Monday, July 22, 2013

News & Action No 19


Dear Comrade

In this bulletin:

1.  WLG news: next meeting; Llansamlet victory; steering committee; forthcoming events

2.  Welsh Labour consultations: physical punishment of children; and Severn Barrage

3.  Commentary: Cardiff reshuffle; Crimogenic capitalism; State surveillance; porky pies 

4.  Discussion: Challenging Capitalism in the UK & Wales

WLG news

The next meeting of Welsh Labour Grassroots (WLG) will take place next Saturday, 27th July, at 11.00 am in the Belle Vue Pavilion/Conservatory, Waterloo Road, Newport NP20 4EZ. The agenda will include a discussion, led by Cllr. Bob Clay, of the controversy arising from the Falkirk selection and the resulting proposals to change Labour’s relationship with the trade unions. 

Llansamlet by-election

Hearty congratulations are due to Bob Clay on his magnificent victory in the Llansamlet council local by-election in Swansea on 4th July. Bob won almost 75% of the vote, a hugely impressive result that reflects the hard work that had been put in. The Llansamlet ward has a history of far-right activity, so the National Front’s last place in the poll represents an important message that they are not wanted. Congratulations to all those campaigned to elect Bob and, like UAF, to stop the fascists.

Steering Committee

The WLG Steering Committee met in Swansea on 10th July. The main discussion was on WLG’s future and how we can change the way we operate to maximise our influence on political developments while also lightening the load borne by our officers. There will be a further meeting soon, after which some proposals will be brought to our AGM. The meeting also confirmed the arrangements for our remaining meetings this year. After the Newport meeting on Saturday, these will be as follows:

·        Saturday, 7th September, Swansea – main discussion on council budgets

·        Saturday, 19th October, Cardiff – AGM and conference – main theme: environmental crisis (plus joint session with SEA)

·        Saturday, 7th December, Swansea – main discussion on Europe

Other forthcoming events, in which WLG members may be interested:

·        Newport, Monday 22nd July: ‘Dont Let Racists Divide Us’ rally called by UAF in response to desecration of Muslim graves at Newport cemetery. 7.00 pm in the Castle Room, Newport Centre. Speakers include: Mubarak Ali (Islamic Society for Wales); Marianne Owens (PCS NEC); June Ralph (Newport Trades Council).

·        Cardiff, Monday 22nd July: People’s Assembly Cardiff group meeting, 7.30 pm at Unite offices, 1 Cathedral Road.

·        Thursday, 25th July 2013: Cardiff Against the Bedroom Tax council lobby and picnic/BBQ 3.30 pm outside City Hall. More details on Facebook.

·        Cardiff, Thursday, 8th August: Glamorgan Archives local history lecture: Nina Jenkins on ‘The British in India: A Guide for Beginners’. Free entry but email: glamro@cardiff.gov.uk to book a place.

·        Cardiff, Thursday, 15th August: Glamorgan Archives local history lecture: Ceri Thompson on ‘Collecting People’s History at Big Pit’. 2.00 pm at Glamorgan Archives, Clos Parc Morgannwg, Leckwith, Cardiff CF11 8AW. Free entry but email: glamro@cardiff.gov.uk to book a place.

Welsh Labour consultations

As you’ll probably be aware, Welsh Labour is currently conducting policy consultations on two priority issues: the possibility of a change in the law to outlaw physical punishment of children; and the proposed Severn Barrage. Please find attached a presentation on the former by one of our comrades, Cllr, Jonathan Evans, who has been working with the ‘Children Are Unbeatable’ campaign. The Barrage has, of course, been strongly promoted by Peter Hain, supported by the Wales TUC and Unite, but there are strong left/green arguments against it, on environmental, economic and practical grounds, most of which have been helpfully summarised by Friends of the Earth Cymru.

Commentary - Len Arthur

Welsh Government changes

Leighton Andrews’ resignation as Welsh Education minister on 25th June resulted in a reshuffle of Labour’s cabinet. The Tory cuts put the Welsh Government and local councils in the difficult position of having to make policy choices between offering no more than a ‘dented shield’ or sustaining the ‘clear red water’. The latter would involve mobilising to support bold policy moves to create of shining example of what UK socialists could achieve. The renewed Tackling Poverty Action Plan, announced recently by the Welsh Government, reflects this dilemma, admitting that it is not possible to overcome the damage of Tory cuts but attempting to concentrate action on those most affected. This is laudable as far as it goes. A key message in the press release gives the impression that 5000 jobs were being created for those families with no one in work. In reality it only amounts to intensive counselling and training opportunities whereas, as we have argued before, the Welsh Government ought to have a more radical investment and job creation policy that would be a direct challenge to the austerity policies of the UK Tory government.

Crimogenic capitalism

In the UK, the austerity screw was tightened on the working class through the spending review and the Labour leadership announced at the National Policy Forum on 22/23 June that it intends to keep these policies going during the early years of a Labour government. Peter Rowlands’ latest WLG discussion post covers the serious political challenges this poses for us as socialists in the Labour party, while the preceding post discusses these challenges in relation to the People’s Assembly.

The latest edition of Private Eye reveals that Apple Corp earned net income of $30bn between 2009 and 2012 but paid no corporation tax – just another frightening example of how far these international corporations are out of control. Private Eye also reveals that Cameron’s G8 rhetoric on tackling international tax avoidance is just hot air, as the Tories themselves have introduced rules making it easier for companies to shift earnings across borders to avoid tax.

Tory state surveillance, racism and persecution

Now, of course you may wish to challenge the above – but watch out if you do, as your every move and written word will be recorded via the US National Security Agency’s Prism surveillance. Although, William Hague says (paraphrasing Pinochet and other dictators), you have nothing to worry about if you stay within the law. Not true, of course: as the Lawrence family have discovered, dirt will be dug at public expense if you challenge those who keep the world safe for their corporations to rip us off. Little by little, the Tory government is institutionalising the harassment of any group it decides to demonise.

In South Wales recently, there appears to have been increased activity by the UK Border Agency raiding people based upon ‘reports’ with very little justification. For those who experience this, it must feel like persecution with no redress. The criminalisation of khat provides the Tories with further cover for institutionalised harassment, a continuation of the questionable state activities that also includes the persecution of tabloid bogeyman, Abu Qatada, as exposed recently by Victoria Brittain. It may not be fascism but it certainly is starting to feel like it.

Economic porky pies

Despite the OTT reactions by the financial press to every twitch of life in the capitalist economy, the entrenched structural causes of the current crisis are still with us. Michael Roberts, in a recent survey of the realities of global growth, reveals indicators showing that all is still not well and that the purging of less profitable value still has trillions to go. So, it is hardly surprising that neo-liberal governments around the world remain intent on ensuring the working class pays for the crisis. Resistance is taking place around the world in a variety of forms, in places such as in Brazil, Turkey and Egypt, and it is not always easy to identify the political trajectories involved. We are not immune from these contradictions in the UK – witness the rise of UKIP.

Lenin talked about ‘inflammable material in world politics’ and there is much around; the really hard job for us, as socialists, is to try to ensure that the spark of political pressure is well lit, so that we can turn up the heat on those who benefit from the neo-liberal policies that sustain a very shaky capitalist system. We need constantly to seek to mobilise a fightback, with clear demands and action, leading towards a direct challenge to the power of capital.

Discussion: People's Assembly - where to now? Len Arthur


Discussion: People’s Assembly – where to now? – Len Arthur
 
The People’s Assembly on 22 June was a success. Around 4,500 attended and it was an exhilarating breath of fresh air to hear speakers say what was needed to be said, with such telling turns of phrase. If leaders of the Labour Party spoke and said the same things, I would not be worried about taking the fight to the Tories or the outcome of the next general election.
 
All the main speeches are on the People’s Assembly website. I’ve heard many TUC general secretaries speak, usually with the intention of dampening down expectations but with Francis O’Grady stating that we are in a situation of class war and undertaking to back workers when they take strike action, she came across as the best so far. Len McCluskey gave clear support to coordinated industrial action across unions. Mark Serwotka spelt out the alternative social and economic programme that Ed Miliband should be announcing, instead of the disastrous ‘Tory-lite’ stuff we’ve been hearing of late.
 
Before the meeting, there was considerable scepticism about its relevance but also some serious analysis such as from James Meadway writing for the New Left Project. Since the meeting, most of the left have recognised its success, Socialist Worker and the Independent Socialist Network both catching the mood, the latter post drawing some political conclusions about Left Unity that are relevant for us in the Labour party. Scepticism remains on parts of the left, however – for example, on the Left Futures and Socialist Unity websites. Commenting on the latter piece, Mark Steel brings his humour to bear, capturing the spirit of the day.
 
‘Four thousand people packed a hall with a commitment to build a movement against the cuts, the most substantial gathering on this issue since the last election. I encountered dozens of people throughout the day, some in political parties, many of them not, some of them invigorated politically for the first time, many re-invigorated having been part of other movements before.

‘I met dozens of people throughout the day who felt exhilarated by the experience, and have received hundreds of messages since from people displaying an infectious enthusiasm, thrilled that at last there appears to be a genuine national movement against the cuts.

‘So the contribution to this sense of optimism [Mark is ironically commenting on a Socialist Unity position piece that appears on this website] is one that delivers the inspirational message “I fear that like all grand projects of the left, it will dissipate before it meets its potential.”

‘That’s how to build a mass campaign. We address thousands of freshly optimistic people eager to resist the cuts, by telling them that although we didn’t manage to get to much of their meeting, it’s obvious it won’t work. I salute your powers of motivation, Phil BC, you’re like Martin Luther King and Spartacus rolled into one.
This is what the left needs more of, as we’ve got far too many people organising campaigns against the cuts. Only once they all realise that everything we do is doomed will be able to build an effective movement.

‘In the meantime, whoever you are, you’ll carry on with whatever it is you’re organising instead, which appears to be going extremely well, as I doubt anyone has ever heard of it, proving you haven’t made the mistake of getting people to believe they can do anything worthwhile at all.”’
 
Where does it go from here?
 
At the end of the 22 June meeting, the draft statement was adopted. It covers a lot of ground. Some of the key points include UK wide action and the building of local groups. Key actions include a UK wide ‘national day of civil disobedience and direct action against austerity’ on 5 November and a national demonstration next spring. Supporting the NHS features in the mobilisation for a demonstration at the Conservative Party conference on 29 September and local demonstrations on 5 July.
 
Local groups are being established. In Wales, an email list and Facebook page have been set up and local meetings held in Cardiff, West Wales and in Wrexham. We have already held a People’s Assembly / Left Unity meeting in Pontypridd and are planning for another soon. From my experience so far, the People’s Assembly meetings have been a success in terms of bringing together old and new activists and are helping to inspire the development of campaigns against austerity in areas where currently little is happening.
 
Politically, for the coming months, the key phrase in the statement may very well be the one below, which captures succinctly the tension within the UK left:
 
“We have a plain and simple goal: to make government abandon its austerity programme. If it will not it must be replaced with one that will.”
 
Making the government abandon its austerity programme will require a level of coordinated and united action much greater than we have been able to mobilise so far. The strength of the People’s Assembly is that it aims to organise across the UK to say we will not pay for the bankers’ crisis, working toward uniting the trade unions, fightback campaigns, the political left and new activists to bring direct action to bear on the government. As one speaker suggested, ‘we should aim to make Britain ungovernable’. Tony Benn proposed that we should surround ‘the building down the road [Parliament]’ and stay until the Tories left office. This is a big ask: a political leadership prepared to take up this challenge will be required.
 
Which leads to the second sentence: replacing the current government with one that will not follow austerity policies. At the 22 June conference Owen Jones summed up the purpose of the Assembly as putting the hope back into politics. We are at that stage where the confidence to fight back is as much one of knowing we are justified in resisting and challenging the government as taking action: the stick now needs to be bent toward political leadership.
 
But where is that political leadership? As Peter Rowlands argued in his recent post on this blog, the Labour leadership has abandoned resisting and offering an alternative to the politics of austerity. Jon Lansman makes a similar point on Left Futures, indicating how this Labour leadership position is undermining the confidence of the Party’s active membership. As both indicate, this will not only lead to tensions within the Labour party but will add to the arguments that a left alternative to Labour needs to be considered.
 
Unlike Peter, I don’t have the expectation or even hope that the Labour leadership will change its course before the next election. It is also possible to read the trade union speeches at the conference as saying that those leaders do not believe this is going to happen either. It could be that the Labour leadership is even prepared to abandon the trade union connection. (My my, I wrote the last sentence before all hell broke loose on the issue! I’ll still stick by my analysis but here is some debate: Ed Miliband; Owen Jones; Labour List.)
 
Socialists in the Labour party now face a real crunch point: if not Labour, then what? Do the People’s Assembly and Left Unity offer the prospect of developing that alternative? This debate has been opened up and will rapidly gather pace. We are in a historical period very different from the 1980s: capitalism was then ‘on the up’ and its contradictions had not been exposed by a massive global financial crisis. Even to talk about the system we live under as ‘capitalism’ was difficult. Now a socialist alternative can be meaningfully spelt out, not only by pointing out how capitalism, as a system, has caused this crisis but by arguing directly for radical policies to replace it. Nationalising the banks, for example, has in part happened. An extension of that policy would enable us to have the ability to direct investment towards need by taking it out of the control of ‘casino capitalism’.
 
Whether we as Labour party members like it or not, we will be increasingly challenged to decide whether we are socialists or Tory-lite ‘One Nation Labour’.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Discussion: Labour and the spending review - Peter Rowlands


Discussion:  Labour and the spending review - Peter Rowlands  

Labour’s acceptance of Tory spending plans for 2015 – 16 is a watershed moment. I believe it to be fundamentally wrong and a move that is likely to lower Labour’s vote in 2015 and possibly cost it a majority or keep the current coalition in place.

Why did the Labour leadership decide on this stance? Presumably because they decided that those that still see the deficit as primarily Labour’s fault will have their views confirmed by any spending commitments by Labour beyond those of the coalition, so that in order to win over at least some of these people we have to accept a huge cuts programme, at least in total terms, and be rather ambiguous about additions to capital spending.

What this means is that Labour has a position that is now far more severe than that of  Darling , which was to make cuts of about one half of the Tory programme. It is also completely contradictory in that the core of the Balls critique of Tory policy is of a cuts programme that disproportionately lowers tax receipts in such a way that the deficit can only be paid off over a very long period of time and at enormous cost. Having conclusively won the argument we are now saying that we will continue with precisely the policies that we claim are wrecking the economy!

Large numbers of Labour voters will be mystified at this.  Many will find that they now have no incentive to vote at all, while some will switch to voting for the Greens, Respect, TUSC or the new ‘Left Unity’ party that is scheduled to be launched later this year and has been provided with a potent recruitment vehicle by Labour’s change of direction. The total vote for these other parties is unlikely to be huge but in many constituencies it could rob Labour of victory and thus maintain the present coalition in power, doing on the left what the Tories fear from UKIP on the right.

Labour’s strategy, as in 2010, is based on a fundamental misreading of what is needed. In 2010, and apparently now, Labour was pitching to the middle ground, ‘Middle Britain’, those won over by New Labour in the late 1990s. This strategy was in one sense very successful, as Labour’s middle class voters largely stuck with it in 2010 (Social class groups A, B and C1). Unfortunately Labour’s working class voters didn’t  (Social class groups C2, D and E), defecting to the Tories or just not voting in substantial numbers, and causing the worst result, and only marginally better, at 29%, since the 1983 election.

Since then Labour’s fortunes have improved considerably, mainly due to a transfer of support from Lib-Dem voters opposed to Lib-Dem participation in the coalition. These voters have been shown to be more left wing than previous Labour voters, not surprisingly as these were the people who transferred to the Lib-Dems after the Iraq War when on this and other matters they were to the left of Labour.

This ‘progressive majority’ is threatened by Labour’s embrace of austerity.  Those previously Labour working class voters who didn’t vote or voted Tory will have no incentive to come back to Labour. Fewer will vote Tory, but many will still abstain or go to UKIP or the new left party. The ‘left’ Lib-Dems will likewise have no reason to stick with Labour; some will even revert to the Lib-Dems as their position is no worse than Labour’s, while the more left wing will vote for one of the left parties or the Greens. (*)

The net effect therefore of Labour’s change of course is that while it may retain some ‘Middle Britain’ votes that might otherwise have gone to the Tories or Lib-Dems it stands to lose far more from those groups who would have supported even an ‘austerity lite’ position but not one which is indistinguishable from that of the coalition. Votes will be lost to abstention, to UKIP, to the Greens, to the new left party, to Respect, to TUSC, even to the BNP/NF, and would be likely to cost Labour a majority at the  election.

Yes, it is true that more voters still blame Labour than the Tories for the deficit (about 36% to 26%), but that has improved since 2011, and crucially is likely to apply much less to the two groups pinpointed above. A growth strategy which would appeal to these two groups is essential, and Labour must revise its current position and adopt such a strategy before it is too late.

Polling figures are hardly a ringing endorsement of the coalition and their economic policies. 60% think the economy is being badly managed, 57% that the cuts are being administered unfairly, and only 27% support the Tories on the economy as against 25% Labour. However 59% see the cuts as necessary, a figure that would undoubtedly be lower if Labour had consistently advocated a growth strategy.

The new line also reflects the internal struggle within the party , and must register a decisive advance for the ‘Blairite right’, which the recent interventions by Blair, Mandelson and co. no doubt assisted. This will further alienate left wing activists and many affiliated unions who are among the strongest supporters of a growth strategy.

Let us hope that common sense prevails, and that Labour reconsiders its position and adopts a  growth strategy that clearly distinguishes us from the other main parties. This is the route that is most likely to secure a Labour majority at the next election.

 
(*) See Fabian Review articles by Andrew Harrop:

May 2012   ‘2015 victory in Labour’s grasp as Ed unites the left’

Feb 2013      ‘Stay at home voters are the key to Labour victory’.

All figures quoted are based on YouGov polls.

Friday, June 7, 2013

News & Action No 18


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 Comrade
In this bulletin:

1.    WLG news: last meeting, forthcoming events & ongoing campaigns

2.    Commentary: (i) The politics of hate; and (ii) NHS reorganisation or cuts

3.    Discussion: Challenging Capitalism in the UK & Wales

WLG News – Darren Williams

A well-attended WLG meeting in Bridgend on Saturday 18th May had a very stimulating and topical discussion about the future of the NHS in Wales. Julian Tudor Hart explained how the attempt to commodify and ‘industrialise’ the service had undermined its original conception as a gift economy – a process that Wales had so far largely resisted. Tony Beddow outlined some of the difficult issues that needed to be addressed in the context of the Welsh Government’s reconfiguration of NHS services, such as the tension between specialisation and accessibility (a more detailed note will be circulated soon). The meeting also discussed several other issues, especially in regard to party democracy and the selection of candidates. 

Our next scheduled meeting, which was to have taken place on Saturday 15th June, has been cancelled, as there will be a Wales launch meeting for the People’s Assembly Against Austerity in Cardiff on that day. WLG strongly supports the People’s Assembly initiative, which is backed by all major unions and a broad spectrum of the left, and we encourage all our comrades who are able to do so, to attend the Cardiff meeting, which will be taking place at 12.30 pm in Transport House, 1 Cathedral Road, Cardiff. Our own Cllr. Siobhan Corria will be among the speakers, along with Andy Richards of Unite and SiĆ¢n Wiblin of PCS. We also, of course, encourage comrades to attend the main People’s Assembly in London on Saturday 22nd June (9.30 am – 5.00 pm at Central Hall, Westminster). More details are available here: http://thepeoplesassembly.org.uk/ - please register online if you can. The next WLG meeting after that is scheduled for Saturday, 27th July – details to follow.

Euro candidate selection

All party members in Wales should, by now, have had a ballot-paper to rank the women candidates on Welsh Labour’s list for next year’s Euro elections. If you haven’t already done so, please give your first preference to Jayne Bryant, who is a longstanding WLG supporter and is backed by our friends, Paul Flynn MP, Mick Antoniw AM, Sue Essex, John Griffiths AM and Mike Hedges AM, as well as by Unison and Usdaw. There is more information about Jayne on her website and she has an excellent article on the Institute of Welsh Affairs blog, about combating tax avoidance.

Llansamlet by-election

Our comrade, Bob Clay, has hit the ground running in his campaign to retain for Labour the seat vacated by the death of Cllr. Dennis James in the by-election in Llansamlet, Swansea, on 4th July.  Leafleting and canvassing are well underway – a timetable is attached and any comrades who are able to spare some time are strongly encouraged to go along to Llansamlet and help out. There will be at least one far-right candidate in this election, which makes it all the more important that we do everything we can to get Bob elected. For more information, please contact Bob on 07967 483788, Uta on 07970 052389, or Bob’s agent, Ryland, on 07855 034215.

Commentary

The politics of hate – Len Arthur

The politics of hate is about denying humanity to another human being. It is shoring up a ‘we are right’ political position by appealing an ‘us versus them’, ‘winners against losers’ emotional argument, avoiding and suppressing any rational discourse. Feeling part of the ‘in’ group - the winners - is comforting in a discomforting world, without having to think too hard. To be part of a demonised, hated group, even marginally, is to become frightened of your own shadow – and, in increasing numbers, people are. When right-wing organisations have recourse to these arguments, there is a chance to fight back. When the Tory government has recourse to them, backed by a right-wing press, we have to fight harder, as the consequences are dire. Essentially the state can be seen putting its own citizens outside of the right to be a citizen.

The Tory government and the right’s reaction to the horrible events of Woolwich are just part of their hate politics that have been visited upon people in receipt of benefits, or who are out of work, migrants, strikers, public sector workers, women, ethnic minorities, Muslims... be assured that you are next in line.  That is why we as socialists have to fight every attempt to divide us, campaigning and arguing about what unites us as a working class; all point made repeatedly by UAF and Hope not Hate and in our own recent blog post.

Lessons from history make this point. I remember first seeing Leni Riefenstahl’s film Triumph of the Will about the Nuremburg rally celebrating the complete takeover of state power by the Nazi party. Each stage of the film is more frightening than the next, but most disturbing was my realisation that this was funded by the state, intending to cow any internal opposition. I put myself into the position of someone in opposition at that time, trembling at the thought. The horror became very real and I couldn’t finish looking at the film: I never wanted to be in that situation. Yet, here we are, not quite Nuremburg rally stuff yet, but elements are there together with more subtle forms. The old war time film unit take off of the film The Lambeth Walk is an excellent antidote as is Steve Bell now, but with the BBC cowed, we have to look to our own resources as a left.

NHS: reorganisation or cuts? – Len Arthur

Across South Wales, the final 12 week stage of consultations has started on a proposed of reorganisation of NHS provision. The main argument is about concentrating consultant led provision in a number of hospitals. The preferred option removes this provision for A&E, children and maternity from the Royal Glamorgan hospital that serves the Rhondda Valleys. All the documentation is available here and the Rhondda MPs and AMs have started a campaign against and another group has organised this one.

Consultation meetings are being held across South Wales and are listed on the first web link above. Clinical reasons are the main ones given for the changes, with the need to have the best treatment available for those who need it acutely and to enable the recruitment and training of qualified staff. The difficulty for socialists is that these changes take place at the same time as funding for the NHS in Wales will have been reduced in real terms by 15% by 2015. So it is very difficult sort through the arguments. However, given the geography of Wales and the need to have the best quality provision near to people who find it difficult to travel we should argue that these basic consultant-led services should remain across the whole area. We do need to avoid getting into the argument that our provision is better / more needed than yours. Anyway, this is the case that WLG members will be arguing in the Rhondda meetings.

Challenging capitalism in the UK and Wales – Len Arthur


Discussion: Challenging capitalism in the UK and Wales – Len Arthur

Ed Miliband, in a recent speech in the Google Big Tent, argued that it was now more relevant to talk about ‘responsible capitalism’ as opposed to replacing capitalism with socialism. As pointed out in a commentary in the New Statesman, Miliband’s speech refers back to the importance of Tony Blair’s change to Clause 4, effectively re-burying the idea of socialism as distinctive system of democratic ownership and control. Here is the core statement:

‘A choice between an “irresponsible capitalism” which sees huge gaps between the richest and the poorest, power concentrated in a few hands, and people are just in it for the fast buck whatever the consequences.

And a “responsible capitalism”, and this is an agenda being led by business, where companies pursues profit but we also have an equal society, power is in the hands of the many and where we recognise our responsibilities to each other.

And my case is a “responsible capitalism” isn’t only fairer but we’re more likely to succeed as a country with it.’

He uses this position to distance himself from the idea held by his father that a ‘fairer society can be achieved through public ownership’.

This is not even an argument for a mixed economy. There is nothing here about re-nationalisation of basic utilities like water, let alone keeping the likes of Lloyds and RBS in public ownership. Where the agenda of ‘‘responsible capitalism” is ‘being led by business’ beats me. He quotes examples like John Lewis, but they are not leading the trend.

Ed Miliband completely ignores the problem of international corporate power and how to challenge it. Market de-regulation and privatisation of state assets is a key agenda for these corporations to prop up their rate of profit. Maurice Punch argued in his excellent book Dirty Business15 years ago that these corporations had become crimogenic, chief executives operating beyond the control of their shareholders, achieving profitability by ignoring the law of the states they operate in. The current revelations about tax avoidance and money laundering show that these tendencies are alive and well. In a recent edition of Private Eye a special report reveals how global capital is using the UK’s lax company controls to systematically launder money. What is frightening is the use of UK Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs) as the vehicle of choice: a legal construct introduced by New Labour.

These corporations are becoming more powerful, not less. The only trend they are leading is toward crimogenic capitalism; the end result of neo-liberalism is a convergence of mafia capitalism from the east and the west. 

If UK Labour is trying to avoid the challenge of capitalism, can we do anything about it in Wales? Two recent reports have begun to put this question back on the agenda. One is called Towards a Welsh Industrial Strategy is by James Meadway from the New Economics Foundation and has been commissioned by the Wales TUC, the other is a Plaid Cymru publication called Plan C . It is useful to consider these reports alongside the Welsh Government’s current economic strategy, Programme for Growth .

As socialists, what criteria should we use to assess these reports and policies? Early posts in this blog tried to make overall sense of the left economic arguments (see, in particular, ‘Is Marx now right?’) Michael Roberts’ blog has been compelling from a falling rate of profit perspective. Engaging with both neo-liberal economists and radical Keynesians on their own terms, Ha-Joon Chang’s 23 Things they don’t tell you about capitalism and Richard Murphy’s the Courageous State are superb.  Now, the message for us socialists that seem to come from this lot is the need to return to the idea of a political economy, where we overcome the separation of the social from the economic, in order to serve the needs of the planet and all the population, not just profit. Ha-Joon Chang makes this point, in talking about the market, where he describes the ‘free market’ as a political construct, which can be used to serve narrow or wider social interests. For us in Wales, then, these arguments provide us with the basis for changing the narrative, away from private business growth, together with the domination of the market, toward asking questions about how the wealth and value we create can best serve the population and the planet.

The three documents place the Welsh economy within the current troubled capitalist context. The NEF report provides the most comprehensive analysis of the context, locating the crisis in the shift of income from salaries to profits – with the expansion of credit filling the gap – and the deregulation of banking and finance. In relation to Wales, the report provides an interesting analysis of our contribution to the UK balance of payments, suggesting that it is positive, due to our manufacturing, but that we then have to pay the cost of the collapse in services, due to the financial crisis located in the south east. After making reference to the context of crisis, they go on to recommend steps that could be taken to try to protect Wales.
 
All three approaches include similar recommendations in relation to infrastructure spending on transport; the importance of training and skills; the need to guide investment toward renewables; the importance of the local economy; and the important role that cooperatives, mutuals and social enterprise can play. Funding is, of course, a problem. Plaid supports the first Silk report and NEF suggest the Welsh Government should have borrowing powers. Both talk about raising money locally and borrowing. The Plaid report suggests an arm’s length Business Bank for Wales, borrowing from the private financial markets. What is missing from all three is how the issue of ownership and control is related to growth that is – in all senses – sustainable.

First, the positive role of the public sector is mentioned only with regard to the use of procurement to help Welsh industry and services. With around one-third of the jobs in Wales directly dependent on the public sector, together with those indirectly dependent and with wider definitions, the real figure is possibly above 50%. This is a sector of the economy which is about re-distribution, providing public services, under public control, and is democratically accountable. The public sector is not only the major part of the Welsh economy; it is using the resources available for public benefit: need, not profit. As socialists we should cherish, protect and project the role that the public sector plays in our society and economy. For us, this is one key ‘sector’ that could – if we think beyond procurement to the provision of high quality housing for all – be the foundation of an alternative and challenging socialist political economy.

Second, cooperatives feature almost as an add-on in all three documents, with a confusion of language and possible role. The Welsh Government has established a Commission to evaluate cooperatives in Wales, reporting in the autumn. I have argued elsewhere that it is important that we, as socialists, clearly support cooperatives as a method of collective ownership and control, not confusing them with other forms of social enterprise. The International Cooperative Alliance definition provides for member controlled organisations with each member having one vote. It is important to understand this, as the model referred to both by the NEF and Plaid documents, Glas Cymru, is not a cooperative. The board appoints itself and, after recommendations from an independent committee, appoints the 50 or so members – a self perpetuating oligarchy. It should become a real cooperative, with all who pay water rates to it becoming members who then elect the board.

The ‘add on’ reference to cooperatives indicates a lack of coherence about why they should be an important form of organisation in the Welsh economy. Basically, cooperatives help to anchor capital through collective ownership, which can be bolstered by legal arrangements. It means that the value created remains geographically located and less vulnerable to capital flight. Worker and consumer cooperatives also have a track record of lasting longer than comparable privately-owned businesses, largely due to the collective involvement and commitment of members. As an organisational form, they are very flexible across all sectors and are particularly useful as start-ups and when private organisations face issues of succession. A key to a socialist cooperative strategy would be to help organisations that have been privatised back into collective ownership and to democratise the provision of public services whilst remaining in the public sector. Finally, they are a form widely used to help ‘localise’ the economy, such as through utility consumer cooperatives which not only help to stop local economic leaks, but also can provide finance for locally owned provision of renewable energy, such as wind power.

Third, the NEF and Welsh Government documents stress the importance of government support for particular economic sectors. This has been derided as ‘picking winners’ but, as Ha-Joon Chang argues, it can be central to the economic development of the whole economy. Auto and aero engineering are already recognised as key sectors of our economy but others less so, such as food processing, which accounts for around 35% of Welsh manufacturing and, as referred to above, the public sector. Moreover, cooperatives as ‘knowledge cooperatives’ can provide a collectively-owned link within sectors between producers and innovators (such as in universities) enabling the establishment of knowledge intensive business services (KIBS). These can then compete internationally, through establishing and maintaining a niche position in ongoing world leading innovation. There are already examples in Wales, holding more promise than the current Enterprise Zone strategy.

Fourth, as the NEF report points out, we cannot rely on inward direct investment: we have to find ways of generating the resources ourselves. Clearly, the Silk Commission’s first report, which is embraced by Plaid, can help – but only if we have a socialist trajectory. Let us be clear: devolved powers over some tax and borrowing rights will result in pressure to reduce tax as well as to oppose borrowing; the debate will sharpen, not go away. Private borrowing is also referred to – Glas Cymru has about £2,700m tied up in private bonds against the income-stream of our water rates. The Solidarity Funds in Quebec in Canada currently stand at around $8.5bn and have been built up largely through small savings from trade union members. We could establish a similar investment fund in Wales, using the cooperative and building society laws, so that those that investing were also members and the Welsh Government could use any new financial powers to provide initial support and help offset risk.

Fifth, as socialists we should embrace the idea of wealth being used for social purposes and not profit. In Wales, we should aim to go beyond the simple measure of GDP and supplement it with equally important social aims, such as providing work, housing, raising household real incomes, reducing the carbon footprint, expanding ownership and control and re-introducing trade union rights at work – thus, making a point of a trajectory toward socialist political challenge to the UK and beyond by example, and reaching out internationally. This represents a strategy of transitional actions and demands in operation. We could, in Wales, become as inspiring as the Mondragon network of co-operatives in the Basque Country, just by using a slightly amended devolution settlement – it is more about political will than constitutional powers. In this way, we could provide a real challenge by developing a trajectory toward democratic socialism, being an alternative in reality to crimogenic capitalism, not a weak form of co-existence that relies on appealing to capitalist businesses to be more responsible.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Discussion: Labour Party, People’s Assembly and Left Unity – Len Arthur


Discussion: Labour Party, People’s Assembly and Left Unity – Len Arthur
As socialists and Labour Party members, a main aim of our political purpose, is to ensure that our narrative makes links between the problems people experience, as a result of the crisis in financial capital, and political answers. Clearly this can, in part, be achieved as the result of supporting single issue campaigns. However, the unity of political analysis and answers are essential twin ingredients in sustaining a fightback, and winning sufficient power to put socialist alternatives into action.
Two new political initiatives, the People’s Assembly and Left Unity, are aimed at taking this type of political project forward. The appeal for support is to members of the Labour Party, other parties of the left, and to individuals, who recognise both the destruction that austerity politics are bringing to the working class and the need to fightback together with advocating political alternatives. The two initiatives have a background in the Coalition of Resistance that was established after the last general election. The People’s Assembly is concerned with coordinating the fightback now and developing alternative politics both within and beyond the Labour Party. Left Unity has an orientation toward building an organisation outside of the Labour Party. Since the 11 May conference it has now adopted the position of working toward launching a new party at a conference in November 2013.
The People’s Assembly is due to take place in London on 22 June 2013. Basically it is an open meeting which is being called for and supported by a cross section of individuals and organisations on the left. The initial call and statement sets out the purpose and lists the initial supporters which includeTony Benn and John McConnell MP. A key section reads 

‘We aim to develop a strategy for resistance to mobilise millions of people against the Con Dem government. The assembly will provide a national forum for anti-austerity views which, while increasingly popular, are barely represented in parliament. A People’s Assembly can play a key role in ensuring that this uncaring government faces a movement of opposition broad enough and powerful enough to generate successful co-ordinated action, including strike action.’

It provides an opportunity to link, and if possible unite, the left in the UK, including us as Labour Party members. The latest delegate information indicates that over 2400 are signed up to attend with about a month to go before the event. If you are interested you can register here. Owen Jones has made a short video putting forward the reasons he is attending as a Labour Party member.
The Left Unity original statement indicates that it was inspired by the ETUC call for EU wide action last November and a series of meetings and statements early in the year built on the idea of what that level of international solidarity would mean for the UK working class. The process received a boost from Ken Loach in statement associated with the launch of his new film The Spirit of ’45, where he suggested that the ‘British left needs to start again... we need a new party’ and asked those who supported this possibility, or at least interested in discussing it, to send an email to Left Unity. So far over 7000 people in the UK have done so providing a huge boost to the Left Unity debate and the role of left politics beyond the Labour Party.
Both Left Unity and the People’s Assembly are seeking to bring supporters together locally, to discuss how unity and action can be developed at this level and throughout the UK, particularly at and following the People’s Assembly on 22 June in London – register here.
For us as socialists in the Labour Party a difficulty is presented by these two developments taking place in parallel but separately. The People’s Assembly is widely supported by left Party members and affiliated organisations of the Labour Party as can be seen from the launch letter. It is a development that is very much in the tradition of the politics of the Labour Representation Committee of which Welsh Labour Grassroots is an integral part, in seeking to encourage a local and international fightback against austerity politics and  the development of socialists solutions. All WLG members and supporters should make every effort to attend the Assembly on 22 June and support any local meetings. In fact it may be that we should organise one or at the very least have the Assembly as another focus of our WLG meeting on 18 May.
Recently we adopted a principles and priorities document that emphasised that we are committed to working politically within the Labour Party and working with others on issues, but not as an alternative political party that stands candidates against the Labour Party in an election. Left Unity is at the moment not an organisation that is standing at elections, so the conflict does not arise. But it is clear that there is an intention within Left Unity to work toward being part of the European Left in the UK and if this is adopted, it will mean standing against Labour in elections.
Unity of the left is so critically important in opposing austerity politics and ensuring that the working class does not pay for the bankers’ crisis, that it is a real shame that Left Unity might soon make it difficult for us as Labour Party members to be part of that unity. Moreover, as many of us know, developing left unity and involving more people in political activity is an extremely difficult task requiring a great deal of commitment and energy, but is worth every minute if it is a success. Getting over 2000 to a meeting in London and receiving 7000 emails is a wonderful boost, but moving on will require hard work at a local level. There has been some excellent web based discussion around this issue and here I think are the best five sources:
Red Pepper:  which has some usefully comments, especially in relation to the extent to which Green Party members might be interested in supporting left unity.
The International Socialist Network which is the group of socialist who have recently left the SWP have now established a website and Kieran Crowe has written a thoughtful piece which also refers to other left unity initiatives, which I was unaware of.
Luna 17 I have no idea who is behind this blog but these 10 reasons to support the People’s Assembly are persuasive.
Michael Fords Again I have no idea who this is or what is the 21 Century Manifesto but this is a thought provoking, albeit long winded, contribution that is critical of attempts to model UK politics on those of the European Left. It raises points that need addressing but doesn’t leave the reader feeling full of hope!
Left Unity discussion site this is by someone called Peter Hill and is a response to another contribution and sparks a useful commentary based debate about the possible relationship between Left Unity and the Labour Party.
It is easy to get into a left ‘wood for the trees’ situation when ploughing through these contributions: it can seem that the real barbarism that the Tories and their international neo-liberal allies are visiting upon us, is obscured by the debate. And yet, and yet, fighting back and making political links is the only way we will challenge the power of the Tories and their class. As Welsh Labour Grassroots we should make a determined effort to join up the People’s Assembly and Left Unity discussions and action at a local level, both before and after the 22 June meeting. Where we can, we should bring together activists from other parties at the very least to coordinate campaigns, such as those against the bedroom tax. The key however, is that in a more open and purposeful local and UK organisational environment we can help facilitate, or even inspire, more people to become actively involved in the process of a democratic and socialist transformation of our society.