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 I think the first thing you should ask Gordon Brown is why, eleven years on, the anti-trade union laws have not been repealed, then break the Labour link at the very least until this is done.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.