Friday, November 16, 2012

News & action No 10

The views expressed in this email and blog are those of the individuals whose name is attached to the posting. They do not represent a collective position of the WLG or the Labour Party
Dear Comrades
This week’s blog – number 10 - follows on from a collective sigh of relief that we do not have to cope with President Romney, but that we still face the cold reality of fighting international capital’s  ‘austerity’ onslaught. Below are some pieces about how socialists who stood locally in the US fared and also, how they now read their situation and the dangerous fudge that is likely to emerge from the ‘fiscal cliff’ debate.
The Labour Representation Committee, to which Welsh Labour Grassroots is affiliated, held its annual conference on Saturday 10 November and we provide a report below. The practical realities of resisting austerity and taking a socialist alternative forward were key issues at this conference and overlap with those raised at our WLG conference two weeks earlier. Our discussion piece last week – which has become a bit of a hit on our blog – has taken the dialogue forward and in this week’s we explore the extent to which diverse forms of resistance can be brought together.
Don’t forget our regular WLG email and blog is available accessible on the web here.
Forthcoming events
Tomorrow, Saturday, 17th November, there will be emergency demonstrations around the UK in solidarity with the people of Gaza, including at these locations in Wales:
·        Cardiff – 2.00 pm, Aneurin Bevan Statue, Queen Street
·        Swansea – 2.00 pm, Castle Square
·        Wrexham - 12.30 pm, Hope Street
Also tomorrow, in London, the Socialist Educational Association and other progressive educational campaign groups are holding a conference called ‘Picking up the Pieces after Gove’, 9.45 am – 4.00pm at Camden Centre, Camden Town Hall, Judd Street, London WC1H 9JE.
Cardiff Trades Council is organising a meeting as a follow up to the TUC demonstration on how to come together to fight the politics and policies of austerity. This takes place at 6.30 pm on Monday 19 November at the Holiday Inn, Castle St Cardiff. Here is the Facebook link with the details and facility to indicate that you are coming.
On Tuesday 20th November, UNA Cardiff & District branch will be holding a meeting on the theme, ‘Limits to Growth, a Global Problem?’ with Phil Kingston (justice and peace campaigner) and Pippa Bartolotti (Green Party). 7.00pm at the Temple of Peace, King Edward VII Avenue, Cathays Park, Cardiff. Free entry – all welcome. The next WLG meeting will take place on Saturday 1st December at Swansea Civic Centre (11.00am-1.00 pm) with Mark Seddon as guest speaker.
Left WeekLen Arthur
Well I started this bit with the US Presidential elections but had to cover the 14 November ETUC day of action. We have also, in the last couple of days, seen the latest murderous Israeli onslaught against the people of Gaza. And we’ve had the police commissioner elections – results of which are still coming in – and the Cardiff South & Penarth by-election, where Labour has retained the seat. We will comment on these developments in next week’s bulletin and blog.
The US Presidential elections have to be part of a look at last week. Coverage has been huge but via ZCommunications you may be interested in these two pieces by US socialists on how they read their situation at the start of Obama’s second term. First, Shamus Cooke explores the ‘fiscal cliff’ debate which will present a crunch situation for Obama and the Democrats in challenging the neo-liberal onslaught on the US working class. Second, is by Jack Rasmus who looks at the extent of the working class vote for Obama, indicating that, despite all the money thrown at the election by the right, workers have the power and ability to think and act differently. Karl Rove - sometime advisor to the last Bush and now a political consultant to Fox and the Republicans - could not accept the reality of the results trend toward Obama and went into meltdown, delightfully caught by the Simpsons cartoon and TV commentator Jon Stewart. Closer to home, Michael Roberts provides a Marxist look at just how deep is the US economic crisis. Finally - in German, but click the translation button if you wish - the European Left report on the sizeable votes for socialists that stood at the local US elections, indicating that some seismic shifts of politics are possibly emerging from the current crisis.
Some other bits of news you may not have picked up from the usual sources as they perhaps are not ‘new’ but certainly have not gone away. From my CND background I’m familiar with the white poppy as the peace movement’s alternative to the red and a number of people who saw my Facebook posting expressed an interest so here is the background information again. Regional pay proposals emanating from the Tories are a threat to living standards and the economy - a point made well by a recent press briefing from Unison.
The New Economics Foundation returns to the issue of ‘peak oil’ but with a different analysis, indicating how it can put a glass ceiling on economic recovery. Left Futures blog updates the awful plight of the people of Ireland under the hammer of austerity, showing that, as people like Michael Roberts have argued, the real aim is to shift wealth from workers to profits. The Bank of England appears to have thrown in the towel according to Duncan Weldon on the TUC’s Touchstone blog. And finally, Michael himself has just updated his engagement with the Marxist debate about the economy which, as ever, is well worth a read.
As I write, not only have we had the news about the fixing of gas prices, but  the financial pages of the Guardian over recent weeks  have provided ever more evidence of just how bankrupt is the capitalist system under which we live. To take the headlines from just one day (2 November): ‘Comet plunged into chaos as suppliers commandeer stock’; ‘Sharp fears for future amid predictions of $5.6bn [full year loss] slump’; ‘Thinktank says global collapse in demand will cut UK growth’; MP [Tory chair of Treasury select committee] criticises Bank’s [of England] ‘defective governance’ ; ‘Lloyds adds £1bn to costs of PPI payback’: says it all really. Yes, it seems, we do need to fight capitalism!
Left roundup: Labour Representation Committee 2012 conference
Here is LRC conference report that I have just lifted from their latest email – see the innovative TV section with excellent debates:
Over 200 LRC members and delegates from affiliated organisations attended the annual conference on Saturday 10 November at Conway Hall in London. In the morning session, conference passed the National Committee statement moved by John McDonnell MP, which set out 14 action points for the incoming National Committee to take forward. This was followed by an impromptu speech from Tony Benn (watch John and Tony’s speeches here).
LRC Conference TV:

Labour Briefing
Conference voted to endorse the decision of the outgoing National Committee to adopt Labour Briefing, after its readers voted to transfer the magazine to the LRC. Read more here: . The December issue of Labour Briefing will be out shortly, with campaign news on the NHS, abortion rights, adult social care, tackling racism in football, the prospects for a general strike, industrial action campaigns, full reports from LRC and Welsh Labour Grassroots AGMs, and reports from the US, Nicargua and Europe – and much more. Take out a Labour Briefing subscription today to receive the December issue.
And closer to home here is Darren’s report, taken from his Facebook posting:
Really good LRC conference in London yesterday. There was a particularly interesting panel discussion involving councillors from Broxtowe (Notts), Preston, Hull and Islington, who spoke about their different approaches to the cuts. The Broxtowe and Hull councillors had taken a straightforward 'no cuts' decision and had voted against the whip in doing so; those from Islington and Preston were trying to minimise the impact of the cuts on the most vital services but had made cuts in some areas, including (in Islington) redundancies. Despite the differing approaches, all impressed with their sincerity and commitment. The conference was also attended by George Barratt, a Barking & Dagenham councillor who has been expelled from the party after breaking the whip over cuts and is now an independent, while a message was read out from Kingsley Abrams, a Lambeth councillor who was suspended after he too voted against cuts but has now reluctantly decided to accept the whip after feeling isolated and marginalised for several months.

There are hugely important issues here about principles, strategy and tactics that we need to discuss much more thoroughly as a left. It’s been suggested that WLG hold a day school on local government issues, building on the panel discussion we had at our AGM recently; personally, I think we should try to do that early int he New Year, and invite a couple of the councillors who spoke yesterday along and talk about their experiences.

A slightly more critical review of the conference is from Jon Lansman

Labour Party

The UK Labour Party website is here and by the time you read this the election results will be out.
The Welsh Labour website is here.
Perhaps some insight into where Ed Miliband is going is this piece by Maurice Glasman posted on Labour List – so not much of a challenge to capitalism there, then!
All the best
Darren Williams WLG Secretary
Len Arthur WLG Assistant Secretary

Discussion - Transformative power: rethinking political organisation? - Len Arthur

Transformative power: rethinking political organisation?Len Arthur

Russell Elliott, who organised the Compass Wales meeting, responded to our last discussion paper by Darren via our WLG Facebook site, and drew our attention to a recent paper by Hilary Wainwright published in Socialist Register. Hilary uses the term ‘transformative’ to describe a process of challenging power in a capitalist society. She argues that achieving this will require a rethinking of what a political organisation would look like in the context of a ‘plurality of sources of transformative power’, by which she means trade unions and the range of social movement organisations. Her paper is of great significance to us as socialists, relating to directly to the current crisis of capitalism, the neo-liberal politics of austerity and the emergence of a new politics like Syriza in Greece. Moreover, on a personal note, I have also been writing about the same theme for the last 10 years and her paper provides an opportunity to explore conceptual and practical synergies.
Recently, our third and fourth discussion pieces shared some rather abstract thoughts about challenging the hegemony and power of capitalism, developing Gramsci’s notion of a war of position and a war of manoeuvre.  In some earlier papers these ideas have been explored more extensively by me, arguing for some new thinking about socialist parties through ZCommunication: beyond Pilger and Monbiot and deviant mainstreaming. Essentially, I have been arguing a key point: that to mount an effective challenge to capitalism, it is unhelpful to continue with a dichotomy of resistance between social movements more interested in alternative space and movements of mobilisation that challenge power directly through collective and generalised struggle. The dichotomy leads to a divided movement where the different forms of resistance are seen as alternatives, and worse, one is privileged over the other. Cooperatives, for example, are seen as ‘islands in a sea of capitalism’ just ripe for the picking, and trade unions are seen too narrowly focussed on the interests of members and collective agreements, as opposed to fundamental social change.Historically, including in the later works of Marx and Engels and in the decisions of the first four conferences of the Communist International, this dichotomy hardly features, the differences are recognised, but are seen as part of the same struggle. That provides a useful starting point.
First, some terms. Hilary Wainwright uses the term ‘transformative’ to describe effectively challenging the power of capital and I would prefer ‘transgressive contention’ but for this piece I’ll go along with Hilary. Second, I would prefer to use the term ‘alternative space’ to describe social movements like cooperatives, whereas Hilary uses ‘prefigurative movements’; again, I’ll go along with this. We would both argue that we should be not be exclusively focussed on taking state power sometime in the future as the only way to be transformative; that it is possible to, ‘build the future in the present’  through prefigurative organisations.
Hilary Wainwright has this key sentence in her paper:
‘In effect, the problem with creating prefigurative change in the present with a dynamic toward future change is as much about ourselves creating new forms of self organisation in the present as about reforms through the state.’
It is important to explore this a little further. In both organisations of mobilisation, like trade unions, and prefigurative organisation such as cooperatives, there is a problem of the direction or trajectory of change. Trade unions can lead to incorporation into capitalism, as well as mount a transformative challenge such as a general strike. Cooperatives can be seen as having an incorporated boundary with capitalism or Trojan horses for privatisation, but in aggregate they can be seen as a prefigurative challenge to capitalism both ideologically and in terms of ‘crowding out’. How, then, is it possible to influence the direction of the trajectory of these organisations? Hilary talks about ‘new forms of self organisation’ but I would argue that it is possible to be more specific.
Both trade unions and prefigurative organisations should be seen as ‘terrains of struggle’. The dynamic and trajectory of the organisation is influenced by the action of the members and it is here that the politics of transformation need to be clear: it is for socialists to argue, frame and seek to lead the strategic debate among the members. In trade unions we are familiar with rank and file or broad left organisations, so in prefigurative organisations similar progressive organisations should be formed. Moreover, it is possible to go further and suggest the form of the political process that could take place to try to ensure that the trajectory is toward transformation.
Transitional demands and actions are the key to this process. They have a long history which is outlined in my ‘deviant mainstreaming’ paper mentioned above, but essentially they are intended to form a bridge between where the struggle is now, in terms of action and consciousness, and where we would like to be in terms of transformation. To achieve this, the debate needs to be framed by asking the question as to what can be done to transform capitalism? So, for example, demanding that we do not pay for the bankers’ crisis legitimates both the struggle against austerity politics and alternative answers, involving the control and redistribution of wealth to the working class. By establishing cooperative control – such as at Tower colliery – the management is elected and the full product or revenue of the organisation is under the control of the workers, demonstrating that transformation can work. Through recycling and using renewable energy under cooperative control, we can provide a similar demonstration of what is possible, as well as having a direct effect on climate change.
Now, of course, this does not happen spontaneously and we are back to the discussion about the type of party that is required, that can facilitate socialist leadership within the ‘terrains’ of struggle. Hilary Wainwright talks about networks and new forms of communication, but she also points to Syriza in Greece and in great depth explains how they are in fact providing leadership both in terms of representative politics and work with prefigurative organisations. That is where I agree entirely. I talk about Syriza’s earlier work in my papers. At the moment, it seems that Syriza is not only showing us how to fight back within a traditional context but also on the ground, in terms of collective mobilisation and prefigurative organisations. They are very brave and it may come unstuck, but at the moment they offer us the best example of a successful socialist organisation seeking transformative change whilst at the same time being rigorously internationalist in argument and practice. Can we do this in the UK?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

News & action No 9

The views expressed in this email and blog are those of the individuals whose name is attached to the posting. They do not represent a collective position of the WLG or the Labour Party
Dear Comrades
This week’s email and blog follows on from our Welsh Labour Grassroots AGM which was held last Saturday 27 October. A report of that meeting has already been circulated and can be accessed on our blog. At the end of the report are the resolutions that were agreed, together with an updated statement of principles and priorities for WLG.
On 25th October, Compass held a meeting in Cardiff that was primarily aimed at starting a left of centre debate about an alternative plan B for Wales. Compass has also produced a report of their meeting which is available here. This week’s discussion piece was stimulated by thoughts emanating from both events, which as usual is at the end of this email and has been posted to our blog.
Forthcoming events
Labour Representation Committee annual conference in London this Saturday, 10th November – all the details and online registration here.
On Saturday, 17th November, the Socialist Educational Association and other progressive educational campaign groups are holding a conference in London called ‘Picking up the Pieces after Gove’, 9.45 am – 4.00pm at Camden Centre, Camden Town Hall, Judd Street, London WC1H 9JE.

Cardiff Trades Council is organising a meeting as a follow up to the TUC demonstration on how to come together to fight the politics and policies of austerity. This takes place at 6.30 pm on Monday 19 November at the Holiday Inn, Castle St Cardiff. Here is the Facebook link with the details and facility to indicate that you are coming.
The next WLG meeting will take place on Saturday 1st December at Swansea Civic Centre (11.00am-1.00 pm) with Mark Seddon as guest speaker.
Left WeekLen Arthur
Silence has been a recurrent theme over the last week or so. Silence about how cyclone Sandy bought devastation to the Caribbean, especially Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica (the latter report coming from the Hindi Times!) The other silence has been from the left about the Tories defeat in the Commons over Europe.
In the last bulletin, I suggested that the Parliamentary Labour Party should move a vote of confidence in the government and thought it might bring forward the accusation of being utopian. Lo and behold, the PLP has subsequently decided to organise a Commons defeat over payments to the EU. Not so utopian, but what dangerous issues. Tactically planting your tanks on the opposition’s lawn may make for good parliamentary fun, but lining them up with right-wing Tories and jingoists on two key issues: public spending cuts and the EU, should send political shivers down the spine of every socialist.
At first sight it may seem wonderful to see the Tories defeated – hence, presumably, the silence from some of the left (however, not all) – but attacking on these two issues undermines what we are fighting against daily: cuts and nationalism. Where we need to be is not lined up with the Tory right, but with workers who are fighting back across Europe; we should be preparing common ground by fighting ourselves; organising what we can for the ETUC day of action on 14 November – see also the PCS statement; and getting as many comrades as possible along to Cardiff TUC meeting on the 19th.
What should we be supporting? Well the European Left position is a good start and the Marxists economist Michael Roberts again repeated this week a strong European socialist case. So – yes please, PLP, move a vote of no confidence in the Tories that we can all mobilise around: one that directly attacks the Tories’ ‘scorched earth’ polices on everything the working class has fought for and holds dear.
Left roundup
Labour Representation Committee (LRC) hold their (our) annual conference in London this Saturday, 10th November, and the link provides details of registration and motions. The LRC have also produced an analysis of left motions that were passed at the Labour Party conference. It is interesting how we have to dig around behind all grandstanding of the speeches to find out what happened at the real business of the conference.
Here is something called the Welfare News Service which brings together some frightening information about the numbers of families and what areas will be hit by the next stage of benefits cuts in April 2013. We need to dig into this information and identify what is going to happen in Wales and in our local areas, so we can start to mobilise those affected and who wish to fight. A good example is the ‘We are the poor’ meeting in Cardiff that was held on 2 November.
Internationally, the miners’ strikes in South Africa are reaching a critical stage – one of the miners’ leaders spoke in Cardiff last night and this Facebook page for the event also gives details of how to give financial support. In Europe, the rise of the fascists in Greece is a concern for us all as our own poor political judgement could allow this to happen: a fightback is possible. Links, the international journal of socialist renewal, can be followed through their website or through Facebook and has a sister called the Green Left Weekly. Their political approach is similar to that of Red Pepper and it is stimulating to read articles where just reading the ‘position’ statement in the last paragraph is not sufficient – if you know what I mean!
Finally, although it is too late to attend, Llafur, which used to be the Welsh Labour History Society, had its AGM a few weeks ago, but the speaker list is useful as it indicates some of the more recent Welsh labour history research.
Labour Party
The UK Labour Party website is here.
The Welsh Labour website is here. Stephen Doughty’s campaign in Cardiff South & Penarth is looking for support and the Police Commissioner elections draw near. Additional leverage for economic growth in Wales was Jane Hutt’s verdict on the in principle agreement for Wales to receive capital borrowing powers.
All the best
Darren Williams WLG Secretary
Len Arthur WLG Assistant Secretary

Discussion: The limits of (Welsh) Labourism - Darren Williams

Discussion: The limits of (Welsh) Labourism – Darren Williams
Mark Drakeford AM addressed the recent Welsh Labour Grassroots (WLG) conference on the theme of ‘Austerity and Public Services’. Two days earlier, he’d covered similar ground in a Compass Cymru meeting that sought to identify a ‘Plan B for Wales’. On both occasions, Mark spoke as eloquently as ever; he demonstrated the same concern for the vulnerable, the same passionate commitment to social justice, that we’ve come to expect from him. And at the WLG meeting, in particular, he set out some stimulating ideas about the vision for public services that the left should seek to develop.
Yet several of us who heard him were struck by the downbeat tone that Mark adopted when he spoke about the current situation, suggesting that austerity was a fact of life, at least for the next few years, and that a degree of mitigation was all we could reasonably expect from elected Labour politicians. Those who attended our 2010 conference, only six months after the coalition had taken office, might recall Mark taking a rather more defiant tone on that occasion, as he comprehensively demolished the ‘rationale’ behind the cuts and demanded an alternative. I know I’m not alone in wishing that Mark’s continuing outrage at the Con-Dems’ savagery were still matched by the determination to take them on that he demonstrated two years ago.
Now, it is only with great reluctance that I dissent publicly from Mark’s assessment of the prospects for a practicable alternative to austerity. And I say that not just in deference to his formidable intellect but because of the great debt that we owe Mark. He, more than anyone, deserves credit for the preservation, in Wales, of a public service model consistent with the vision of Beveridge and Bevan; for our exemption from the Washington Consensus (privatisation, deregulation, markets and ‘choice’); and for the revival of a commitment to equality of outcome. But all Welsh Labour’s positive achievements are now jeopardised by the Tories’ determination to impose punitive cuts on those least able to bear them. Socialists cannot simply allow this to happen, offering only modest ameliorative measures.
To call for a more determined response than that offered by Mark is not to suggest any lack of political commitment or intellectual vigour on his part, or that of his Assembly Labour comrades. It is to recognise that even the best of our elected representatives are constrained by a governmental apparatus designed to inhibit radical change. Having accepted the responsibilities of office, even the most zealous reformers can find their horizons limited to what may be possible under current arrangements. Welsh Labour’s record shows how much good can nevertheless be done by a government that is committed to the interests of working people and the poor. But current circumstances demonstrate the limits of its modus operandi.
First of all, there are the very real constraints imposed by the constitutional settlement – which lend some weight to Mark’s short-term pessimism. The Welsh Government just doesn’t have the means at its disposal to compensate for cuts imposed by Westminster. Notwithstanding the recent vague commitment in principle to give Wales borrowing powers for infrastructure projects, it can currently neither borrow money nor raise taxes and it has no means to build up financial reserves in good times that could be deployed when money is short. There is little scope for intervention in the Welsh economy, given that most of the policy levers remain with Westminster. Mark Drakeford has certainly been energetic in pursuing all the possibilities that may exist to generate funds – whether it be a Welsh version of the Quebec Solidarity Fund, or the use of social impact bonds.  But such innovations are unlikely to make a significant impact in the short-to-medium term. In the long run, Welsh Labour should at least take a less equivocal stance in support of tax-raising, as well as borrowing, powers – the Assembly could do with whatever enhanced financial autonomy may be on offer. For now, though, its options – as Mark recognises – are seriously limited. The question is, whether Welsh Labour can offer effective political opposition to the Con-Dem onslaught, even it lacks the financial resources to nullify the impact of the cuts in Wales.
Mark’s candid, if grim, prognosis that we’re stuck with austerity for the time being differs from the brave face adopted by most Welsh Labour AMs, who tend to want to emphasise what they can, not what they cannot, do. This reflects more than just an understandable reluctance to acknowledge weakness; it is also a matter of the credibility of the devolution project itself. Each step forward (1997, 1999, 2006, 2011) has been presented as a historic achievement, opening up new vistas of possibility; to admit that devolution has not yet conferred the means to neutralise a Westminster cuts programme might (for some people) call into question the value of the whole enterprise. So, Welsh ministers tend, as the old song goes, to accentuate the positive. The problem with this is that it risks raising expectations that cannot be fulfilled. It would surely be better to admit that the Welsh Government’s ability to defend the people of Wales from austerity is strictly limited and that our best hope of minimising the harm represented by the Con-Dem cuts is through mass pressure on the UK government for a change of course. But this leads on to another, and more fundamental, set of problems with Welsh Labour’s politics.
Welsh Labour is limited, I would argue, by a narrow conception of political action and leadership, focused exclusively on the formal channels of electoral and parliamentary politics. To this extent, it follows the liberal schema, which sees the ultimate prize in politics as the attainment of governmental office: winning an election confers the right to carry out the party’s manifesto commitments and thereby deliver the goods for ‘our’ people. But office is not the same thing as power –as some of the more radical past Labour ministers, like Tony Benn, have learnt through bitter experience. The power of the dominant class in advanced capitalist countries like Britain is exercised through numerous spheres of influence (e.g. the financial markets, the media, the senior civil service), which together constrain the ability of governments to bring about meaningful, lasting change. To recognise this is to conclude that, if we are to move society in a socialist direction, we must be prepared to challenge capitalist power on several fronts, employing a variety of tactics (this is what the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, called the ‘war of position’ – as opposed to the more direct ‘war of manoeuvre’, typified by the Bolshevik Revolution).
Thus, industrial action, mass protest and the development of new forms of grassroots democracy have an important part to play, alongside participation in the structures of formal politics. And when socialists win elected office, they should take the opportunity not just to implement progressive policies but to transform the structures of government themselves, opening them up to popular involvement (Len talked about this in last week’s bulletin/blog). The best example of this in Britain was provided by Ken Livingstone’s GLC in the 1980s: ordinary Londoners and community organisations were given an unprecedented opportunity to help formulate and deliver the council’s policies – an experiment deemed so dangerous that it hastened the demise of the GLC at the hands of the Thatcher government. The GLC was, however, very much the exception to the normal practice of Labour administrations. As Ralph Miliband (the late father of Ed and David) argued in his classic book, Parliamentary Socialism:
‘Of political parties claiming socialism to be their aim, the Labour Party has always been one of the most dogmatic – not about socialism but about the parliamentary system. Empirical and flexible about all else, its leaders have always … rejected any kind of action (such as industrial action for political purposes) which fell, or which appeared to them to fall, outside the framework and conceptions of the parliamentary system.’
This is adhered to even more rigidly today, albeit without even a formal commitment to socialism (beyond passing reference in the revised clause 4). And Welsh Labour in the Assembly has, for the most part, proven no exception to this general rule (although it at least provided some practical solidarity when its own staff were striking against UK government policies – shelving Assembly business that would have required crossing picket-lines). The limits of conventional, ‘top-down’ governance may not have appeared too problematic when the Assembly was receiving sufficient funding to facilitate improvements in the scope, quality and accessibility of Welsh public services. But the savage budget cuts imposed by the Con-Dems have exposed the Welsh Government’s weak position, as a subordinate administration, lacking any financial independence and dependent on the grudging support of the UK government. 
It is a reflection of Welsh Labour’s conventional, parliamentarist approach to political leadership that its ministers, having initially registered their disapproval of the cuts imposed by Osborne, have eschewed any further public opposition, instead relying on negotiation with Westminster to secure improvements in the financial situation. Without wishing to slight the undoubted cogency and tenacity with which Jane Hutt and her colleagues have been fighting Wales’ corner in such talks, it is hard to believe that any meaningful concessions may be wrung from a government so resistant to reason and compassion as the Westminster coalition. The recent joint statement on borrowing powers was presented as a significant step forward but it is so vague, and hedged about so much with conditions and non-committal language, as to appear virtually worthless. And all the while, the need to keep open the diplomatic channels between Cardiff and London inhibits Welsh ministers from condemning the coalition’s actions with the moral outrage appropriate to the situation – and, crucially, from rallying the opposition. There would seem little to lose, and everything to gain, from Welsh Labour taking a more confrontational approach vis-a-vis the UK government. It needs to assume the leadership of the anti-cuts movement in Wales, making clear that it is on the side of those whose wellbeing is under attack, rather than allowing anyone to imagine that the values and objectives of the two governments are in any way compatible.
So what, practically, can Welsh Labour do? Certainly, it should actively encourage trade union resistance to the cuts, offering unequivocal support in the event of further strike action over job cuts, pay restraint and/or attacks on pension rights. It should be made clear that the two wings of the labour movement are divided only functionally, not politically. The Wales TUC is committed – as of its conference last May – to organising a demonstration against austerity in Wales but, typically, is dragging its feet in implementing this decision. The Welsh Labour leadership should actively push for this demonstration to be organised as soon as practicable, should ensure that it is well-represented on the platform and should mobilise party members to attend. In fact, it should use every available platform to proclaim its opposition to the UK government’s programme and the need for resistance. When the GLC was threatened with abolition, it took out full-page newspaper adverts defending its record and opposing the Thatcher government’s attack on local democracy. The Welsh Labour leadership could do likewise to publicise the manner in which Welsh public services are being starved of funds by Westminster and to make the case for an alternative (if doing this in the name of the Welsh Government would seem to invite criticism for misuse of its dwindling resources, then the Assembly Labour Group could surely pay for such a campaign itself). Today, of course, the internet provides a much wider range of opportunities for making propaganda, which should be exploited to the full.
More than that, the Welsh party could take the responsibility for co-ordinating the response to the cuts by Labour councillors, affiliated trade unionists and party activists. It could organise a special conference to examine the situation in detail, facilitate discussion and mutual support, and attempt to hammer out a collective position. In fact, this is something that WLG members might want to propose, in the form of a contemporary motion, to Welsh Labour conference in March. This leads me to another important point: most of the comments I have made above are directed towards the views and actions of Welsh Labour ministers, AMs and the party leadership in Wales – but all of us within Welsh Labour (WLG members included) should accept some responsibility for any weaknesses in the party’s political approach. If our leadership’s public opposition to the UK government is not sufficiently robust, then we must take the initiative and push for a tougher approach. The Welsh Labour left has, over the last few years, been in the fortunate position of having a leadership whose actions have broadly reflected our own beliefs and policy preferences. Consequently, we’ve tended to step back and let them get on with it, offering only occasional muted criticism when we’ve disagreed with their approach. The stakes are now much higher, of course, and we need to up our game accordingly.
Finally, there is a particularly important role in all this for left-wing Labour councillors – of which there are now, happily, far more in Wales than before 3rd May. The useful panel discussion at the WLG conference highlighted the formidable challenges with which they have to contend. No-one should imagine that there are easy answers to the problems posed by austerity – we should reject the facile posturing of those on the far left who suggest that any councillor who votes to cut anything at all is a class traitor. But socialists in elected office must do more than go along with the path of least resistance, as recommended by Group leaders and chief officers. There should be no assumption that services must be cut back in proportion to the reduction in a council’s revenue support grant. Left councillors should demand that all other options – such as spending reserves, making use of borrowing powers and raising council tax by the maximum amount permissible (legally and politically) – are deployed before cuts are implemented that will adversely affect the wellbeing of ordinary people. These are discussions that socialist should undertake in collaboration with comrades elsewhere in Wales (and further afield) and efforts are now underway to facilitate those discussions within WLG. These are challenging times and we, as a left, must rise to the challenge.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Welsh Labour Grassroots AGM 2012 - report & resolutions

Forty WLG members attended our annual conference and AGM in Cardiff last Saturday. Mark Drakeford began the day, addressing the theme of 'Austerity & Public Services' by setting out some thoughts as to what the left's alternative vision for public services might look like. Mark explored issues like co-production, pre-distribution, localism, social protection and equality in the course of a typically stimulating address, which kicked off a lively debate.

Next, a panel of WLG members who sit on Welsh councils shared their experiences and their perspectives on the problems of austerity. Siobhan Corria (Cardiff), Gareth Phillips (Bridgend) and Jessica Powell (Torfaen) are all new councillors - as is Nick Davies (Swansea), who chaired the session - while Mark Whitcutt (Newport) is a more experienced councillor and, as of May, a cabinet member. They talked, variously, about the challenges of defending their communities, protecting jobs and services, avoiding outsourcing and overcoming democratic deficits. The ensuing discussion focussed particularly on how socialist councillors in different authorities could work together, learn from each others' experience and develop a common approach to the cuts.

After lunch, Cllr. Julia Magill, Cardiff cabinet member for education, was the guest speaker for a joint session with the Socialist Educational Association. Julia answered questions on a number of issues - notably, the balance between enabling parental choice and upholding catchment areas to support neighbourhood schools.

Finally, we dealt with AGM business, taking officers' reports and carrying resolutions to increase membership subs; ensure greater engagement with the Labour Representation Committee; oppose moves to outsource local services, particularly in Cardiff; and adopt a statement of WLG 'principles and priorities' (see attached for the final text of all resolutions). The incoming steering committee is: Nick Davies (chair); Fran Griffiths & Maggie Simpson (vice chair - job-share); Darren Williams (secretary); Len Arthur (asst. secretary); David Ll. Davies (treasurer); Bob Clay; Uta Clay; Siobhan Corria; Bob Davies; Annabelle Harle; John Ivor Lewis; Jessica Powell; & Mark Turner. The auditors are Bill Harle & David Meurig Thomas.

For those who weren't able to attend Saturday's meeting, please renew your membership a.s.a.p. (unless you already have a standing order) by sending a cheque for £10/£5 to me at 33 Lansdowne Road, Cardiff CF5 1PQ - or email me about setting up a standing order.


This AGM:

·        notes that, although the WLG constitution and rules states that membership fees ‘will be reviewed at each Annual General Meeting’, the annual rates of £5 (waged) and £3 (unwaged/low-waged) have remained unchanged since WLG was formally launched in 2004;

·        recognises that the cost of running a growing, all-Wales organisation, along with the cumulative effects of inflation over the last eight years, mean that these rates now provide insufficient income to guarantee the financial stability of the group.

This AGM therefore agrees:

·        that annual membership rates should be increased, with immediate effect, to £10 (waged) and £5 (unwaged/low-waged); and

·        that all WLG members should regard payment of membership fees as a basic political responsibility and that those who persistently fail to keep up their payments will be regarded as having lapsed.


1) recognises the Labour Representation Committee as a key body in the LP where socialists organise and an important site in the struggle for working class solidarity across Britain;

2) notes that WLG is an affiliate of the LRC with the right to send delegates to its AGM and to submit resolutions and nominations to its national committee and to the editorial board of its journal, Labour Briefing;
3) resolves to co-ordinate the timing of future WLG AGMs so as to facilitate the submission of resolutions and nominations to the LRC AGM.


This AGM:

·        notes, with grave concern, the recent Cardiff Council cabinet paper considering new ways of providing council services, which identified outsourcing to the private sector as an option, despite the lack of any reference to outsourcing in the Cardiff Labour manifesto or the preceding policy process;

·        believes that the very inclusion of this as an option risks alienating staff, undermining the critical relationship with trade unions and diminishing the prospects of achieving the required service improvements and efficiencies;

·        therefore agrees that privatisation must be ruled out, in favour of applying the Welsh Government policy of pursuing collaboration between authorities, at regional and national level, as set out in the Local Government Minister’s ‘Collaborative Footprint’ document, to achieve critical mass within the public sector;

·        calls on WLG members who sit on Cardiff Council to work with trade unions and party activists to prevent the adoption of outsourcing, and on WLG members on other Welsh councils to take a similarly robust position in response to any privatisation proposals that may arise elsewhere;

·        also calls on Welsh Labour councillors to oppose all compulsory redundancies.


This AGM:

·        values the breadth and diversity of opinion and experience within WLG but also recognises the need for a common understanding of our political orientation and objectives as an organisation;

·        therefore agrees to adopt the statement of Principles and Priorities that has been circulated and discussed in recent months, as now amended, as a restatement of the basic political line that we have developed over the course of previous AGMs and an attempt to guide our work over the longer term (while recognising that many of the details may be overtaken by events).





We are socialists in the Labour Party

§  We do not accept that there is anything ‘natural’ or ‘inevitable’ about the injustice, insecurity and exploitation that characterise free-market capitalism.

§  We believe in the possibility of an alternative way of organising society that is more equal, democratic and sustainable, where the economy is driven by need, not profit, and people have control over own lives.

§  While we are ready to build alliances with socialists and progressives in other parties, and in no party, we are committed to working within Labour, as the only party potentially capable of representing the interests of ordinary people at the level of (British) government.

Labour government – at all levels – should be about transformation, not management

§  Winning elections is only ever a means to an end, not an end in itself.

§  Among other things, transformation should be about ensuring that our representatives reflect all sections of society and that women and ethnic minorities are not sidelined.

§  The worst Labour government is better than the best Tory government – but a Labour government that simply wants its turn to operate the status quo is hardly worth having.

§  Our responsibility is to do more than get Labour candidates elected and to defend their actions afterwards – we should scrutinise their work, hold them to account and actively lobby for the policies we think they should be carry out, as well as for greater openness and engagement with citizens.

§  As an organised left, we have to challenge those in Labour who subordinate social and political change to electoral expediency, or who deny the need for change altogether.

Austerity isn’t working anywhere

§  Cuts are a political choice, not an economic necessity.

§  Political and economic elites are applying the ‘shock doctrine’ – using the crisis to restructure their economies and societies in the interests of the rich.

§  The injustice of the cuts is exacerbated by the fact that they are falling disproportionately on women, Black people and the disabled.

§  Official Labour policy can be characterised as ‘austerity lite’ and represents an inadequate response to Con-Dem policies.

§  Credible alternative policies have been persuasively set out by trade unions, by Compass, by Mark Drakeford and others; we should do more to publicise and argue for these alternatives and to contribute our own ideas.

§  The anti-cuts movement needs a principled but constructive voice, which we could help to provide.

Our allegiance is to working people, the poor and the oppressed everywhere

§  We stand for international solidarity, not putting Britain (or Wales) first – although our efforts are centred in Wales, where our political roots lie.

§  We have a duty to defend those scapegoated by the right for the economic crisis – benefit claimants, economic migrants, asylum seekers – as well as those threatened by reactionary policies because of their gender, ethnicity, nationality, faith, sexuality or disability.

§  We should promote – and, where possible, organise – practical solidarity with people in Greece and elsewhere, who have been hardest hit by austerity.

§  We must continue to oppose imperialist military, economic and diplomatic policies – including the possibility of further wars in the Middle East – and support climate justice and debt cancellation.

Thanks to democratic devolution, and our political traditions, Wales has something worth defending

§  Welsh Labour’s record of strengthening public services and advancing equality is an example to promote at a British level.

§  We have to defend Welsh Labour’s achievements from austerity and from ‘innovations’ that risk undoing the good that has been done.

We’ll never have socialism without democracy

§  Labour hasn’t broken the anti-democratic habits it acquired over the past two decades.

§  Despite the warm words about accountability from the present leadership, there has been virtually no appreciable change in the ‘Partnership in Power’ regime; to this end, we defend party democracy, open policy debate and accountability at all levels.

§  We still have control-freakery over candidate selections – along with inadequate measures to ensure the selection of women and ethnic minority candidates – and accountability has been further weakened by the abolition of county parties.

§  Trade unions are potentially an important part of the alliance to secure greater democracy – but they can also be part of the problem, with most of them needing democratic reform too.