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.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

News & Action No 17 - May Day!

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
The next meeting of Welsh Labour Grassroots (WLG) will take place on Saturday, 18th May at the Ogmore Constituency Labour Party Social Club, Bryn Glas, Bryntirion, Bridgend CF31 4ES, 11.00 am – 1.00 pm. This has been changed from the original advertised date of 4th May, to avoid a clash with the Cardiff and Swansea May Day events (see below). The main discussion item will be the future of the health service in Wales. Julian Tudor Hart will talk about the importance of NHS Wales as the last bastion of a truly Bevanite healthcare model, and the threat of privatisation/marketisation, while Tony Beddow will cover the challenge of service reconfiguration. Julian’s concerns are set out in a recent essay on the IWA blog, which comrades are encouraged to read before the meeting.
Some other events coming up, in which you might be interested:
·        Cardiff, Wednesday 1st May: Cymru-Cuba open meeting to discuss the changing situation in Cuba and how we can help. 7.00 pm at the Cayo Arms, Cathedral Road.

·        Cardiff, Thursday, 2nd May: ‘Fighting the Cuts’:  a multimedia cabaret presented by Banner Theatre. 7.15 pm at the Best Western Plus - Maldron Hotel, St Mary Street. Free entry.

·        Cardiff, Saturday 4th May: Cardiff Trades Council May Day March & Rally – assemble 12.00 noon at the southern end of St Mary St, under railway bridge. Rally at 1.00pm at Temple of Peace. Speakers include: Matt Wrack (FBU), Chris Baugh (PCS), Andy Richards (Unite), Amarjite Singh (Wales TUC president).

·        Swansea, Saturday 4th May: Swansea Trades Council May Day rally – 12.00 noon in Castle Square. Speakers include: Geraint Davies MP and Bethan Jenkins AM.

·        Cardiff, Saturday 11th May: Socialist Educational Association open NEC meeting, 1.00pm at Cardiff Central Library. The NEC of the SEA meets around
the country, with all SEA members invited to listen to the debate, join in the discussion, meet NEC members and attend a social event afterwards (drinks, meal etc).

·        Swansea, Saturday 11th May: Socialist Health Association Cymru AGM, 10.00 am –

12.30 pm in Committee Room 3, Swansea Civic Centre, Oystermouth Road, Swansea. Guest speaker: Andrew Davies, former Welsh Government minister and now Chair of the Local Health Board serving Swansea, Neath, Port Talbot, and Bridgend.

·        Cardiff, Saturday 25 May: ‘Ground the Drones - From Wales to Gaza’, a dayschool on drone warfare and building the anti-drones movement in Wales, sponsored by  Cardiff Stop the War, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, CND Cymru etc. 1.00 – 5.00 pm in the Main Building, Cardiff University, Park Place. Speakers include: Rafeef Ziadah (Palestinian activist/War on Want) & Chris Cole (Drones Campaigns Network/Drone Wars UK blog).

·        London, Saturday 22nd June: People’s Assembly Against Austerity:
Left Commentary
Over the last few months, a number of events have reached ‘turning points’ which call for further reflection and discussion by WLG. In Wales budget decisions by the Welsh Government and local authorities have revealed where the reduced funding from the UK government will start to hit services, despite some excellent decisions – such as providing funding to prevent the Council Tax Benefit cuts being passed on to the poorest member of our communities – ‘wriggle-room’ for elected representatives is being increasingly curtailed. The UK Tory government’s benefit cuts, including the ‘Bedroom Tax’, have a direct impact on people in Wales and have started to hit people with a vengeance in April.
Within the Labour Party, the debate over the manifesto for the next general election is reaching a critical stage, close to where specific decisions will have to be made. No sooner had David Miliband departed for the US than Tony Blair returned to the fray, bringing key issues to the surface. Developments such as the death of Thatcher and the deepening of the economic crisis have, at the same time, resulted in renewed debate about neo-liberalism, austerity politics and the importance of developing a socialist alternative. One of the new reflections of this debate has been the emergence of the People’s Assembly Against Austerity and Left Unity.
We have previously referred to the Marxist analysis that Michael Roberts brings to the current economic crisis but he has been particularly acute and relevant over the last few weeks. Also, a comrade in Portugal has drawn attention to a YouTube video of a recent lecture Michael gave on the economic crisis and the Euro. This is lengthy but worth it and puts a voice and face to the diagrams!
Some of Michael Roberts’ recent blog entries cover:
·        how the economists Rogoff and Reinhart got their analysis wrong on the effect of public sector debt and growth (and how the debate has rumbled on);

·        further thoughts on the weaknesses of Keynes and his more radical supporters in getting to grips with the current crisis;

·        And, finally: a serious exposition of the damage caused by Thatcher’s economic policies.
Still on the Thatcher theme: two recent articles – one from John Pilger and the other from John McDonnell – put paid to any pretence that either her government or its successor today had any redeeming features.
The continuing economic and social crisis has stimulated a range of debates and commentaries. The Kilburn Manifesto, initiated by veteran left-wing thinkers, Stuart Hall, Doreen Massey and Michael Rustin, is one version of the attempts to start ‘dig below the surface’ and think long-term about the implications. Another is Newsnight economics editor, Paul Mason’s recent reflections on ‘why it is kicking off everywhere’ which reports on the ways in which some people are fighting back, while also exploring the context. The contrast between the two approaches is interesting.
Our next bulletin and blog will include a discussion of some of these developments.

Darren Williams – WLG Secretary
Len Arthur – WLG Assistant Secretary

Discussion: The Labour Party and the FIghtback against Austerity - Len Arthur

Discussion: The Labour Party and the Fightback against Austerity
Working class families in Wales and throughout the UK are increasingly experiencing the consequences of austerity politics and paying for the bankers’ crisis. Just a quick look at the Cardiff Against the Bedroom Tax Facebook group gives a clear idea as to what people are experiencing and how they are trying to respond. Here, for example, is a copy of a letter received by a tenant from Cynon Taf Community Housing Group about her mounting rent arrears; thousands of families across Wales will be experiencing this on a weekly basis and then, in about three months, the evictions will start. The latest edition of Red Pepper includes a good ‘mythbuster’ article on housing and another recounts tenants’ experiences and how they are starting to fight back. 
Turning to the workplace: the latest ONS figures show real wages have fallen by 8.9% since 2009 and are now back to 2003 levels, caused by a combination of pay freezes and economic restructuring. ‘Restructuring’ of course covers a multitude of attacks which are reflected in the TUC analysis on the real level of unemployment and the daily announcements of further attacks on workers’ rights: gangmaster legislation weakened; minimum wage attacked; Agriculture Wages Board being wound up; equality rights undermined, all over the last four weeks. I experienced this recently when interviewing applicants for a part time job on behalf of my local community council. A look at the 76 CVs revealed a chilling longitudinal pattern of secure jobs being lost around 2007 / 2008 followed by a pattern of short term employment with each new job paying less and, knowing some of the employers, with much worse conditions: hence the attraction of our community council job.
Resistance is being organised, both at work and in the wider community. The Bedroom Tax campaign is gradually getting underway through a huge amount of hard work around council estates and areas of social housing – as can be seen from the Facebook and Red Pepper references cited above – and through the work of organisation like the Welsh Tenants Federation. In the workplace, the Unite website is an insight into the level of workplace action and the range of issues union members are facing. Last week, the TUC met to discuss a report on the feasibility of calling a general strike. A number of unions, such as Unite, are supporting the call, and such a decision would lift the campaign against the Tories to a new level, providing a focus for us all to work toward.
What can and should we do as Labour party members? We can act at a number of levels. Branches could consider drawing up an action plan, reaching out to those who are affected by the Tories’ policies by helping to provide advice and build action around the Bedroom Tax and other welfare changes, as well as linking these to the pressure people are experiencing at work. At a basic level, this could follow the type of activity that has been referred to above but also arguing against the Tories’ austerity politics, proposing alternatives that should be Labour party policy. Clearly, this can be linked to recruitment, but we should be prepared to work in unity with others on the left who wish to organise a fightback and develop alternatives. A good example of how a local campaign can link community and workplace politics is this one from Portland, Oregon in the US.
We could also address the issue of Labour party support and political leadership within the party. Clearly a local campaign would benefit immensely if local Labour councillors were prepared to be involved and to take the campaign into the council chamber. Local branches and constituency parties can also provide coordination and support to community action and prioritise: supporting trade union action through solidarity resolutions, collections and by attending demonstration and picket lines. The resolution that we initiated and helped to pass at the Welsh Labour conference in March provides a start in arguing for this type of action. If the level of mobilisation and fightback can be raised over the next few months, it will start to provide the political support for a radical Labour party manifesto for the coming EU and general elections.
Four directions for Labour?
The departure of David Miliband has left the Blairites and the New Labour ‘Progress’ organisation without a knight to carry their flag into battle. Whilst he was an MP, David Miliband could wait in the wings for his brother to trip and step forward to save the day. Bereft of this option, a frontal attack has been launched, led by the man himself, aimed at pulling the other brother, Ed, at least closer into their fold. And – who knows? – if this doesn’t work there is always the SDP model to take out of the cupboard.
Tony Blair’s article in the New Statesman, which initiated this tactic, has been widely quoted but is worth a read itself. It is rhetorically clever, attempting to take the intellectual high ground by referring to a ‘guiding principle’ – ‘that we are seekers after answers and not the repository for people’s anger’. What a wonderful way to set up a straw man argument; how democratic; how reasonable. Of course it is possible to do both but not in Tony Blair’s world. All the right boxes are ticked: global world; Labour government didn’t create the deficit problem – the ‘financial tsunami’ did; we must deal with reality etc. Then, as we are ‘seekers after answers’, a list of reasonable-sounding questions are asked. But among the rhetoric is the neo-liberal argument: ‘systems we created post 1945 have to change radically’; and then the killer what we need is ‘one simple test: what produces growth and jobs?’
‘There is roughly $1trn (£650bn) of UK corporate reserves. What would give companies the confidence to invest it? What does a modern industrial strategy look like? How do we rebuild the financial sector? There is no need to provide every bit of detail. People don’t expect it. But they want to know where we’re coming from because that is a clue as to where we would go, if elected.’
Just read and think what is being said here: each of these questions could have a left and a right answer; but we won’t say which before an election – we just need to provide ‘clues’. Then, when we are in power, guess which way Tony Blair would wish us to jump? Used cars come very much to mind.
Well, that is one direction for Labour and Ed Miliband responded by arguing that all parties need to move on and move forward and that is what Labour is doing now. Perhaps the clearest and most positive picture of what this may mean is provided by a collection of policy statements by Ed and his frontbench colleagues, brought together on Eoin Clarke’s ‘Green Benches’ blog. And, as Jon Lansman argues in Left Futures, the policy development process is not yet finished so there is much to build on. This is the second possible direction.
Then, in the last week in an interview with the newly re-elected general secretary of Unite Len McCluskey – interestingly in the New Statesman as well – a third possible direction emerges.
‘In a sharp warning to Miliband, he predicts that Labour will lose the general election if it adopts a policy of “austerity-lite” and supports cuts in public spending. “We believe that Ed should try to create a radical alternative. My personal fear, and that of my union, is that if he goes to the electorate with an austerity-lite programme, then he will get defeated.”’
Len continues to warn Ed Miliband of the dangers of Progress, Blair and their supporters in the shadow cabinet saying that “If he [Miliband] is daft enough to get sucked into the old Blairite ‘neoliberalism wasn’t too bad and we just need to tinker with it a little bit’ . . . then not only will he fail but I fear for the future of the Labour Party.” Here is the argument for a radically alternative programme based upon challenging capitalism and its neo-liberal agenda. Ed Miliband has now responded putting a considerable distance between himself as Labour leader and Len McCluskey’s comments, stating through a ‘spokesman’: "This attempt to divide the Labour Party is reprehensible. It is the kind of politics that lost Labour many elections in the 1980s. It won't work. It is wrong. It is disloyal to the party he claims to represent." Well, the rhetoric is certainly there but it is not yet clear if it amounts to a rejection of the radical alternative Len was suggesting.

The dangerous fourth outcome for the direction of the party is that the Labour left is frightened off the debate by fear of electoral consequences. We are at a critical time where, if we are not careful, we can persuade ourselves that in the absence of a growing mobilisation of anger and action against the Tories that we have missed the radical chance, and now have to compromise with the politics and policies of austerity.  This would involve agreeing to pay for the bankers’ crisis, at least in part, and being left to ameliorate the hurt and damage whilst being quiet, in order to maximise the chances of winning at the next election: it is the post-1992 scenario repeated.
How should the socialist left respond to this approach?
First, if we are convinced that capitalism is facing major structural problems, with severe consequences for the economy and climate alike, then should we not have the confidence to take the debate and the radical solutions to the electorate? As Compass argues – from a less radical, more pragmatic perspective – if the policies of the next Labour government do even begin to provide a solution to these deep seated problems, failure as a government and massive electoral defeat beckon very rapidly.
Second, the arguments supporting the neo-liberal and austerity politics have not yet become the new consensus and are suffering from the twin attacks of their own contradictions and the weight of alternative evidence.
Third, as argued above, the fightback is not over, the anger remains, is growing and even the TUC is discussing a one day general strike, so with our support further mobilisation is on the cards.
Fourth, the battle for a radical Labour manifesto is about having the confidence to face the real and frightening realities of capitalism: it is very much part of the fight for socialism and democracy against barbarism: we should be confident to carry it through, working with our allies in the trade unions and communities.
As Welsh Labour Grassroots, we are in a position to initiate such a campaign in those branches and constituencies where we have members. Are we up for it?