Jun 04 2018

THE ROYAL WEDDING – PROVIDING POLITICAL COVER FOR THE UK STATE’S CROWN POWERS

This is an edited version the article, written by Eddie Ford,  which first appeared in Weekly Worker. This blog has often warned how the use of the Crown Powers could stymie any attempt to set-up an independent Scotland. This article provides a warning to those who look to Jeremy  Corbyn to lead a new Labour government. Under the Crown Powers the British establishment can call on the monarch to appoint an alternative Prime Minister.

 

THE ROYAL WEDDING – PROVIDING POLITICAL COVER FOR THE UK STATE’S

CROWN POWERS

 

 

Jeremy Corbyn-  a genuine or a platonic republican?

Although politicians might not have been invited to the royal wedding on May 19th at Windsor, this was definitely a political event. Its purpose was to demonstrate once again the central ideological role of the monarchy – which, as we all know, stands ‘above politics’, so that it can serve the common interests of the ‘entire nation’, whatever your class position, as opposed to outsiders. No doubt this is part of the reason why Markle must become British herself. Continue reading “THE ROYAL WEDDING – PROVIDING POLITICAL COVER FOR THE UK STATE’S CROWN POWERS”

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Apr 20 2015

REPUBLICANISM AND DEMOCRACY

Allan Armstrong (RCN) was invited to speak on Republicanism and Democracy  at the Assembly for Democracy event in Glasgow on Saturday, April 11th. He gave an update of the talk at the first Radical Independence Conference in Glasgow in November 2012 (see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/11/15/genuine-self-determination-means-acting-as-republicans-now/

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Allan Armstrong speaking at the Glasgow Assembly for Democracy

 

Most of the discussions today we have been having today have been about bringing democracy into our own campaigns and developing an opposition to the ongoing British ruling class offensive.

However, as one contributor to the debate has already said, ‘democracy’ is one of the most promiscuous terms to be found in politics. Indeed, the British ruling class likes to claim that “Westminster is the mother of parliaments”, with the implication that it represents a deeply rooted democratic tradition. So it is worth taking a closer look at this Westminster, based on the political notion of the ‘Crown in parliament’.
Continue reading “REPUBLICANISM AND DEMOCRACY”

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Feb 12 2014

THE SNP AND SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE

Eric Chester (RCN) outlines some of the problems that the SNP government’s White Paper Independence-Lite proposals would pose for genuine Scottish self-determination.

Matin Carney, Governor of the Bank of England outlines Scotland's future financial and fiscal subjection under  sterling

Matin Carney, Governor of the Bank of England outlines Scotland’s future financial and fiscal subjection under sterling

As the referendum campaign unfolds, it becomes increasingly obvious that Alex Salmond and the SNP have no interest in a truly independent Scotland. Instead, a ‘yes’ vote is a vote to authorize Salmond to engage in a series of confidential negotiations that will strip an allegedly ‘independent’ Scotland of much of its powers, while binding it as a subordinate entity to the UK, the United States and the European Union. This underlying reality has become even clearer after the recent debates concerning the sterling zone and the Bank of England.

Continue reading “THE SNP AND SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE”

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Feb 01 2014

ALEX SALMOND AND THE WRITTEN CONSTITUTION

Murdo Ritchie, a new member of the RCN, writes about the political significance of the issue of a written constitution raised the SNP government’s White Paper.

 

Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon present the SNP government's 'White Paper' to a press conference

Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon present the SNP government’s ‘White Paper’ to a press conference

 

Although the First Minister has abandoned the SNP’s commitments to referenda on a future independent Scotland’s membership of NATO and the European Union as well as continuing the current monarch as head-of-state, he has remained quite firm on the importance of a written constitution for a future Scotland.  Indeed he has emphasised this policy more strenuously than many others.  It may be the single most important policy proposal he has made.  It is central to a full and proper understanding of the importance of the White Paper (1).

Continue reading “ALEX SALMOND AND THE WRITTEN CONSTITUTION”

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Nov 15 2012

GENUINE SELF-DETERMINATION MEANS ACTING AS REPUBLICANS NOW

Allan Armstrong will be introducing the workshop on Republicanism at the Radical Independence Conference in Glasgow on November 24th, along with Neil Davidson of the SWP, Graham McIver of Solidarity, and a speaker from Republic Scotland. He has been asked by the conference organisers to prepare an outline of his talk, so that those attending are better prepared for the workshop discussions. Here is Allan’s contribution. The full list of workshops and other conference arrangements can be found at:- http://radicalindependence.org/

The Left’s usual approach to the monarchy

Most people understand a republic to be a state without a monarch. When socialists are asked why they oppose the British monarchy, they usually concentrate their criticism on the antiquated class structure this upholds; and the high cost of maintaining such a parasitic institution, especially now the rest of us face austerity.

However, the UK is a constitutional monarchy [1]. This means the queen exerts little power in her own rightThe fragility of royal political influence was shown over the Windsors’ inept handling of the ‘Princess Di Affair’ in 1997. Yes, the royal family enjoys obscene privileges in terms of property, income and status, but these are rewards given for its role in supporting and promoting the interests of a wider British ruling class.

Far more important than the royal family itself, is the political system it fronts.  Despite the existence of a parliamentary democracy centred on Westminster, with its devolved offspring at Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont, we still face very real political constraints.  These lie in the state’s profoundly anti-democratic Crown Powers.

Continue reading “GENUINE SELF-DETERMINATION MEANS ACTING AS REPUBLICANS NOW”

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Jun 16 2012

SOCIALIST REPUBLICANISM AND THE DIAMOND JUBILEE

 

The RCN is posting four pieces as a contribution to the debate on a socialist republican the Diamond Jubilee.

1. Socialist Republicans and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

2. Republicanism Socialism and Democracy

3. The Crown Rules Britannia

4. The Queen: Floating in the Stink

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1. SOCIALIST REPUBLICANS AND QUEEN VICTORIA’S DIAMOND JUBILEE

“Maud Gonne joined with James Connolly in preparing the anti-Jubilee demonstrations. To counter the loyal displays, she secured a window in Dublin’s Parnell Square from which lanternslides could be shown on a large screen…. Daniel O’Brien made a large black coffin on which were inscribed the words ‘British Empire’, and to lead the procession which was to accompany it through the streets Connolly procured the services of a workers’ band… Maud Gonne then set to work tuning out black flags which were embroidered wit the facts of the famines and evictions which had marked Victoria’s reign.

On Jubilee Day… a rickety handcart… draped in the semblance of a hearse… was pushed by a member of the Irish Socialist Republican Party. Maud Gomme and W. B. Yeats joined the procession and quickly distributed black flags. They all moved down Dame Street to the sound of the Dead March.

As soon as the police realised what was happening reinforcements were rushed from the Castle. Baton charges began to disperse the dense throng of spectators. Connolly, at the head, had reached O’Connell Bridge when the fighting became exceptionally fierce. With a flash of inspiration, he ordered the coffin to thrown into the River Liffey and the whole crowd took up in chorus his valedictory words, “Here goes the coffin of the British Empire. To hell with the British Empire!”

The Life and Times of James Connolly, C. Desmond Greaves, pp. 89-90

 

Queen Victoria’s Jubilee

James Connolly in Workers Republic

“The great appear great to us, only because we are on our knees:
LET US RISE.”

Fellow Workers,

The loyal subjects of Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India, etc., celebrate this year the longest reign on record. Already the air is laden with rumours of preparations for a wholesale manufacture of sham ‘popular rejoicings’ at this glorious (?) commemoration.

Home Rule orators and Nationalist Lord Mayors, Whig politicians and Parnellite pressmen, have ere now lent their prestige and influence to the attempt to arouse public interest in the sickening details of this Feast of Flunkeyism. It is time then that some organised party in Ireland – other than those in whose mouths Patriotism means Compromise, and Freedom, High Dividends – should speak out bravely and honestly the sentiments awakened in the breast of every lover of freedom by this ghastly farce now being played out before our eyes. Hence the Irish Socialist Republican Party – which, from its inception, has never hesitated to proclaim its unswerving hostility to the British Crown, and to the political and social order of which in these islands that Crown is but the symbol – takes this opportunity of hurling at the heads of all the courtly mummers who grovel at the shrine of royalty the contempt and hatred of the Irish Revolutionary Democracy. We, at least, are not loyal men; we confess to having more respect and honour for the raggedest child of the poorest labourer in Ireland today than for any, even the most virtuous, descendant of the long array of murderers, adulterers and madmen who have sat upon the throne of England.

During this glorious reign Ireland has seen 1,225,000 of her children die of famine, starved to death whilst the produce of her soil and their labour was eaten up by a vulture aristocracy, enforcing their rents by the bayonets of a hired assassin army in the pay of the –best of the English Queens’; the eviction of 3,668,000, a multitude greater than the entire population of Switzerland; and the reluctant emigration of 4,186,000 of our kindred, a greater host than the entire people of Greece. At the present moment 78 percent of our wage-earners receive less than £1 per week, our streets are thronged by starving crowds of the unemployed, cattle graze on our tenantless farms and around the ruins of our battered homesteads, our ports are crowded with departing emigrants, and our poorhouses are full of paupers. Such are the constituent elements out of which we are bade to construct a National Festival of rejoicing!

Working-class of Ireland: We appeal to you not to allow your opinions to be misrepresented on this occasion. Join your voice with ours in protesting against the base assumption that we owe to this Empire any other debt than that of hatred of all its plundering institutions. Let this year be indeed a memorable one as marking the date when the Irish workers at last flung off that slavish dependence on the lead of ‘the gentry,’ which has paralysed the arm of every soldier of freedom in the past.

The Irish landlords, now as ever the enemy’s garrison, instinctively support every institution which, like monarchy, degrades the manhood of the people and weakens the moral fibre of the oppressed; the middle-class, absorbed in the pursuit of gold, have pawned their souls for the prostitute glories of commercialism and remain openly or secretly hostile to every movement which would imperil the sanctity of their dividends. The working class alone have nothing to hope for save in a revolutionary reconstruction of society; they, and they alone, are capable of that revolutionary initiative which, with all the political and economic development of the time to aid it, can carry us forward into the promised land of perfect Freedom, the reward of the age-long travail of the people.

To you, workers of Ireland, we address ourselves. AGITATE in the workshop, in the field, in the factory, until you arouse your brothers to hatred of the slavery of which we are all the victims. EDUCATE, that the people may no longer be deluded by illusory hopes of prosperity under any system of society of which monarchs or noblemen, capitalists or landlords form an integral part. ORGANISE, that a solid, compact and intelligent force, conscious of your historic mission as a class, you may seize the reins of political power whenever possible and, by intelligent application of the working-class ballot, clear the field of action for the revolutionary forces of the future. Let the ‘canting, fed classes’ bow the knee as they may, be you true to your own manhood, and to the cause of freedom, whose hope is in you, and, pressing unweariedly onward in pursuit of the high destiny to which the Socialist Republic invites you, let the words which the poet puts into the mouth of Mazeppa console you amid the orgies of the tyrants of today:

But time at last makes all things even,

And if we do but watch the hour,

There never yet was human power

That could evade, if unforgiven,

The patient hate and vigil long,

Of those who treasure up a wrong.

__________________________

2. REPUBLICANISM, SOCIALISM AND DEMOCRACY

The following two articles come from the RCN’s pamphlet of the same name, published in 2008, and now out-of-print.

 

REPUBLICANISM AND THE DEMOCRATIC ROAD TO SOCIALISM

 

The role of communists is to develop an awareness of the utility and necessity of democracy – Victor Serge

As long as democracy has not been achieved, thus long do communists and democrats fight side by side – Frederick Engels

 

Republicanism in the United Kingdom describes the movement from below for a radical and militant democracy.  For socialists, republicanism addresses those immediate democratic issues faced by the working class in the here and now.  It seeks to develop a programme for expanding democracy under capitalism as far as it will go.  It concerns itself with progressive and in some senses transitional demands. To the extent that we achieve our democratic demands these strengthen our class and weaken the ruling class and its allies.  It is a necessary and unavoidable part of the struggle for socialism.

This democratic struggle is called republicanism in the UK because it highlights that we live in an undemocratic, constitutional monarchy.  The term republicanism also connects us to our own radical history.

Republican struggles in these islands provide a red thread going back to the Levellers in the English revolution, the Cameronians (radical Covenanters) here in Scotland, the struggle of the United Irishmen, the Chartists, and the prospects of Workers Republics raised by James Connolly and John Maclean.  The rise of capitalism and the struggle of the emerging bourgeoisie against the feudal state and church led to a false association between capitalism and the spreading of democracy.  In reality wherever they have achieved power, the bourgeoisie have sought to narrow, limit and impoverish democracy, for the majority of the population.  Consciously or unconsciously they have recognised in the proletariat their future gravediggers.  Hence they have sought to block any democratic path to a genuine republic because, in a truly democratic republic, the bourgeois and their system, capitalism, could not flourish.

Socialists see republicanism today as directly linked to the struggle for the socialist republic tomorrow. However, Republicanism is not a sentimental attachment to yesterday’s struggles.  It helps us develop a strategy and tactics to directly oppose today’s oppressors and exploiters.  To declare for the democratic republic is to declare war against the existing bourgeois state.

 

Republicanism in Action

Republicanism in the workplace or trade union means spreading action outwards and upwards from the origin of the conflict or from its most militant site.  It is not about waiting until your faction has won the position of the General secretary-ship of the union or a majority on the party executive.  Industrial republicanism recognizes the sovereignty of the members in their workplaces and branches and not the sovereignty of the Union head office or full-time officials.  Neither is its main purpose to reform the capitalist state and its laws, although it may produce useful reforms such as the legal right to strike or to take secondary action.

Republicanism endorses direct action in the community.  It is not about waiting to ‘win power’ in local or national elections where power is in the hands of the elected few.  Republicanism is about the maximum level of participation in any action with democratic control at the grass roots level. For republicans, contesting local and national elections is not an end in itself. We stand in elections to offer an ideological alternative to capitalism and to challenge the state under which we live.  When the Tories tried to impose their hated Poll Tax in Scotland, tens of thousands (some say hundreds of thousands) took action to resist.  This resistance was spread further, by activists, to England and Wales.  A struggle initiated  in the housing schemes of Muirhouse and Pollok was fought to a famous victory. Tens of thousands of protestors defied the state in Trafalgar Square on March 31st 1990

When socialists put up candidates for the local elections it was to legitimize actions being taken or considered e.g., campaigning in Council elections on a ‘Don’t Pay the Poll Tax’ slogan. During that titanic struggle millions moved from protesting against an unjust tax to breaking the law and organizing to prevent the rule of the state operating as it wished.  The most militant areas became no go areas for Sherriff’s Officers and representatives of the Labour Party (who’s councils were imposing the tax). This is republicanism in action.

Sometimes latent republican struggles in the community become conscious republican struggles.  In 1969, tens of thousands demonstrated for Civil Rights in (e.g. equal voting and access to jobs and housing) in Northern Ireland.  Their resistance was met by British paratroopers in Derry on Bloody Sunday, January 30th 1972, when 14 peaceful demonstrators were shot down. This was followed by internment without trial.   The republican struggle against the UK state took off.

 

Seeing Struggles Through a Republican Lens

A republican perspective politicises issues and illuminates a democratic path that leads us beyond capitalism.  It is an energising principle, which brings with it a personal responsibility to think and act like an active citizen rather than a submissive subject.  It allows us to come to grips with the enemy state and thus provides an antidote to passivity in socialist organisations and society at large

Thus campaigns against homelessness and for the building of more council houses are not just about the demand for more homes.  It is an argument about collective rather than private provision of services and about democratic accountability, councillors are elected, Housing Association executives are not.  This then becomes a political not just an economic demand. Similarly the struggle around the defence of asylum seekers challenges the state’s ability to create and control borders and restrict the free movement of people (in contrast to capital, commodities and profits).  Another example is foxhunting.  This can be opposed on the grounds of cruelty to foxes or on the basis of who should control the land.  These examples indicate the militant ways in which revolutionary republicans fight for reforms.

Republicanism is about releasing the latent power of the people, and it means recognising the legitimacy of democratically agreed, direct action taken by ourselves at whatever level.  In short, republicanism is putting the ‘sovereignty of the people’ into action in the here and now.  Republicanism challenges not just the ruling class but also their knowing collaborators in and out of parliament (e.g., trade union bureaucracies)  and their unknowing collaborators (those left organisations that want to restrict class action until it – ‘the chosen party’ – considers the time and tactic is right).  Connolly, for example, acted in true republican fashion when he threw the weight of the Irish Citizen Army behind the Easter uprising despite personally judging the wider organization to be ill prepared.

 

Making our own organizations democratic

Republicanism is fundamentally about the highest form of democracy.  That is democratic control held by the basic units of the society – workplaces and effective networks within communities.  Elected representatives must always be accountable and subject to recall and dismissal.  If elected representatives are paid, then they should receive no more than the average skilled workers’ wage. This is a vital weapon against careerism and will help eliminate those powerful forces that drive a wedge between the elected and the electorate, the union member and the full timer.

It is imperative that socialists lead the struggle within society to extend absolute democracy to all areas of our lives. To achieve this it is absolutely essential that our own organisations are democratic. This must include trade unions and socialist parties.

The Republican Communist Network’s insist on the importance of republicanism and a democratic constitution within the SSP because we recognise this as the most effective method of decision making i.e. it maximises our ability to produce correct answers to problems we face.  It leads to collective decision making through mutual education and debate.  An active, living democracy allows us to harness the creativity of the membership and honestly reflect on the results of our practice and to quickly amend it in the light of this learning.

A democratic party allows the working class to express itself through its structures.  It is essential to foster a democratic structure that recognises the value of minority views being expressed.  Socialists support elections being conducted on the basis of proportional representation (PR). This is an indispensable demand, both within and beyond our own organisations.  It ensures that minority opinions are always heard and are not silenced, and allows debate between differing points of view; the lifeblood of democracy.

This expresses the essence of the Marxist dialectic whereby our practice develops through the open clash of differing ideas on what constitutes the best way forward..This is an important corrective method for any socialist grouping.  Failure to allow this results in mistakes like the SWP dismissing the 1984-5 miners strike and the Poll Tax as unimportant struggles.  An error of a different nature was  CWI’s prediction of the Red Nineties i.e. that, as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, there would be a massive upturn in working class struggles and through these a politicisation of the class.  In reality the opposite happened.

In each of these cases the lack of an effective internal democratic structure reduced the ability of these organisations to adapt their strategies to deal with reality as it actually unfolded and disproved their earlier predictions.  This inflexibility made them less effective as vehicles to express the needs of the working class.

Ultimately democracy is a living thing.  It cannot be completely captured by constitutions etc.  It can however be enhanced or hindered by such things.  Republicanism embodies such characteristics as openness, egalitarianism and a long term perspective.  Further it recognises that adhering to principle may involve short-term losses.  Republicans within any political organisation will always contest the drift toward bureaucratic control of that organisation by dominant faction(s) whether that control is exerted through the power of their block vote, or via rigging the rules and constitution to stifle dissent.  Republicanism will always challenge those holding office who put their personal interests above those they are elected to represent.

Although republicanism is not communism or socialism it is difficult to imagine how either of these will be achieved without a strongly republican movement and thoroughgoing democracy to guard against the many temptations of managerialism, bureaucracy and totalitarianism.  The struggle for democracy has the potential to unite our class and points the way to revolutionary change and a new form of society.  Indeed socialism can only develop and be maintained under conditions of active, mass, democratic participation in the running of society.  In its absence we have by definition another, non socialist, form of society e.g. as in the former USSR.

Republican consciousness and practice brings the possibility of revolutionary change into the sphere of everyday life.  Revolutionary social change is understood as the culmination of an ongoing and developing revolutionary process rather than a one off event.

The Paris Commune and the workers councils (soviets) in the Russian Empire did not spring out of nowhere. They were the culmination of long struggles to assert popular and workers’ control over people’s lives. Today’s workers’ and popular struggles to retain control of our own organisations and to win and try to establish control over reforms which will improve our lives, are the bridge to this socialist or communist future.  The republican desire to assert our self-determination is but a step on the way to creating a society based on the principle, ‘From each according to their ability; to each according to their needs’.

 

Bob Goupillot

 

 

REPUBLICANISM AND THE UK STATE

 

When people are asked what is meant by the word ‘republic’ they usually answer, “A country without a monarch”.  In today’s world this covers a great variety of states, including the USA, France, Germany, Russia, Israel, China, South Africa and Cuba.  At first glance, then, ‘republic’ would not appear to be a very helpful term for socialists, who want to distinguish between more or less progressive social and political systems.

Therefore, despite the fact that we, in the UK, live in one of the few remaining monarchies in the world, what significant difference could the ending of the monarchy bring about?  Certainly, the existence of the Royal Family helps to buttress a more rigid class system here, where class is understood in its older sense of hierarchical privilege, with upper, middle and lower classes.  The desperation with which some Labour politicians and trade union leaders pursue ‘honours’ is one indication of the hold of this old-style class privilege within the UK.

Nevertheless, a quick examination of the world’s most powerful republic, the USA, shows us that the lack of a monarchy is not necessarily a barrier to the promotion of huge income differentials between an obscenely wealthy elite and the downtrodden poor.  So, why should socialists consider themselves republicans at all, rather than just ignoring the monarchy until we have achieved our real aim, the creation of a socialist republic?  Answering this question means taking a closer look at the political nature of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The UK is a constitutional monarchy, which means, in effect, that the Queen exerts little power in her own right.  Yes, the Royal Family enjoys massive privileges in terms of property, income and status, but these are rewards given for its role in supporting and promoting the interests of a wider British ruling class.  The fragility of royal political influence was shown over the Windsors’ inept handling of the ‘Princess Di Affair’.  Diana was seen by the public to be much more in tune with the modern day, neo-liberal requirements of a celebrity monarchy.  Tony Blair perceived a ruling class need for a ‘New Monarchy’, and quickly labelled the late Diana, the ‘People’s Princess’.  The Windsors, however, were still seen by most to be, out of touch with the present-day world.  Since then, they have had to put a lot of effort into trying to repackage the monarchy.

So, does this mean that the longstanding infatuation of the British public with the Royal Family, which long prevented even the old Labour Party from challenging royal privilege, is at last waning?  It probably does, but that does not get to the root of the problem.  Far more important than the Royal Family itself, is the political system it fronts.  Despite the existence of a parliamentary democracy centred on Westminster, with its new devolved offspring at Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont, it still has very real limitations.  These lie in the state’s Crown Powers, which are wielded, not by the Queen, but by the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister has a wider circle of advisers, from the world of finance, industry and the media.  They help him to adopt strategies and form policies to promote their needs, without too much democratic scrutiny.  We can see some of those pressures in Gordon Brown’s handling of the Northern Rock collapse, where defence of City interests has been paramount.  If anyone thinks that defence of small investors is Brown’s first interest, just ask the victims of the collapse of the Farepack Fund, run by Halifax/Bank of Scotland.  Business leaders have also ensured that the bidding and contract details for the government’s many lucrative PFI contracts, amounting to billions of pounds of public money, are conducted in secret under the guise of commercial confidentiality.  This means that whole swathes of the UK economy, ostensibly under the control or supervision of Parliament, in reality lie way beyond any effective public accountability.  The results of this can now clearly be seen, with Brown and Darling’s paralysis in the face of the present economic crisis.  New Labour is in the pockets of big business, and no amount of Union Jack waving around our Olympic heroes and heroines can disguise this.

This unaccountable economic influence has to be supplemented by other anti-democratic political means.  This is why senior civil servants, judges, and officers and ranks in the armed forces, all swear their allegiance to the Queen, not to Parliament, and certainly not to the people.  The ruling class may require their services, acting, when necessary, against the interests of the people, or even Parliament.  Of course, it is not the Queen herself, who wields this power, but the Prime Minister, acting on behalf of the ruling class.  This is all done under the Crown Powers.

The UK’s constitution even has provision for the suspension of Parliament in ‘extreme situations’, with resort instead to direct rule by the Privy Council.  This very select band of former and existing senior government ministers is chosen for its reliability in upholding ruling class interests.  Its members all enjoy close contact with the world of business, whilst some have had direct dealings with military officers, MI5 and MI6.

The fact that SNP leader Alex Salmond is now a Privy Councillor shows that, beyond the exaggerated public disagreements, through which party political competition normally takes place in the UK, the British ruling class inner circle still consider him reliable enough.  Indeed, Salmond enjoys his own close links with the Scottish finance sector, which has wider British interests to defend.  More importantly, Salmond’s acceptance of a Privy Councillorship indicates that he will play the political game by Westminster rules, when he finally puts forward the Scottish Executive’s ‘Independence Referendum’.

Way back in the late 1970’s, before the British ruling class came to the conclusion that ‘Devolution-all-round’ (for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) was the best strategy to defend its interests in these islands and the wider world, key sections were still bitterly opposed even to the very mild devolutionary proposals put forward by the then Labour government. In the lead-up to the 1979 Devolution Referendum, the ‘non-political’ Queen was wheeled out to make a Christmas broadcast attacking Scottish nationalism.  Senior civil servants were told to ‘bury’ any documents, which could help the Scottish nationalists.  Military training exercises were conducted, targeting putative armed Scottish guerrilla forces.  The security forces became involved on the nationalist fringe, encouraging anti-English diatribes and actions, to discredit any notion of real Scottish self-determination.

However, unlike Ireland or Australia, Scottish nationalists did not then have to face the full panoply of Crown Powers.  It was not necessary, since the SNP opposition was so mild and constitutionalist in nature.  In the ‘Six Counties’ of Northern Ireland, the Republicans, and the wider nationalist community, felt the force of her majesty’s regiments, including the SAS, the UDR (with its royal patronage) and the RUC, and the Loyalist death squads, all backed up by juryless Diplock Courts, manned by Unionist judges, and by detention as required, in ‘her majesty’s’ special prisons.  Those sections of the state, which provide the ruling class with legal sanction to pursue its own ends, are prefixed ‘her majesty’s’ or ‘royal’.  Self-styled Loyalists include those who are prepared to undertake certain illegal tasks when called upon by the security services.

Back in 1975, Gough Whitlam fronted a mildly reforming Labour government, which wanted to keep US nuclear warships out of Australian ports.  He felt the long arm of the Crown Powers when the British Governor-General removed him from his elected office.  More recently the Crown Powers have been used to deny the right of the Diego Garcia islanders to return to their Indian Ocean home, when they won their case in the British High Court.  Unfortunately for them, Diego Garcia is now the site of a major US military base.  Current British governments are even more subservient to US imperial interests than they were in the 1970’s.  We should take seriously the warning from Lisa Vickers, the new US consul in Edinburgh, when she attacked the SNP’s formal anti-NATO policy.  “I don’t think you just wake up one morning and say ‘we are going to pull out of NATO’.  It doesn’t work like that” – a not so veiled threat!

Alex Salmond has finally come out and declared that the SNP is a pro-monarchy party.  As Colin Fox (SSP National Co-spokesperson) has said, Salmond wants the ending of the outdated 1707 Union of the Parliaments, only to return to the even more antiquated, 1603 Union of the Crowns.  Of course, there are still Scottish republicans to be found in the SNP. However, they are a bit like those ‘Clause 4 socialists’, once found in the old Labour Party.  For them socialism was a sentimental ideal for the future but, in the meantime, a Labour government had to be elected to run capitalism efficiently, in order to provide enough crumbs to finance some reforms for the working class.

Today’s SNP ‘independista’ wing passionately believes in a future independent Scotland, but believe the road is opened up, in the here and now, by an SNP government managing the local U.K. state in the interests of big business.  They are going to be disappointed as the old SNP turns into an ‘independence-lite’ ‘New SNP’, just like its counterparts in Quebec, Euskadi and Catalunya.  The SNP leadership is not going to challenge US or British imperial power, so it will not be able to deliver genuine independence.  This political measure will be strongly opposed by resort to whatever Crown Powers are seen to be necessary.  Being prepared to counter those Crown Powers has to be central to any socialist strategy, which opens up a prospect of real democratic advance, in the struggle for Scottish self-determination.

The Crown Powers have also been used by Prime Ministers to declare wars without parliamentary sanction, and to mobilise troops to break strikes when necessary.  Therefore, it should be clear why socialists have an interest in promoting republicanism – it increases people’s democratic rights, whilst undermining the anti-democratic powers in the hands of the ruling class. Socialists living under fascist dictatorships, or in countries with major restrictions on trade union rights, don’t say life would be no better under parliamentary rule, or with legally independent trade unions, because the ruling class would still run things.  Socialists place themselves at the head of the struggle for greater democratic rights, but don’t stop at the more limited forms compatible with capitalist rule.  Socialists see republicanism today as a part of the struggle for the socialist republic tomorrow.

 

Allan Armstrong

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 THE CROWN RULES BRITANNIA

 

Steve Freeman and Phil Vellender of London Occupy live in the ‘heart of the best’. Here they highlight the difference between the Monarchy and the Crown Powers.

 

Behind the monarch lies the real power

 

Monarchy is only the string that ties the robber’s bundle – Percy Bysshe Shelley

 

The jubilee is an obvious time to reflect on the distinction between queen and crown. Many people think these terms mean the same thing. It is much better to see them as opposites, albeit interconnected – the monarch and the state. Louis XIV famously said, “I am the state”, which is a definition of absolute monarchy. In contrast we see a hint of separation when Queen Victoria used the royal ‘we’: “We are not amused.” This means two of them are not happy – the person and the institution – me and my shadow.

This distinction has its origins in the doctrine in the middles ages that the king has two bodies. One is the ‘body natural’ – the living human being. “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?” said Shylock in The merchant of Venice (Shakespeare’s reference to Jews also reminds us that monarchs are not deities). But the second body is the ‘body politic’ – the institution of monarchy, which never dies. The king is dead – long live the king. The English revolution of 1649 made that distinction sharper.

Today we live in a capitalist world when everything is business. So our distinction is between two enterprises – the Crown Corporation and Royal Family Ltd. The latter is called “the firm” by the Duke of Edinburgh and has its HQ at Buckingham Palace. These are separate businesses which go together like a horse and carriage. The relationship between them is more like ‘state capitalism’ than the much vaunted ‘free enterprise’.

The Crown Corporation – hereafter simply called ‘the crown’ – is, like any capitalist firm, a separate legal entity. It is the largest and most powerful multinational ‘corporation’ in the country. It has offices, or embassies, in nearly every country in the world. It has power not only in the UK, but the various tax havens or secret banking jurisdictions, such as the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey, the Cayman Islands, etc. It also has a very extensive information-gathering network, which enables it to keep ahead of most of its rivals.

First the crown is the state, together with its various organisations: departments of state such as the treasury and home office, revenue and customs, armed forces, security or secret services, the police, Crown Prosecution Service, the courts and her majesty’s prisons, etc. But it is much more than this. It is the people in charge who direct these millions employed by the crown across its territories.

The power of the crown is concentrated in its board of directors, which can be called the core executive or the political class. The phrase, ‘The crown rules Britannia’, means that it is the political class that runs the place – certainly not parliament and much less the people. The crown is not a democracy. The political class includes senior civil servants, the prime minister and his key ministers and advisors, heads of the security services and the joint chiefs of staff. The prime minister is the chief executive reporting weekly to the royal chair of the board.

The political class is mainly made up of bureaucrats who have clawed their way up from their Oxbridge education or through the military, with which “the firm” has a special affinity. The chair of the board is an hereditary position. Then there are professional politicians who are chosen by the prime minister to serve as the key ministers of the crown. They do not have to be elected because of the back-door route through the Lords. But they all have to swear allegiance to the crown.

The crown is no more a democratic institution than Ford, McDonalds or News International. This is not to say that there is no democratic influence. This is not absolutism, but constitutional monarchy. But gone is the pretence that we elect the people who actually govern us. They are all chosen, although it helps if you have a seat in parliament (general elections do impact on the composition of the political class). However, a minister who is not trusted by the political class will always be an outsider and ‘not one of us’.

The crown, therefore, has a kind of permanence at its core. Its strategic role in governing the country transcends the vagaries of elections. We often hear of one government defending its reactionary policies by pointing out that it all began under the previous lot. So it did. The crown and its policies in reality hardly change from one election to the next. They are merely given a face-lift and painted blue or red and pushed more quickly or slowly. Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron follow the same line of policy and serve the same financial markets.

If we look inside the robber’s bundle we do not find the landed interests associated with aristocracy. We discover the City of London, its banks and financial markets with a long history of robbing people on a global scale. The crown has been their political instrument and the Bank of England their lever. The prime minister is the first minister of the City, whose priority is to protect and support them – for example, against a Greek default, the Tobin tax or European regulation. Today we are living through the ‘great bankster robbery’ carried on by the crown and the Bank of England, and fronted by the Tory-led coalition.

Crown and health

Since the defeat of the miners and the rise of Thatcherism, the crown has adopted the free-market philosophy. Governments come and go, but the same free-market strategy rolls on. Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat – it makes little difference to the policies of the crown. Naturally, this sameness and consistency is echoed in the mass media, which generally promote the crown’s settled consensus of what are or are not the acceptable parameters for debate on any given subject.

Take the recent example of the NHS. The crown, in the guise of the department of health, has had a long-term plan to privatise healthcare and open it up as a market for competition. Private provision is now mainly responsible for the long-term care of the elderly. Privately run treatment centres set up by New Labour now control 5% of the profitable elective surgery ‘market’. The private finance initiative financed, at huge cost to the taxpayer, Blair’s hospital building plans. Now the private sector has taken over Hichingbrooke, the first NHS hospital run for profit, by Circle.

Whenever this has proved highly unpopular, ministers and civil servants have been prepared to retreat – and later return to the long-term game plan. Every government has taken it further. Now the coalition has taken a giant step forward with the Health and Social Care Bill. Tactical retreat may be necessary on some issues, as we have seen, but clearly ever more radical advances are in the pipeline.

Keep our NHS Public explained that “the health bill is the final stage in a 25-year privatisation project”. Ministers of the crown are “using existing powers to abolish PCTs [primary care trusts] and set up ‘pathfinder’, so-called ‘GP consortia’ and making arrangements with foreign private companies to take over NHS hospitals, while the government has pre-empted such debate as MPs are inclined to have” (No8, autumn 2011).

Whilst parliament was debating the bill, the crown was busily implementing its policies like some invisible coup. Crucial entities underpinning the privatising agenda were put in place before even the second reading of the bill. Through various crown regulations etc, ministers were able to ‘decree into existence’ Pathfinder GP consortia for over half the country. Funds were used to make staff redundant from the strategic health authorities and primary trusts. The old system was virtually demolished before the bill was on the statute book and 151 PCTs were put to the sword. Moreover, the new National Commissioning Board was empowered to appoint a chief executive, finance director and seven board members on salaries of up to £170,000. McKinsey and KPMG, who were consultants on the framing of the legislation, had been awarded big contracts to run GP commissioning.

Most of the left associate the crown with the queen and think that the latter is irrelevant to our increasingly difficult daily life. The opposite is the case. Whether the crown is taking us to war in Iraq or planning how to support the US-Israeli plans for Iran, or designing a privatised NHS or school system, it is a process largely impermeable to the needs of the people. Naturally, none of this is immutable or inevitable and the economic fragility of the economy is becoming ever more evident. Our political response to the crisis of the crown should not be another government of the crown, but another system of government altogether – one built on those truly democratic principles of popular sovereignty and accountability.

Queen rules the waves

Her majesty has a significant political role in this nation’s drama as the Great Distraction. The modern monarchy is a camouflage for the crown. We are so mesmerised by the continuous royal cavalcade and its pretensions of powerlessness and irrelevance to real life that we do not look in the opposite direction and notice the unaccountable power of the crown being wielded daily by the political class.

Monarchy is the UK’s national secular religion. Monarchy is the nation represented as a perfect world with a grateful people on their knees. Of course, the queen is not a god, but a living, breathing human being, dressed up for the job. Yet this ritual of worship, exemplified by the jubilee, idealises monarchy as a kind of living god which has come to walk among us mere mortals – or, most tellingly, ‘subjects’.

The jubilee will promote the queen as the nation’s grandmother. In her March 20 speech to parliament she spoke of “national qualities of resilience, ingenuity and tolerance”. It is surely inspiring to be praised by our national icon. She thinks we are great! We should surely reciprocate by welling up with pride.

The queen went on to say: “It is my sincere hope that the diamond jubilee will be an opportunity for people to come together in a sort of neighbourliness and celebration of their own communities.” We could all echo this sentiment as republicans, without hostility or any hint of cynicism. There is no reason to see her speech as anything other than sincere, for its contents explain why the motivation for the genuine affection which many of her subjects have for her is not simply rabid royalism.

However, shouldn’t we all wake up and smell the Darjeeling? Coming together for a crown-organised jubilee can never offer more than an illusion of unity in our class-divided society, in which rich and poor and those stuck in the middle are fighting for, or fighting to diminish, democracy and social justice. The monarchy is not neutral in this struggle, but the embodiment of a conservative, class-ridden society. With the queen, or her male offspring, safely enthroned in Buckingham Palace there will never be even the chance of substantive change. The subliminal message is: ‘Britain’s hereditary (ruling) class system has existed since time immemorial and will continue ever more – alongside its hereditary monarchs.’

In reality, the chief function of monarchy is not simply the nation’s enslavement to an ideology of a royalist-based patriotism. It is, rather, the Great Distraction – away from where the true levers of power are located within the structure of the crown. The crown not only governs the county and determines so much of our lives, but, moreover, in an epoch of its growing economic crisis, increasingly threatens our hard-won rights and liberties. The monarch ties the robber’s bundle precisely because the inherent danger to democracy of the unelected and unaccountable crown is concealed by the nation’s grandmother smiling sweetly.

Shelley’s was an acute observation. However, an enduring misconception concerning the crown and monarch goes some way to explain why republicanism is so weak. The left fails to distinguish between the Crown Corporation and Royal Family Ltd. This error produces a weak version of republicanism, one focused almost entirely on the queen and whether she ‘costs too much’ or arguing about how much of ‘our national income’ she generates through tourism.

The crown and the class it represents know they cannot put a price on the undoubted lift to the nation’s morale, brought low by an ever deepening recession, which the jubilee will bring. For, when the queen dispenses honours, waves, shakes hands, visits foreign countries or meets adoring crowds, she will distract both from the crisis that the crown is now presiding over, and, more importantly, our principal role in paying for it (and her!). Thus, as the crown’s leading player in this elaborate jubilee spectacle, the queen will once again execute her main role, which is to draw attention away from the power and nature of the crown itself, and the current fall in our living standards, by momentarily banishing the storm clouds of recession somewhere over the horizon.

No wonder Cameron, the crown’s current CEO, is smiling.

(This article appeared in Weekly Worker:- http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004855)

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THE QUEEN: FLOATING IN THE STINK

 Barry Biddulph of the commune 

The cult of the Queen as a symbol of British unity is the illusion that she is somehow above and beyond corrupt and dishonest parliamentary politicians, and profit obsessed capitalists (1) To make Britain proud, she is jolly good at her job and has devoted her self to sixty years of selflessness in the stultifying boredom of public service.(2) Royal pageantry is not historical, but in the history of pageants the diamond jubilee, in the words of the Guardian, is important if not remarkable, but its only important because its rare.(3) As panic spreads throughout the world’s stock markets she is a useful symbol, keeping up the appearances of continuity and stability to stave off growing lack of confidence in the government’s austerity programme.

  1. There is no real or rational meaning in the state orchestrated worship of the Queen,(4) but that’s not the point. It’s a state religion bringing magic and glamour to transform the harsh reality of job cuts, benefit cuts, pension cuts and wage cuts into an emotional communal feeling of togetherness. However, there is a negativity or fearfulness in all this spirituality. What is the alternative to the carefully crafted tradition of the Windsor Family? It could be something worse.(5) Although the worship of state leaders was historically similar in Russia, China and in the present, North Korea; that is seen as state propaganda, whereas in Britain it’s the Queen’s assumed decency and general niceness which is venerated. It’s for a person not the state. This is mystical, she is obviously at the apex of the state.

    Appearances notwithstanding, the crown estates are not above shameless profiteering, far from it. Sir Stuart Hampson, chairman of the crown estates, has put the spectacular rise in property revenues from the estate down to entrepreneurial flair in the neo liberal market place. Rents have soared in Regent Street and other lucrative property. This has substantially boosted the Queens private Fortune.(6) She personally owns Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and the Balmoral estate. The unemployed from Bristol who were bussed into London to work for nothing, to steward the Royal Pageant, some of whom were left to sleep under London Bridge, own nothing but their ability to work.(7)

    Andrew Marr claims he was a republican, but from observing the hard work of the Queen, he is no longer a republican.(8) But what work is this? She has an army of servants and the nature of the work is never specified. How would she know she was on holiday? The royal yacht Britannia was an ocean going liner, which took the queen all over the world, especially in winter. Well, she had to get away from all that hard boring work, don’t we all? She could be one of us if you don’t think about it. But do think about it, having to wine and dine with all those important dignitaries in all those grand places? Nice work if you can get it. The most those unpaid Bristol stewards can hope for is some paid temporary employment at the Olympics. Another state event to help make us feel great as the great economic depression deepens. But why spoil the jubilee party? Why be a communist kill joy? Let’s celebrate. But it is not simply a party or a celebration. It’s celebrating the Queen: Sixty years personifying the state as the head of the British imperialist army and their barbaric wars. It was difficult to escape from the Royal pantomime, even when I went into my local pub where there is no TV. The pump clips on the real ale carried the union flag, the crown or an image of the queen. Except one obviously brewed by a republican, which had what looked like a toad in royal gowns getting soaked in the rain, with the words “A long reign”. And a good beer it was-but then again, I was celebrating being off work.

    Notes
    1 David Hare, The Guardian 2/06/12
    2 Max Hastings, Financial Times 2/06/12
    3 The Guardian Editorial 02/06/12
    4 Polly Toynbee on the Andrew Marr show 3/06/12
    5 Tom Nairn, The Enchanted Glass, 1988, Picador London.
    6 The Financial Times 02/06/12
    7 The Guardian 04/06/12
    8 Andrew Marr, The Andrew Marr Show 03/06/12

    (This article first appeared in the commune at:- http://thecommune.co.uk/2012/06/05/the-queen-floating-in-the-stink/#more-8001)

    _____________________

    also see GREAT FROCK ‘N’ ROBE SWINDLE on:-

    frocknrobe.com 

 

 

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Feb 11 2011

TRADE UNIONS IN THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY

Below are two articles. The first is a report of the Third Global Commune event entitled ‘Trade Unions – Are They Fit For Purpose?’. The second is Allan Armstrong’s talk given to the Independent Workers Union conference in Dublin on 4.4.09. on behalf of the  SSP’s International Committee.

 

1. THE THIRD GLOBAL COMMUNE EVENT, 29.1.11  

Trade Unions – Are They Fit For Purpose?

 

It was generally agreed by participants that the third Global Commune event, jointly hosted by the Republican Communist Network (RCN) and the commune, on Saturday, January 29th, was a very worthwhile day. Once again, the event was held in the ‘Out of the Blue’ Centre in Leith (Edinburgh) and involved, as well as the organising groups, members of the Independent Workers Union (IWU) in Ireland, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Permanent Revolution, the Autonomous Centre in Edinburgh (ACE), current and ex-members of the SSP, and the Anarchist Federation.

The theme for the day was, ‘Trade Unions – Are They Fit for Purpose?’ There was a shared agreement that the traditional Broad Left strategy for working in trade unions had been shown to be wanting. By and large, Broad Lefts accept the existing union structures and concentrate on replacing Right wing leaderships. However, we now have the situation where new Broad Lefts have to contest old Broad Lefts, which have become as conservative as the leaderships they replaced. This highlights the flawed thinking behind their ‘capture the machinery’ approach.

Mary Macgregor of the RCN chaired the initial and plenary sessions.  The opening platform of speakers consisted of Allan Armstrong of the RCN and the commune, Stuart King of Permanent Revolution, Tommy McKearney of the IWU, Alberto Durango of the Latin American Workers Association (LAWA) and the IWW, and Mike Vallance of ACE. They each put forward different approaches, including organising within or outside existing trade unions, in TUC/ITUC-recognised or independent unions, and the possibility of a strategy involving a mixture of these methods.

Apologies for being unable to attend were given by Brian Higgins of the rank and file Building Workers Group, who is currently involved in the anti-blacklist campaign; and by Jerry Hicks, who has just campaigned on a rank and file platform for the post of General Secretary in UNITE. Therefore, Allan Armstrong, the former Scottish Teachers’ Rank & File convenor provided a rank and file perspective.

Allan used his experience in the Lothian and the Scottish Rank & File Teacher groups. He drew a distinction between a rank and file movement and a rank and file caucus. In 1974/5, the Rank & File Teacher group had been to the forefront of a three month long independent (unofficial or wildcat) rank and file movement of Scottish teachers organised through Action Committees. The central demand was for a £15 a week flat rate pay increase. The Action Committees organised weekly three-day strike action, street activities, large demonstrations, and an occupation of the EIS (the main Scottish teachers’ union) HQ. Negotiations were conducted directly between delegates from the Action Committees and representatives from the Scottish Office at New St. Andrews House in Edinburgh. The teacher delegates were backed by a demonstration outside of striking teachers, whilst the Scottish Office had the backing of the Special Branch (or some other state agency) cameramen on the roof!

The Action Committees held weekly open meetings of striking teachers, and sent flying pickets to other schools to draw them into action. They also worked within the EIS. Many activists were EIS school reps. Eventually there was a palace coup at EIS HQ. This enabled a rejigged union leadership to sanction its own official action. Negotiations were confined once more to union officials and the Scottish Office, much to their mutual relief. Nevertheless, the strength of the independent strike action was enough to force the government to concede the financial equivalent of nearly the whole rank and file movement’s £15 pay demand. However, with negotiations now conducted by EIS officials, the distribution of the money gained was massively skewed in favour of school managements.

The self-confidence gained by teachers meant that further action over the next two years, mostly official, but sometimes involving independent action, was able to win substantial improvements in teachers’ conditions. A new contract clearly defined maximum working hours and class sizes. In the process of these struggles, Scottish education and teacher trade unionism was turned upside down. The employers and union officials were unable to fully reassert their control until the McCrone Deal was implemented in 2001.

After the ending of the initial rank and file movement, around the action over pay in 1975, Scottish Rank & File Teachers continued as a caucus. They campaigned around a very wide range of issues, e.g. pay (for a single salary scale, for flat rate increases), improved conditions (smaller class sizes), for women’s and gay rights, against the use of the belt (the form of corporal punishment in Scottish schools), for the right of school students to organise, for egalitarian educational provision, secular education and support for Gaelic language teaching. They also campaigned to democratise the union – demanding head teachers out and directly elected and accountable union office bearers on the average pay of the members. Most importantly though, they championed the sovereignty of the membership in their workplaces, and defended, and when possible initiated, independent action.

The Scottish Teachers Rank & File caucus was sabotaged by the SWP in 1982, leaving only the Lothian Rank & File group. Later, a Scottish Federation of Socialist Teachers (SFST) brought together the Left once more. However, the SFST became a hybrid Broad Left/Rank & File caucus. Furthermore, the employers had encouraged division amongst teachers by creating a plethora of promoted posts. They also curtailed a vibrant culture of alternative educational thinking amongst classroom teachers, through the top-down promotion of tightly policed ‘educational’ counter-reforms. The Tories’ anti-trade union laws undermined independent strike action, massively aided by trade union officials. However, there was still limited independent action until as recently as the 2003, in protest against the war in Iraq.

Allan summed up by saying that he thought the rank and file approach was still valid in various unions. However, there had been a rapid decline of union membership in many sectors of employment, as well as new areas of work without any union organisation. Union leaderships were often more interested in suppressing any attempts to resist the employers, acting in effect as a free personnel management service for the bosses. Such leaders wanted little more than sweetheart agreements with the employers to ensure a tick-off system of subs collections, primarily for their own benefit. Therefore, socialists should think tactically, and consider when an independent union, or possibly dual official/independent union approach, may be more appropriate than a rank and file caucus approach.

Stuart King of Permanent Revolution then drew on the experience of the early Minority Movement in the trade unions in the early 1920’s. The CPGB’s work in the Minority Movement formed part of the wider work of the Third International, which had organised the Red International of Labour Unions (RILU) in 1920 to conduct united front work within the international trade union movement. Although mostly associated with the official Communist Parties, RILU drew together wider forces within the unions, especially those from a Syndicalist tradition.

Stuart argued that there were some similarities in the early 1920’s to the situation we face today. In April 1921, the two leaderships of the NTWU (later the TGWU) and the NUR, failed to support the miners of the MFGB (later the NUM), in the face of employer imposed wage cuts, despite being part of the Triple Alliance. This ‘Black Friday’ climb-down led to a growing feeling of demoralisation amongst workers. Many left their unions. The Minority Movement launched a ‘Back to the Unions’ campaign, with the intention of getting workers organised to resist the growing employers’ offensive, and to bring the union leaders under the effective control of the rank and file.

Stuart said that we also face a period of retreat today, as existing union leaderships had joined social partnerships with the state and employers. There was also declining union membership. The ‘Awkward Squad’ had also turned out to be not that awkward when it came to effectively challenging the employers and the state. Nevertheless, workers still look to their official unions when it comes to taking defensive action – as recent strikes of civil servants, airline cabin staff and others have demonstrated. This means communists must be active within the existing unions and struggle to bring them under effective rank and file control.

Stuart’s contribution provided a counterpoint to others who emphasised the fundamental differences in the situation we face today, compared to the past. In particular, Tommy McKearney of the Independent Workers Union of Ireland highlighted the major challenges workers now face.

Tommy argued that thirty years of neo-liberal economics have finally done fundamental damage to the system it was meant to promote. Facilitated by globalisation, the enormous transfer of wealth from workers to capitalists has created a situation where consumers in the west no longer have the purchasing power to buy the produce of their own industry and the developing countries have not yet reached a level where they can take up the slack. The contradiction is explicable only by Marxist economists.

What has also happened, almost unnoticed by many commentators, is the collapse of social democracy in the face of the neo-liberal assault and the most recent crisis in capitalism. For a few years the social democratic movements of Europe disguised their collapse by stealing the clothes of the neo-liberals. Tony Blair, Schroder, Mitterand were in reality as far to the right as any Tory or Christian Democrat. In the face of economic collapse post 2008, they could only offer right-wing solutions.

Moreover, the trade union movement that had give birth to and thereafter sustained these parties for almost a century was as ideologically and organisationally bankrupt. There is no longer a viable middle way between socialism and capitalism.

The IWU recognises this fact and has decided to seek out new and more appropriate methods of organisation in order to meet the new challenge. Among other strategic options, the IWU is actively developing a policy of building community and/or social justice unionism. This concept is not new or devised by the IWU but it recognises the need to emphasise the struggle between classes and the need to promote the unity and solidarity of the working people.

Tommy summed up by saying that we are in a new era. There has been a fundamental change in social relationships in the west, and we must recognise this in our ideological analysis, in our policy decisions and in our organisations structures. The IWU may be small but we are confident in our analysis and in our strategy.

Then Alberto Durango gave a thorough and humorous account of his experience as a migrant worker from Colombia now living in London. Migrant workers often had more than one job to make ends meet. This sometimes meant that they could be in more than one union.

Alberto had started as a cleaner in a non-unionised office. First of all, his boss had resorted to Alberto for help, asking him to inform workers who did not speak English that they would have their hours cut and changed. Alberto brought the workers together and told them in Spanish  – “This fucking manager wants to… !” They began to organise, turning first to the T&G. The T&G (now UNITE) organised an official Justice for Cleaners campaign. There were some initial successes against large City of London and Canary Wharf companies. LAWA, which Alberto was very much involved in, was to the forefront of campaigning, and was provided with office space and money by UNITE.

However, there was a limit to how far the UNITE leadership was prepared to push. After organising some demonstrations, it contented itself with signing ‘no further action’ deals in return for minimum pay awards. The employers then started changing workers’ hours and conditions and pressured them over their immigration status. Alberto was sacked, arrested and had his home raided by the police.

UNITE’s leadership wasn’t prepared to challenge this. Therefore, workers had to organise their own independent Cleaners Defence Committee. This had led to an international campaign {including solidarity action in Edinburgh, following Alberto addressing the first Global Commune event}. The UNITE leadership, supported by the local Broad Left, then turned on the workers involved, smearing activists, refusing to back those without papers, and taking away LAWA’s facilities.

In order to organise, LAWA then turned to the IWW. A wider organisation was required to unite migrant workers from many countries. They needed an independent forum for organising, without being directly sabotaged by UNITE officials and the Broad Left. The new IWW cleaners’ branch provided this. However, some cleaners still worked within UNITE too, and had participated in the rank and file campaign to elect Jerry Hicks.

The last of the morning speakers was Mike Vallance. He explained how ACE, with its own premises, had been set up in the aftermath of the successful Anti-Poll Tax campaign. ACE became very much involved in claimants’ campaigns, providing a venue for meeting and socialising, organising support demonstrations and providing advocates to support people in their dealings with various state agencies. ACE also operated as a venue for a wider range of campaigns and various organisations, including the Anarchist Federation. It was also involved in the production and distribution of a number of bulletins and other publications, including the commune.

Currently ACE was involved in the Edinburgh refuse workers’ campaign which was challenging the City Council’s massive cut in pay and worsening of conditions. The Council’s attack was being made under the guise of bringing about ‘parity’ across their workforce. It had begun under the last administration led by the Labour Party, and was continuing under the present Lib Dem/SNP administration. The refuse cleaners’ union, UNITE, was in cahoots with the Council, and they had organised no effective backing, despite the campaign being official. Their main concern was to bring the current official work-to-rule to an end.

ACE had been involved in providing bulletins, posting support stickers, but most of all, in attempts through sit-down actions to blockade scab drivers employed by the Council to break the refuse workers’ work-to-rule. Workers fear that it is the Council’s intention to privatise the refuse collection service, and replace them with non-union workers on lower pay and worsened conditions. Yet, despite the almost total lack of official support, the workers had so far rejected any of the union-backed ‘offers’. In the light of this determination, ACE was hoping to draw others into its solidarity campaign.

This was followed by a short plenary session. Contributions ranged from one participant who said that social democracy had revealed its bankruptcy as far back as the First World War. Matthew Jones of the commune particularly welcomed Tommy’s appreciation that a new political trade unionism was needed after the now evident failure of social democracy and stalinism. In order to maximise participation, the meeting soon broke up into two workshops, with RCN and commune members acting as facilitators and recorders.

After lunch, Paul Stewart and Patricia Campbell of the IWU presented the case for a community or social justice unionism approach. Paul showed a DVD drawing on the experiences of the Kanagawa City Union in Japan. This union organised migrant workers, especially from Latin America. It addresses not only workplace issues, but the wider problems workers face in the community such as racially motivated and domestic violence, sexual harassment, health, welfare and visa problems. It also calls on members to participate regularly in protests outside offending companies. Paul was going to make this DVD more widely available.

Patricia followed this up with a power point presentation (until the technology failed!) of the current work of the IWU in attempting to broaden out union organisation into the communities. The IWU had conducted a participatory survey into the issues that local communities wanted to address. It also sought to address the problems faced by migrant workers. The IWU had already challenged the strong-arm tactics of the PSNI (the revamped RUC) in Armagh City. It had also campaigned on the streets, with red banners, against the DUP/Sinn Fein government’s proposals to limit marches. These would prevent workers from organising their own demonstrations. The IWU had helped to force the authorities to retreat.

The two follow up workshops discussed the possibilities of wider community organising. They also returned to the issue addressed in the morning of whether unions were fit for purpose.

There was a final report-back plenary session with further discussion. The initial platform speakers were provided with an opportunity to say what they thought had been learned and gained from the day. The majority of those in attendance over the day were activists. However, the need for wider forums for strategic debate and discussion, which did not necessarily lead to immediate calls for activity, was nonetheless appreciated.

There was a wide consensus that there was no single approach to organising workers in the complex and changing situation we faced. The long period of working class retreat probably disguised some of the new methods of resistance that were emerging in the face of the current capitalist offensive. It was also acknowledged that learning from wider international experience, especially that of the IWU, had been very useful. There had been differences over whether the situation we now face is altogether different from earlier experiences, and over the longstanding issue of whether ‘to party or not to party’. However, these differences were all aired in a very comradely manner.

A good day was followed by the now traditional Global Commune social session in Wetherspoon’s  ‘Foot of the Walk’, where members from all the organisations present through the day continued their discussions till much later!

Allan Armstrong. 10.2.11

 

2. TALK GIVEN TO THE INDEPENDENT WORKERS UNION CONFERENCE IN DUBLIN ON 4.4.09

Allan Armstrong was invited to speak for the SSP International Committee 

I would like to thank the IWU organisers very much for giving me the opportunity to speak for the Scottish Socialist Party’s International Committee.

The origins of the SSP lie in the Anti-Poll Tax Movement, which   rocked British politics between 1989 and 1991. However, it was to take a number of years before the various political groups involved had broken sufficiently with earlier practices and gained the confidence to create a new political organisation. In 1996 the Scottish Socialist Alliance was formed. And right from the start, political organisation was linked with working class struggles. SSA members threw themselves into the campaigns against water privatisation, the Glacier works occupation and Save Our Schools. By 1998, the SSA had become the Scottish Socialist Party, and Tommy Sheridan was elected to Holyrood the Scottish parliament. Keith Baldassara and Jim Bollan were elected SSP councillors in Glasgow Pollock and West Dunbartonshire. In 2006, the SSP gained 6 MSPs at the expense of both the SNP and Labour Party and formed part of a wider rainbow opposition,

And then of course came the Tommygate ‘car crash’. Tommy McKearney has pointed the finger at the underlying problem, in Fourthwrite. The attempt to build a party around a celebrity figure has a bad record in Britain, whether it be Derek Hatton in Liverpool in the 1980s, Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party in the 1990s  and George Galloway’s Respect most recently. In the 2007 Holyrood election, the SSP experienced wipe out, although all the Left faced setbacks internationally after the failure to stop the Iraq War in 2003. The only SSP figure still in a publicly elected position is councillor Jim Bollan.

However, the SSP is pulling itself up again.  We remain profoundly Scottish internationalist. At our 2007 conference, we gave support to ‘No One Is Illegal’ so we can campaign to defend migrant rights. We reject ‘British Jobs for British Workers’. The struggle of the Turkish GAMA workers in Ireland, the Latin American Workers’ Association leading the London cleaners and Asian workers at Heathrow provide an inspiring example for us all. Showing our commitment to internationalism, the SSP is putting forward a candidate to the forthcoming 2009 Euro-election as part of the European Anti-Capitalist Left. We hope to bring over a French worker to speak to meetings as part of that campaign.

With regard to trade unions, there is spectrum of opinion within the SSP. On one hand there are those who advocate a Broad Left approach which seeks to replace existing Right-wing leaders with Left wing leaders. I, however, belong to those advocating a Rank & File approach, which is, in effect, industrial republicanism. This sees sovereignty lying not with general secretaries in union AGMs, hiding behind AGMs, which they circumvent just as the inner cabinet ignores House of Commons in the UK. And if the union officials don’t actually swear an oath of loyalty to the general secretary, their appointment and privileges ensures where their loyalty lies.

An industrial republican approach sees sovereignty lying with members in their workplaces. Any action we decide to take is not unofficial but independent action. Members can spread this action through both picketing and organising area, regional and national meetings. All union officers should be elected, recallable and on the average pay of the members they represent.

To some of us in the SSP, the IWU’s commitment to developing community unionism represents a twenty-first century update of the industrial unionism, which produced the great Wobbles in the USA and had such a profound effect on Larkin and Connolly’s and Irish Transport & General Worker Union. The wave of the future could well be community unionism which links workplaces with communities.

At a deeper political level, the SSP seeks the break-up of the UK state and its alliance with US imperialism. We want an end to the anti-democratic Crown Powers, which have seen death squads, juryless Diplock courts and detention in her majesty’s prisons in recent Irish history. They have also been used to prevent the people of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean returning to their homes, despite a high court ruling in their favour.  And back in 1975, The Australian Labour prime minister, Gough Whitlam was dismissed by the UK appointed governor general. And these Crown Powers have also been used to bring troops into industrial disputes.

The UK state is organised across the three-and-a-bit nations on these islands, and still exerts a great deal of economic and political pressure on the 26 counties too. This is not something that is being countered by the British TUC, Scottish TUC, Welsh TUC, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, or its Northern Ireland Committee. Indeed, the post-1997 ‘Devolution-all-round’ and Good Friday Agreement, which together cover all these islands, have not only reinforced social partnerships between union leaders, employers and the state, but have turned these leaders into significant backers of this political set-up, particularly in Northern Ireland. This represents a further political projection of union officials’ role in supporting social partnerships. These already reduce union officials to a cheap personnel service for the employers and government.

Socialists need to be able to challenge this on an all-islands ‘internationalism from below’ basis. Tommy (McKearney) came across and spoke to the SSP’s Republican Socialist Convention in Edinburgh on. The SSP also took its message to the well-attended Convention of the Left in Manchester in September 2008. I would like to thank the IWU again for inviting me to your conference today. I have learned a lot from the other speakers both form Ireland and further afield here today. The great Scottish internationalist, Hamish Henderson had a saying which I would like to finish on – ‘Freedom Come All Ye!’

 

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also see:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2002/12/03/rank-and-file-or-broad-left/

 

 

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