Thursday, March 28, 2013

News & Action No 15

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

Welsh Labour conference, held in Llandudno on the weekend, went well for Welsh Labour Grassroots (WLG). The 'anti-austerity' motion that we initiated, which had been submitted with slight variations by Unison Labour Link and by Cardiff West, Gower, Pontypridd and Swansea West CLPs, was carried nem con as a composite resolution. The Welsh Executive Committee had insisted on some changes to the final version of the composite, as the price of recommending acceptance. These watered down the motion somewhat - in particular, by removing the commitment to support industrial action against austerity; community campaigns to defend local services; and a Wales TUC anti-cuts demonstration. Nevertheless, the resolution, as passed, still represents a significant advance on previous Welsh Labour policy, adopting the principle that the party should provide political leadership to the anti-cuts movement, as well as the position that Labour councils should explore every available means of protecting their communities before passing on spending cuts. The text of the final resolution is posted:!/2013/03/anti-austerity-composite-resolution.html and we should try to ensure that the party, at both local and all-Wales levels, acts in consistency with it. I also posted:!/2013/03/wlg-welsh-labour-conference-bulletin.html  is the bulletin that we distributed at conference.

Our fringe meeting on the Saturday evening was well-attended, with a number of those present new to WLG. We heard from three excellent speakers, who each gave their own perspective on the challenge of austerity and the response of the left.

  • First, Mark Drakeford AM talked about the choices facing an incoming Labour government in 2015, having inherited a contracting economy with high inflation, unfavourable conditions for borrowing and a depreciated currency. Among the options favoured by Mark would be a financial transactions tax (to which a number of EU states are already committed); a land value tax; a more progressive National Insurance system; a minimum taxation level; and serious efforts to close the 'tax gap' produced by evasion, avoidance and a failure to collect taxes owed. Mark also touched on the need for a more far-reaching long-term strategy, reflecting the depletion and maldistribution of the world's resources, which would involve a fairer allocation of those resources and a greater focus on quality of life.
  • Next, Cllr. Siobhan Corria addressed the question of how councils can protect services while managing austerity. Cardiff Council had applied cuts of 10-15% in each of its departments and had reduced funding to third sector organisations by at least 10% - in some cases, 100%. Siobhan argued that a more strategic approach was needed, which recognised that third sector organisations reduce the demand for statutory services. She also felt that the consultation on the budget needed to begin a lot earlier in future and that Labour councillors needed to be more engaged with the communities they represent, making clear their fundamental opposition to the cuts and affinity with campaigns to safeguard amenities. Siobhan finished by setting out the threat posed by the bedroom tax and the need for Labour to take a clear stance of opposition. She called for councillors who support WLG to work more closely together.
  • Finally Mike Payne of the GMB provided a trade union perspective, recounting his own journey into workplace activism and reminding us that the Tories had been consistent in their determination to divide and exploit working people. He reported that 380,000 public sector jobs had been cut over the previous two years, putting pressure on services that served the Tories' privatisation agenda. In response, unions needed to overcome the complacency to which some had succumbed in the New Labour years. The GMB had adopted a comprehensive political strategy that involved a more proactive engagement with the Labour party, greater emphasis on political education for stewards and the politicisation of industrial campaigns. Among other things, they were working with Unite and UCATT on a campaign against blacklisting.
Each of the speakers prompted a range of questions and some lively debate. There seemed a general feeling that the left and centre-left needs to do more to share and develop our ideas, as well as redoubling our organising and campaigning work within the labour movement.

Finally, just a brief note about some important forthcoming events. This Saturday, 30th March, will see a second round of protests against the 'Bedroom Tax' around the UK. This will include the following locations within Wales:
  • Cardiff - assemble at City Hall at 1.00 pm
  • Swansea - 1.00 pm in Castle Square
  • Wrexham - 1.00 pm in Queens Square
Please support one of these demos if you can.

We have also previously mentioned the People's Assembly Against Austerity, a major conference taking place in London on Saturday, 22nd June. This is an important initiative to establish a mass campaign against austerity, firmly rooted in the mainstream of the labour movement but also reaching out to people who have no political affiliations and feel their views are not being represented in Parliament. It is supported by several major unions, including Unite, CWU, PCS, RMT and NUT; Labour MPs like John McDonnell, Katy Clark and Jeremy Corbyn; and other prominent figures of the left, such as Tony Benn, Ken Loach, Tariq Ali, Kate Hudson and Owen Jones. It will be taking place in Central Hall Westminster, Storey's Gate, London SW1H 9NH between 9.30 am to 5.00 pm on 22 June. Several of us from WLG are already committed to going along; it would be good to see as many comrades from Wales there as possible - if you'd like to go, you can book a place online, in advance.

Fraternal best wishes

Darren Williams

WLG Secretary.


WLG Welsh Labour conference bulletin 2013

Click on this link and it will take you to the conference bulletin that we distributed at the Welsh Labour conference last weekend.

Anti-austerity composite resolution - agreed by Welsh Labour 2013

Here is the resolution as it was agreed at the Welsh Labour conference in March 2013. You may wish to compare it to our WLG model motion that was circulated around the Welsh Labour and affiliated organisations a few months ago and can be accessed as a post on this blog:!/2012/12/draft-model-motion-for-welsh-labour.html

You will see that one of the major changes is the commitment to joint action at the end of the motion. The resolution as agreed still provides the basis of joint action as a way of taking forward the fightback through local branches, trade unions and community organisations. The agreed conference to coordinate Welsh Labour's response to austerity should be held as soon as possible and again will provide the basis of discussion joint action.

Composite Motion on Anti-Austerity Action

Conference notes that

·        Wales’ economy and public services have been put under intolerable pressure by the UK government’s  spending cuts, which have slashed the  Welsh Government budget cut by £2 billion in real terms over three years.

·        Wales was the only part of the UK to have seen no growth in median wages in 2011/12, and was left with the lowest median wage in Britain.

·        The anti-poverty coalition, Cuts Watch Cymru, has estimated that one in four people in Wales will be adversely affected by welfare reforms, a threat now exacerbated by the announcement of a real-terms benefit cut in the Chancellor’s December 2012 autumn statement.

·        The devolution to Wales, with insufficient funding, of responsibility for a replacement for Council Tax Benefit highlights the danger of the Welsh Government and Welsh councils being left to wield the Con-Dems’ axe. 

Conference acknowledges that, while the Welsh Labour Government has little power to soften the blow being inflicted on the Welsh people, due to the financial dependence on Westminster, it can and should give political leadership to the campaign against the Con-Dem cuts reiterating the arguments made convincingly by the TUC and others that the cuts are a political choice, not an economic necessity, and should be replaced by a policy of investment to stimulate sustainable growth and job creation, as well as robust crackdown on tax evasion and avoidance.

Conference therefore believes that the Welsh Labour leadership should do everything it can to co-ordinate the efforts of Welsh Labour councils, affiliated trade unions, and local parties:

·        maintain the clear position that no privatisation or compulsory redundancies should be carried out by Welsh Labour councils or by the Welsh Government, and that major changes to service provision or staffing should be introduced only by agreement with recognised unions, under the established employee relations arrangement;

·        encourage Welsh Labour councils to pursue other options – such as borrowing, spending their reserves and/or raising council tax – rather than cut vital services;

·        seek to ensure that all Labour councils implement the Living Wage, in line with Welsh Labour policy, both for core staff and for any contractors who may be engaged;

·        organise a conference, as soon as practicable, to co-ordinate the party's response to austerity.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The New European Left - Reviewed by Peter Rowlands

Book review by Peter Rowlands
THE NEW EUROPEAN LEFT   A Socialism for the Twenty-first Century?   

By  Kate  Hudson.

Published June 2012 by Palgrave Macmillan   Price £57.50 Hardback

Hudson’s ‘new European left’ ( NEL) are those parties today mainly grouped under the banner of the ‘Party of the European Left’ ( PEL), not formed until 2004 although most of the parties involved previously co-operated through the  New European Left Forum ( NELF, 1991), although another grouping, the  European United Left/Nordic Green Left ( GUE/NGL, 1994), are to be distinguished by their more oppositional attitude towards Europe in its present form than that of the PEL who are for European integration.  

Hudson charts the growth of this ‘New Left’ in some detail, mainly from the pivotal years 1989-91 when the communist parties in both western and eastern Europe were thrown into crisis by the collapse of the system that they had hitherto to a greater or lesser extent supported,  although this was foreshadowed by differences within and between the west European communist parties over ’eurocommunism’ in the 1980s.

Hudson explains that a ‘new left’had been growing from the 1960s onwards, influenced by Trotskyism and Maoism, as well as by feminism and ecologism.This had already led to the growth of some ‘new left’ parties, in Denmark (59) and Norway (75), but the real forerunner of the NEL was the United Left in Spain, formed as a front in 1986, and including communists, left social democrats and other left groups. But it was the 1990s that saw the emergence of the NEL, bringing about major realignments, often involving mergers of communist and Trotskyist groupings that would have been inconceivable prior to 1990 and leading to entirely new groupings,  the most successful of which has undoubtedly been Die Linke ( the Left) in Germany,  which is mainly a fusion, although not until 2005, of the non Stalinist successor to the GDR CP and a left breakaway from the SDP, which  gained 12% of the vote  in 2009. Elsewhere fortunes have been mixed. In France  the CP’s decline has brought about its participation in the Front de Gauche , founded in 2008 by the new left party , PG, although not including the new hard left anti capitalist NPA. In Italy however the fate of the PRC ( Party of Communist Refoundation), one of the successors to the PCI which effectively became a social democratic party in 1991, did quite well in the 1990s, but its participation in the 2006 Prodi government and its support for the war in Afghanistan saw its virtual elimination in 2008.In Spain the United Left saw a decline in its support, and after having achieved 10% in 1996 it was reduced to less than 4% in 2008. She is critical of the Greek and Portugese communist parties for having maintained, as they see it, doctrinal purity at the expense of  left unity in those countries, with Syriza emerging as the main left party in the current Greek crisis.

Hudson explains how in the West the opportunity for the NEL was created by the drift of social democratic  parties to neo-liberalism,  and this opened up a political space for the NEL. In the East most of the communist successor parties became social democratic parties, although often retaining substantial support. The only exceptions were the PDS in Germany and the Communist Party of Bohemia Moravia (CPBM) in the Czech Republic, which has maintained good support, winning 11% in 2010. She also describes the NEL’s participation in the ‘global left’, charting the rise and decline of the ‘social forum’ movement.

 Her ending is prescient, describing the NEL as anti capitalist but at the same time as potential participants in coalition governments. She warns of the dangers of this and of the necessity of keeping abreast of new movements such as Occupy, but rightly sees this as the way forward.

Hudson’s book has its flaws. There is a need for a decent appendix to summarise the developments she describes. There is also an inexplicable failure to mention the Dutch Socialist Party, one of the most successful of the NEL parties in recent years.

There is no attempt to account for the absence of a NEL party in the UK, which in my view can be explained by the first-past-the-post electoral system, and which helps to account for the left’s failure in Italy.

Social democratic parties are too easily written off  as wedded to a neo-liberal agenda, but since the onset of the current crisis there are signs of change which may in the future pose a challenge for the NEL.Indeed this is far more likely than any challenge from the European anti capitalist left, whose forces remain tiny, except to some degree in France, Denmark and Portugal.

There is also little mention of  the Green parties which in most north west European countries have support which in many cases matches and sometimes exceeds that of their NEL counterparts. These are parties of the left, normally with agendas that go well beyond environmental questions, and it is inconceivable that they would not be part of  any future left coalition, as has to a limited degree already been the case.

Notwithstanding these observations Hudson has produced an important and timely book.The left in the UK should pay what it discusses much more attention than it does, because our future is inseparable from it.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

News & Action No 14

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

Welsh Labour Grassroots (WLG) will be holding our usual fringe meeting at Welsh Labour conference in Llandudno next weekend. The fringe, entitled ‘The Fight Against Austerity’, will be taking place on the evening of Saturday 23rd March, at the Imperial Hotel, the Promenade, Llandudno LL30 1AP, starting at 6.00 pm. Our speakers will be: Mark Drakeford AM, Wales’ new health minister (congratulations, Mark!); Cardiff councillor, Siobhan Corria; and Mike Payne, GMB regional political officer for Wales and the South-West. Please come along if you’re going to be at conference (and join us for a meal afterwards).

I’m also very pleased to report that conference will be debating the ‘anti-austerity’ motion, which we in WLG initiated and which has been submitted in slightly varying forms by Unison Labour Link and by Cardiff West, Gower, Pontypridd and Swansea West CLPs. Please encourage the delegates from your party body or affiliate to support the motion (where they don’t already have a mandate to do so).

Darren Williams


Left round-up – Len Arthur

There has been a little hiatus in our regular email bulletin and blog over the last few weeks, while I’ve been a heavy and almost daily user of my excellent local NHS hospital. I’m hopefully now on the mend and able to start production again. It’s difficult really to decide what is important over such a period of time, so here is a little selection.

The Eastleigh result was not a good one for Labour and raises some serious questions about the politics of UKIP and whether they might pose a challenge to Labour as well as the Tories. Most on the left would argue that they are not a fascist organisation; an example would be the recent edition of Socialist Review. Will Self wrote a good piece in the Guardian Review (but you’d better get your dictionary out!) placing UKIP in a right-wing British tradition going back to the 1930’s and the British Union of Fascists. He stops short of arguing that they actually are fascists, but provides some thought-provoking shades of grey. Over the last couple of days, the Hope Not Hate anti-fascist campaign has started a debate about UKIP and, even if you don’t feel like making a contribution, it will be worthwhile following the contributions.

The mostly-online ‘Labour Left’ network has been organising an excellent campaign against the bedroom tax. Demonstrations have taken place around the UK, including Wales (details here). A separate campaign in Cardiff is planning another demonstration for 30 March; you can get in contact through this Facebook site. These are initiatives that we should support as WLG.

The Coalition of Resistance has initiated a People’s Assembly Against Austerity on Saturday 22 June in London. This is much more significant than ‘just another meeting’. It is supported by Tony Benn and a long list of left TU general secretaries, LRC MPs such as John McDonnell and writers such John Pilger and Owen Jones. For once, the meeting is drawing wide support from socialist organisations in the UK. Significantly the meeting is, I believe, related to the Left Unity movement which was formed from the inspiration of the strikes across the EU last 14 November.  I know I will be going along, as it seems that there is a real chance of a possible movement for Left Unity in the UK with links internationally, at least to socialists in the EU. In relation to possible longer-term thinking that may be going on around this meeting, I would recommend an intriguing book review of the latest edition of Socialist Register in Red Pepper by John McDonnell which is not yet up on the website but look out for it.

Labour Party policy – how is it after the Jon and Ed duo? – LA

A few weeks ago Jon Cruddas and Ed Miliband made two coordinated speeches that started to lay the basis for Labour’s next election manifesto. The speeches provide socialists within the party with the first real opportunity to engage with the process of policy development and, at the same time, to assess the extent of the challenges we might face. The full speech by Jon Cruddas can be accessed here and Ed Miliband’s here.

In their own words, Cruddas spoke about what he called ‘social growth’ and Miliband ‘economic growth’. Cruddas’ speech is probably the more difficult to understand, because in talking abstractly about people taking greater responsibility through mutualism and social solidarity he could be referring either to an updated form of Victorian ‘self-help’ or to workers’ control. He refers to three principles that should underpin a new social compact: protection against risk; devolving power down and an opportunity to get on. This would be enabled, he argues, by ensuring a strong economy, renewing social security and providing integrated care. Specific policies referred to include a campaign for a living wage; regional economies; and making people more self reliant in terms of welfare.

Miliband’s speech was strong on analysing the threats and damage of the Tories’ policies and, in essence, argued that ‘One Nation’ Labour offers the country an alternative to the Tories’ race to the bottom in terms of wages and skills, which rewards only those at the top. Its alternative is an economy that will prosper only when the vast majority of the people prosper too. He included a number of specific policies, such as the mansion tax, which are more radical than those we experienced under the 13 years of the recent Labour governments.

Generally, the speeches were well received by sympathetic commentators. A good overview of the responses is provided by John Duncan’s blog. The Independent thought the ideas were from planet Zog but Jon Lansman, in his Left Futures blog, thought that, with inequality being identified as a key issue, there was much to engage with. Much of the response has been eclectic, broadly accepting the main thrust of the arguments and suggesting additional policies or adding to priorities. If, as socialists, however, we understand that our current economic and social situation is rooted in a structural crisis of capitalism, then this should inform our response and future engagement. Possible ways of looking at the current crisis from this perspective have been outlined in other discussion posts on the blog.

The key question is: what evidence do these speeches – and more recent statements – provide of a more radical trajectory of Labour policy toward providing answers to the problems revealed by the bankers’ crisis?

There is a contradiction sitting at the centre of ‘One Nation’ Labour: is it possible to overcome the existing power relations, and the consequent social and economic inequalities, through a social compact? The Tory government’s austerity politics have revealed that the rich are determined to make the working class pay for the crisis while they float above the law by shifting their wealth around tax havens. There is no recognition in these two speeches of this intensifying conflict of interest and of the difficulties of challenging the power of the rich. Labour could again end up in government, full of good intentions that are then taken apart by a reality they are not preparing for and become seen by the working class as part of the problem, having never really been prepared to challenge the power of capital. If Labour is going to be serious about this challenge it must stop trying to hide the problem with‘One Nation’ fudge and begin now to prepare party members and supporters for the real challenges that the next Labour government will face. Not doing so will leave the door open to parties like UKIP, a prospect that can already be seen in the Eastleigh result.

The portents are not good. While Labour talks about being prepared to use the ‘stick’ to compel under 25s to take work at a minimum wage, and even partially retain the bedroom tax, the rich are offered ‘carrots’ and self-regulation. But, to seriously address the imbalance of power in our society will require the opposite: the full use of the state to challenge the power of capital. Stewart Lansley argues, for example, that in addition to a living wage it is also necessary to restore the bargaining power of trade unions to improve their ability to claw back some of the increased proportion of revenue going to profits. As socialists, we should argue this case and challenge the idea that somehow employers – often tax-avoiding large corporations or private equity funds – can be persuaded to be nice to workers as part of a national ‘compact’. Other examples would be to go further than regulating the banks, keeping them nationalised and linking this with the idea of directing investment.

Of course, trying to act in this way would soon raise the question of ‘the UK v the world’ and this creates a problem for ‘One Nation’ ideas. How can we tackle the politics of austerity and multinational corporations and equity funds from one country? Quite simply: we can’t. So we have also to consider questioning the ‘One Nation’ idea by pointing to the need to work with other workers’ movements and socialists throughout the EU (at a minimum) to strengthen workers’ rights and link up our fights against the politics of austerity.

We should engage, as Lansman suggests, by constantly making the point through policy proposals about the need, not for a compact or compromise with the rich and powerful who have caused this crisis, but for alternatives that would involve a redistribution of power and wealth and a direction of investment from speculative profits into meeting the basic needs of all and a planet safe from climate change.

Discussion: The paucity and sadness of left wing debate – LA

Discussion: The paucity and sadness of left wing debate – Len Arthur
Whilst our ability to unite against the Nazis – as in the recent Swansea counter-demo against the NF – brings out the best of the left, the descent of some (in Cardiff, in particular) into name-calling over the local government cuts, shows that such issues can bring out the worse. It is possible to do better and work for unity, but it means engaging in a political and not a personal discourse. This is not a trivial issue: we, as socialists, need to develop our unity through comradely discussion – and indeed civility – and not push people away by being ‘leftier than thou’ sectarians.

It has been argued in these bulletins that the financial crisis has deep roots in the contradictory and exploitative processes of capitalism. Clearly, there is a debate about where to place the explanatory emphasis but, for the first time in decades, it is now possible to engage seriously in debates about the problems of capitalism as a system.

Within the Labour party, organisations such as Progress still carry the New Labour commitment to neo-conservatism or a form of austerity policies and are, at this stage, not prepared to consider a more radical critique. Many of those councillors who embrace the idea of the ‘dented shield’ may not be fully signed up to New Labour, but they certainly do not currently see any alternative to austerity politics, either politically or practically. On the other hand, within the Labour party and as serving councillors are many socialists who seriously engage with the need to develop a radical critique and in practice accept that councillors should not help to implement policies that deliver austerity locally, so that workers end up paying for the crisis.

Most councillors who are members of WLG would probably put themselves close to the second position outlined above but this time around have not voted against their group and cuts packages. The councillors can and have spoken ably for themselves but it also important to understand the context of their political position and the pressures upon them. Coming to terms with the new crisis of capitalism is a dynamic and people arrive at an understanding for varying reasons and at different times. Comrades who stood last year for election as local councillors were doing so to present a political challenge to the Tories and Liberals. At the time, the last thing on their minds was probably the idea that they might soon be being faced with the choice of voting for cuts or breaking the whip to vote against fellow Labour.

But it happened, and any opposition to the majority group positions has come under extreme pressure from the others. This situation requires a rapid political re-think. If the whip is broken, what are the political alternatives? If you are alone, it would mean being an independent until the next election and leaving Labour. If you have others standing with you, then perhaps a new socialist grouping could be formed, but who would you align with beyond the council, and what would be the basis for standing at the next election? And, in the end, what would have been achieved by voting against the whip if the Labour group had simply gone on to implement further cuts, with even less discussion? Of course, the ‘wriggle room’ to sustain a ‘dented shield’ policy will grow less every year, so the dilemma will not go away.

Now, given those scenarios, the real danger is that with no supportive socialist alternative, the only answer is to gradually succumb to the pressure to accept austerity. Once caught by the little finger of voting for cuts, it can be more difficult to say ‘no’ next time around. And the real danger of ‘holier than thou’ sectarianism is that councillors in this position will not have a supportive socialist alternative available – only an extremely hostile one, almost ensuring that councillors are pushed away from a socialist position. That is why left activists need to understand politically the dynamic that socialists councillors are operating within, and to address how we discuss the problems through in a comradely way, with the intention of developing the political support in terms of ideas and organisation, providing a way for as many socialists councillors as possible to vote against cuts and deal effectively with the longer-term political campaigning and organisational issues.

It is not a case of avoiding the crunch but trying to make sure that, as socialists, we ensure the challenge is met sooner rather than later, and with as much socialist unity as possible. Practically, for us in the Labour party, that possibly means WLG encouraging councillors to work with the LRC-supported Councillors Against the Cuts campaign – and certainly through the WLG councillors’ discussion group that has been established by Nick Davies.