buildings being replaced by expensive apartment blocks. The other day, Jill rang the entryphone on one of these blocks and asked if she could come in to canvass. "No" (in very posh accent) came the reply: "The reason we have entryphones is to stop the likes of you coming in and wandering around."
  • With the 2012 Olympics approaching, we now have the Central Hackney Area Action Plan, which describes Council estates as an "impediment" to the development of the area. Well, excuse us for living there.
  • The largest estate in the ward, by far, is the Pembury. It has 1,000 homes, but no playground. It used to have one, but the landlord (Peabody) stuck an office on it.

All this is happening under a Labour Council and a Labour government. They hobnob with millionaires while many working-class people live in shitholes. It makes me sick.

I picked up a Labour leaflet the other day. It tells me that I should vote Labour to get more police, and that if I don't vote Labour, I might get cuts and privatisation! Well, that's me convinced (not).

There is one big thing that I've noticed while canvassing. Most people are well pissed off with the way they are treated. But most have very little hope that they can do anything about it. But when we get the chance to talk with people, that can start to change, even by the end of one conversation.

That's what socialists do. We give people hope.

And if we don't give people hope, where do they end up? Like the bloke who Duncan canvassed last week, who wanted to vote BNP.

Charlie and I are the only socialist candidates standing for Hackney Council. Four years ago, the Socialist Alliance stood 13 candidates across the borough - this year, there is only us. Look through the Mayoral manifestos booklet - which includes Respect, the Greens and others, as well as the main parties. The words 'socialism', 'socialist' and 'working class' do not appear once in the whole booklet. Not once.

Funnily enough, when I first encountered the SWP, 20-odd years ago, they used to say that the reason they weren't in the Labour Party was because standing in elections makes you right wing. That certainly seems to have proved true in their case.

It is because we have stood openly as socialist candidates fighting for working-class interests that RMT has given me its official backing in this election. I am the first non-Labour candidate in England that the union has backed since it changed its rules to allow it to do so.

We are telling Hackney people, and showing them, that working-class poeple can win. In our community, we won a battle to stop the Council privatising and demolishing our estate. In Charlie's workplace, he won a fight to stop a mobile phone mast being posted on top of the social security office.

And we are showing that the way to win is through workers' struggle. We have been giving full support to the local government workers' strike in defence of pensions, and on the two days immediately before the election, Charlie will be picketing the social security office in our ward as PCS members strike against DWP job cuts.

Whatever the result on May 4th, I think that Workers' Liberty can be proud of ourselves for what we have done during this election.

We can also be proud of ourselves for many other reasons:

  • Our members, working with unions and the community, stopped a Christian fundamentalist millionaire taking over a school in Doncaster and teaching creationism to kids.
  • As Paul mentioned yesterday, through No Sweat, we have helped workers to win important fights in Indonesia and Haiti.
  • Our comrade, John Moloney, was the only member of the PCS Executive to voted against the pensions sell-out.
  • We have held the line for secular education, for women's rights, for lesbian/gay/bisexual rights while much of the rest of the left crumbles.
  • And we have insisted that for socialists, politics is first and foremost about class.

I want to end with quotes from two of my favourite philosophers - Yoda, and Professor Albus Dumbledore.

Yoda said an awful lot of daft things, particularly in the prequel trilogy. But in his finest hour, he told Luke Skywalker, "You must unlearn what you have learned." While we learn about socialist politics, we also have to unlearn what we have learned from the world around us.

From capitalism:

  • That land and productive wealth belong in private hands, and the rest of us can only sell our labour to its owners.
  • That there will always be rich and poor.
  • That war poverty, famine, inequality, children starving to death - that these things are facts of life.

From the labour movement leadership:

  • That the best we can hope for at work is a bit more money or a slight improvement in working conditions.
  • That the best we can hope for in government is Gordon Brown instead of Tony Blair.

From the mainstream 'left':

  • That anyone who is against Bush deserves our support.
  • That we should capitulate to prejduce instead of challenging it.
  • That building a sect is a substitute for transforming the labour movement.

At the end of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Professor Dumbledore explains why, despite sharing many of Voldemort's powers, Harry is a very different person. He tells him: "It is not our talents that reveal who we truly are - it is our choices."

That's true for us to. You or I might have many skills, a good education, whatever. But that's not what make me who I am. No - What makes me who I am, and you who you are, is the choice we have made to use those skills in the cause of the fight for socialism.

Choosing to be principled Marxists, to be members of the AWL, is not an easy choice, but it's the right one. As Karen said yesterday, when she talked about organising No Sweat in London, it's about not giving up.

The AWL, Labour and the Left

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Solidarity with Iraqi workers

Published on: Sun, 07/05/2006 - 10:20

Motion passed at AWL conference 29-30 April 2006.

1. The situation in Iraq three years after the invasion and overthrow of Saddam is one of chaos and instability within which none of the contending forces (the occupying powers, the Sunni-Baathist insurgency, the Shia and Kurdish parties, the labour movement) is strong enough to impose its will on the others.

This stalemate is reflected in: * the continuing inability of the parties elected in December 2005 to form a government representative of all sections of the Iraqi people; * the inability of the US and its allies to defeat the insurgency

Iraq

Published on: Sun, 07/05/2006 - 10:18

Amendment defeated at AWL conference 29-30 April 2006.

Add at the end of point 6: As a consequence, we adopt as a central demand, prominent in our press, alongside our support for and solidarity with the workers’ movement and our opposition to the ‘resistance’, a generalised opposition to the occupation of Iraq. This may be expressed in a range of slogans such as ‘No to the occupation of Iraq’, ‘End the occupation of Iraq’, ‘For an independent, sovereign Iraq.’

The Muhammad cartoons

Published on: Sun, 07/05/2006 - 10:14

Motions passed at AWL conference 29-30 April 2006.

Religious conservatives are on the march against free speech and secularism. The violent demonstrations that stopped the play by Gurpeet Kaur Bhatti in Birmingham, the Christian drive against Jerry Springer The Opera, and the support of most religious groups for gagging free speech in the Religious Hatred Legislation, are all part of this reactionary religious offensive.

The international Islamist campaign against the cartoons in the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten has reinforced the urgent need to oppose religious reactionaries and the

Muhammad cartoons: submissions which were defeated or fell

Published on: Sun, 07/05/2006 - 10:13

Submissions which were defeated, or fell, at AWL conference 29-30 April 2006, on the Muhammad cartoons.

On Muhammad cartoons - defeated

To include in motion 2:

"It would have been better not to have republished these particular cartoons ourselves".

On Muhammad cartoons - fell

The debate within AWL on the Danish cartoons has been distorted by an understandable desire to define ourselves against the unprincipled British 'left' consensus. By publishing the cartoons however, we did not distingushed ourselves clearly enough from the reactionary arguments and racist prejudice against muslim

Building a Marxist presence in the trade unions

Published on: Sun, 07/05/2006 - 10:13

Motion passed at AWL conference 29-30 April 2006.

"The Communists are distinguished from the other working class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole." Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, "Manifesto of the Communist Party".

Labour Party conference

Published on: Sun, 07/05/2006 - 10:12

Motion passed at AWL conference 29-30 April 2006.

This AGM calls on comrades to look at the possibilities of becoming delegates to this years Labour Party Conference, either through affiliated Unions or local Constituency Labour Parties.

Trade Union Freedom Bill

Published on: Sun, 07/05/2006 - 10:10

Motion passed at AWL conference 29-30 April 2006.

This AGM recognises the opportunities to push forward the case against the anti union laws in the campaign for a Trade Union Freedom Bill. This Bill is currently being promoted by the United Campaign for the Repeal of the Anti union Laws and the Labour Representation Committee. We note that it is also has much mainstream labour movement support being the current Conference policy of both the TUC and the Labour Party. We recognise the danger of a watering down of the current demands in the Bill through the actions of the right of the trade union

Welfare State campaigning

Published on: Sun, 07/05/2006 - 10:09

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

Anti-racism

Published on: Sun, 07/05/2006 - 10:05

Motion passed at AWL conference 29-30 April 2006.

1. The growth in hostility to Britain's Muslim communities after 9/11 and 7/7 has combined with New Labour's failure to meet working-class aspirations for improved living standards, public services and social rights and its vicious legislative and rhetorical assaults on immigrants and asylum-seekers to create fertile ground for the growth of racism and the far right. We have seen a rise in racist attacks on black and Asian people, Muslims, asylum-seekers, migrant workers, Jews, and gypsies In this situation anti-racist propaganda and

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