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: 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: 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.