Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The working class needs its own mass party

The following is a report by Dave Carr of the discussion forum on working class political representation hosted by the Campaign for a new Workers' Party recently as part of Socialism 2008.

The closing rally of Socialism 2008, hosted by the Campaign for a New Workers' Party (CNWP), was on the theme of the fight for a working class political voice. Chairing the rally was Save Huddersfield NHS Kirklees councillor Jackie Grunsell.

The first speaker, chair of the CNWP and Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist, highlighted the damaging legacy of eleven years of New Labour's big business agenda - wars, unemployment, economic insecurity and a massive wealth gap.

Dave attacked the return of sleazy Peter Mandelson as a government business minister. He referred to Mandelson on his appointment as effectively saying: 'I want to start where I left off - with the privatisation of the Post Office'. Dave demanded that the trade unions, who have funded New Labour that in return attacks pay and conditions, end their political affiliation.

Kevin Ovenden, a national leader of Respect, congratulated the Socialism 2008 organisers for their prescience in advertising the event with the subhead 'Marx was right' in advance of the current financial crisis! He spoke about the victims of this capitalist crisis, pointing out the extreme levels of poverty in inner city areas like Tower Hamlets where Respect has elected councillors and the MP George Galloway.

He said that Respect, which emerged from the anti-Iraq war movement, has had a difficult year because of its split with the SWP faction and recognised that Respect is not the 'finished article' in terms of working-class political representation.

Comedian and socialist Mark Steel started by saying that the biggest enemy on the left was cynicism - that the world can't be changed. But, following the election of Barack Obama, everyone believes it can - even reactionaries like George Bush!

Mark went on to criticise what he considered to be the failure of the socialist left - its failure to embrace small campaigning groups and propensity to "squabble".

Unfortunately, Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS civil servants' union was too ill to attend.

Hannah Sell, deputy general secretary of the Socialist Party, said one of the main obstacles to convincing broader layers to subscribe to the idea of building a new party and fighting for socialism is summed up by sympathetic people we meet who say "But can you really change anything?" Of course, the massive events of the last few weeks have radically changed people's political consciousness, namely, the crisis in capitalism and Obama's victory.
Hannah contrasted the government's £500 billion bank bailout with the union pay demands of all public sector workers which amount to only £5 billion - which the government says it cannot afford.

On the question of disagreements on the left, Hannah emphasised that striving for unity is very important but that in the course of this socialists must learn the lessons of previous failures to build new workers' parties to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

On the question of a new workers' party, the left trade union leaders have a vital role to play.
They can begin by calling a conference of trade unionists to discuss the need for workers' political representation.

Hannah concluded by saying: "the wave of capitalist triumphalism of the last 20 years has ended. We're now entering a new period in history where the ideas of Marxism will be embraced by mass movements of the working class."

Videos of this discussion forum are being hosted on the Socialist Party's website and can be viewed here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Building a new workers' party: Trade unionist initiative needed

A number of left trade union leaders have recognised that the Labour Party in councils and in government is not going to stop trying to push through privatisation, cuts and other attacks on workers' pay and conditions. Some of them have drawn the conclusion that a new workers' party is necessary, but they have not yet taken early steps towards building such a party.

John McInally, vice-president of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), argues here - in a personal capacity - the need for the left trade union leaders to organise a conference later this year or early next year to discuss what steps could be taken. John is a member of the Socialist Party.

"The eleven years of Labour have been absolutely fantastic for the super-rich. Having a friendly Labour government has almost been better than a Tory one". If you wanted to sum up the record of the New Labour government then this statement from Philip Beresford, author of The Rich List, needs little elaboration.

In fact there is an arguable case that says New Labour is better for the super-rich than a Tory government. More privatisation has taken place under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown than under Margaret Thatcher and John Major combined.

Inequality is greater now than when New Labour came to power, the wealth of the super-rich has trebled, the multinationals and banks have made profits hand over fist and an unprecedented assault on public services has taken place.

Plus of course there has been the imperialist war in Iraq, which, amongst other things is the costliest and bloodiest privatisation in history.

The "moral compass" Brown claims he is guided by, looks catastrophically askew - there is not just the unforgivable privatisation of education, including the encouragement of creationists to 'educate' our children, but the promotion of the 'me first' unrestrained consumerism of a society falling deeper into crisis.

Corruption and sleaze
New Labour has been a sorry tale of corruption and sleaze. No lie is too big to tell; Brown's assertion that there would be no more 'boom or bust' is one of the worst examples, especially as he was aware that the boom for which he took credit, was based on unsustainable levels of cheap credit and ruthless exploitation of cheap immigrant labour. On the latter point, Brown fuelled racism with his call for 'British jobs for British workers', a slogan of the far-right British National Party.

In pursuing its "war on terror", also a major element in stoking up racism, New Labour has driven through some of the most oppressive legislation ever, that will be ruthlessly used against the labour and trade union movement at some future stage.

The Labour Party was never a socialist party but it was formed by the trade unions and workers saw it as the best vehicle for representing their interests; they saw it as 'theirs'.
Labour governments established the National Health Service and introduced other social advances, albeit in response to pressure as a result of struggle by workers on the industrial and political front. Socialists and Marxists played a crucial role in these struggles, something that has been airbrushed from history in the interests of the ruling class and labour and trade union 'leaders'.

New Labour will not be reclaimed by the working class. Even if the diminishing band of activists who think it can be rescued toiled for decades, they could never achieve their objective, not least because the democratic structures that may at one time have made such an endeavour possible have been completely shattered. There is no credible basis upon which to argue the Labour Party is reclaimable. To do so is a distraction from, and a barrier to, the task of developing an alternative form of political representation. Investing further precious time and energy in pursuing this unobtainable goal is a waste of time and a fetter to building a genuine alternative.

The biggest obstacles to the development of such a political alternative are the leaders of the New Labour-affiliated unions and the Trades Union Congress (TUC), whose behaviour in the face of New Labour has been craven. They argue that we must concentrate on avoiding the re-election of a Tory government, ignoring the fact that New Labour is no longer capable of beating the Tories precisely because it has carried out unpopular 'Tory' policies.

Even during the long eighteen years of the Thatcher/Major regimes, the trade union leaders closest to the Labour 'modernisers' like Neil Kinnock argued we must not take strike action because it would damage the chances of the return of a Labour government.

Disgracefully, they stood to one side during the great miners' strike of 1984/5, collecting money and making fine speeches, but eschewing the type of solidarity industrial action that would have finished off Thatcher. They also tried to disrupt and sabotage the tremendous non-payment battle against the poll tax, arguing that we must 'obey the law' as otherwise no future Labour government could govern with credibility and authority.

The majority of national trade union leaders have accepted the logic of the market and can conceive of no alternative to pro-big business governments. Unfortunately, this is even true of some who were seen as part of the 'awkward squad'

Yet New Labour has given the union leaders virtually nothing in return for their support, for instance Brown has firmly declared there will be no relaxation of the anti-trade union laws. As private sector donors desert Labour and with the party virtually bankrupt financially as well as in every other respect, the unions are expected to foot the bill - currently 92% of funding comes from affiliated unions.

Instead of using this leverage to insist on even the most minimal concessions to help working people, the union leaders incredibly are content to allow the pro-market agenda to continue, hoping desperately that a few scraps might be flung in their direction.

The tremendous industrial potential of the trade union movement has been held in check and concessions left unclaimed by those leaders who argue there is no alternative to Labour.

Action gets results
The recent tanker drivers' strike demonstrated that while the industrial working class has shrunk, its impact and effectiveness can still be enormous. However, in recent times the main arena for struggle has been in the public sector, with left, campaigning leaderships like those in the PCS (Public and Commercial Services union) and RMT (Rail Maritime and Transport union) taking the lead. It is there that workers are learning the fundamental truth that if you do nothing the bosses and government will walk all over you and that campaigning works and action gets results.

The PCS's record under the leadership of general secretary Mark Serwotka, president Janice Godrich, and the Left Unity leadership, with the Socialist Party playing a key role, has demonstrated political and industrial campaigning work based on and underpinned by a willingness to take action when required.

Where action is deliverable, effective and sustainable, it can build workers' confidence and wrest concessions. There is an alternative to bending the knee.

The consistent campaigning record of unions like PCS and RMT throws into sharp relief the failure of the Labour affiliated union leaders who are incapable of even securing the easing of the anti-trade union laws. Even on the question of agency workers and on issues of basic equality, equal pay for example, New Labour has pulled up the drawbridge and told the Labour-affiliated unions: 'you have no alternative, it is us or the Tories'.

There is now a real need to move to begin to build a viable and sustainable alternative to Labour capable of starting the process of offering working people the type of political representation they need and deserve.

As a first step, a conference must be held of all those who support and are committed to building such an alternative. In doing so we cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the last decade where a series of initiatives have failed; the Scottish Socialist Party, the Socialist Labour Party, the Socialist Alliance and Respect being the most obvious examples.

Any new configuration promising political representation to workers cannot simply be announced as an accomplished fact that demands the immediate allegiance of workers, but instead must be patiently built and tested. To be successful, some very basic, minimal, but critical conditions are needed.

Firstly the trade unions have an important role to play. This does not necessarily mean, at this stage, the complete endorsement or affiliation of any trade union.
What is required is the support and endorsement of genuine left socialist leaders and activists in the trade union movement and their engagement in building such a formation. We should also see this process as being predicated on a commitment to stand trade union based candidates in elections.

Secondly, the task of building such an organisation needs to begin with an alliance agreed around a minimum but extensive programme capable of attracting millions of workers to its banner. In the Socialist Party's opinion this should include a socialist clause. However, this, along with the other demands, would be decided by democratic discussion among the forces involved.

There is no contradiction in the expressions 'minimum' and 'extensive'. Minimum, in the sense that some issues almost pick themselves and around which agreement can be secured. But extensive in the sense that such a programme, if fought for and achieved, would mean tremendous steps forward for working people. The programme must address what needs to be done to defend workers' interests but also define and articulate their hopes and aspirations.

Such demands would surely include: opposition to cuts, privatisation, war, fascism, racism, nuclear weapons and destruction of the environment; for a living wage for all, a properly funded welfare state with well-paid and trained staff delivering vital services in communities where they live and work; repeal of the anti-trade union laws; and international workers' solidarity.
Thirdly, if the left is serious about building a genuine and sustainable alternative then we must say upfront and without mincing our words that the lessons of history must be learnt; in creating any such alliance there can be no place whatsoever for the destructive rule or ruin tactics that have characterised the dead ends of recent years.

An undemocratic, top-down approach will not work. The young people who are becoming active in struggle in the 21st century, correctly have a horror of bureaucracy.

Their experience of the betrayals of New Labour and the right-wing trade union leaders, combined with the effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union - which capitalism worldwide falsely equated with genuine socialism - mean that democracy is particularly vital to the new generation.

It is crucial that a new formation be open and welcoming to all those who want to work together against the neo-liberal onslaught on the working class. It must be based on a federal structure where groups and individuals have the right to democratically organise and argue for their position. Differences cannot be airbrushed away but neither can they be the most prominent feature that defines a new configuration.

Where one organisation is initially numerically dominant, we need to find ways to make sure that the views of other significant currents and trends are heard and that consensus is sought on key issues.

Trade union involvement would be vital in providing a real sense of 'discipline in action' of the type that should apply in the best examples of industrial action - concentration on priorities, and debate without the type of sectarian demoralisation that sometimes targets even the best left union leaders rather than employers and the political establishment.

This is especially important in setting out clear and disciplined campaigning work.

Union involvement
Who then should be involved in such an initiative? Given acceptance of the points outlined above then there is surely no reason why any organisation should exclude itself. It would be naïve to suggest that all would be plain sailing. But active trade union involvement would greatly increase the chance of developing an effective organisation that is intent on sharply focusing on the programme that workers see as relevant to their day-to-day lives.

What about those left Labour MPs who have tried to keep the socialist flag flying amidst the corruption of New Labour? They also should be involved in building alternative political representation for workers.

Some of these MPs argue that it is best they remain in the Labour Party for the foreseeable future because they at least provide some limited representation for workers and trade unions in parliament and to lose that platform would be a setback. However, by remaining inside Labour they give a degree of credibility and 'left cover' to a party that is antagonistic to the interests of the working class and is, to put it bluntly, an enemy.

Secondly, it is simply wrong to assume, as some do, that if such MPs stood under the banner of a trade union based organisation in the future then they would automatically lose their seats.
On the contrary some of these MPs - who have built up considerable capital with activists and workers by opposing the New Labour project - could very well, standing on a programme such as that outlined above, not only win their seats but be highly effective tribunes for building the alternative to the rotten political establishment New Labour is now a torch-bearer for.

Building an alternative to New Labour is not, and cannot be, a risk free business. But the greater risk by far, is failing to recognise that the main historical and political task currently in front of socialists is to build a political alternative. Hesitation now in firmly espousing that cause can only be a fetter, or at least an impediment, to building an alternative, no matter how unintentionally.
The debate will continue on these and other matters. But it is clearly now time to organise a conference that, while focusing on the industrial issues facing workers and the unions, is also capable of addressing the key task of beginning the process of developing effective political representation. A key aim should be standing candidates as outlined above.

To avoid this issue would be an abdication of responsibility and would disappoint and disorient the more politically conscious workers in the trade unions and working class. To pose the question of what is required, how to develop the struggle politically as well as industrially, but then dodge the only real answer - building a mass political alternative to represent the interests of our class in the way the parties of the political establishment represent the bosses and the millionaires - is no longer an option.

There should be no extended delay in organising such a conference, but it is important to get it right.

That indicates informal discussion between interested groups, but especially left leaders in unions like PCS, RMT and undoubtedly others, to set out the basis of the conference and hopefully have an aim of holding it at the end of this year or early next year.

Socialists should be clear that such an initiative will incur the wrath of New Labour and the leaders of the affiliated unions (especially when they see their own best activists expressing support for such a development) and even in unions like PCS there will be opposition.
But without political representation we cannot effectively defend the interests of union members, let alone those of workers generally, never mind achieve what we deserve and need.

The case for building alternative political representation for working people is unanswerable and the task set out by history can no longer be avoided.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

¡el socialismo es LA LIBERACION!

Merseyside Campaign for a New Workers’ Party presents…
a film by Ken Loach and Jim Allen (1995)
“Land and Freedom”
followed by discussion and speakers including
SPECIAL GUEST: Ian Hart, starring actor

7.30pm, Thurs 16th Oct
the latest of our ‘City of Culture’ alternative events highlighting working-class culture in Liverpool

For the millions, not the millionaires!
The Campaign for a New Workers’ Party is promoting a working-class alternative to the far right and the three big-business parties. Visit:
Next local meeting: 18th Sep, 7.30pm, Casa, 29 Hope St
T 07910 097 607 (Clara) E

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Liverpool CNWP Alternative Capital of Culture Event

Photographic Exhibition
31st July – 28th August
Liverpool Dockers Strike
FACT Centre
88 Wood Street - Liverpool, L1 4DQ
t: +44 (0) 151 707 4441 -

Dave Sinclair is a photographer from Liverpool who now lives and works in East London. He started taking photos in the late '70's while studying art at Liverpool Poly and travelled around Britain in the '80's. He was the Militant newspaper staff photographer from '85 to '90. He is publishing a book with the Bluecoat Press of about 100 photos from this site called 'Dave Sinclair's Liverpool'
More of his work can be seen on:
"Liverpool is Capital of Culture in 2008 but many people feel bitter that culture has become a product marketed by the CoC Company. The emphasis of the event has been on blockbusters events with limited and often expensive entrance fees. The marketing of our city has been put first rather than its people and their fantastic culture.

Although we support the title of European Capital of Culture for Liverpool, we want to put forward the wonderful working class and grassroots culture our city has. The intiative was launched by the Merseyside Campaign for a New Worker's Party –
a Capital of Culture for the millions, not the millionaires.

Friday, July 25, 2008

National Shop Stewards Network

Debate on political representation

One of the eagerly awaited workshops at the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) conference on 28 June, was a debate about political representation. Giving introductions from the top table were: Dave Nellist, chair of the Campaign for a New Workers Party (CNWP) and Unite member; Unjum Mirza, Left List and a RMT member: and John Rogers, Labour Representation Committee (LRC) and Unison member.

Chris Moore

The way forward for working class political representation is clearly a key issue facing trade union activists today, with New Labour driving through privatisation and attempting to hold pay below inflation in the public sector. In May, Labour suffered its worst local election results since records began, and more recently a 17.6% swing to the Tories in the Labour heartland of Crewe and Nantwich and a humiliation in the Henley-on-Thames byelection.

Dave Nellist spoke of the need for a new independent party of working people saying: “It’s not so much what direction for the Labour Party, but how to build an alternative”. He listed some of New Labour’s crimes, including: “Seven wars, the consolidation and extension of private ownership in health, education, prisons and council services”. They protect the rich, while abolishing the 10p tax rate and they means test those who claim benefits.

To have any chance of reforming the Labour Party, Dave estimated it would need the injection of at least 50-100 activists into each constituency and 30-60,000 overall. But instead of this, the reality is: “A sclerosis within the organisation of the Labour Party and a haemorrhaging of members with 200,000 leaving since 1997. Neil Kinnock expelled socialists in the 1980s and Tony Blair expelled socialism itself. Today we have one party of capitalism divided into three and they all protect and extend the influence of big business”. Blair and Brown have “consolidated and codified Thatcherism”.

Dave warned that the growing political vacuum is not guaranteed to be filled in a progressive direction and pointed to the threat of the BNP. Issues such as immigration are used by right wing parties. As recession bites and public services are contracted, these parties could grow.

For these reasons the CNWP was launched some years ago to begin the process of building a party for working people. But he explained it will be experiences that will significantly change the situation. For instance the Fire Brigades Union left the Labour Party after fire fighters had torn up their party cards during their dispute. He also explained how attempts like the Socialist Labour Party, the Socialist Alliance and George Galloway’s Respect were lessons on how not to build among working people.

Dave said that a call from trade union leaders, such as Mark Serwotka of the civil servants’ PCS union and Bob Crow of the rail workers’ RMT: “To organise a serious conference on building an alternative to Labour, would get a response”. He also explained the importance of popularising the challenges to the Labour Party such as the FBU member who stood in Gloucester and the NHS campaigners in Kidderminster and Huddersfield.

The Left Party in Germany has 57 MPs. Although they have the advantages of a national figure, Oskar Lafontaine, and an election system of proportional representation, a new party could also grow rapidly in Britain. He described left Labour MPs as: “Prisoners of the New Labour machine smuggling notes out”. If left MP John McDonnell called for a new workers’ party “he could fill the Albert Hall with activists”.

Unjum Mirza, from the Left List, which was formed after the recent split in Respect, said: “The crisis of political representation is part of the wider crisis”. He talked of food riots while the price of basic foods shoots up, the housing crisis and the rising cost of oil, saying that ‘who pays for the crisis, is the backdrop to the crisis of political representation’.

He said: “The key goal of fighting for political representation comes from the mood from below”, adding: “The primary task is to generalise the mood to fight back, it’s not for us to pay for the crisis it’s to raise the combativity of our class”. He mentioned the Left Party in Germany to illustrate the potential for political representation. Quoting the 1916 Clyde workers, he said: “We are with you as long as you represent us, if not we act independently”. Political representation is not just the electoral front but is linked to war, housing and other issues.

John Rogers from the Labour Representation Committee, a left grouping within the Labour Party, and Lambeth Unison, said: “The bosses have three parties and the working class have not got one”. Admitting that “workers have almost no voice in the Labour Party”, he said it was not worth starting on the government because he would never finish. He went on: “So what do we do? I don’t think any of us really know”. Later, he said: “Somehow we’ll work out the answer”. But he claimed that: “Our lack of understanding is nothing compared to the confusion of the trade union leaders”. Mentioning the motion at Unison’s conference calling for a review of the political fund, he said it was not about disaffiliation from the Labour Party.

He used the examples of a rally for the RMT cleaners and a speech in Parliament by victimised trade unionist Karen Reissmann to show that the LRC still has a role. He said the handful of socialist MPs in the Labour Party can help to boost morale in an industrial dispute and the LRC can be used to book rooms at Westminster.

Various people then spoke from the floor. Roger Bannister of Unison explained that the union’s rules blocked any call for disaffiliation at Unison conference, with those that campaigned for it being witch hunted. But the resolution that was put forward would lead to a pro and anti Labour Party debate. He said the leadership of Unison knew that “if the members were allowed to debate the issue of disaffiliation, the tide would be against the Labour Party”.

Nancy Taaffe from Unison said the question of political representation has to be resolved and that Unison has to put the interests of members before the interests of the Labour Party. Gary Clarke from the postal workers’ CWU asked how many last chances his general secretary Billy Hayes wanted to give the Labour Party. Workers Power member Jeremy Dewar, a vice chair of the CNWP, said if John Rogers believes the bosses have three parties when workers have none, the obvious answer is to form one. Alec McFadden said: “Without a new workers’ party, the next generation will suffer”.

Tony Mulhearn, a member of PCS and a leader of the Liverpool Council in the 1980s and Terry Pearce from Unite, both asked if John Rogers still believes the Labour Party can be reclaimed. Tony said that by staying in the Labour Party, left MPs only legitimise the role of the right wing. Several delegates asked: What is happening in the Left List; what are its aims; what has happened with Respect; and where is it going? Unfortunately no answers were given and an opportunity was lost to draw further lessons from the shipwrecked Respect project.
NSSN delegates were inspired by the compelling case put for a new workers’ party but were left with more questions than answers from those speakers who as yet do not support this call.

(all trade union members spoke in a personal capacity)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Workers face breadline Britain

Campaign for a New Workers' Party Conference
Sunday 29 June 2008 11:00am - 5:00pm
South Camden Community School, Charrington Street, London NW1
Book tickets now at

We’ve had a New Labour government for eleven years. Eleven years of war, tax increases, pay restraint, cuts and privatisation for most of us, and eleven years of nirvana for the super-rich. The richest 1,000 people in Britain’s wealth has more than quadrupled since New Labour came to power – it has gone up by 15% just since Brown took over as prime minister.

No wonder New Labour’s poll ratings have been plummeting and Brown is so unpopular. For the first time since 1997 the nightmare scenario of a return to a Tory government is a real possibility. Millions of working class people who remember the Thatcher years are rightly horrified by the idea of a Cameron-led government.

The Campaign for a New Workers’ Party doesn’t want a return to a Tory government either. But nor do we want to spend our lives having to choose between two virtually identical parties for the super-rich – like trying to decide whether you would rather suffer from cancer or heart disease.

That is why we are campaigning for the trade unions in Britain to stop funding New Labour, and to begin building a party that actually stands up in working class people’s interests. Since 1997 trade union leaders have handed over more than £100 million of their members’ money to New Labour. New Labour have taken the money and kept on kicking trade unionists in the teeth. Enough is enough!

So far over three thousand people have signed up to support the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party. However, we need to do more. The need for a mass party that stands for the millions not the millionaires is more urgent than ever. A political voice is desperately needed for the millions of public sector workers battling against the government’s pay freeze, for local communities trying to stop their Post Offices or hospitals closing, for anti-war and environmental campaigners.

If you agree, come to the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party conference. The conference will discuss resolutions from local CNWP groups and affiliated organisations on the way forward from here.

From 11:00am - 12:30pm before the opening of the CNWP conference proper, the CNWP is hosting a discussion on the way forward for the left and the fight for a working class political voice.

Speakers confirmed so far include:

  • Bob Crow RMT
  • Dave Nellist Campaign for a New Workers' Party
  • Simeon Andrews Labour Representation Committee
  • Rob Hoverman RESPECT
  • Dave Church Walsall Democratic Labour Party
  • Mike Davies Alliance for Green Socialism

Shattered Illusions

The following letter from a Campaifn for a New Workers' Party supporter in the Public & Commercial Services Union (PCS) was sent to the civil service union magazine, PCS View, which is sent to all PCS members.

Back in 1997 many PCS members welcomed the election of a 'New Labour' government, believing it offered a radical alternative to the Tories. The illusion was quickly shattered, however, when Blair and Brown launched their attacks on public servants' jobs, pensions, pay and working conditions.

Our members no longer harbour any illusions, as we saw in the recent local elections. They are able to see that it is now nothing more than a party of big business.

We are in a situation where the three main political parties are indistinguishable from one another. At the last general election we saw the amazing spectacle of MPs from Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems engaged in a bidding war over how many civil service jobs they could axe.

So, if none of the main parties represent public-sector workers and workers in general, what are our options? Sadly, due to the virtual political vacuum that currently exists in Britain, the British National Party (BNP) has gained a certain level of support among traditional Labour voters on the basis of populist slogans that hide their true fascist and racist agenda.
In my opinion this makes it even more important for the trade union movement to talk about the question of working class representation and the need to link with community groups and socialists to build a new, broad-based party free of big business and capable of representing working people and driving the BNP back into the sewers from which they came.

PCS does a great job of defending our members' interests but I believe in the long term, the issues facing PCS members require political change.

Dave Lunn, Birkenhead

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I told my union: "We need a new workers' party"

THE TRADE union, Unite, recently wrote to its members "to determine your thoughts on how you think the country is being run". According to the covering letter, "the Prime Minister wants to ensure his government listens and delivers on matters that concern Unite members."
Campaign for a New Workers' Party (CNWP) supporter Colin Trousdale returned this response to Unite general secretaries Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley:

May 2008

Dear Derek and Tony,

With regard to your letter dated 28/4/08 with the attached survey (copy included just in case you have not actually seen it). I think the first thing you should ask Gordon Brown is why, eleven years on, the anti-trade union laws have not been repealed, then break the Labour link at the very least until this is done.

My grandfather and father, both good trade union activists and Labour supporters, must be spinning. This is not the party I remember as a child or indeed as a young man. Tony Blair has blood on his hands and no matter how fervently he throws himself into his new-found religion he will not absolve himself.

Then we have the appointment of Gordon Brown as opposed to a democratic election (shades of Jackson's AEEU), in through the back door of Number 10 which he then throws wide open to the hated Thatcher. A bigger insult to working-class people & trade unionists I cannot imagine.

On a local level I have a "Blair Babe" champagne socialist MP, Jack Straw's former secretary, whose only political conviction was to join the Westminster gravy train; who devotes most of her column in the local paper to her and her daughters' trips to Covent Garden opera and a jaunt to La Scala.

This is whilst sanctioning the sale of Rossendale hospital (a bequest to Rossendale people from a local philanthropist) for conversion to "yuppie" flats and upgrading Rawtenstall health centre to a PFI polyclinic adding, and I quote: "There's plenty of room to extend on the fields at the back".
We need a new workers' party, one representative of working-class people by the people for the people. To this end I enclose a petition for a new workers' party. Perhaps you could petition the staff in your office and see what they think and perhaps pass a copy on to Gordon to see if any of his backbenchers might like to sign up to a workers' party.

Since I have been old enough to vote I have voted Labour at every opportunity but would very probably waste my hard-earned vote rather than vote for them in their present guise if there was no socialist alternative in place for the next general election. I await your response with anticipation.

Yours in unity,

C Trousdale.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Socialism “à la” French: A new Party in France

Below is a report by Clara Paillard of a meeting hosted by Merseyside CNWP on the fight for a working class political voice in France which was addressed by Marie-José Douet on 12 May 2008.

On the 12th May, 21 supporters of Merseyside CNWP welcomed Marie-José Douet, French socialist and member of Gauche Révolutionairre, at the Casa. She provided an inspiring insight into the political situation in France, 40 years after the May 68 revolution. Gauche Révolutionairre participates in the recent campaign for a new party in France. The Ligue Communiste Révolutionairre (LCR) has been leading the call but members of local organising committees are from many different groups and left radical tendencies.

Marie-José, also known as ‘Dadou’, has been touring England to give talks about May 68 and meet up with British comrades. On her way around England, she travelled by train and was shocked by the major differences between the state of different stations, depending on local wealth and the privatised rail companies. In France, the railways are still public but under constant attack by French government and capitalists, as are other public services, the hospitals, young people… “Who will defend the workers?” asked Dadou.

As in the UK, the lack of political alternative in France stops the struggles being translated into politics. Workers are not represented politically. “We said it for a long time: we need a New Workers’ Party,” says our French comrade.

Similar struggles are happening on both side of the Channel. Workers’ rights are constantly undermined by the forces of global capitalism. For Dadou, the new party needs to defend workers’ wages and jobs and show that the capitalist system is the global problem. A socialist alternative needs to be provided.

This new party is a tool for struggles; it should bring together different existing organisations and allow them to keep their identity as well as allow youth and new workers to join the party. It is crucial that new members are involved, can express their view and fully participate in the Party.

However, it is not that simple. Our French comrades are organising into local committees. Growth of the committees was cut across by the municipal elections, and numbers participating vary in different cities. The LCR is not homogenous; not everyone agrees on what main alliances should be made: with workers and youth in struggle, with the anti-Globalisation movement, or with the Greens. It seems important for existing groups not to dissolve themselves and keep their political identity whether revolutionary or otherwise.

Dadou said how important it is to grow numerically but also to discuss ideas for a future Party programme. We should not miss the chance to create a new workers’ party and to change society. The developing crisis will provoke big struggles against the system, which can raise the question of revolution. 40 years ago, the biggest strike in France brought 10 million people into the street. Factories were occupied, trains were stopped, ports blocked, managers locked into their offices… It shows that workers can manage themselves without the bosses. Workers of today need to regain their confidence and create new parties that represent them properly.

The French comrade concluded with a quote from a worker involved in 1968: “We belonged to no-one, we belonged to ourselves. We thought that was socialism.” Dadou added, “We need to put that question [of socialism] and confidence back on the agenda.”

Many questions were asked, making a lively discussion and the event ended up around a pint of beer late that night. This talk was part of the City of Culture 08, an alternative programme to the main celebrations, which seeks to highlight the role of the working class in the history of the city of Liverpool. For more info, see blog

Thursday, May 8, 2008

New Labour battered at the polls - working class alternative desperately needed

"Opinions differ as to whether this should be called Labour's worst defeat since 1973 or 1968 or 1066" (Andrew Rawnsley, Observer, 04/05/08)

Last week saw New Labour battered in the local elections and the victory of the Thatcherite Boris Johnson in London’s Mayoral elections. Labour has gone from 11,000 councillors in 1997 to 5,000 today. With the Conservative Party taking 44% of the vote nationally, the nightmare of a Cameron-led Tory government after the next general election is now posed.

Many working class people are rightly horrified at this prospect. But the choice between New Labour or the Tories overseeing public service cuts and attacks on our pay & conditions is little more than being asked to choose between cancer or heart disease – neither is particularly appealing and the end result is the same!

Politicians and commentators have been lining up to pass judgment on the results – many of them blaming the fact that New Labour has no ‘foot soldiers’. Of course they don’t; New Labour has haemorrhaged members over the past decade and many of those who have quit the party in disgust are those who made up the active base of the party. If a party is pursuing neo-liberal, anti-working class policies it seems obvious that they’ll have trouble mobilising working class people to campaign for them!

In London, incredibly, Boris Johnson was able to campaign as a candidate of ‘change’ posing as a ‘fresh face’. He was able to do this without going into any real detail about his policies or politics. In a political vacuum when a clear alternative is not posed, cosmetic differences and ‘personality’ can be pushed to a greater extent and Johnson capitalised on this. However, the woolly comedy character that Johnson put forward in the election is a cover for an out-and-out Thatcherite who wants a strike ban on the London Underground and an extension of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) policy.

Across the country, the London result has been reflected with councils falling to the Tories in former ‘Labour heartlands’ and those parties that have collaborated with New Labour, such as Plaid Cymru in Wales, taking a hit as well.

But in areas where a clear working-class alternative was posed an indication was given of the difference that a nationally organised left-wing challenge could have. In St Michaels, Coventry, Socialist councillor and CNWP national chair Dave Nellist was returned with a 300 vote majority. In Barrow, Michael Stephenson, standing for a campaign against academies, ousted Tory council leader Bill Joughin in the local elections. Fire-fighter Phil Jordan came second in Tuffley ward in Gloucester City. With 594 votes (33.4%), he beat both Labour and the Liberals.

Arrogant Labour politician have bluntly argued that there’s no alternative to them to beat the Tories. But these elections have shown that New Labour are now so hated there’s a real prospect that they can’t beat the Tories. Moreover, they have shown that genuine left campaigning candidates can win or do very well where that choice is given. We can’t settle for the so-called ‘lesser evil’ – death by a thousand cuts or death by the guillotine is still death!

The fight for a new mass party based on working people, the trade unions and community campaigners is now more urgent than ever. If you agree, join the campaign for a new workers’ party today, come to our national conference on 29 June and help in the fight for a political alternative to the bosses’ parties.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Germany, France today - Britain tomorrow

The following article has been written by Terry Pearce, one of the TU officers of the CNWP, on how the process towards forming a new mass workers' party may unfold and the tasks facing those of us who are fighting for such a party.

For a prolonged period we have seen international capitalism in the ascent in the class struggle, especially in the US and UK. Blair and Bush believed that capitalism faced a golden future with deregulated economies and a flexible de-unionised work force. Whilst it is true that the working class has suffered defeats, it is also true that the working class has not been crushed during this period. In the UK we have seen a slump in trade union membership to around 6 million and a number of sections of workers such as the miners driven back to work following the bitter strike of 1984 - 85. We have seen similar set backs for workers around the world, including in the USA. However in spite of these problems the working class remains intact and is beginning to show signs of starting a fight back, at the same time international capitalism is being rocked by a crisis in its banking system and the US is now officially in recession.

There never was a golden future for capitalism. Together with a looming crisis, there is the growth in competition from China and India as well as a potentially revolutionary situation developing in their own Latin American back yard. Added to this the unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have created a totally unstable situation for capitalism on a global scale. We see both the US and UK governments pumping billions of dollars and pounds into their faltering financial institutions and the markets swing around wildly. Whether we are facing a real crisis of the capitalist system is hard to determine at this stage however one thing is certain the hoped for golden future is turning a very dark shade of grey.

The question for us is how do we react to this fast moving situation, how can we work to build militant resistance to the inevitable attacks on workers wages and conditions by the New Labour government as it seeks to solve the problems of capitalism at the expense of the workers. One thing is certain to me - we must build a political alternative to New Labour and the Campaign for a New Workers Party is a good beginning. While a minority on the Left say that workers will never turn their backs on the Labour Party, the reality is the Labour Party has turned its back on workers. This is a process we have seen elsewhere over the last period and we are now seeing signs that workers in a number of countries are breaking from the pro-business ex-social democratic parties.

Recent Regional elections in Germany and France have shown that an increasing number of workers are fed up with the rightward drift of the ‘traditional parties’. In Germany, De Linke has united a number of left wing factions including disillusioned activists from the SPD along with ex-Communist Party members from the old East Germany. They have seats in the German Parliament and recently won up to 14% of the votes in Regional Elections, in several Regions winning seats and holding the balance of power. This has shaken the SPD leadership so much that they are making left noises in an attempt to shore up working class support. Whilst De Linke is far from being a revolutionary party it is stirring up memories in the minds of many SPD members of a more militant past before its leaders totally capitulated to class collaborationist politics. It is not clear at this stage where De Linke will end up politically, however at this moment it is beginning to attract support from an increasing layer of activists disillusioned and angry at the role of the SPD leadership.

In France it can be said that French President Sarkozy and his right wing policies have enjoyed one of the shortest political honeymoons in history, almost as short as the one he enjoyed with his new wife. Not only hit by a wave of strikes he has now suffered a shattering defeat at recent regional elections. This is not just at the hands of the so-called Socialist Party but also from a growing Left vote. The votes for the LCR were quite significant in some areas of the country, and are as much a judgment on the Socialist Party and their rightward political trajectory as they are of Sarkozy. With the virtual collapse of the French Communist Party there is a political void on the Left, and with the move to right of the SP a new political party of the working class must be built in France.

Whilst we cannot of course make precise comparisons in the UK with developments in Germany and France, it is clear that workers are becoming disgruntled with the old worn out ex-social democratic parties that have become in many cases so pro-big business as to appear no different to the Conservatives. In the UK workers have no mass party that represents their interests and at this time there has been no significant left split from the Labour Party, however hundreds of thousands have left the Labour Party in disgust and this situation could change rapidly as tensions grow over the next period between the trade unions and New Labour. Whilst there are always dangers of a move towards the far right at times of capitalist crisis I believe that we will see a revival of militancy amongst organised workers as well as a growth of angry campaigning in local communities as services are slashed and privatised. The CNWP must intervene politically in all of these developments with our arguments for a new workers party that is totally opposed to the pro-business policies of New Labour. The developments in Germany and France could be the music of the future; we must make sure we play our part in building a fighting political socialist alternative to capitalism and the establishment parties in this country.

Terry Pearce

Friday, March 14, 2008

None of the establishment parties call for: Troops out now!

"Labour's slavish support for the bloody invasion and occupation of Iraq is shameful.
It has not been about the 'restoration of democracy' after Saddam - but protection of America's political and economic interests, particularly oil.
We urgently need an independent, political alternative for working people that would be anti-war, socialist and internationalist."
Councillor Dave Nellist
Chair, Campaign for a New Workers' Party.
Labour MP from 1983-1992

We need a new mass party that's:
  • For the millions, not the millionaires
  • Anti-war, anti-cuts, anti-privatisation

Five years ago, millions of ordinary people took to the streets of London in opposition to the threatened invasion of Iraq. Tens of thousands of Labour Party members tore up their party cards in disgust at Blair & Brown’s actions. It's not just the war that repels people; on the question of public services, pay, union rights, pensions, council housing and much more, the Blair-Brown axis has overseen a fundamental change in the nature of the Labour party. Bluntly, it's now a party for big business and the super rich.

The big anti-war demo on February 15 2003 offered a chance to redress the balance in British politics - if the call had been put out to launch an anti-war, anti-privatisation, pro-public services party from the platform, then on that day alone tens, if not hundreds, of thousands would have signed up. Unfortunately, this was a missed opportunity, but the fight for such a party is still going on.

A new mass party that stood for the millions, not the millionaires would be a powerful ally to the anti-war movement and also act as a focal point for struggle against cuts, privatisation and all the other attacks that we face.

It seems simple really: if the bosses have now got three parties, isn't it about time we had one of our own? If you agree, sign up to the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party today.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

How can an alternative to the main parties be developed?

The following article has been written by Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the civil servants union PCS, describing the attacks being made on public-sector workers by the government and calling for left unity in opposition to them.

It’s over ten years since the Tories were thrown out of office. But instead of Labour beginning the long overdue process of reversing the effects of 18 years of Tory rule we have a government in crisis. Attacks on low paid public servants, massive inequality between rich and poor, privatisation, war and sleaze all continue. The replacement of Tony Blair with Gordon Brown seems to have had no effect on policy.

PCS is in the front line of the government’s attacks on the welfare state and public servants. The recent Comprehensive Spending Review announced cuts of £30 billion across Whitehall departmental budgets. This comes on top of a so-called ‘efficiency programme’ that has seen tens of thousands of jobs lost in jobcentres, benefit offices, pension centres, local tax offices and other service delivery points. These cuts are seriously damaging the basic provision of public services.

Recently in Stirling, churches gave out 134 food vouchers people who were entitled to social security payments, but couldn’t get them because there weren’t enough staff working in the DWP. Crisis loans, by definition the most urgent social security payment, should be dealt with urgently. They were taking five weeks because of 40,000 civil service job cuts.

And those job cuts mean the government cannot deliver new programmes for the long term unemployed and lone parents. So contracts are given to charities and private sector companies, who will be paid by results. Profit will be made delivering welfare to the most vulnerable and needy people in our society.

After criticising privatisation and outsourcing in central government as a waste of taxpayers’ money, Labour has now privatised and outsourced more work from central government to the private sector than the previous eighteen years of Tory government. We have seen the disgraceful sight of a handful of former senior civil servants enriching themselves to the tune of £40 million from the privatisation of QinetiQ, while hundreds of jobs are to be cut. And yet Gordon Brown reassures the CBI that there will be still more privatisation.

Meanwhile, we have seen embarrassing failures such as the loss of the personal data of Child Benefit recipients blamed on low grade administrative staff rather than the policies of privatisation, de-skilling and job cuts pursued by management under instruction from the government. To cap it all, public servants have been told to expect sub-inflation pay deals for at least the next three years.

Many PCS members need to take a second job, never have a holiday, and worry at night about which bill to pay. Yet they are expected to take pay cuts while billions are paid in city bonuses, and the average pay of the FTSE top 100 directors has risen in a year from two million to 3 million pounds.

Our experience is replicated across health, education, and local government. People are dying of infections in hospitals because they’re not clean due to privatisation and lack of investment. In Belfast, a school built under a PFI contract lasting 25 years will soon shut because of low pupil numbers. However, because the education authority has signed a contract lasting 25 years, it will continue to pay up to £400,000 per year to a contractor to operate a school that will not actually exist.

Some people argue that these examples are just isolated acts of political expediency designed to keep the Tories from regaining the initiative. But they represent a real commitment to free market ideology. It is not surprising that people are rejecting the notion that New Labour is as good as politics can get.

There are two tasks that arise from this. First, in PCS we have had organise and campaign to defend ourselves industrially from the effects of Labour’s policies. In addition to the two days national strike action last year, disputes are flaring up in different parts of our membership with industrial action plans being presented each week.

But the issues we face are common across the public sector. And it is clear to any activist that we need industrial unity to fight the attacks that union members face. When I speak at rallies of public sector trade unionists many of them – lecturers, health workers, teachers, civil servants, local government workers or fire-fighters from across the range of unions – say to me that if the government attacks us all we should collectively stand up and defend ourselves.

For example, the government now tells public sector workers that they are the cause of inflation and public sector pay must be limited to increases of 2%. The response must be to prepare for united, joint action. In 2005 such a response successfully stopped cuts in public sector workers’ pensions. We need that approach again over pay. The impact of all public sector workers on the picket line on the same day would be huge. If they can do it in France, we can do it in the UK.

But, secondly, we need to do more than mount an effective industrial campaign. We need to consider what can be done in the political arena to challenge the new pro-business, anti-welfare state consensus between all three main parties. Without ending that consensus we may win industrial victories but its clear to many trade unionists that won’t stop employers coming back year on year for more cuts, more privatisations and to drive down pay. To make our advances stick, we need political change.

This has led to a growing debate within the trade unions about political representation. When this debate takes place, the question quickly turns to the existing political choices that we have.

When I meet government ministers and raise the problems trade unionists and public sector workers (particularly civil servants) face, the response is the same. I’ve heard it from two of the most senior figures in the government and from some in the TUC General Council – that no matter how bad it is for workers under this Labour government, the Tories would be worse.

Being asked to accept pay cuts, privatisation, and the running down of the welfare state because otherwise we’ll get a Tory government that will cut pay, privatise and destroy the welfare state is ridiculous. It’s a contradiction that must be confronted. Accepting it hamstrings our opposition to the attacks on us. My experience is that more and more workers reject it.

In the unions there is a need to tackle those that say that loyalty to Labour must be our absolute and overriding priority. That is at the heart of everything we are up against. We must make it clear that acceptance of the Labour leadership’s arrogant belief that they can tell us that, no matter what, every five years we will have to vote Labour because otherwise we’ll get the Tories, invites them to become more right wing, more neo-liberal, to make more and more cuts.

My absolute and overriding priority is defending PCS members who are being kicked from pillar to post, regardless of which party is attacking them. I am in no doubt that the 2005 PCS ballot on setting up a political fund was won, in part, because we would not donate to, or affiliate to any political party – including Labour.
We are using the Political Fund in the PCS Make Your Vote Count campaign. This is truly radical because it treats all parties (except the fascists) the same. It gives everybody equal access and allows local candidates to tell their constituents where they stand – on public services, on pay, on privatisation. We then publish the answers, let them speak for themselves and let our members decide where their vote should go. The more we do this, the more pressure it will place on the parties and candidates. In the run up to the council, GLA and mayoral elections in May, we have written to other non-affiliated public sector unions asking them to join us in this. Five have already agreed to do so.

Our Make Your Vote Count campaign is putting a degree of pressure on politicians. But the ‘first past the post’ electoral system works to marginalise those who stand out against the prevailing political consensus. We should be arguing more vocally for proportional representation. A few years ago the Scottish Socialist Party gave us proof that with a fairer electoral system people will vote for radical policies. 6 SSP MSPs were elected in the Scottish Parliament, as well as 5 Greens - meaning 10% of the parliament in Scotland was made up of people who were to the left. If it can happen in Scotland then it can elsewhere. PR would break the stranglehold of the three main parties on political life and give a voice to the millions who want something better.

Even under the existing electoral system we have seen the election of George Galloway as an MP, of Respect councillors in Preston, Derbyshire and in East London, and Socialist and left-wing independent candidates in Coventry, Lambeth and elsewhere. That has given people hope and inspiration.

But these advances are limited in scope. We must recognise that these organisations are not strong enough to challenge the prevailing political consensus.

We have to confront the split nature of the left. On 17 November last year, I found myself speaking to three competing left events in London - the Labour Representation Committee, the Socialist Party and the Respect conference. At all of them I argued that to break the dominance of the pro-business, anti-welfare state consensus we must have unity, both industrially and politically.

Crucially, we need the trade unions to be involved to give us a bedrock on which to build. Already we see the FBU and the RMT, no longer affiliated to Labour, looking around to see how they can take forward issues politically, possibly even standing and supporting candidates. In the North West there is the fantastic prospect of 15 firefighters standing in the local elections.

If we want to make progress, we must accept that the left in the Labour Party have an important role. Some people say that because their position in the Labour Party has been so weakened that John McDonnell could not get on the ballot paper for the leadership contest, they can be dismissed or simply told to leave the party. I believe that is wrong. We must find ways to work together.

For those outside the Labour Party, this means confronting the narrow mindedness which fails to recognise that candidates such as John McDonnell, consistent opponents of the policies of privatisation and cuts, must be supported. As Chair of the PCS Parliamentary Group he has been a staunch supporter of our campaigns. It would be inconceivable for us to turn our backs on him or his supporters.

Similarly, those on the Labour left must deal with the situation whereby they are expected to vote for every Labour candidate regardless of their politics or face expulsion. For example, we see Bob Wareing, a principled Liverpool MP who stood against the war being prepared to stand as an independent after having Steven Twigg, of all people, imposed as New Labour candidate in a working class Merseyside constituency. Every socialist must surely know who to vote for in that contest.

Our loyalty must be to our class, not to our party card.
Now is the time to take the debate in the trade union movement a step forward. We must reject the idea of blind support for New Labour regardless of the consequences for workers and the general public. We must organise industrial resistance to job losses, pay cuts, and privatisation which unites workers in different unions. And we must ask how we can seriously address the question of how we can develop a credible alternative to the political consensus offered by the main parties. What unites us is far greater than what divides us. The task for those who share this analysis is to make it a reality.