Dec 03 2002

Emancipation & Liberation, Issue 4, Winter 2002

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 04RCN @ 2:15 pm

Issue 4 of Emancipation & Liberation is out now.

Issue 4 Cover

Issue 4 Cover

If you would like to buy this issue or subscribe, contact us.

Tags:


Dec 03 2002

Letters

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 04RCN @ 2:12 pm

Dear Comrades,

I disagree with much of what Bob Goupillot has written in his article, Which route for political working class unity in Britain E&L 3. I sympathise with the reasons given for Cymru Goch’s resignation from the Welsh Socialist Alliance in the letter published alongside Bob’s article. I particularly agree where they write, We are unable to compromise our socialist republicanism indefinitely.

Therein lies the problem with Socialist Alliances in England and Wales. It’s obvious, even the SSP has problems with republicanism, as outlined in Allan Armstrong’s article, Republicans celebrate the jubilee, in the same issue. He states that Alan McCombe’s comrades in the ISM haven’t got the republican message despite Tommy Sheridan using the dreaded R word three times at the SSP Annual Conference in Dundee.

As a communist and republican, if I lived in Scotland, I would personally be in the SSP, because it’s the largest and most politically advanced radical organisation in Scotland, with any sort of commitment to republicanism, even if a wee bit removed from the Scottish Workers’ Republic at present. This said, I find it quite breathtaking that Bob can make such a sweeping statement, that he thinks all individual socialists and socialist organisations should be in the Scottish Socialist Party or the Socialist Alliances in England and Wales.

Leaving aside the question of whether or not the SSP is a party or a united front alliance, involving the SWP and other politically autonomous organisations, it’s worth remembering and recording that, the Scot of greatest socialist republican and communist renown, John Maclean, refused to join the Communist Party of Great Britain, when all around the vast majority of revolutionary socialists, communists and best trade union militants in Scotland and Britain flocked to it at the time. Whether he was politically right in doing this or not, he obviously felt the CPGB was not republican socialist or communist enough and neither were some of its leading lights. So it is possible to be a (even great) socialist republican or communist, or dare I say it, a smaller organisation and not be in what might appear to be the obvious or leading political organisation or party.

Bob also seems to think that the centre of revolutionary political gravity in Britain is to be found in Scotland and the SSP. This scotocentric attitude is most clearly seen when he states, Again Scotland was in the lead, in reference to struggle against the poll tax. It was in the lead at one time because the Tories and British Establishment were afraid to try the poll tax out in Northern Ireland and used Scotland to test it before taking it south of the border. Many Scottish workers, people and organisations did a tremendous job of fighting and building opposition to the hated poll tax. But it was the Trafalgar Square Riots which saw it and Thatcher off in the process. It was a truly international achievement in which English workers and anarchists had a big say.

I think the centre of revolutionary activity, organisation and struggle is still by far to be found in Northern Ireland within the working class republican nationalist communities of resistance. These people are politically suppressed and controlled by a combination of left, right and centre pro-Agreement forces. They are subject to continual physical attack and bombardment by those from the most extreme reactionary force in British politics, Ulster Loyalism, often in collusion with the British state. Yet they battle on! These communities and their leaders have vast experience and are the only ones amongst the working class in the UK struggling and sometimes dying for republicanism and national liberation, fighting and resisting the British state, its army of occupation and its paramilitary police force.

Unless we, in the rest of the UK, learn from and link up with these communities of resistance, leaders and organisations fighting against the consequences of the Agreement, along with any workers from the other side of the political divide and build one big militant, republican united front, then there is no future for socialist republicanism or socialist republics in Ireland, Scotland, Wales or England. No country, no people, no movement can do it alone.

The key to the British revolution (to coin a phrase!) and the socialist political unity of the working class is republicanism. This means especially the struggle, or struggles for republicanism with its militant political challenge to the British monarchist state, its loyal institutions such as the British Labour Party and the TUC and all its political supporters and left apologists.

Any and all serious moves towards this will need to be accompanied by United Front Republican Socialist Alliances, with the objective of forming Republican Socialist Parties in Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. It needs a federated England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales-wide umbrella organisation to link and coordinate internationally. Where the main political emphasis is on militant republicanism, this can only mean one thing in the context of the British monarchist state – abolish the monarchy (mind you they are doing quite a good job of that themselves at the present but need a helping hand!), the Crown Powers and the UK state and replace these with socialist republics.

This republicanism will provide the distinctive political cutting edge and must be very firmly attached to the socialist content of such alliances. Otherwise, as we’ve all seen and experienced, socialism on its own, with its many divisive political varieties and organisations, means all things to all men and women and whatever any particular individual or organisation wants it to. Debating and getting a common agreement and understanding of what socialism is, along the way, would help enormously!

There can be no socialist political unity of the working class in Britain or Ireland unless our class eventually struggles as one social force against the British state and for socialist republics in Ireland and the nations which go to make up the increasingly fragile looking United Kingdom. Only political struggle can unite us politically – one struggle, one road, one revolution, one united working class.

By the way, I’m no John Maclean, but neither am I in the Socialist Alliance in England. Republican Socialist Alliances, yes, but then I’m still a communist, a republican and trade union militant and not a bad one of each I hope! In comradeship.

Brian Higgins

Northampton

Tags: ,


Dec 03 2002

Prisoners of Social Partnership

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 04RCN @ 2:11 pm

A socialist analysis of social partnership in Ireland, by Joe Craig of Socialist Democracy

Part of the Good Friday Agreement was the creation of the Council of the Islands. This provides the ruling classes of these islands with a forum to discuss their more effective political control. However, whatever political differences still remain, there is remarkable cross-nation agreement on the need for state/employer/ trade union partnerships. Furthermore, go to any all-islands, UK, British, Irish or Scottish trade union conference and you will see that the other national General Secretaries and officials and office bearers have usually been invited. Now, whilst many rank and file trade union members believe these people are only there for the free-flowing drink and restaurant meals, real discussion does also take place. The most likely topic is the promotion of the idea of partnership. This was first pioneered in Ireland. John Nixon, a writer for Fourthwrite, reviews the first book to analyse the Irish experience from a socialist viewpoint.

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has just netted a cool £30 million after selling seven million shares in Ryanair. He still holds 44 million shares, 6% of the company valued at £194 million. Big money. O’Leary’s profits come on top of a £17 million bonus he pocketed on the day a major strike for better pay by Ryanair baggage workers ended in March 1998. Ryanair is known for its contempt and non-recognition of unions and its despicable treatment of workers and arrogant disregard for any arbitration, whether High Court or otherwise. The story of Ryanair’s baggage workers’ strike of 1997 and the Irish nurses strike of 1999, when 10,000 nurses marched through the streets of Dublin, and the ramifications for workers, unions and social partners is well documented and debated in a gem of a book written by Joe Craig and published by Socialist Democracy.

Prisoners of Social Partnership questions the role and policy of social partnership and presents a formidable argument that, if anything, social partnership does little to advance the conditions of the underprivileged or redress the acute social, cultural and economic imbalances thrown up by the Celtic Tiger economy.

The book is not just a tale of two strikes but of two peoples; the haves and the have nots. There are fundamental lessons here for all those who claim that the cause of labour is the cause of Ireland and who want a more just and equitable society.

Joe Craig is well versed and experienced in fighting for workers’ rights and has faced the wrath of those who oppose them. The book aims to stimulate debate among ordinary workers angry that their organisations no longer seem to belong to them in any real sense and in fact more and more appear to be positive obstacles in the way of their defending themselves both inside and outside the workplace. In effect the organisations and individuals charged with defending their cause have been duped into becoming part of the oppressive apparatus which constitutes the state.

The disparities created by the Celtic Tiger economy may well prove to be the Achille’s heel in that when the boom becomes bust, the only people who will have anything to show for it will be the greedy Chief Executives, their lackeys, corrupt politicians and public reps.

The arguments in the book are set out clearly and the absence of heavy jargon is an asset. One salient fact emerges; the need for wider debate and cohesive action within militant socialism. This can only come about through the regeneration of political debate on the left and a renewed hunger for political ideas… unless a developed political programme is married tothe workers’ movement the latter will ultimately fail to significantly alter the injustice and inequality of present society.

Given the results of the recent election in the south the only thing that the underprivileged can expect is more of the same. Time for action is now. This book points the way forward.

Tags:


Dec 03 2002

Rank and File or Broad Left

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 04RCN @ 2:06 pm

Workers’ Democracy versus British Bureaucracy

Through his experience in the building industry and other working class struggles, Brian Higgins (Building Worker Group, UCATT, TCT) argues for rank and file organisation, not Broad Leftism.

Introduction

I have been asked as a militant trade unionist and a committed republican to write this article. Recently there has been a rise in public sector militancy. There has also been a rise to public prominence of left-wing full-time officials like Bob Crow (RMT), Derek Simpson (Amicus), Mark Serwotka (PCSU) and of course, Andy Gilchrist (FBU).

In response, the mass media has whipped up what I would call a mock hysteria, conjuring up the dreaded 1979 Winter of Discontent (that’s Old Labour for you!); invoking public sector workers wreaking havoc with the economy; and using words like rebellion and revolution to create a political panic. This is meant to scare the public half to death and is especially directed against the working class and trade unionists in particular.

What the ruling class and their media are terrified of is militant workers rising up and moving independently, well ahead of these left-wing officials with their militant rhetoric. They know they have little to fear from these officials since in crunch situations, far from fanning the flames of rebellion, they make it their business to douse them!

My industrial background and current credentials

What follows is proof that I would not ask workers to do anything, or to take risks that I’m not prepared to take myself. This article is not some sort of academic political exercise. I’m a bricklayer and have been secretary of the Rank and File Building Worker Group (BWG) for over 27 years. For most of this time I have also been secretary of the Northampton UCATT branch, recognised as the most militant in the union and a serious thorn in the side of the General Secretary, Executive Council, full-time officials and the Broad Left.

We’ve been involved in leading quite a few struggles in the building industry and supporting others in and out of it, such as Grunwicks in 1977 and the Miners’ Strike in 1984-5. I’ve been arrested on picket lines, banned from the town of Wellingborough during an engineering workers dispute and from the Tooley Street area of London during the Laings Lockout – but I managed to circumvent that once or twice! I was arrested by the Special Branch on a building workers’ picket line on a McCarthy Stone site in Sutton, taken to the local police station and told if I did not leave Sutton I would spend a very long time on remand in Brixton Jail.

I was one of five UCATT members and BWG supporters who, in 1986, successfully and openly defied a High Court injunction brought against us by John Laing under the 1982 anti-trade union laws. This action was taken to stop us using flying pickets and meeting or even talking about our dispute. In reply, we stepped up all of these activities!

In 1996, Dominic Hehir, a full-time UCATT official and on the Broad Left, took out a High Court writ against me, in an attempt to silence me and those I represent in BWG and UCATT. Hehir got legal support from current prominent Socialist Alliance member and parliamentary candidate, Louise Christian. She purports to be a great defender of civil rights, but when it comes to workers’ democratic rights – that’s another story – some socialist, some alliance! As with Laing, I refused to be silenced and told him I’d rather go to jail than surrender the freedoms at stake. After a very successful campaign, which was taken on to the sites, Hehir eventually withdrew his legal action.

I’ve been very severely blacklisted for refusing to give up my militant trade union activities. This blacklist extends to other industries beyond construction. I’ve been smeared, had death threats, had hate mail and malicious and threatening phone calls – what a life!

In March of last year I was involved in picketing a large building site in Northampton. This brought all the other workers out and the site to a complete standstill within two hours. The action was taken in support of bricklayers and hod-carriers who had been robbed of their money by a subcontractor. They asked the UCATT official and me what they should do. The official said continue the negotiations, which had been going on for several weeks with no success. I said, picket. The picket won and so did the men, who were paid the next day. As soon as the picket was put on, the full-time official disappeared and has not been seen in Northampton since!

After a battle lasting nearly two years, mainly with the General Secretary and full-time officials, who continually tried to stitch them up, four members of Northampton UCATT won a truly ground breaking Industrial Tribunal Appeals Court decision last year. This established in British law the right of all building workers to 20 days paid holiday per year, whether on PAYE or more importantly, the so-called self-employed – the majority in the industry. So my credentials are very current!

Theory and practice – time for debate

In my 27 years of experience of the revolutionary left, Socialism, Broad Left and Rank and File have never been debated and clearly defined as to their meaning in political and industrial terms. Therefore, the main purpose of this article is to stimulate and encourage such debate and hopefully to develop much clearer understanding and agreement on the revolutionary workers’ alternative to the Broad Left approach to industrial struggle, politics and organisation

It goes like this, Rank and File, capital R and F, to distinguish this from the everyday rank and file workers, is a revolutionary concept. Rank and File is both political and organisational. It brings together revolutionary workers and the more militant reformist workers to win meaningful advances. The revolutionaries have no faith in the very limited democracy under parliamentary rule, nor in the trade union bureaucrats’ talking-shop, the TUC. They see the road to working class emancipation in extra-parliamentary organisation and activity. Those, who still constitute the majority of militant workers, believe the system can be reformed in favour of the working class through parliament, the established political parties and trade unions, if enough pressure is applied. Rank and File involves a united front of these two groups in their specific workplaces, industries and trade unions. The purpose of this is to counter capitalist offensives including the current one and the inherent nature of all full-time officials to reach unprincipled compromises and to sell out on workers’ wages, conditions and jobs.

United Front – above all, independent

Rank and file organisation in any industry or union must have an agreed platform of principles and policies. These are designed to minimise difference and maximise agreement in order to unite militant workers (and where possible, others too) organisationally and in action

There also needs to be a more general Rank and File umbrella organisation with its own common platform to unite workers in struggle and to counter any attempts to divide and rule by pitting worker against worker, section against section, union against union, white collar against blue collar and private against public sector. Craft chauvinism, narrow sectionalism, racism, national chauvinism and sexism are the enemies of workers’ unity and solidarity.

But, above all, Rank and File organisation and activity must be completely independent of the full-time officials and capable of seeing a struggle through to a successful conclusion, in opposition to these officials, employers and their bureaucratic machinery.

Broad Left and the long-standing Popular Front Social Partnership

The Broad Left is basically a popular front between bosses, politicians and trade union officials. It is supposed to work in the following manner. The Broad Left, at grass-roots level, puts pressure on full-time left-wing trade union officials and politicians. They, in turn, will put pressure on other trade union officials and politicians, who will then put pressure on the more liberal employers, who will presumably put pressure on other employers. This combination is meant to benefit rank and file workers!

The employers still have the real power and invariably exercise this to control the others, so that they can pursue their own narrow greedy class interests. To maximise profits (which they must, if they are to hang on to their privileges) they must our curtail wages, conditions and jobs. The Broad Left could be correctly characterised as the Broad Right, because it is the bosses who set the limits to this popular front in
practice!

The Broad Left industrial strategy has long historical roots, but was essentially a product of the Communist Party of Great Britain. It is now practised by the Labour Left and all of the revolutionary left organisations of any size.

1926 General Strike and the inglorious aftermath

After the collapse of the International Revolutionary Wave in 1921, the infant
CPGB struggled to find a defensive strategy, toying with the notion of the united front. It wasn’t long before
CPGB’s new industrial organisation, the Minority Movement, corrupted this to an early form of popular frontism – leaving things to the union full-time officials. The 1926 General Strike was met with great enthusiasm, energy and resolve by the working class. They used strike committees (embryonic workers’ councils) to organise mass meetings of strikers, to send mass flying pickets all over the place. They turned the TUC General Council’s half-hearted call into a general strike from below.

Enter the CPGB who politically influenced the majority of best militants of the day. They came up with the catastrophic slogan – All power to the General Council. Which they promptly took and proceeded to have meetings with their partners in the unpopular front against the strike – Prime Minister, Baldwin and anti-strike coordinator, Churchill. After nine days they called off the general strike in ‘the national interest’ – they only forgot to join in a chorus of Rule Britannia!

The general demoralisation and blacklisting of militants that followed was devastating. Yet still the Broad Left approach dominated. The later triumph of fascism led to a further twist to the Right and the theory and strategy of the Popular Front emerged in its fully developed form in the 1930’s – to the immediate the cost of Spanish and French workers. In the UK the Popular Front’s industrial Broad Left strategy was further developed. They now pushed for the election of left-wing full-time officials as the primary immediate political objective and raison d’etre. What a disaster! The CPGB has now gone, but their legacy lives on and on.

Tony Benn- the doyen of Broad Left politicians

More recently we have the Broad Left holding up their prime example of a left wing politician – Tony Benn. He was on Labour’s National Executive to boot and championed workers’ causes and struggles. What did he do when in power?

When he was Energy Minister in Callaghan’s Labour government in the 1970’s he threatened (and meant it) to send troops into Windscale (now Sellafield) to break a strike by nuclear power workers. He also applied to use Crown powers to deal with a threatened power workers’ strike – again in the national interest. Once more Rule Britannia and hat doffed before Her Majesty – some workers’ champion.

Arthur Scargill – icon of the Broad Left

Even today, Arthur Scargill is worshipped and held up by the Broad Left as the shining light, the living proof, of how supporting and relying on a left-wing trade union leader, is the political thing to do. Also, woe betide anyone who dared to criticise him during the Miners’ Strike of 1984-5, or even today for that matter. You’re only allowed to criticise the ones the Broad Left don’t approve of. I dared in 1984/5 and do so again today!

The political and social significance of that truly heroic year long struggle was undoubtedly the most pivotal since the 1926 General Strike. How Scargill led that strike proves the correctness or otherwise of the Broad Left approach to industrial organisation and struggle.

It was in 1974, during the successful mass picketing at the gates of Saltley Coke Depot, that Scargill undoubtedly and rightly won his reputation as a fearless full-time union official during the Miners’ Strike. This strike resulted in the downfall of Prime Minister, Heath and his Tory government.

However, the class struggle never stands still. By the time of the 1984/5 Miners’ Strike, Scargill was the national leader of the NUM and Thatcher and her Tory government, backed by the NCB, the Establishment and the British state, were seeking to exact political and class revenge for 1974. They announced a massive programme of pit closures to provoke the miners and essentially to put Scargill and the NUM to the test. Scargill and the NUM National Committee announced they would oppose and stop all these closures and even force a few closed pits to reopen.

Given that closures hadn’t been stopped until then, these aims were politically quite breathtaking in the political climate of the day. Scargill must have known that it would take a struggle of almost revolutionary proportions, and at least the removal of the Tory government to achieve these aims. Yet not once did they make this a stated policy objective. Perhaps they thought this would be a byproduct of the strike, but these things are never accidental. It is worthwhile studying the Miners’ Strike in a little more detail, since it gets to the heart of the differences between a Broad Left and Rank and File approach.

Rank and file take initiative Scargill takes it back!

While Scargill and the National Committee were deliberating over what to do about the pit closure announcement, rank and file miners at Cortonwood Colliery in South Yorkshire didn’t wait for the word from on high. They knew exactly what to do. They organised and sent out flying pickets all over South Yorkshire, bringing the whole coalfield to a halt. Scargill called a NUM national conference not only to make the strike official, but to bring it under his control!

Realising they had to stop the huge Nottingham area, which was still working, rank and file Yorkshire miners took the initiative once more. They sent flying pickets into the county and soon Notts was out and all-Britain strike action was the order of the day.

What did Scargill do? Not for him Rank and File Strike Committees controlling, coordinating and spreading the strike. When a miner was killed by a scab’s lorry on a Notts. picket line, Scargill disastrously called the action off – at the request of the Chief Constable. This was meant to allow a cooling off period and to permit Nottingham miners to vote separately for the national strike which was now an established fact! Needless to say, with the pressure off, the mass media and the scab Notts. full-time officials all going to town, they voted to go back to work in Notts. It was mainly downhill after this defeat. The Orgreave Coal Depot was not as pivotal in 1984, as either Saltley Gates a decade earlier or the Notts. situation in the early days of the strike. Workplace mass picketing became the focal point of many battles, giving a considerable morale boost for the winners in each specific confrontation especially at Orgreave. Here thousands of picketing miners, dressed in T-shirts and trainers, were confronted by mounted police and thousands of police in riot gear using military organisation, tactics and brutality! In spite of the great courage shown by the miners, they were inevitably and literally beaten into defeat at Orgreave. The British state tactics had moved on since Saltley (greatly helped by training in the Six Counties), but the official NUM hadn’t.

They should have been as well prepared, drilled and disciplined as the police, with at least pit helmets and boots and something in hand to combat police batons and tactics. James Connolly’s Citizen Army springs to mind as a workers’ self-defence force used in the great Dublin Lock-Out of 1913. Dublin then lay within the UK – the Citizen Army is part of our shared tradition! Self-defence is no offence, especially against strike breaking police, state and government.

Even given the setbacks in Notts. and at Orgreave, the Miners’ Strike was always winnable until Scargill surrendered it to the TUC and Labour Party bureaucrats at their national conferences. The state, government and employers spent £7 billion, yes billion, to defeat this strike. The miners could never win alone, but to trust in meaningful support from resolutions passed by the TUC and Labour Party conferences – Jeezus Christ!

There was massive political and social support for the miners throughout the
UK and beyond. Much of this was because of the deep class hatred towards Thatcher and the Tories. The miners’ heroic struggle inspired our class and gave it a political focus. However, although massive, it remained largely passive. It could have been translated into militant political strike action to remove Thatcher and her government. It needed miners’ flying pickets to go to other workplaces in every town and city in Britain, with the support of the Miners’ Support Groups. It needed a general strike from below! This isn’t just clever hindsight. I was involved in the Northampton Miners’ Support Group and we linked up with the legendary Dirty Thirty striking miners from Leicestershire. I argued unsuccessfully for these tactics with the Broad Left leadership of the MSG and successfully with the Dirty Thirty despite the fact they were still much influenced by Scargill. For good measure, I told them to send a couple of hundred miners to Northampton and we’d picket the town to a standstill in a week. They believed me, but things fell on deaf ears when they went back to their leaders.

Workers’ Republic of South Yorkshire – nearly, but not quite!

Mass struggle always politicises workers and their families very rapidly. Republican consciousness was developing amongst quite a few involved in the ‘communities of resistance’ formed in South Yorkshire. Their villages were under virtual occupation by a paramilitary police force and almost daily army manoeuvres. Imagine if this had been linked up with the ‘communities of resistance’ in Northern Ireland. Some miners did see the link, comparing South Yorkshire to South Armagh!

Of course, Scargill was no republican and was not about to offer even a militant social democratic challenge to the British state. Like the loyal fulltime British trade union official he is, he went to the very loyal British TUC and her majesty’s loyal Labour Party Opposition to support him. The bureaucrats supported the miners as Lenin said, Like a rope supports a hanging man! After this, defeat was utter and inevitable. The miners had rightly and proudly been seen as the workers’ trade union vanguard The disastrous effects of the miners’ defeat are still reverberating today within the workers’ movement in the UK.

Today – more false dawns and false prophets!

Has the revolutionary left learned and applied any lessons from the miners’ defeat, or indeed from other subsequent struggles? Not at all – Broad Leftism still dominates the Left and, in the process, suffocates workers’ struggles.

Soon after, the Oil Industry Liaison Committee was formed to organise both the rig and shore workers, who had been left disorganised and disunited by the official unions. If workers need to create their own independent organisations in defiance of the official organisations controlled by the bureaucrats – so be it. Unfortunately, the OILC’s own full-timer, Ronnie Macdonald was also Broad Left. When rig oil workers occupied the rigs, Macdonald called off the action in the face of legal action.

A more recent example of a Broad Left official has been Bill Morris, General Secretary of the TGWU. When Liverpool dockers took independent strike action to defend themselves from casualisation and privatisation they won considerable respect and support. Like the miners they couldn’t win on their own. Support in Liverpool and further afield would have to be turned into more militant action by the use of flying pickets, with active backing from the many Support Groups. The dockers and their leaders knew this. However, they went along with Broad Left General Secretary, Morris, when he said the anti-trade union laws could be used. Scargill’s SLP, which had some influence amongst the dockers’ leaders, went along with this.

Another new messiah with old failings is Bob Crow. Has his leadership of the RMT made much difference? Obviously not to the bosses, New Labour or the TUC, so what about the union membership? He talks a good fight, but the railways are still in terminal decline, which must also apply to the conditions of those working on them. The RMT has organised strikes of sections of its own members, where they are called out for short periods. Some have been going on for over two years now. What about one union, one industry, one big strike to settle all the outstanding issues?

When Crow was acting General Secretary in 1998, he told the bestknown militant of the day, Euston shop steward, Steve Hedley, that he’d win his job back, when he was sacked during a national dispute. I told Steve, when he contacted me, he wouldn’t get his job back by depending on the official machinery. Unfortunately, he went along with Crow and he remains sacked. What a signal to send to the employers! Crow was badly beaten up by some thugs in a clear attempt to intimidate him into giving up his union activities. To his credit he didn’t, but this should have become a national issue with a nationwide strike called and spread by flying pickets. The employers (and state) would be told that if there was any more intimidation it would be met by all-out strike action and rail-workers’ self defence teams. Nothing was done – another bad signal!

Rail Link

About seven months ago, another full-time official, Brian Rye, of UCATT, was badly beaten up and hospitalised on the Hotchief Murphy site for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link at Sawbridge in Kent. General Secretary, Georger Brumwell and his executive (also Broad Left) did nothing apart from involving union lawyers. The only terrifying thing about lawyers is their fees!

If any of us in the BWG was seriously assaulted for our trade union activities, we’d find the troops from somewhere to do the business. The employers know this. If we can’t stop them physically attacking union representatives what price trade unionism in the rail and construction industries?! Who is next? This is one immediate reason why we need a Rank and File organisation and a new Citizens Army.

Andy Gilchrist and the FBU a false alarm!

We now have fire-fighters being led out on strike by another Broad Left leadership, headed by another Broad Left leader, Andy Gilchrist. The fire-fighters voted 9-1 in favour of strike action to win a 40% pay increase – much the same as that the Cabinet awarded themselves. However, like Scargill’s earlier proposed strike to oppose all closures, this is a near revolutionary demand, especially when linked to opposition to modernisation – job cuts, worsened conditions and privatisation. Gilchrist bowed more quickly though under pressure from Blair and Prescott. The 40% was dropped to 16% without a vote of the membership. It now became a more sectional dispute with FBU leaders only claiming what some other public sector workers had been awarded (by selling hard-fought conditions).

Gilchrist must have realised the daring nature of the 40% demand and its likely impact on other public sector workers. To win this, the fire-fighters would have to have taken all-out indefinite political strike action and go for immediate support, not from the amorphous general public but from other public sector workers. There would then need to be a major united front public sector campaign for a massive pay rise for all and against all cuts and privatisation. Did Gilchrist not notice UNISON officials selling out their members’ wages struggles and demands (most obviously in the North Glasgow Hospitals Trust)? These workers would be looking for the FBU to offer inspiration and take a militant lead. Furthermore, did Gilchrist not realise, like Scargill before him, that this strike could not be won without opposing Blair’s New Labour government, so tied in is it with the bosses and US corporate imperialism? Yet when Gilchrist timidly suggested to a Labour Left meeting that the Labour Party needed a change of leadership – not the country a regime change – his Broad Left colleagues quickly abandoned him, passing the initiative entirely over to the government and employers. This at a time when the government is looking very shaky over its support for the axis of evil – Bush, Blair and Sharon!

Perhaps Gilchrist and Co. had begun to get carried away by all the media hype – that the bosses were running scared of the new breed of left-wing officials. The lightning climbdown, once more without any vote by the members, shows that the leaders suddenly realised their own rhetoric had dangerously outrun the action they were prepared to take. The tabloid press mocked at Lions led by donkeys – more like fighters led by shiters I think!

At the same time, Bob Crowed when he called off the ballot of RMT members working on the London Underground. This ballot had been designed to support any rail-workers refusing to work because of unsafe conditions during the fire-fighters’ strike. Crow invoked the threat of the Tories (and now New Labour’s) anti-trade union laws. So according to the Broad Left, solidarity action is only allowed when the employers and law permit it – Jeezus K. Marx!

SWPTime to take sides and other alternatives

Of course its no longer the CPGB which is the principal advocate of the Broad Left approach – the honours now lie with the SWP, the largest revolutionary social democratic political organisation in the UK today. Therefore what they say and do matters. On the front page of December 2002’s Socialist Review, there is a photograph of striking fire-fighters with the headline – Time to Take Sides. That’s the problem with the SWP’s opportunistic approach to workers and trade unionists, particularly in struggle. This poses the question – why wait till workers go on strike before declaring which side you are on? Perhaps they are asking the question of trade union officials but are too shy to state this! Funnily enough, the SWP’s own fire-fighters’ bulletin never warned the fire-fighters where the first sign of collapse would emanate from – their own leadership!

In public and in practice, what the SWP actually mean is taking the side of my full-time official right or wrong. This is coupled with continual calls to the union leaders and the TUC, which means, in effect the General Council, to mobilise and call out other workers. Last time they did that was in 1926 and they sold out in nine days flat, (nothing learned in 76 years!) The TUC threatened to call out workers in response to the jailing of the Pentonville Dockers in 1972 – but only because widespread independent action of flying pickets was going to achieve this anyhow. In other words, with or without action from below, the TUC General Council only takes the lead to take control and sell-out.

Peddling illusions in the TUC only serves to disarm striking workers by pointing them in the wrong direction, steering them away from self-activity and organisation by going directly to workers in other workplaces and picketing and calling them out in solidarity. This is the independent Rank and File way. It is the only way to achieve effective solidarity in today’s political conditions. When it comes to taking sides, full-time officials always waver and accommodate to the bosses – the question we need to ask the SWP and the Broad Left is – Which side are you on – the bureaucracy’s or the workers in struggle?!

The Socialist Alliance, as presently constituted, is merely a front for the
SWP and even the other current contenders for leadership follow a Broad Left perspective. This is also true of the more effective Scottish Socialist Party, despite a commitment to industrial organisation. I’ve time and respect for Cymru Goch, the Welsh Socialist Republicans, but their stand on Broad Left or Rank and File is not clear. I’ll probably know when they finish reading this!

Wildcat strikes – great but only half way there

There is hope! Militant workers have always shown the desire to combat sell-outs by full-time officials. There are the recent cases of the AEEU electricians on the Jubilee tube line in London and the renowned postal workers in the Edinburgh CWU branch, who are never done fighting their fulltimers. More recently still we have seen the action taken by the Glasgow underground workers in the TGWU and the North Glasgow hospital workers in UNISON. Some succeed and some fail in meeting their still limited objectives.

We need to understand that whenever workers go into struggle, they need to fight their full-time officials, locked into their social partnerships with the employers and New Labour government and councils – the latest form of the Broad Right! You often can’t get near the employers, and today, the full-time officials because of the antics of the Broad Left!

No matter how brave, militancy on its own is not enough. What is needed is a political strategy which can generalise the current more limited struggles in order to take these directly to larger groups of trade unionists and workers. This needs to be done completely independently of the trade union and Labour full-time bureaucrats. Independent not unofficial – the first proudly signals our control and determination, the second is the word scornfully used by the officials to marginalise rank and file members. However, the continuous attempts by full-timers to achieve total control, particularly when national strike action is involved, shows that they know that an alternative Rank and File consciousness is struggling to break out. Our job is to introduce this into the battles.

Most workers understand that the only place they can exercise real power is in the workplace, where they have some control over the means of production. But this can only be done with democratic shop-floor organisation with mass meetings deciding on how to organise and exercise this control. However, the state and union bureaucrats do everything in their power to ensure this control is never realised or exercised. They make use of the anti- (rank and file) trade union laws to remove democratic decision making from the workplace and to transfer it to the union Headquarters by ballots. These leave the General Secretaries and Executives in control over every aspect of union life, including the National Conference and especially the workplace.

We need to convince workers that all, especially important, decisions concerning wages, conditions and jobs; supporting other workers in struggle, are taken by a mass meeting, not decided by state ballots or laws. Once a workplace decision has been taken it should remain in place until it is changed by another mass meeting. All attempts to deny democratic rights or to subvert workplace control should be resisted. Workers in struggle then need to spread this action by flying pickets until they achieve their objectives. That is workers’ power in action.

The TUC – British to the core and the liberal wing of the CBI

Undoubtedly a major barrier to workers advancing and winning major all-out struggles is the TUC General Council. This is the TUC, made up of union General Secretaries, sitting atop their various bureaucratic dung-heaps. Oh how those delegates who voted in the first General Council in 1921 (the year the International Revolutionary Wave ended!), giving it absolute power, must be turning in their graves.

The General Council is a reactionary body in many ways – but what else can we expect from such a British institution. They helped the Labour government push through the draconian and repressive anti-Irish Prevention of Terrorism Act after the IRA’s Birmingham bombings in 1974. Of course, they did nothing about the jailing of the Birmingham Six – six innocent men who served very long terms of imprisonment. It also makes my stomach turn, when I think that a body, which pretends to be a workers’ organisation, can foist a minimum wage of £4.30 an hour (and less for some) on to workers and trade union members. These are the fatcat officials who enjoy large salaries (and often larger expenses) and who wine and dine with even fatter-cat politicians and bosses. This is progress? It shows just how low the TUC and Labour Party have sunk in recent years and they were bad enough before this!

The TUC and
CBI regularly exchange speakers and share platforms. In fact, so collaborative is the TUC’s relationship with the bosses’ CBI, they are barely distinguishable – they could easily pass for the liberal wing of the CBI.

The TUC is also very loyal to the British state and the monarchy – many a General Secretary expects his knighthood. They always put the boot into any major workers’ struggle in the name of the British national interest.

Anyone who doubts how closely the General Council works with the British state and the employers only had to view the BBC2 documentary, True Spies. This exposed General Secretaries’ involvement in spying on their members for the state, although not out of any concern for militant trade unionism. Scargill was at least spot on, when he calmly and matter of factly said he was surprised the programme hadn’t mentioned more examples than they did! Well, what about today’s bunch, who weren’t subjected to the programme’s scrutiny?! All the more reason why we need to break completely from the TUC.

The need to effectively challenge the anti-trade union laws

The central mechanism which makes the current trade union leaders stoop so low, is the anti-trade union legislation. These laws are aimed at rank and file members, militant activity and also the union funds which finance today’s full-time officials’ privileged, often corrupt and bloated lifestyles. Under these laws, trade union leaders have prospered, greatly increasing their salaries and a whole number of perks. Whenever workers call for real action to defend our jobs, pay and conditions, trade union leaders come up with heart-rending forecasts of sequestration and bankruptcy for the union, or even worse – jailing of those responsible. What they really mean is they have become very accustomed to the privileges and lifestyles they have developed and their power over the membership. They don’t want these threatened under any circumstances!

Quite a few militants now feel that the sooner the unions are skint the sooner we might get back to what unions were originally founded for – in the face of imprisonment, transportation, injury and even death! What we can all agree on is that until these anti-union laws are effectively challenged, there can be no industrial freedom or democracy for workers and trade unionists. This means taking on the TUC and all full-time officialdom. Any serious Rank and File organisation needs to adopt defiance, defeat and repeal of the anti-trade union laws as its central political objective. How else can we successfully win major disputes, which always come up against the state and the government of the day?

A new revolutionary political way ahead – there is no British road

As a communist I’ve always believed that when we face a particularly critical situation, as we do today, we need to come up with something that is quite different from the old failed methods – something revolutionary. We are now in a situation where millions of the working class are seriously disillusioned with the Labour government and are looking for a radical alternative, not just to Blair, but to much of the rotten political system, which New Labour is trying to shore-up. Republicanism is in the air – not a fully worked out workers’ republicanism (i.e. genuine communism) but a willingness to assert the sovereignty of the people against the sovereignty of the Crown in parliament. Tony Blair is now brutally exposing even the myth of the sovereignty of parliament by invoking the Crown powers, which allow him to declare a war on Iraq in the face of mass opposition.

As a Marxist I know that it is impossible to organise successfully in the industrial sphere, without taking into account the more general political situation the working class finds itself in. We need to learn from this when we consider a Rank and File alternative to the miserable failed Broad Left political and industrial approach. We need to revive the workers’ republican tradition of Connolly and Maclean, which, when adapted for today’s conditions, is new, radical and revolutionary.

There has long been a fixation by nearly all, including revolutionary, left organisations, on the British TUC, Labour Party and Parliament. These have been considered the only organisations through which trade unionists and the working class in general can advance their interests economically, socially and politically. The British state is viewed as some sort of progressive framework which unites the working class and its organisations within its boundaries. In fact this ancien regime with its frighteningly repressive laws, its monarchist constitution and continued armed occupation of part of Ireland, remains the biggest single barrier by far to any real progress for the working class. The British state has no progressive role, only an oppressive one which has to be challenged. We must no longer allow the British state or Parliament, TUC, Labour Party (or its small-scale Nationalist emulators), or, indeed its Left, to dictate the parameters within which we organise politically and industrially. We need to mount a militant republican challenge to all these entities. This needs to be given an industrial form too.

Industrial republicanism

We don’t need to be shy of taking this new republican political challenge into the workers’ movement and giving it an industrial form. Despite the success of the Jubilee Year (until the butler spilled the beans!), over 30% of the people have consistently voted in opinion polls for the removal of the monarchy and for republicanism. This isn’t a bad starting point. We neglect republicanism at our peril!

Convincing workers to act and think like republican citizens will not be as tough as some think. In 1998 I stood for the UCATT lay Executive Council on a platform which included support for democratic republics in England, Scotland, Wales and for a United Ireland, along with a militant industrial programme. In a three-way postal ballot against two officially favoured Broad Left candidates, I gained 15% of the vote, without being able to mount a wider campaign. A republican motion on Irish unity sent to the UCATT National Delegate Conference in 2000 by the Northampton branch, got nearly 25% of the vote, even in this Broad Left manipulated arena! If we can achieve this in UCATT it can be done in other unions too. So go to it.

Republicanism means championing the sovereignty of the people against the bogus sovereignty of parliament, which fronts the ruling class’s Executive rule and its anti-democratic Crown powers. Workers republicanism means initially championing the power and sovereignty of the workers in their workplaces against the bogus sovereignty of the trade union Annual Conference, which disguises the bureaucrats’ rule from union Headquarters. The political struggle for militant republicanism is also the best context in which to fight for industrial freedom and democracy – to oppose the anti-trade union laws and all who aid and abet them!

The need for revolutionary republican political organisation

Of course, this can not be done effectively without political organisation. We need republican socialist alliances now and republican socialist parties as soon as possible in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. These need to be federated to unite the struggle against the British and the Irish state (which initiated the concept and practice of social partnership). This will take a lot of time and effort. We will need to guard against pseudo-parties and party-fronts substituting themselves for working class struggle and organisation. If republican socialists ignore the potential industrial power of the working class, British (including left) organisations will continue to dominate and divert this power into a very un- (even counter-) revolutionary direction.

We have to encourage workers to act as free citizens and not as the loyal subjects of their full-timers, the TUC, the Labour Party, Parliament or the state. When enough feel it is necessary to breakaway from the TUC we must do it. It may even be necessary to breakaway from some of the existing unions. In the meantime we are for being in the unions yes, but independent of the full-time officials.

Finally it is important to convince workers that without the fight to exercise independent control and power in their workplace and over production, allied to a wider political and social struggle, there can be no emancipation and liberation for the working class in these islands or indeed anywhere.

Tags: , ,


Dec 03 2002

From attack to defence: questions of leadership raised by the FBU dispute

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 04RCN @ 2:00 pm

Chris Jones (RDG) Former FBU Brigade Chair, Merseyside

The FBU dispute has moved decisively into a new phase in the first month of 2003. The offensive led by the FBU executive against the erosion of firefighters’ and control staff’s pay has now become a defensive battle. Quietly the 40% claim has been allowed to fall out of sight. Now the 16% deal phased over two years, first tabled by the employers in July 2002, has become the favoured option. Symbolically the Morning Star has removed the 40% headline claim from its banner on the front page. The dispute is now as much about saving the conditions of FBU members and existing levels of firecover for the public as it is about pay. This is the root of the FBU’s refusal to negotiate whilst the employers insist on acceptance of modernisation and the Bain Report as a precondition to a negotiated deal on pay. Following the worrying phoney war over Christmas, during which the FBU membership were left to drift, the FBU has begun to set out a policy of long-term guerilla action taking the dispute forward into 2003.

The FBU dispute has become a test of the entire trade union movement and the attitudes that workers and trade unionists need to adopt to New Labour and the government. It is also a test of the new breed of left trade union leaders, the awkward squad, and Andy Gilchrist’s leadership in particular. The question that is most commonly asked by fire-fighters and their friends and allies is what sense do you make of the FBU leadership’s tactics and the leadership of Andy Gilchrist in particular. The clarity of leadership that launched the campaign in 2002 was lost as successive strikes were called off and the ACAS process took negotiation behind closed doors. Above all we have to assess the current phase of workers struggle in relation to New Labour and the historic crisis in the Labour and Trade Union movement. In general terms the success or failure of the dispute rests on the capacity and willingness of the wider trades union movement to face up to the New Labour government over their failure to meet even the mildest aspirations of the organised working class. In terms of the practical questions facing FBU members a successful resolution of the dispute rests on the capacity of activists within the FBU to generate an organisational capacity that will allow the membership to act independently of the leadership should that prove necessary.

The FBU claim

The FBU claim was initiated by a report to the annual conference in 2002. The statement that preceded the report at the conference of 2001 recognised that:

‘free collective bargaining’ does not exist in the public sector. Successive governments use public sector pay as an economic ‘regulator’ in respect of controlling spending and thus influence inflation and growth.


FBU Statement

[Archived link]

This comment cuts to the heart of the issues raised during the dispute. The legitimate demands over pay raised by the FBU leadership were well supported by FBU members and achieved significant and resilient public support, notably more resilient than the support achieved in 1977. The problem for the FBU was that the claim contradicted the long-term strategy of the New Labour government. That strategy relied upon minor increases in expenditure on key public services associated with performance requirements that ground out large increases in productivity. In short the government could not afford to allow the tiny increases in public expenditure to be leached away in pay awards.

The decision to move away from the pay formula, agreed following the strike of the winter of 1977/8, was a difficult one. The FBU knew from the start that the battle would be a protracted and complex process and that the employers will certainly insist on something (FBU Statement 2001). The turn of events with the government sponsored Bain Report and demands for modernisation, interpreted as cuts in staffing and erosion of conditions, should have been no surprise to the FBU leadership or the activists amongst the rank and file. The employers had a detailed offer to table in July 2002. This would have produced a 16% rise in a phased deal over two years and was part of a complete package that recognised the need for a new pay formula and reviewed key conditions of service. The deal due to be tabled on July 9th was pulled after intervention by John Prescott. From this point the offers tabled by the employers have ratcheted down under pressure from the government and latterly in line with the Bain Report. The FBU leadership was initially highly successful in projecting the 40% claim but it has proved to be unable to maintain its position under pressure. The 16%, offered in July, has become the de facto ceiling for the FBU’s pay claim.

Full circle – the fire last time

The strike in 1977 was won against a reluctant Executive and the open opposition of the General Secretary of the FBU, Terry Parry. The pressure came from below and it was capable of being expressed in independent action in opposition to left leaders. In May 1977 the Merseyside brigade began an unofficial work-to-rule, led by an unofficial leadership. The dispute, under pressure from Terry Fields and the Brigade Officials, was due to be called off when the employers decided to issue an ultimatum that led to the sacking of fire-fighters who refused to go back to normal working prior to the agreed date. In the face of the sackings an unofficial strike began, organised through a mass meeting and enforced by a flying picket. This action was organised against the opposition of the local leadership that included Terry Fields who was later to be one of the Militant members elected as a Labour MP. When the strike began in November 1977 the strike was given no support by the TUC and public support was extremely limited. After only a few short weeks 70% of the public opposed the FBU action. This was a strike driven by the membership against opposition at all levels of the trade union movement and against a Labour government.

The strike was settled but never achieved its aim of breaching the 10% pay limit. The settlement was opposed by a significant minority of the FBU membership and could be described as a qualified defeat. The pay formula insulated fire-fighters pay from the worst pressures of the following years. The agreement on hours reduced working hours from a 48 hour week to a 42 hour week. It is this shift pattern that is so exorcising politicians and the press today. Perhaps most importantly the strike formed part of a wider settlement that spanned the military and police. The police in particular became the key to the Thatcher government’s assault on the working class. The largely accidental association with the police pay agreement helped to shelter the FBU deal.

Amongst fire-fighters the qualified defeat of 1978 began to appear as a victory. The strike had delivered the 42 hour week, though this was already in the wings before the strike, and it had ensured that the national scheme and conditions of service were preserved at a time when other public sector workers were loosing their own national conditions of service. This proved to be a highly effective defensive recipe when combined with assertive and well organised local union structures. In a series of defensive battles beginning in the late 1980s the FBU saw off a series of aggressive Chief Officers pursuing a New Public Sector Management agenda. The local fire authorities that lined up with the new style Chief Officers were mainly large metropolitan authorities under Labour control.

The New Labour authorities and the Chief Officers allied to reduce the control and influence of the FBU. They couldn’t break the pay formula so they concentrated their fire on eroding the scheme and conditions of service. Repeatedly aspects of the NJC agreements were challenged and guerrilla warfare ensued between local FBU officials and the local employers. The employers insisted on their right to manage and tried to narrow the scope of the national conditions, insisting that whole areas previously negotiated would only be subject to consultation in future.

As an FBU brigade official in Merseyside I was faced first hand by one of the new breed Chief Officers and the New Labour wannabes controlling the fire authority. The disputes and grievance procedures set down in the Grey Book (the NJC Conditions of Service) were routinely ignored so that disputes could only be resolved by resorting to industrial action. Gradually the FBU membership became educated and developed a disciplined resolve in the face of a series of employer’s provocations and acquired a willingness to act when local officials gave a lead. At times members would act independently but such action did not give rise to a rank and file organisation. Action was largely confined to the FBU branches. This is the base on which the current dispute rests. It is highly uneven and many brigades have not been tested by regular local activity and attacks from the employers. In contrast brigades like Merseyside have a ten year record of resisting Chief Officers and aggressive New Labour fire authorities. In Merseyside the last dispute culminated only last year in the exit of the Chief Officer under mysterious circumstances. On entering the current dispute the FBU was unevenly prepared for long-term defensive action and the discipline and activism that is required to maintain such a dispute.

In 1977 the FBU was faced with a Labour government that had a formal wages policy that restricted pay awards to 10%. This was in the context of years of falling real wages in the public sector and fire service in particular as inflation eroded spending power. One estimate put the fall in real wages for fire-fighters at 15% between 1974 and 1977. The build up to the strike had been loss of spending power and years of campaigning and the development of unofficial action beginning in a number of brigades years earlier, notably London in 1969 and Essex in 1970.

The FBU leadership opposed the strike and Terry Parry the FBU General Secretary as late as 1976 defended the Social Contract, claiming that the fight against inflation took priority over fire-fighters’ sectional interests. The growing opposition to the leadership found that in order to succeed the FBU minority had to organise at all levels of the union. The regions that supported industrial action had a series of unofficial meetings and rank and file groups sprang up in some areas such as Essex and Merseyside. The mood was captured by the publication in 1977 of National Rank and File Fireman (sic) a rank and file publication and organisation closely linked to the Socialist Workers Party.

In the current dispute fire-fighters pay has only begun to fall in recent years and the decision to abandon the pay formula was a balanced judgement not a clear necessity. The pressure for higher pay is regionalised and comes from younger fire-fighters in the south who are faced by impossibly high housing costs. The campaign has not welled up from below but is led from the top by the FBU Executive, Andy Gilchrist in particular. The FBU has little recent history of unofficial action and most disputes have been channelled through the FBU at local level. The local FBU leaderships are only loosely organised and there is little coordination between the most militant sections in various brigades, there is no genuine rank and file organisation at local or national level and the left grouping that organises at the higher levels of the union is a flabby loose organisation of the majority, unable to form a significant block that could provide both criticism and support of the leadership. The significant difference between 1977/8 and 2002/3 is that this dispute is led top down and was not fed by an organised pressure from below.

The national strike of 1977 followed the government imposition of the 10% limit in July 1977. The FBU who had begun their pay negotiation prior to the limit sought exemption but the government refused. This was not the first time that the FBU had fallen foul of pay limits that scuppered a deal already under negotiation. A recall conference in November 1977 heard the FBU Executive oppose a strike and call for further negotiations. London, Merseyside and Strathclyde moved strike motions and the Executive received almost no support. The London resolution calling for a strike ballot was lost on a card vote and a 2 to 1 majority passed the motion for strike action from 14th November, moved by Strathclyde and seconded by Merseyside. The one third opposition to this motion included London’s 6,000 firefighters who came behind the strike call within 24 hours. The wider trade union movement and the TUC were committed to the Labour pay policy. On 2nd December the TUC rejected the FBU call for a campaign against the pay policy of the government. This treachery was supported by the left on the General Council including Jack Jones and Hugh Scanlon, architects of the Social Contract. Public support for the FBU fell and after four weeks 70% believed the FBU should settle. The army appeared to be more capable than expected and no major incident dented that impression.

In 2002/3 the dispute has the support of the TUC. This support is not without cost as it is TUC influence that has drawn the FBU in towards ACAS and arbitration. The significance of TUC support is that it indicates a sea change in union relations to Labour. The FBU also has the vigorous support of some of the new trade union leaders, Bob Crow in particular. Public opinion has continued to be much more sympathetic to the firefighters, a recent poll as the new strikes began showed 63% still supported the FBU. The modernisation agenda pushed by the government has located what could have been a sectional dispute in the mainstream of public sector concerns. For example a week prior to the White Paper on higher education a correspondent in the Times Higher drew out the link between fire-fighters and academic staff through the issue of modernisation. The FBU is potentially in a much stronger political position than in 1977 when the wide generalisation of the winter of discontent followed the FBU dispute by one year. The government faces difficult negotiations with a series of other public sector workers and it is still possible that the government will face a battle on several fronts, at home as well as abroad with the war drive on Iraq.

Bain and the employers offensive

The Bain Report is the outcome of a long process. The three knights, Sir George Bain, Sir Michael Lyons and Sir Anthony Young, nicknamed Camelot by the FBU were novices in fire service matters. Two academics and an ex-TUC President took three months to draw up the full report and simply brought together in one document an agenda that has been developing in employers’ circles for almost 20 years. The report comments at their surprise at how far the fire service lagged behind what they describe as best practice in the public and private sector. This is simply shorthand for a service that is not business ready and privatisation prepared. An article in Red Pepper notes the Group 4 Falck are situating themselves in preparation for bidding to run privatised sections of the new fire service, the proposed new joint controls being an obvious first step. Group 4 Falck, the self-proclaimed second largest security services provider worldwide, is an organisation that currently runs the Danish equivalent of the AA and most of the Danish fire service apart from some larger metropolitan areas. Modernisation in the fire service is closely linked to the privatisation of key government services and the neo-liberal agenda for the 21st century, it is far from an isolated dispute.

The modernisation agenda also begins from the idea that savings in the overall fire service budget can only be obtained by reducing the pay and conditions of workers, removing what employers describe as restrictive practices. These practices, such as a ban on prearranged overtime, are the bedrock of a safe and efficient public service. The government claim that the FBU stands in the way of a modern fire service is openly contradicted by their own White Paper written in 2001. The White Paper noted that:

The Fire Service is one of the most consistently high-performing services in local government. The Fire Service has already made considerable progress towards modernisation.

This succeeding service is highly effective in its work of responding to fire and other emergencies and widely admired by the public. Certainly the Audit Commission Performance Indicators for 1999-2000 published in January 2001 fully bear it out. At the same time, the role of the fire service has begun to change, essentially from a reactive to a proactive one; and the next few years will see a major transformation in the way fire brigades deliver services to the public.

The cynical attack on the FBU and the fire service is at one and the same time an attack on fire-fighters and control staff and an attempt to demolish a pillar of the 1945 Welfare State settlement.

The first national strike took place against the backdrop of a wave of militancy that peaked in terms of union membership and strike days in 1978/9. This wave crashed against a world recession that began in the mid 1970s. In the UK the wave of militancy peaked at the very point when the employers offensive became official government policy with the election of the Thatcher government in 1979. Throughout the early years of the Thatcher government, despite assaults on general trade union rights and set piece battles with key sections of workers, the FBU remained largely untouched. The Metropolitan County Councils, in particular the GLC, had relatively good relations with the FBU. The GLC with FBU support began to recruit significant numbers women and fire-fighters from minority ethnic and racial groups. The fire service could not remain outside the general change in relations between government, capital and labour for long. The first significant attack came in the form of the abolition of the Metropolitan County Councils in 1986. In the late 1980s the FBU came under growing pressure from local employers and Chief Officers for change. This pressure ran into conflict with the long-standing relationship between local Labour politicians and the FBU. Repeatedly Chief Officers began local reforms to find them blocked by a combination of trade union action and political pressure applied through local Labour organisations.

The Labour Party began to change from the mid-1980s signalled by the expulsion of the Militant Tendency including Terry Fields, a key figure in the 1977/8 strike who was by then a Labour MP. The change in climate within the Labour Party coincided with the more assertive management approach. In line with the general shift towards more aggressive New Management Techniques fire service managers, especially chief officers took a more assertive stance. This appeared in the form of local disputes but was seen correctly by the FBU as an emerging national pattern. In 1992 the FBU published Their Business Or Our service: a report on New Management Initiatives in the Fire Service. Throughout this period local developments were dependant upon national factors. The more powerful position of Chief Officers was at least in part the result of an assertion of central control by the Home Office and central government. From 1989 Chief Officers could only be appointed if they had completed a Brigade Command course. The Home Office had a pervasive influence in the selection of candidates for this course. Councillors that had achieved a degree of relative autonomy after the abolition of County Councils further strengthened the position of the Chief Officers. In the Joint Boards that followed the County Councils councillors were only indirectly accountable to electors through the City and District Councils.

The role of the HMI was changed to include over provision and value for money within their brief and the Audit Commission issued its first Occasional Paper Value for Money in the Fire Service (1986). This paper began the process that culminated in the Bain report by noting that there were only limited opportunities for savings under existing arrangements and recommending a review of rigid employment conditions. The local authorities were increasingly under the remote control of central government through performance indicators and financial constraints. The agenda for government modernisation is at least 17 years old and the mechanisms for centralised government control of the service have been developed over a number of years.

Just as the dispute of 1977/8 was prefigured in local disputes and an increasingly assertive rank and file, the 2002/3 dispute has been anticipated by the growth of employers offensives at a local level, led by increasingly aggressive Chief Officers. The freedom of action for the new breed of Chief Officers arose from a new relationship with local Labour politicians. New Labour in local politics has marginalized the FBU. Brigade and regional FBU officials that once met politicians in Labour Party caucuses prior to council meetings now wait outside while the Chief Officer briefs the senior councillors who form a Cabinet government. Disputes continue at a local level and the FBU has been successful at concentrating its national resources on significant local targets. The most recent of these was the campaign against Malcolm Saunders, the Chief Officer on Merseyside. In what was viewed as a high risk strategy the FBU targeted the Chief Officer and called openly for his removal. The campaign included a prominent poster outside a city centre fire station featuring a picture of Welephant, the fire service fire safety elephant mascot advising Mr Saunders to pack his trunk.

Mr Saunders went in what remain mysterious circumstances, well rewarded with a medical pension. Such victories may have made it appear to the FBU that they had significant power to influence events. The 1990s had taught the FBU to fight alone without significant political or wider trade union support. The question remained whether this would be enough in a major national dispute.

Labour and Labourism – the political crisis behind the dispute

Well before the pay claim was set in place the membership of the FBU passed a resolution calling on the Executive to open up the political fund to organisations other than the Labour Party. A New Labour was clearly in evidence in the FBU’s dealings with councillors and in disputes in areas like Merseyside long before New Labour was elected nationally. The local councillors who controlled the fire service at a local level had a relative autonomy after the abolition of County Councils and used this to pursue an agenda that excluded the FBU and drew ever closer to the Chief Officers. The call for opening the political fund to other parties was the direct result of local
FBU experiences with New Labour.

Resolution 101 – Political Fund

Conference notes with concern the continuing attacks on the Fire Service by Labour controlled Authorities.

Therefore, Conference agrees that the Fire Brigades Union Political Fund will in future be used to support candidates and organisations whose policies are supportive of the policies and principles of this Union. This may include candidates and organisations who stand in opposition to New Labour so long as they uphold policies and principles in line with those of the Fire Brigades Union.

When considering any request for assistance The Fire Brigades Union and Regional Committees should carefully examine the policies and record of all such individuals and organisations.

Conference instructs the Executive Council to prepare any necessary subsequent rule changes for Annual Conference 2002.

The Executive did not act on the resolution passed in 2001 and they campaigned so that the position was reversed at the same conference in 2002 that endorsed the pay campaign. There is a clear relationship between the pressure on the Executive to break from exclusive links to Labour and the top down militancy of the pay campaign. The pay campaign took the heat off the failure to act on the conference resolution on links to Labour. In the light of the dispute there is no doubt that the issue will return to conference and that the FBU will review its links with Labour amidst calls for both disaffiliation from Labour and calls for democratisation of the political fund. The next FBU conference is unlikely to take place this May and will probably be postponed until after the current dispute, but whenever it comes the question of the trades union’s political alliance with Labour will come into the spotlight. The strain between unions and the Labour Party is not restricted to the FBU and it signifies the erosion of the historic and political compromise that the Labour Party represented. The Independent newspaper reported on 24th January that trades union leaders were refusing to sign up to a £40 million donation to the Labour Party until an accommodation was reached with the FBU. This report was linked with the Labour Party local government conference on 14th February in Glasgow. The FBU dispute raises the prospect of fire-fighters leading a campaign throughout the trade union and Labour conference season attacking New Labour for its role in the dispute and calling for other union members to join with them in calling for the democratising of the political fund.

Historically Labour held out the prospect of workers being able to elect representatives to parliament and to form governments. The political compromise enshrined by Labour was that the Empire and the constitutional arrangements of the UK state would be left largely untouched. Labour made no serious calls for abolishing the monarchy or constitutional reform. In return the establishment, the ruling class of the Empire, would allow Labour to compete for election and form governments when able to do so. Labour set out to be a responsible mainstream party, loyal to the rules of the game. In effect it became the second eleven for the establishment, called in to head off serious political reform or revolt. Social and economic reform became Labour’s sole agenda and all political reforms were either quietly dropped or remained token commitments never central to Labour’s activity. It is only under New Labour that constitutional reform has returned to the agenda. In a Liberal guise, constitutional reform returned to form part of New Labour’s policy at the very point when New Labour was unable to deliver significant social and economic reform.

This compromise worked while Labour could deliver on its social and economic programme. In the 1970s government initiatives undermined this relationship, the Social Contract and In Place of Strife broke the consensus and radicalised a significant layer of workers. Rocked by defeat, Labour in the 1980s debated whether to make serious commitments and stick to them, a position identified with Tony Benn or to reduce commitments down to what could be delivered, this position later became identified with Tony Blair and New Labour. The revision of policy in New Labour was associated with a distancing from the trade unions. The FBU experienced the practical effects of the withdrawal of Labour from the alliance with the unions. The FBU was forced to fight against Labour local politicians many of whom they had helped to fund in running for office. For a second time in a quarter of a century the FBU was faced with a national dispute against a Labour government. In 1977 while many FBU members were disenchanted with Labour many of the activists in the union became engaged in the fight to strengthen the left inside the Labour Party in the 1980s. In 2003 this option is no longer on offer as there is no viable Labour left opposition to the Blair government or to New Labour policies within the party. The structure of New Labour has been gradually closed off from union influence at all levels. In short the FBU and the trade union movement no longer have a party to represent their interests in parliament and beyond.

Andy Gilchrist grappled with this point in his presentation to the Socialist Campaign Group. He argued that the unions needed to remove New Labour and replace it with Real Labour. The genuineness of these sentiments cannot be doubted but the lack of support he received following his statement was palpable and little has been heard from him on this topic since. It remains a significant weakness of the left of the trades unions that they find it difficult to openly break with Labour.

A question of leadership

It looks increasingly likely that the FBU leadership is prepared to settle for something like the 16% offered in July as long as it is not explicitly tied to acceptance of Bain. It is also likely that such a deal may retain the headline figures on pay but fail to retain the detail that made the deal initially so attractive to the FBU leadership, such as the promise of a new pay formula. There is still a real danger that the government is intent on breaking the FBU and that it will insist on pay being linked to a full acceptance of Bain. There were strong rumours, encouraged by the FBU leadership, that the government were preparing a legislative ban on further strikes before the first one day strike took place. In those circumstances it will prove impossible for the FBU to accept a deal and the government may impose it over the heads of the union leadership.

The FBU dispute raises questions of leadership in a number of distinct but related ways. Primarily the working class now lacks a party of its own. The search is now on for a replacement. This cannot be achieved by a simple declaration of the type that Arthur Scargill made with the formation of the Socialist Labour Party, or that numerous left groups made when they became the Workers Revolutionary Party, the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party. A new party must develop from the organic layers of leadership within the working class. It will require a re-composition of the existing left and a revision and renewal of their politics. A new unity and a new politics can only be achieved by overcoming the historic differences that separate the Labour, Communist and Trotskyist traditions. I would suggest that such a reformation should take place around the central idea that working class aspirations cannot be met within the political framework of the constitutional monarchy, the working class requires a democratic and republican state.

It will also require a significant break from Labour. Such a break will not occur without the maximum unity of the left outside of Labour. Unity of the left is now a central question. The Socialist Alliance is the best placed formation to lead in this process. It can only do so by raising its game. As it stands the Socialist Alliance is no more than an electoral front and it is routinely by-passed by its component organisations when they intervene in issues such as the FBU dispute or the anti-war movement. Red Watch the unofficial FBU news sheet has been a largely SWP initiative, and the Socialist Alliance members inside the FBU have not caucused during the dispute. It is an urgent priority that the Socialist Alliance coordinates itself in fractions within the trades unions and that these factions act as the core to a broader left grouping. In politics the Socialist Alliance needs to develop as a viable core around which a party could form. As an urgent priority the Socialist Alliance needs its own press and paper. The Socialist Alliance should commit itself to the aim of forging a new workers party, and engage with as many other left groups as possible to broaden the alliance beyond its present supporters.

Secondly the FBU dispute raises the question of leadership within the trade unions and the relationship of that leadership to politics. The trade unions are faced with a New Labour government that has pursued policies of privatisation in the public sector and has refused to repeal the antitrade union legislation passed during the previous Tory administrations. The trade union leadership continues to pay for New Labour despite recent reductions in contributions from several major unions. The trade union leadership must now be prepared to break its ties with Labour. Union members must force the union leadership to make every penny paid out in political contributions conditional on support for the aims and aspirations of union members. The current crop of awkward squad trade union leaders remains a very mixed bunch. Bob Crow and Mark Serwotka stand out as principled left leaders who will stand opposed to New Labour. Andy Gilchrist has not been able to make that break in a clear way during the FBU dispute and this has hindered his leadership, especially following his intervention at the Socialist Campaign Group meeting in Manchester. The role of left leaders will, however, depend on more than their overt political leanings. The FBU may now be faced with a period of struggle at a national level of the same type that occurred locally in the 1990s. If the dispute is resolved with an accommodation on pay and no direct link to Bain then the employers are likely to keep coming and the FBU will have to defend against a series of coordinated assaults. If the government impose a settlement on the FBU, then the FBU will be forced to fight a rearguard action over many months, perhaps years, which will involve continuing calls for industrial action. In both cases the FBU will need to build an active membership and an effective leadership at all levels of the union. No matter how good the leadership is, without the support of an effective rank and file its action is likely to fail. The membership will need to develop a capacity for action on the basis of the early shop stewards movement – official if we can, unofficial if we must. The question of rank and file organisation is not separate from the capacity of existing left leaders to fight, it is fundamental to their ability to act.

Just as the miners strike heralded the final breaking up of the last traditional bastion of the industrial strength of Labour, so the FBU strikes herald the end of the old political Labour. It may not happen immediately but the die has been cast. The working class now needs a new political party to represent it. Labour has dropped the crown, the question is who can pick it up.

Tags: , , ,


Dec 03 2002

Red on Green, Green on Red

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 04RCN @ 1:58 pm

Alan Boylan argues why campaigning on environmental issues must be a priority for the Scottish Socialist Party.

For millions of people across the globe the relationship between humankind, the animal world and our environment is a question, which has brought much heated debate. Humanity’s increasing separateness from nature, and the corporations’ promotion of the technological fix as the answer to everything, is propelling us headlong into an epoch making disaster which previous generations could not even begin to contemplate. Major features of current capitalist society, from the stock-building of nuclear weapons to wholesale toxic dumping, have brought nature to the tottering brink of irreversible collapse.

The capitalist drive for profit means that capitalism is now inflicting genetically modified organisms (GMO), under its feed the world lie. The Rockefeller Institute is promoting Golden Rice which it claims will solve Vitamin A deficiency. It is going to be harder for the environmentalists to say they are battling for the poor if they are fighting something that benefits the poor (Red Pepper 2002). The companies that own the patents want to get trial sites up and running around the world. The undue haste for profit has led to the misuse of knowledge gained by scientific research. The means that every shortcut taken has increased the danger to humans and non-humans alike. Any claims about the safety of any GMO and its supposed benefits are based on flawed science. In Scotland we have had to suffer from incompetent government field tests (run by the GM companies themselves). These have clearly proved to be scientifically flawed. Any data gathered from these tests is virtually useless. All we have to show for these trials is cross-over species contamination of the natural habitat. Clearly the GM genie has definitely been let out of the bottle.

Environmental issues: A priority

A whole range of environmental issues, such as global warming and climate change, have now clearly become mainstream news items. There is a greater awareness among ordinary members of the public, and that is why we must start to push our party’s policies on the environment more to the forefront. I firmly believe that, in the next ten years and onwards, these issues will grow to dominate mainstream politics. This is illustrated by the growth of membership of Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the myriad of other single issue environmental protest groups. The SSP must be positioned to take forward the argument that communist and socialist opposition to capitalism provides the key to the kind of politics and struggles which can solve the environmental crisis, therefore the true green is a red (Red Pepper, 2000). If this argument is prioritised we should see a rise in our membership and supporters from people who have been drawn into the single-issue protest groups. If a major battlefield over the next ten or twenty years is going to be the environment, are we, as a party, positioned correctly, or will the Green Party sideline us?

Let us look at our policies on the environment. We argue, the SSP is an environmentalist party which fights for the right of people to live in a clean, safe and healthy environment. We will link up with other socialists and environmentalists internationally to campaign for worldwide action to protect the planet and its natural resources (SSP General Election Manifesto). We then go on to list our international obligation to remove nuclear weapons and Trident and end all nuclear dumping. We then briefly speak about other issues such as ownership of energy reserves and our wish to seek alternatives such as wave and wind power – all very commendable. It sounds and looks excellent in our manifesto. Many comrades have done excellent work for the SSP on environmental issues. Rosie Kane’s articles and column in the Scottish Socialist Voice have been superb and the SSV is the only left wing publication that has a weekly feature on environmental issues. Those SSP members at the forefront of fighting GM crops with direct action add to our party’s stature. I take my hat off to you all.

We are not just seen as the shock troops of direct action or a mobile crowd to bolster demonstrations. The SSP is leading many of these actions on a principled basis. We can not be accused of being like any of the other political parties who merely add on bits and pieces of policies, when it suits their need to show a greener face. We need an open and frank debate on our party’s policies and tactics over the long duration. Our manifesto cannot mention every danger and concern we have over the environment. It would run to several hundred pages if that was the case. I wish to explore five approaches to our policies on the environment.

Science: Friend or foe?

First, we must enter the debate as to whether science is friend or foe. Secondly, we must examine each major technological development and see whether it should be utilised or, if necessary, controlled. Third we need to seriously think about the notion of a conserver society. Only when we have done this can we, fourthly, win the argument that the best green is a red. Then, finally we should produce an enhanced statement of intent to act as a benchmark for best practice, which could also be applied to a wider range of issues.

Is science a friend or foe? We need science to sustain the lives of humanity. Enquiry is part of being human. Yet scientists developed the atom bomb and are now on the brink of creating human life outside the traditional reproductive process. The contradictory nature of science currently under capitalism worries people deeply. We can not be against science as it has impacted positively on everybody’s lives in many different ways. Yet we must end the secretive nature of science. We have to instil openness in this community, including the results of their testing and the monitoring of scientific enquiry and institutions. No longer must companies self-test and self-monitor with impunity. The major misuse of science should be treated as a crime against humanity. Those responsible should be brought to justice, as would any war criminal. But we need to go beyond this and think about the difference in approach a socialist society would bring to scientific enquiry? Should we and can we control science? What moral values would we bring to bear? The discussion has begun but has not been satisfactorily resolved.

Once a particular technology is invented it can not be un-invented. Technology nowadays has consequences that are dangerous enough to warrant close watch. Who controls society and for what purpose they choose to develop a technology is what matters. No doubt, even those scientists who invented GM foods thought they were going to feed the world. However it is Monsanto which has largely developed this technology, buying up 2/3 of the planet’s grain suppliers and forcing developing world farmers to grow their GM crops. This is a perversion of the original dream. To emphasise our opposition to corporate control of technology we should indicate that we will disregard patent laws. People should get whatever benefit science brings on the basis of need. South Africa tried to do this by providing generic anti-AIDS drugs in the face of the giant pharmaceutical corporations’ opposition.

Conserver society

We need to consider the idea of a conserver society. This goes against the grain of much of traditional socialist belief. Stalin’s USSR promoted the notion of a producer society which could triumph over nature, not a fully human society which worked with nature. The resulting environmental disaster has disastrously affected the lives of millions of Soviet workers. These are also arguments our political enemies trot out and we have to offer a different vision if we wish to be treated seriously. One feature of an alternative conserver society would be to ensure that each generation maintains or, better still, enhances the environment for the next generation. We mustn’t be afraid to do what is necessary for the environment in the long run against what appears to be a short term popular gain. This requires bravery and an education of the public which may take many years, if not generations. We will need to engage with the argument about large scale bureaucratic versus small scale democratic organisation. How can we bring about global control of our environment and give people effective control over their local communities? One thing about a conserver society is that it needs everyone to play their part and it needs individual awareness, so that good practice is engrained in people’s consciousness.

At present most people associate defence of the environment with the Greens. If we do not further clarify our intent, we could find the SSP losing votes to the Greens and independent environmentalists in the coming years. The independent candidate is already starting to become a reality. Let us harden our environmental answers and bring them more to the fore. Let us not only answer any criticism of our intent, but proudly proclaim that being a red is being a true green. If we examine the Greens more closely there are socialists amongst their ranks. Yet they thin out remarkably whenever it comes to their upper echelons! If the carrot of office is ever dangled, the Greens, like Labour and the SNP, will sell out to big business. The German Green Party, in the current government coalition, states in its manifesto that collaborative working with business is the only way to save the environment. The Green Party will do all it can to make sure it is included with business in partnership for the benefit of all. In 1991 their Ministers supported the war with Iraq, which left behind massive contamination from destroyed oil wells and uranium-enriched shells. They supported the war against Afghanistan. Robin Harper, the Green MSP, refused to support the SSP stance of no war in Afghanistan.

End the drive for profit

The only way to save the planet is for producers to control society and the environment in order to meet our wider needs – material, social, individual and spiritual. The ending of the profit drive as the determining feature of our society would end poverty amidst plenty, starvation in a world of food surplus and many major killing diseases in the face of pharmaceutical corporation monopolies. The Greens don’t fundamentally challenge these evils. Indeed many corporations employ greens to put a cosmetic face of environmental caring on their companies’ activities and products. Over the last two years Shell adverts have been promoting a green image to make the public believe they are developing greener fuels. This is the same company that has heaped environmental damage on Third World countries as they robbed them of their wealth and resources and devastated their people and environments. Big business knows how to change their image to suit the current fashions; they recognise the rise in environmentalism and are acting accordingly. At every stage of capitalism the bosses have stayed a step ahead.

So finally, let us look to how our statement of intent could be improved and how we could attract more environmental activists as well as the wider public. Taking one issue as an example, I believe we should seriously consider supporting the use of organic farming throughout Scotland. This would benefit the natural environment by improving animal habitats with a return to hedgerows around fields. It would also mean a greater use of human labour. Much technological innovation has been highly destructive of the environment, damaging natural organic circuit sat the same time as leading to massive job loss in rural areas, which in turn has killed-off many local communities. Relax comrades, I’m not asking for a return to the fields for all workers. What I am saying is that job creation in the country is necessary if the growing urban/rural divide is to be narrowed. Already the reactionary Countryside Alliance is trying to exploit this imbalance.

What our enhanced environmental statement must do is to balance the needs of the working class, its need for employment and material goods with conserving the environment in an understandable way. I would suggest adding, We need to conserve and sustain the planet; to work to harmonise the needs of humankind and nature’s circuits of life. All our policies seek to create a conserver society for the benefit of future generations.

Tags: ,


Dec 03 2002

The Great Land Grab

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 04RCN @ 1:56 pm

In the light of the Scottish Parliament’s inadequate Land Reform legislation, Iain Robertson looks at who owns Scotland and what is needed to ensure access to all.

The day began like many others. It was too early, too cold, and too dark to be getting up and we were still tired from the previous evening’s socialising but the short daylight hours of winter meant that if we were going to complete the round of the Strathfarrar Munros then a seven-thirty departure from the bunkhouse was essential. Throughout our breakfast conversation turned to the overcast skies, the inevitability of rain, sleet and snow as we gained height and of the condition of the snow and ice underfoot. The depressingly familiar rain started soon after we left the cottage but we comforted ourselves that perhaps it might be clearer by the end of the seventy-five mile journey ahead of us up to Inverness then south-west to the glen of Strathfarrar in the heart of the Grampian mountains. As it turned out the rain was the least of our worries. The entrance to the 19 kilometer-long glen was barred by a padlocked gate. A notice advised that arrangements could be made to have the gate unlocked provided walkers and climbers phoned in advance between 9.00 am and 5.00 pm Monday to Friday. It was now 9.00 am on Saturday morning and we had just driven 75 miles to get here. This was not the first time that we had been barred from access by a landowner, or had obstacles put in the way of access.

Increasing numbers of people, especially from the cities, quite literally seek their recreation in the glens, hills and mountains of this land only to come hard up against the chilling reality that, collectively, we still own barely a handful of earth; that we have next to no say at all in the economic use of the land of Scotland; that we derive very little economic benefit from the land; and that the right of even access to the land hangs by the finest of legal threads. In reality, legally and historically, the land that was stolen from the common people by a process that began 900 years ago is still going on now. We are allowed to call it our land only in song and poetry, or when we are to be cynically manipulated by appeals to our patriotism in times of war.

Legacy of feudal land ownership

For ramblers, walker and climbers the land access problem is a long running sore. It reminds us of second class status in our own country and exposes the hypocrisy of Blair’s classless society. We are corralled into the central belt, and most of us into high density schemes within that, while vast acres of hill and glen, denuded, firstly, of their trees and, more recently in the last two centuries, of their original inhabitants (the fore-parents of many of us), are set aside for the occasional pleasure of a tiny but wealthy minority. This is the legacy of the feudal system of land ownership that has been consolidated with very little change during the last 900 years. During the last 200 hundred of these years, for much of the increasingly urban population in Scotland it has meant living in the high density, low amenity, high rent, low health record reservations we call cities. For much of the rural population it has meant clearances (which, of course, swelled numbers in the already overpopulated slums), high rents for those able to stay, diminishing economic activity and subservience to the local laird. For hundreds of thousands this subservience has meant armed service to the crown in the name of British imperialism. Even today rural populations are in decline. While in rural Ireland Irish Gaelic is widely spoken and welsh continues to thrive in North Wales, Scots Gaelic is on the verge of collapse. And this is attributable to the pattern of land ownership in Scotland which is unique to Scotland. In no other European country, perhaps the world, has this 900 year old feudal system persisted so unchanged as it has so in Scotland even into the 21st century.

And this is despite frequent tinkering by various governments over the last two centuries. It is a measure of the entrenched and backward nature of the system of land abuse and misuse in Scotland that British governments have felt compelled to modify it. Of course, we now are devolved and our ministers on the mound are working their way through another reform – to land access this time. If previous reforms are anything to go by we are in for a huge disappointment. The last great reform attempted was the right to buy reform.

Media disinformation

Media interest in crofter buy-outs in Knoydart and Eigg were masterly examples of disinformation concerning the land reforms of recent times. The images presented to the public are of bad landlords on the retreat, of caring government on the side of the people, of government on a quest for justice, and, worst of all, of a brave new world where the big issues of the right to own the land of Scotland have been addressed. The reality is quite different.

The media coverage to buy-outs was out of all proportion to the scale of the buy-outs. The areas of land involved in right to buy sales are a tiny fraction of one percent of the land area of Scotland under private ownership. The right to buy legislation protects the landowner’s financial interests – the crofters had to raise the market value price. The legislation protects the great landowners of Scotland – only a tiny proportion of the population of Scotland (registered crofters) have the right to buy and only the tiniest fraction of the great landowners estates are at risk. The estates in Scotland that were stolen from the common people nine centuries ago have been and continue to be protected by statute and law and every government from the 19th century Liberals to 20th century Labour has assiduously side stepped the central issue of Scotland’s feudal laws governing the control and use (and sadly, mostly misuse) of the greater portion of the land of Scotland.

So who exactly does own Scotland and what is the system of land ownership?

Who owns Scotland?

The answer to the first question is We don’t know. There is no centrally held, publicly available, completed register of land ownership for Scotland. Even where ownership is known, the boundaries and acreages are often either unknown or concealed. Several researchers have reported being blanked by representatives of estate owners upon enquiring about the accuracy of such information as they had obtained. However, what is known makes the picture clear enough. Take Lanarkshire, the most populated Authority in Scotland with Glasgow, East Kilbride, etc. as well as the Leadhills and Clyde valleyto the south. Out of a population of around 627 000 (in 2001), 150 landowners own one third of the land. The average land holding is well over 1000 acres with the Earl of Home on top walking his dogs around some 30 000 acres. (Actually he doesn’t as he lives on one of his other estates near Coldstream in the Scottish borders.) Everywhere the picture is similar. The common people are herded into the central belt and coastal strips while huge areas of Scotland are misused and mismanaged; rural economies continue their decline; and rural depopulation threatens one community after another with slow death.

The issue of Who Owns Scotland should be of huge importance to the
SSP. It is not an issue of envy. It is not even an issue of moral outrage or of righting past wrongs – well justified on their own though these are. It is an issue of our economic and social well-being as many have comprehensively argued.

The impact of the land tenure system goes far beyond land use. It influences the size and distribution of an area’s population; access to housing; access to land to build new houses; the social structure; and the distribution of power and influence. In many areas of Scotland, large land owners play a crucial role in local development: they are the rural planners.

Bryan Mcgregor, 1993, Aberdeen University, Professor of Land Economy

This is abundantly illustrated in Scotland’s largest county (as was), Invernessshire. This county stretched from the Outer Hebrides in the Atlantic, through Skye and across to Inverness by the North Sea. Yet it occupied the smallest number of pages in the 1872 Return* such was the huge size of the estates held by a relatively fewer great landowners than was common in other counties even then. Now that Invernesshire, Caithness, Sutherland and Ross counties have been amalgamated into Highland region, an area close to one quarter of all Scotland has a single planning authority under the influence of a handful of very powerful families. The economic and demographic stranglehold that these largely anonymous families wield beggars belief. [*The 1872 Return was an attempt by the Victorians to account for land ownership in Britain. It was regarded as being about 90% accurate. Astonishingly, the best information on England and Wales 125 years later is only guessed at as being about 60% accurate, with figure for Scotland being marginally less scandalous. Those who own Scotland, England and Wales don’t want us to know.]

So why do these secretive few cause such economic decline? After all, it might be argued that they surely stand to benefit more than the common people of Scotland from a more vibrant rural economy. Ironically the opposite is often true. In the first place, an increasing number of estate owners do not derive their income from their estate. For example, the current Earl of Rosebery (Neil Primrose to his friends) is an entrepreneur with a company worth £65 million in 2001. Viscount Cowdray (estate in Aberdeen) made his fortune via the Pearson plc media conglomerate. Numerous newcomers bought into estates using fortunes made earlier or are actually not nationals. Much of Glen Etive and the Blackmount is owned by the Flemings (London Bankers); the largest known estate in Kirkcudbrightshire is owned by Fred Olsen, Norwegian shipping magnate. (His other claim to Scottish fame? He owns Timex. Remember Dundee?). Although many estate owners do manage their estates on a commercial basis, what is profitable for them causes economic devastation not only to those who live locally but even more so to those who aspire to live in rural areas. This is true both for those young people forced out through lack of jobs; of affordable housing (or just any housing); as well as for those who want to move from urban centres.

For most estate owners it is the absence of people that equates with economic viability for most are run as pleasure grounds for other wealthy people as well as for themselves. Like the feudal barons (from whom many are descended) they insist the common people must be kept off of their playground to allow the grouse, the deer, the salmon, the foxes, the pheasants and the trout to be plentiful in numbers and reserved for themselves. And like their robber baron ancestors, they are not fussy about the methods they use to keep things the same now as they have been during the last 900 years.

William the Slaughterer (1066) began the process of converting land held in common by the people into private estates held by the few at the point of a sword – initially, then by the fiction of bits of paper called titles. The legal system of land tenure in Scotland today would be completely recognisable by the Norman Bruces and Comyns of the 14th century and even earlier. There we have it. Alone in Europe, Scotland still has an archaic legal framework for its land tenure based on feudal absolutism where the feudal superior (the landowner) is the ultimate authority under god.

So why has so little changed?

Since the beginnings of parliamentary democracy all governments have been composed principally of the landowners themselves and/or their allies. Although Cromwell led an army against Absolutism of the monarchy, he soon turned his army against the Levellers. Reforming governments of the last 150 years have strained themselves to minimise land reforms in the face of agitation from Chartists, Land Leaguers, crofters, and, more recently ramblers, socialists and academics. Despite the grandiose language from the Scottish Executive on land reform the enduring power, secrecy and economic stranglehold of the landowning mafia was assiduously left untouched. A Land Reform Policy Group was set up by the new Scottish Executive to address the issues raised by the many groups pressing for fundamental change that would bring the land tenure system into the 21st century and into line with the rest of Western Europe and Scandinavia. It consisted primarily of civil servants who ignored the feudal legal framework, the secrecy and tax evasion scams of the landowners, and even the models of every neighbouring country. These civil servants glorified consensus and blocked criticisms of their fundamental assumptions. Hence, as so often in the past, the archaic and anti-democratic legal framework was never subject to examination, the enormous power without accountability of landowners was never questioned, and rural economic stagnation never allowed to be discussed.

One reason, perhaps, why the Scottish Executive has been able so far to escape major unrest is the low priority accorded to the land issue by much of the left. It is not seen as a major campaigning issue. The left itself has gone along with the propaganda that land is a crofting issue, peripheral to the interests of the central belt working class. Quite apart from preceding social and economic arguments to the contrary, the biggest single anti-democratic, anti working class power block in Scotland is the centuries old intermarried landowning class. End the corrupt and destructive land tenure system and their power as a class goes with it. Another reason for the Executive’s smooth path through the parliamentary processes and media scrutiny has been the disunity among the various groups and organisations that have been fighting their sustained but private campaigns against the draft land reform bill.

The need for a united opposition

There is great scope here for the SSP to provide a focus for united opposition to this woefully inadequate bill. Two actions are needed. First, the politics of land ownership and the economic and democratic deficits of the present system need to be put at the top of the agenda – the Scottish Executive has buried these. Second, a genuine countryside alliance of the common people needs to be established bringing together the rural jobless and homeless, the Ramblers Associations, the Mountaineering Council for Scotland, the beleaguered crofters and tenant hill farmers, and the thousands of workers in B&B’s, pubs, hotels, bunkhouses, petrol stations, village shops throughout the Highlands, the Islands and the Southern Uplands of Scotland who depend for their livelihoods on thousands of workers from the cities, like the Creag Dhu climbers from red Clydeside in the 20’s and 30’s, escaping their confines to breath clean air, walk, cycle, scramble and climb; or to rest, sightsee, picnic and camp among the hills and mountains. The land issue is our issue; the land is our land. We need control over it for our economic, social and recreational well-being.

Iain Robertson

Books consulted in the writing of this article included:

Scotland: land and power – the agenda for land reform, Andy Wightman, Luath Press Ltd.

The Rich at Play: Foxhunting, land ownership and the Countryside Alliance,
RPM No9

Land, People and Politics,1878- 1952, Roy Douglas, Allison & Busby

Who Owns Britain, Kevin Cahill, Canongate

Our thanks to the anonymous local who unlocked the padlocked gate to Glen Strathfarrar that Saturday morning. As we struggled to the top of the third Munro (mountain over 3000 ft) the mist cleared briefly to reveal a setting sun illuminating the snow-capped mountains to the far North – an unforgettable sight.

Tags:


Dec 03 2002

Goodbye to the Good Friday Agreement

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 04RCN @ 1:54 pm

Now for the real drive to preserve partition and sectarianism in the North of Ireland

John McAnulty (Socialist Democracy, Belfast) details the reasons for the latest crisis of the Good Friday Agreement

The history books will undoubtedly list the collapse of the current version of the Good Friday Agreement as stemming from the British raid on Sinn Fein’s Stormont offices on 4th October. The history books will be wrong. The collapse occurred on September 16th with the decision of the Ulster Unionist Party to pull the plug on a number of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement and force Sinn Fein out of office. The raid brings much worse news for Sinn Fein. The pipe dream that the British would reward them and punish Unionism for the crisis is just as false as their other illusion that the forces of Irish capital would stand shoulder to shoulder with them in their hour of need. To add insult to injury big brother, in the shape of George Bush, immediately endorsed the call by the British for the IRA to disarm.

The Stormont raid has however a significance all of its own. The police raid had all the symbolism of jackboot rule. It was a travesty of democracy, indicating the harsh reality of British rule behind all the pretences of the Stormont assembly. It’s only purpose was to pull the plug on the Assembly, while making it clear that the Republicans will have to concede even more to earn a return of their ministerial seats. Howls about background IRA activity are neither here or there. The disbandment of the IRA was not a condition of the Good Friday Agreement – now for the Unionists, British, and Sinn Fein’s erstwhile friends in Dublin – it is.

This time it’s for real. After a whole string of crises which have in fact been a permanent feature of the unstable settlement in Ireland the reactionary offensive by the Unionists has guaranteed that the Good Friday Agreement, in its present form, will not survive into 2003. In a pattern repeated over and over again during the many attempts by imperialism to settle the Irish question, the trickle of Unionist opposition has become a flood, the flood has become a torrent and now the Unionist leadership has effectively changed. Following the victory of dissident Geoffrey Donaldson at the Unionist Council meeting of the 21st September, supporters of the Unionist leader, David Trimble, are being deselected at constituency meetings and it was quite clear that the Unionists would pull the plug on major structural elements of the Good Friday Agreement in January. At the September meeting the party agreed to withdraw from the Stormont Executive if the IRA had not effectively disbanded by January. This may not be enough to save the Unionist leadership. Polls indicate that Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party are likely to overtake the Ulster Unionists in 2003 and become the major Unionist party.

The standard model

There is a standard explanation for this pattern within Unionist politics. That is that unionism is split into reactionaries and progressives. Fear spread by the reactionaries or provocation from nationalists tilts the issue under discussion towards the reactionaries. All the other forces in society, from the British Government to Sinn Fein, must join together to support the progressives.

Sinn Fein holds a left version of this theory. They demand that the Unionists find a leader – a De Klerk – who will represent their true interests and fully support the Good Friday deal. They accuse securocrats in the state forces and civil service of blocking the real interests of Britain – to bring peace to Ireland. The nationalist family and US imperialism must ensure that there is no backsliding by the Unionists and British.

The truth is rather more complex. There has never been a moderate wing to Unionism in this process. The so-called moderates were led by David Trimble, formerly a leader of the semi-fascist Vanguard organisation, hero of Drumcree, after leading a triumphal march through the nationalist Garvaghy Road in Potadown a few years ago. More recently he was strutting his stuff in East Belfast, standing in front of a besieged Short Strand and accusing the nationalists within of responsibility for the sectarian attacks launched upon them. Trimble’s favourite tactic when under attack from the right is to immediately throw himself in front of the reactionaries, adopt their demands and lead them forward.

This tactic has led the Trimble wing, already composed of sectarians and reactionaries, to move steadily to the right and become more strident and absolutist in their demands for an unconditional Republican surrender. However at the same time the opposition has moderated its demands. Trimble’s arch-rival, Donaldson, has never demanded the scrapping of the Good Friday Agreement and has on occasions stressed his support for it. The DUP, once committed to the smashing of the deal, now want it amended to exclude Sinn Fein.

Goodbye to Sinn Fein

This can all be predicted from the deal. What the Good Friday Agreement offers in effect is a sectarian structure in which each group is given equal sectarian rights. Following its publication, an academic think tank, that advises the British government, pointed out that it could not possibly work. There would be no point in equality of sectarian rights. One group would have to be dominant to ensure stability. The unionists agree and have mounted a vicious and violent campaign, on and off the streets, to ensure that the Agreement is modified to recognise their dominant sectarian privilege.

Holy Cross

Perhaps the key event in that offensive was the raw intimidation of Catholic schoolchildren by loyalist paramilitaries at the Holy Cross primary school in Ardoyne. Rather than meeting with the condemnation of moderate unionism the Unionist political organizations were quick to justify the attacks and advance the sectarian demands for apartheid – with Catholic families to be locked in ghettoes and refused homes in Protestant areas. A Loyalist Commission was set up involving the sectarian gangsters and leading advisors to the Unionist leader, Trimble. Although the loyalist campaign involved a constant barrage of armed attacks and a number of brutal sectarian killings the politicians felt no need to keep their distance. One of its more striking statements from the Commission was a no first strike statement – this meant that the random sectarian killing of Catholics could be justified as long as the killers could point to some imagined provocation that preceded it.

In fact the Unionist politicians now openly bid to outdo each other in their support for raw sectarianism. David Trimble issued a statement in September accusing the nationalist victims of the loyalist violence of responsibility for the violence. He was quickly outdone by Peter Robinson, a government minister representing the Paisleyite DUP Robinson was interviewed by police after stopping traffic on the main road into East Belfast while the loyalist sectarians gathered for a street party to celebrate the imprisoning of the nationalist population behind a series of peace walls. Needless to say, the walls were built by the British.

Progressive unionism

The sectarian unionist offensive knocks away one major element of the peace process – the assumption that there was within unionism a progressive wing anxious to build a new society in the North of Ireland. In reality the unionists have behaved as any sober analysis would have suggested – pocketing the massive gains for them built into the Good Friday Agreement and pushing constantly to move it to the right and make it more sectarian. The difference between Trimble and his critics has been that he has been anxious to retain all the structures of the Agreement while forcing the British to amend it, while his opponents are happy to collapse the Executive in the expectation that what will emerge will be more to their liking.

It is Trimble’s opponents who had it right. Again it was the Holy Cross attacks that clarified British policy. Initial horror at the loyalist bombing of school children was instantly replaced by a definition of the situation as community conflict. The role of the reformed RUC/PSNI was to force the parents and children to run a gauntlet of sectarian hate and demand that the parents negotiate with their tormentors. The eventual outcome of this policy of managing community conflict is that the unionist demands for apartheid were met and Holy Cross school faces closure, under siege and without any genuine protection from state forces.

Appeasement

The desire to appease loyalism was far from local. In a major speech following Holy Cross, British Secretary of State, John Reid, announced that the Good Friday Agreement had made the North of Ireland a cold house for Protestants. The intent was clear. The Agreement had to be bent further to the right and the Republicans had to make further concessions. British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, issued a statement blaming Sinn Fein for the violence.

Reid’s speech was followed by a wave of sectarian attack and killings from the loyalist gangs. Wave after wave of sectarians openly attacked Catholic areas while the RUC/PSNI looked on. The new Chief Constable, Hugh Orde, announced blandly that the police were unable to act without the full support of the community – in other words, if Sinn Fein wanted protection they would have to sign up to the new Police Boards. Days later the Chief Constable announced that the level of violence was such that he would have to retain the almost exclusively Protestant RUC Reserve that was slated for disbandment under the Patten proposals on the police. At the same time the British intensified a long-standing policy of encouraging moderates within the loyalist sectarian gangs. Unfortunately the gangs had moved so far to the right that the moderates were now Mad Dog Johnny Adair and his henchmen! Not only did they keep up sectarian killings while talking to the British, they followed up with a full-scale loyalist feud.

Torrent of reaction

By this stage the wave of reaction had become a torrent. Attempts were made by the Sinn Fein leadership to sign up to the new Police Boards, with a statement from leading figure, Mitchell McLoughlin, that the British had accepted many of their demands for reform but, given the level of police involvement in the sectarian attacks, this was leading to fist-fights at local Sinn Fein meetings. The leadership split the difference yet again – announcing that the main problem with the Policing Boards was that many of their members were unable to join because of convictions they had gained during their period of struggle against the British. It was far too late. Trimble’s policy of squeezing them until they bled inside the Agreement was replaced at the September meeting of the Unionist Council with a decision to collapse elements of the Good Friday structure and force them out.

Analysis

Sinn Fein’s analysis of the October 4th raid at Stormont is quite accurate. The arrival of an army of RUC members at their Stormont offices and the arrest of chief administrator, Denis Donaldson, was not an investigation into allegations that they spied on the British administration – something that the unionists have done routinely throughout the troubles – it was a stunt to establish that it was they, Sinn Fein, who are to blame for the impending British suspension of elements of the Assembly and it is they who will have to make further concessions in the next round of discussions.

The problem for Sinn Fein is that it is not possible to blame this on low-level servants of the British state acting against the British interest. This is the state itself declaring its interest in the preservation of the sectarian unionist organisations as the basis for its rule in Ireland. The nationalist family, in Sinn Fein’s eyes the bulwark against any backsliding by the British, stood alongside the British and the US in effectively demanding the disbandment of the IRA and the local representatives of Irish capital, the SDLP, supported the proposals to abandon the Patten reforms of the RUC The fact that Dublin widely publicised the charge that a group, arrested in Bray and claimed to be planning a robbery were IRA members is a strong indication of the pressure the Republicans are under and the total failure of their analysis.

The next period will be grim. The British and the Unionists are now able to bank all the gains that they have made from the Good Friday Agreement. Some of the sectarian structures set up will be preserved. The current hysteria by Dublin and the SDLP is an acknowledgement that only the immediate disbandment of the IRA would be enough to prevent the collapse of the existing Agreement. This is an impossible demand for the Sinn Fein leadership to meet, at least on any short time-scale. The upshot is – negotiation of the Agreement around the core demands of unionism. These have nothing to do with the IRA. The main demand is for superior sectarian rights – a demand that can be achieved either by the exclusion of Sinn Fein and the retention of an SDLP rump within the existing structures or by changing the structures to retain an inner core of government for Unionism alone. In either case the RUC must remain their private army and any pretence that at some time in the future it will be made up of equal numbers of Catholics and Protestants must be brought quickly to an end.

The response of the Sinn Fein leadership has been pathetic. They can describe what is happening easily enough – they are simply unable to acknowledge who is doing it. They call upon the Unionists to be the Unionists of their imagination rather than the Unionists of reality. They call on the British to protect the Agreement as the British tear it up in front of their eyes. Mitchell McLoughlin announces that the way forward is nationalist unity – as nationalist Ireland turns as one to demand the disbandment of the IRA, RUC chief, Hugh Orde and Secretary of State, John Reid, explain that the nature of the Stormont raid was a terrible mistake – and Gerry Adams thanks them for their gracious response! He responds to demands for IRA disbandment by saying that he supports the call! In statement after statement the Republican leadership made it clear that nothing will break them from the Good Friday Agreement – plan B is to do plan A all over again!

The Republican response indicates the extent to which the British remain in command of the situation. However in the long run this is a major setback. The Good Friday Agreement involved the complete capitulation of the Republican resistance. The British and their allies had massive popular support. They failed to capitalise on this and an attempt to put together a more reactionary settlement will have a weaker base and be even less stable. Even now there is a sharp taste of dissatisfaction in the Republicans’ working-class base in the North of Ireland. It will take some time for the working class supporters of Sinn Fein to walk away. It will take longer for them to leave behind the Republican opposition who simply want to roll back the film to the situation that led to Republican defeat. However long it takes there is nowhere else to go. There is nothing in the Good Friday Agreement- Mark I or Mark II – for the working class but imprisonment in a sectarian hell. However unpalatable the vision that faces the workers, it is at least a vision of the real world – not a Republican pipe dream where Irish capitalism and British and US imperialism combine to bring justice and peace to Ireland!

Tags: , ,


Dec 03 2002

If You’re Happy And You Know It – Bomb Iraq

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 04RCN @ 1:53 pm

If you cannot find Osama, bomb Iraq.
If the markets are a drama, bomb Iraq.
If the terrorists are frisky,
Pakistan is looking shifty,
North Korea is too risky,
Bomb Iraq.

If we have no allies with us, bomb Iraq.
If we think that someone’s dissed us, bomb Iraq.
So to hell with the inspections,
Let’s look tough for the elections,
Close your mind and take directions,
Bomb Iraq.

It’s pre-emptive non-aggression, bomb Iraq.
To prevent this mass destruction, bomb Iraq.
They’ve got weapons we can’t see,
And that’s all the proof we need,
If they’re not there, they must be,
Bomb Iraq.

If you never were elected, bomb Iraq.
If your mood is quite dejected, bomb Iraq.
If you think Saddam’s gone mad,
With the weapons that he had,
And he tried to kill your dad,
Bomb Iraq.

If corporate fraud is growin’, bomb Iraq.
If your ties to it are showin’, bomb Iraq.
If your politics are sleazy,
And hiding that ain’t easy,
And your manhood’s getting queasy,
Bomb Iraq.

Fall in line and follow orders, bomb Iraq.
For our might knows not our borders, bomb Iraq.
Disagree? We’ll call it treason,
Let’s make war not love this season,
Even if we have no reason,
Bomb Iraq.

Tags: , , ,


Dec 03 2002

SSP & Socialist Unity

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 04RCN @ 1:50 pm

The Republican Communist Network has submitted the resolution, reproduced here, to be debated at the SSP’s annual conference being held in February. It attempts to get the SSP to take the lead in building and concretising some practical steps to unity with socialist organisations across England, Wales and Ireland. Unfortunately, the Conference Arrangements Committee has seen fit to make this the penultimate item on the agenda, which means that it may not be debated at the conference. However, the resolution, together with Bob Goupillot’s article E&L 3, have started to stimulate debate.

SSP Conference Motion L

Socialist unity

(RCN Platform/Midlothian Branch) Conference believes that:

  1. The SSP should publicly declare, as one of its aims, that it will aid socialist unity in England, Wales and Ireland and to have a real debate within the SSP on how to do it.
  2. The SSP, whether in the form of branches, platforms or individuals, makes every attempt to communicate directly with Socialist Alliance members out with Scotland, much as we did during the Poll Tax, when again Scotland was in the lead. Again using the experience of the Poll Tax, SSP branches could twin with SA branches and build up personal and political relationships.
  3. The SSV should regularly cover Socialist Alliance activities out with Scotland.
  4. The SSP should take the lead in organising a conference of all those individuals and organisations that believe that building SSP type parties in England, Wales and Ireland would be a step forward. Joint campaigns should be launched
    1. against the permanent war drive
    2. in support of asylum seekers
    3. against trade union/ employer/state partnership deals
    4. against privatisation/ labour flexibility/austerity drives
  5. The SSP and the Socialist Alliances should work towards a common platform for the next Westminster (and Euro) election.

Marc Jones (Cymru Goch):

I’m sure the motion isn’t intended to give succour to the pro-Brits who lurk in the
SSP, but that was my reading of some parts of it… most notably:

5. The SSP and the Socialist Alliances should work towards a common platform for the next Westminster (and Euro) election.

The implication is that this is a step towards a UK-wide organisation as advocated openly by the CPGB (and covertly by the SWP). There is a motion being put forward by the lone CPGB’er in Wales for the WSA to merge with the English SA; the opposition to this is merely to affiliate to the SA – merger by any other name. The proposer of this alternative has justified it in terms that Neil Kinnock would be proud of – Wales could never survive without subsidies from England

From an outside perspective, I think the SSP would be better served working towards a pan- European alliance or platform for the Euro-elections and beyond rather than jumping into bed with the SA, which is staggering from crisis to crisis and now seems to have lost its most prominent left Labourite, Liz Davies.

Bob Goupillot (SSP/RCN):

I must say that I feel the political habit of spotting the Brit left everywhere seems to be the mirror image of the CPGB seeing the left nationalists all over the place. Like the ISM and others, Marc is in favour of a pan-European alliance but not a common platform with folk in England. I thought England was in Europe?

Even now are we not in favour of coordinated campaigns against the impending war and in support of the firefighters?

Allan Armstrong (TCT/RCN):

The motion isn’t a pro-Brit motion.I see three broad positions in the
SSP at the moment.

  1. Scottish nationalist – most obviously the SRSM, but increasingly the
    ISM too (with their old Westminster parliamentary orientation being replaced by a Holyrood parliamentary orientation).
  2. British bureaucratic internationalist – most obviously the
    CPGB and
    AWL, but also (more opportunistically, because it is often hidden) the SWP. Their emphasis is on building The British Party (and often tail-ending the British Labour Party and the British road to socialism.
  3. – our own (TCT –Ed), which we think reflects the tradition of Connolly and Maclean – internationalism from below – attempting to unite the actions of English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish workers in united front type campaigns. From the perspective of ourselves in Scotland we are Scottish internationalists not Scottish nationalists and wish to unite with English, Welsh and Irish internationalists.

Tags: , ,


Next Page »