Is the left ready to fight the cuts?

Submitted by Matthew on 23 September, 2010 - 11:14 Author: Ira Berkovic

As the Tory-led offensive against our class gathers pace the left will be tested, but its weaknesses are already being thrown into uncomfortably sharp relief. Here we examine some of the initiatives that revolutionary organisations are pushing.

Right to Work

In principle it’s fine for revolutionary groups to set up campaigns to fight on particular issues in unity with people who agree with some basic class-struggle politics but don’t share a full revolutionary programme. A demonstration at Tory Party Conference, such as RTW is organising on 3 October (12 noon, Lionel St, Birmingham B3), is not a bad stunt to organise.

However the Socialist Workers’ Party’s mania for setting up and operating through such “campaigns” represents a grotesque caricature of the united front method.

Right To Work is the latest in a litany of similar campaigns (Globalise Resistance, Stop the War, Unite Against Fascism, Campaign Against Climate Change, Hands Off My Workmate, Another Education Is Possible, Education Activists Network — the list goes on and on and on...) that all share some characteristics. They are “facades”, signboards with no real structure behind them, fronted up by figures from the trade union bureaucracy and/or the liberal establishment and usually push the crassest lowest-common-denominator politics.

SWP members pretty much sew everything up and prevent the development of anything approximating to a democratic structure.

You’re most likely to encounter Right To Work in your local anti-cuts campaign or Trades Council, where affiliation to Right To Work or support for its latest demo will be proposed by SWPers as the one single thing that your campaign absolutely must do if it wants to have any impact on anything.

Questions about what kind of democratic stake in the running of Right To Work such an affiliation will entitle your campaign to are likely to be met with an icy response.

Right To Work has had a couple of sizeable conferences — fair play, it’s always nice to get lots of people in a room — where SWPers told the rest of us that people in their workplace were “very angry!” and that needed to “build the resistance!” (By... affiliating to Right To Work)

Its moment in the sun (well, sort of) came when a spectacularly ill-judged invasion of ACAS talks between Unite and British Airways bosses massively backfired and saw it denounced by many as arrogant and subtitutionist, with contempt for workers’ own agency. Some polemics were probably a little unfair, but the stunt was pretty dumb.

Beyond this, RTW has no life on the ground. There are no structures for anyone to get involved with.

If a Right To Work affiliation motion comes up in your union branch or Trades Council and you don’t fancy the aggro of opposing it outright then try proposing some amendments to demand a bit of democracy and accountability within the campaign. Good luck!

Coalition of Resistance

This peculiar formation is the baby of Counterfire, a wayward and disinherited rebellious child of the SWP.

But Counterfire are almost politically identical to the SWP — distinguishable only by being slightly savvier about using Facebook and Twitter and stuff, having a slight squirming discomfort about the notion of the Leninist party (get some backbone, guys!) and wanting to prioritise work in one of the SWP’s fronts (Stop the War) rather than others.

Given how much political DNA they share with the organisation from which they recently split, it’s unsurprising that they have set up CoR as “their” version of Right To Work.

CoR has attracted a layer of celebrity support. Tony Benn and Terry Jones are signatories. I say “signatories” rather than “people involved with the organisation” because at the moment, CoR exists only as a written statement.

An “organising conference” is planned for 27 November but there is no information about how this conference will be organised, what kind of mandate it will have and what is intended to come out of it.

Apparently there will be “an opportunity for all to have their voices heard”, so why not go along and raise yours? I suggest saying something like this: “hey guys, instead of sitting in this utterly banal conference overburdened with top-table speakers we’ve all heard a million times before, why don’t we start building broad, open and democratic anti-cuts committees in our local areas?”

Let’s put the Counterfire comrades’ new-found passion for touchy-feely organising methods to the test and see how we get on ...

National Shop Stewards Network

NSSN has its origins in motions passed through conferences of the rail union RMT (supported by AWL members in the union) mandating the union to call conferences on working-class political representation.

The conferences did take place, but the RMT leadership had decided they would be talking-shops rather than bodies empowered to take any practical decisions. Eventually RMT leader Bob Crow declared at one of the conferences that he wanted to go for a shop stewards’ network, rather than a political initiative, and the Shop Stewards’ Network was founded at a conference in July 2007.

In many ways, the model of the NSSN fits the objective situation rather well (and certainly better than RTW or CoR). Coordination between the directly-elected representatives of organised workers could play an important role in catalysing further rank-and-file mobilisation and the building of a counter-pressure to the nullifying influence of the trade union bureaucracy and Labour Party structures (particularly at the level of local government) on anti-cuts struggles.

However, NSSN in its current form leaves a little to be desired. Despite more-or-less open elections to a steering committee, the organisation has been effectively taken over by the Socialist Party, who now run it in only a slightly less front-mongering fashion than the way in which the SWP runs RTW.

The steering committee has not been re-elected.

In some areas, the SSN operates fairly democratically and plays a positive role. In other areas it is simply a badge of convenience for the SP.

The only organised counterweight to the SP within NSSN itself is the syndicalist IWW, understandably looking for a vehicle through which to command more influence than its small numbers would otherwise allow.

But greater involvement by independent socialists, rank-and-file activists and indeed AWL members in NSSN might make sense. It still has a level of profile and a potential reach amongst militants and, if given some real life and democratic structures, could play a valuable role.

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