Mar 23 2015

THE SCOTTISH LEFT PROJECT

Allan Armstrong (RCN and RIC activist) provides the following initial assessment of the proposed Scottish Left Project. This is the final part of three articles, the first of which examines the role of the UK state and SNP in attempting to derail Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ (see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/02/24/british-unionists-and-scottish-nationalists-attempt-to-derail-scotlands-democratic-revolution/) and the second which looks at the inadequate response of the Left across these islands (see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/03/16/the-left-in-the-uk-the-2015-general-election-campaign-and-the-wider-impact-of-scotlands-democratic-revolution/).

 

The Scottish Left Project (SLP) has been mooted in the context of the impact of Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’, and the success of RIC as a movement within this. There is now a concerted effort by the unionist and nationalist parties to roll back this ‘democratic revolution’ [1]. Therefore, the success of the SLP will depend upon whether it takes up the baton bequeathed by these momentous events, or lets itself become a bit-player in others’ political projects.

 

a) the role of the International Socialist Group (ISG)

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As with RIC, the ISG has been the SLP’s prime mover. It is therefore useful to examine the way the ISG operated within RIC, to come to some better understanding of how it could see its role in the SLP.

Continue reading “THE SCOTTISH LEFT PROJECT”

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Dec 20 2012

RADISSON BLU OR POST-RADISSON RED?

This blog has already commented on the earlier organising behind the Radical Independence Conference. It has also provided a fraternal critique of Britain Must Break, written by James Foley for the International Socialist Group (ISG), the organisation which initiated the RIC. Many others have commented on the conference itself (see end of articles below for links to these)

Below are posted two related articles. The first  examines the politics of the ISG and how these could  influence the future of the RIC. The second makes a comparison between the ISG (which has come out of the SWP tradition) and seeks to reunite the Left in Scotland, and the International Socialist Movement (which came from the CWI/Militant tradition) and sought to unite the Left through setting up the Scottish Socialist Party. Continue reading “RADISSON BLU OR POST-RADISSON RED?”

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Jun 20 2012

THE ‘INDEPENDENCE-LITE’ REFERENDUM AND A TALE OF TWO CAMPAIGNS

THE SNP’S ‘YES, PLEASE’ AND THE LEFT NATIONALISTS’ ‘YES, BUT…’


Tale No. 1 – the launch of the SNP’s Yes campaign

Alex Salmond launched the ‘Yes’ campaign for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum at Cineworld in Edinburgh’s Fountainbridge on the morning of Friday, May 25th. Apart from the delayed start, this media orientated event, attended by over 500 people, was pretty much a fairy tale launch for the organisers [1]. Had any members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) or the CWI’s Socialist Party Scotland (SPS) been present, they would have recognised (and been pretty envious of) the slick setting up of a stage-managed front  – only the ‘Yes’ launch obviously captured far more publicity than either ‘The Right to Work Campaign’ or the ‘National Shop Stewards Network’.

The SNP leadership had, without consulting others, decided beforehand on the timing, the venue, the staff appointed to run the campaign, and those to be invited on the day. Angus Robertson, the SNP’s right-wing Westminster MP for Moray, had been to the forefront of the prior organisation, helped by two SNP paid organisers. The Friday morning launch allowed for the maximum attendance of SNP Holyrood MSPs and their staff. Tickets for non-SNP members and supporters were strictly limited. Nobody else was allowed to distribute any material at the venue before the launch.

Martin Compston, an actor from Ken Loach’s Sweet Sixteen, and self-declared Scottish nationalist, compered the event. A good-feelings atmosphere was created by performances from artists Liz Lochhead, Alan Cummings, Dougie Maclean [2] and Lou Hickey. Sir Sean Connery sent a statement of support and Elaine C. Smith had prepared a pre-recorded video. The campaign launch theme tune was the Big Country 1986 number, One Great Thing.

To give the impression of wider support at all levels of Scottish society, a well-produced video was first shown. This included brief statements from people ranging from former Chair of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Sir George Mathewson (!)  – “I will be voting Yes”  – to the SSP’s co-spokesperson, Colin Fox – “We firmly believe the people of Scotland will be economically, socially, culturally and politically better off under independence”. This video had been edited to ensure that nobody said anything which would challenge the Yes campaign’s very anodyne Declaration:-

“I believe that it is fundamentally better for us all, if decisions about Scotland’s future are taken by the people who care most about Scotland, that is, by the people of Scotland.

Being independent means Scotland’s future will be in Scotland’s hands.

There is no doubt that Scotland has great potential. We are blessed with talent, resources and creativity. We have the opportunity to make our nation a better place to live, for this and future generations. We can build a greener, fairer and more prosperous society that is stronger and more successful than it is today.

I want a Scotland that speaks with her own voice and makes her own unique contribution to the world: a Scotland that stands alongside the other nations on these isles, as an independent nation.”

However, even this very ‘mother’s milk and apple pie’ statement of intent was somewhat lacking in honesty. The SNP government’s own ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals certainly would not ensure that – “Being independent means Scotland’s future will be in Scotland’s hands” – not with the continuation of the monarchy and Crown Powers over Scotland; not with the City in control of the Scottish economy; and not with Scottish military forces under the British High Command.

Although a select group of politically motivated, but non-SNP, individuals had been hand picked to speak at the launch, none of them seemed to notice this glaring contradiction. These speakers had mostly been chosen because the main battleground for the ‘Yes’ vote is seen to be amongst Labour supporters – an increasing number of whom have become disillusioned with New Labour. Thus, Dennis Canavan, the ex-Labour MP and Independent MSP, Tommy Brennan, a former shop steward’s convenor at Ravenscraig steelworks [3], and Brian Cox, a former New Labour supporting actor, were keynote speakers. A nod was also given to the pro-Scottish independence Greens (represented in Holyrood by 2 MSPs) by having Patrick Harvie speak. Brain Cox was able to declare himself a “democratic socialist”, whilst Patrick Harvie was able to say he was “not a nationalist”. They all then went on to publicly sign the Declaration, drawn up by the SNP organisers.

But, of course, the key speech came from Salmond himself. It was carefully crafted, although few commentators have examined the political content very closely. Despite the apparent ‘promises’ Salmond avoided any specific commitments. He also chose his historical precedent carefully.

“The Declaration echoes the Scottish Covenant movement of more than 60 years ago, which saw more than two million signatures collected demanding home rule and the restoration of our national Parliament.” It was John MacCormick, who initiated the Scottish Covenant in 1947, quite independently of, and in opposition to, the SNP of the day, in order to appeal to pro-Home Rulers in other parties. In other words it was a campaign for ‘Devolution-Max’. During its existence, the Scottish Covenant Association marginalised the rump SNP. The SNP only managed to recover after the Covenant’s failure to persuade then Labour-controlled Westminster to enact Home Rule in 1950, despite the petition collecting almost 2 million signatures in support.

Moving on to today, though, Salmond has set the ‘Yes’ campaign the more modest task of collecting 1 million signatures for ‘Independence-Lite’ (a little more ambitious than the Scottish Covenant’s Home Rule proposals, but still firmly under the Union of the Crowns), in the period up to the 2014 referendum. However, these signatures are to be targeted not at Westminster, which would ignore them as readily as it did in 1950, but at Holyrood. In typically cheeky fashion, though, Salmond has anticipated success in this endeavour by already getting MSPs at Holyrood to vote ‘Yes’, by 69 votes to 52, on May 29th, in support of the SNP government’s version of Scottish independence.

The real reason for this, apart from the obvious symbolism and publicity value, is that Salmond and the SNP leadership are determined that they will set down the parameters for any future ‘independent’ Scotland well in advance. It is their proposals for ‘Independence-Lite’, not any wider ones raised in the context of an independence campaign, which will be negotiated with the UK government, in the event of the official ‘Yes’ campaign being able to win a majority vote in 2014.

The idea that the people of Scotland might desire a constituent assembly, which could draw its mandate directly from them, and achieve more meaningful self-determination than  ‘Independence-Lite’, is anathema to Salmond and the SNP leadership.  Any negotiations with the UK state must be firmly in the hands of the SNP government, and remain on its restricted terms. For Salmond, both Holyrood and its incumbent SNP government draw their legitimacy from the powers already handed down by the existing UK state. “That national Parliament {Holyrood} has now been restored {by Westminster}. But it is not yet able to make many of the key decisions affecting the lives of every man, woman and child in Scotland. Since devolution we have shown we can make a success of running our own health service, schools, local government, police and courts and much else besides.”

So Salmond believes that it is now time for Holyrood to be given more power. “If we are capable of doing all these things successfully for ourselves, why shouldn’t we have responsibility for running our economy, our pensions and representing ourselves on the world stage?”

But of course, the Bank of England and The City will be ‘helping us’ in the “running of our economy”; those corporate controlled pension fund holders will continue to dictate the level of most of “our pensions”; and Scotland’s impact “on the world stage” will be reflected through the prism of continued participation in the British military machine, a key component of NATO and participant in continuous imperial wars. Any Scottish seat in the UN General Assembly will have about as much political leverage upon its Security Council, as the holding of a seat on Auchenshuggle Community Council does upon Westminster.

However, Salmond did make one ‘commitment’, and that was Scotland could protect itself “without the obscenity of Trident nuclear weapons on the Clyde”. In the period before the official ‘Yes’ launch, the SNP leadership had continued its recent drift to the Right. They even surpassed their earlier retreats. Salmond refused to disown his courting of the obnoxious Rupert Murdoch and News International. The Holyrood government ‘bribed’ the viciously anti-trade union Amazon to set-up a distribution depot in Fife in a ‘pay no taxes’ deal. Another SNP campaign was launched to defend the Black Watch from UK government cuts. Salmond had once opposed imperial wars in Kosova and Iraq. Now, however, the SNP warmly supports Scottish regiments’ participation in NATO’s wars in Afghanistan and Libya.

So, perhaps it was not surprising that Angus Robertson, the ‘Yes’ campaign organiser, SNP Defence Spokesperson and warm supporter of NATO, felt confident that he could strong arm June’s SNP Council meeting into ditching the party’s formal policy of opposition to NATO. It had long been abandoned in practice. Indeed, Robertson had already gone further, and hinted that the scrapping of the Trident nuclear submarine base might not be on the cards after Scotland’s ‘independence’ either.

However, this proved a ‘bridge-too-far’ for Salmond. He still wants to keep another bridge open to that liberal section of the Scottish establishment, including the main churches and the STUC leadership. He also knows that opposition to Trident continues to enjoy clear majority support in Scotland, and even amongst some of the British Military High Command. Even the US government is not that bothered about retaining nuclear bases in the North East Atlantic, as their closure of the Holy Loch and Keflavik facilities has shown. What they want is access to airbases for overseas missions and ‘rendition flights’ in times of war – something Robertson, a strong defender of RAF Lossiemouth and Kinloss, would be only too happy to support. Therefore, rather than open up any can of worms in public at the June SNP Council, the proposed motion to end party opposition to NATO was dropped  – for now!

So Salmond was able to remind the ‘Yes’ launch of “the obscenity of Trident” – but without any specific promise to scrap it. Indeed we can get some idea of the extent of any practical commitment to such a course of action, by looking at another of Salmond’s ‘commitments’ at the launch. “At a time when people – not just in this country, but across the whole of Europe and around the globe – are crying out for alternatives to austerity, what better, more positive example could there be than a country like Scotland taking its destiny in its own hands and charting a new, better course with independence.”

Well, we have already seen how the SNP “charts a new better course” through the troubled waters of austerity. HMS Westminster’s cuts are carried on the austerity tide to HMS Holyrood. From here they shipped out by the SNP government to local council shores, where they are passed on by SNP and Labour carriers alike.

Even if Westminster’s control of public expenditure was to be removed, under ‘Independence-Lite,’ the SNP government’s fawning before The City and the major corporations, shows that they would still jump to their every command. So Salmond’s  “alternatives to austerity” would not amount to that much. And neither would Salmond’s acknowledgement of Trident’s “obscenity” necessarily guarantee a future SNP government’s willingness to defy the British government over this issue.

However, before anyone present at the launch could take this all in, Salmond wowed them with his one last ‘all-things-to-all-people’ appeal. “Yes to a greener Scotland, yes to a fairer Scotland, yes to a more prosperous Scotland and yes to a brighter, better future for all the future generations of this historic land.”

Salmond clearly thought he had, by now, done quite enough to persuade those Labour and Socialist players present at the launch to take on their allotted bit parts in the SNP’s ‘Yes, Yes, and Yes Again’ ‘movie’. For, following the launch, Salmond’s attentions were entirely focused upon wooing his favoured A-list cast of ‘independence’ supporters from amongst the directors of the global corporations, Scottish business owners and those members of the Scottish establishment, who feel excluded from the other big show in town – ‘No, Nae, Never – The UK For Ever’ (soon to be relaunched under the name – ‘Better Together’ [4]).

It remains a decidedly moot point, though, whether Salmond’s truly grovelling appeal to ‘Elizabrit’ in Jubilee Week persuaded many in his preferred circle of would be supporters. It certainly made those outside this select group dash for the sickbag. “I am looking forward to a fantastic weekend of celebrations right across Scotland to mark The Queen’s 60 years of loyal service on the occasion of Her Diamond Jubilee. Her Majesty has been, and contributes to be, a great friend of Scotland, offering her subjects’ unparalleled dedication and integrity as she has carried out her duties throughout her reign. This week, the Scottish Parliament put on record its admiration, respect and gratitude for all that the Queen has done for Scotland, and this holiday will enable the people of Scotland to do the same.” Such sycophancy even made Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont, look like some kind of closet republican!

Following from Salmond’s lead, his lieutenants in the SNP leadership went on to help him out in the quest to win over his desired supporting cast from amongst ‘the great and good’. On radio and TV shows, and in the pages of the press, key SNP leaders claimed that ‘we’ can proudly keep the queen under Scottish ‘independence’; ‘we’ can remain thoroughly British; ‘we’ will get ‘our’ full share of all those Royal Navy construction contracts; and ‘we’ will have ‘our’ place on the board of the Bank of England too. This is the exciting vision of Scotland’s future now being pedalled by the leading proponents of the official  ‘Yes’ campaign – just haud us a’ back!

By June 9th, this had become too much for Patrick Harvie of the Greens. He publicly protested, stating that,  “We need a management group that includes those who are not just the SNP, who are making every key decision. {He} went on to claim the campaign discouraged supporters from debating issues such as the retention of the monarchy in an independent Scotland, as he said these “differences are never talked about” [5].

However, the other non-SNP participants have remained remarkably silent about the post-launch gallop to the Right undertaken by the official SNP ‘Yes’ organisers. So, how does the Scottish Left relate to the SNP’s official ‘Yes’ launch? Where do they see it going? Thereby hangs a second tale!

 

Tale no. 2 – The SSP and the official ‘Yes’ campaign

Colin Fox has pushed hardest for the SSP to become the publicly recognised Socialist wing of the official ‘Yes’ campaign. One reason for Colin’s initiative was to provide the SSP with media publicity, something of which it has been starved since the party split in 2006. The official ‘Yes’ campaign was always going to attract media attention, so Colin wanted to edge the SSP into the spotlight. It also looks, for now, as if Tommy Sheridan’s attempt to push himself forward, with the behind-the-scenes help of Hugh Kerr, ex-Labour Party, ex-SSP, ex-Solidarity, ex-Green Party, but for now an SNP member, has been thwarted.

Therefore, the SSP was given the exclusive Socialist ‘franchise’ within the official ‘Yes’ campaign. In effect, Colin is pursuing a political strategy in which he sees the SSP re-emerging as the last man standing from the Scottish Left’s ‘Tommygate’ train-wreck. Maybe now Colin thinks that the promise he made at the first post-split conference in 2006 – “Things can only get better” (!) – will finally be realized for the SSP. That once glorious SSP express train could move quickly forward again, having fully recovered from its spectacular derailment in 2004.

Colin works very hard for the SSP and has never let bad news or ‘events’ get him down.  He has also retained more of that old CWI training than others in the SSP leadership. This is probably why Colin thinks that the SSP should both be fully committed to the official ‘Yes’ campaign (think – Labour Party in the past), whilst the SSP itself should constitute its own independent socialist ‘Yes’ wing (think – Militant in the past), and largely ignore other organisations, which he sees as unimportant (think how the old Militant behaved towards the rest of the Left before their ‘Scottish Turn’). Those to be ignored include Solidarity, SWP, International Socialist Group (Scottish breakaway from the SWP) and SPS (the CWI’s Scottish section).

When Colin first announced to the Scottish press that the SSP was signing up to the official ‘Yes’ campaign, he made a considerable impact by raising the issue of a republic. He was even able to force one of the SNP’s MSPs out of her republican closet. Christine Graham was quoted as saying, “After the Diana nonsense when complete strangers lemming-like threw themselves into publicity-driven grief, through Charles and Camilla’s redemption, we are now spoon-fed the William & Kate Show, the latter ironically committed like her deceased predecessor to remaining stick thin for photogenic reasons” [6]. Not the most astute assessment of the political role of the monarchy, but well observed nevertheless. More to the point, it probably got Ms. Graham a ‘dressing down’ from the SNP’s party managers the next day!

Colin was then ‘gagged’ by the organisers when the official ‘Yes’ campaign was launched. He has probably been subjected to much spit and venom behind closed doors, not just for publicly raising the issue of republicanism, but for exposing divisions over the issue within the ranks of the SNP.

Yet Colin remains convinced that it is still possible to pursue his two-track campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote. This means leaving the official ‘Yes’ campaign to say what it will say (and that, of course, will be decided entirely by the SNP organisers); whilst the SSP puts its own case independently, without any reference to, or criticism of, the national official campaign (which Colin sees as playing into the hands of the hostile unionist-dominated press) or acknowledgement of other Socialist organisations in Scotland. Instead he hopes to work with local ‘Yes’ groups, which will not necessarily be under the direct control of the SNP central office, although you can be sure they will be monitoring the situation carefully [7]. However, this could only work, as long as there are no ‘events’ to bring the SSP into direct conflict with the SNP either at Holyrood or in the local councils.

On several occasions, Colin has used the term ‘popular front’ to describe the official ‘Yes’ campaign. Although Colin has retained some old CWI thinking over ways of organising, he has moved much closer to old CP thinking in his formal politics. For, if ‘popular front’ is a term of abuse for an old Trotskyist [8], it is a term of endearment for an old CP’er. Yet, without getting too involved in the arcane language of the old Left, Trotskyists do have a point about ‘popular fronts’.

‘Popular fronts’ are organisations in which the working class is asked to set aside its own immediate class interests in favour of unity with other class forces. Trotskyists can point to the consequences of this in the massacres in Shanghai in 1927, in Indonesia in 1965 and Chile in 1972. Less dramatically, but within our own recent experience, the consequences of electoral ‘popular fronts’ were shown, when Comunista Rifondazione (CR) signed up to a non-Socialist coalition government in Italy. The coalition supported the war in Afghanistan and implemented cuts.  CR then lost all their seats in parliament in 2008.

Up to now, the SSP’s attempt to form a ‘popular front’ with the SNP has proved less bloody or politically costly. But this is only because such attempts have turned out to have no real political impact. The Scottish Independence Convention (SIC) was initiated by the SSP leadership and received official SNP (and Green Party) backing at its launch on St. Andrew’s Day in 1995. However, the SNP leadership only joined up so that they could sit on the SIC and squash it. In this they were completely successful. Now, that the SNP leadership need their own new front organisation, they have launched the official ‘Yes’ campaign, without any prior consultation with the SIC, or anybody else for that matter.

One hallmark of all orthodox CP inspired ‘popular front’ thinking is the constant call to maintain “unity” in the face of “hostile forces”.  The historic consequences of such unity appeals have already been highlighted. These tragedies, set backs and stillborn campaigns have all resulted from the failure of such calls for “unity” to recognise the hostile class forces within the ‘popular front’ itself.  And, when those political parties representing these hostile class forces in the ‘popular front’ are substantially larger than the Socialists, they can make whatever moves they think are necessary against those Socialists, at whatever time they choose.

Therefore, political unity is only meaningful for Socialists, when it is aimed at uniting workers and other oppressed groups, around clear principles that advance our own immediate class interests. Maintaining political unity with hostile class forces, who always prioritise their own class interests above all else, is not a road Socialists should want to go down.

Now Colin is a prominent political campaigner in his home city of Edinburgh. Since May 5th, Edinburgh City Council has been under the joint control of Labour and the SNP. All those planned cuts and privatisations, which the previous administrations  – Labour/Lib-Dem, then Lib-Dem/SNP – have found difficulty in getting fully implemented, will now be visited with a vengeance upon the council’s workforce and service users. This can only bring Colin and the SSP into headlong collision with the SNP [9].

However, you do not even have to resort to speculation about future possibilities to see just how incompatible the SNP’s aims are with those of the SSP. For, it was an SNP controlled West Dunbartonshire council that suspended Jim Bolan, SSP councillor, for six months because of his commitment to taking action on behalf of workers in his constituency in defiance of the SNP’s imposed cuts.

Colin’s recommended two-track approach to Scottish independence – an official ‘Yes campaign + the SSP’s own campaign – is not fully shared by all the existing SSP leadership though. Other SSP figures, particularly from the Glasgow area, have been more damaged by ‘Tommygate’ and, whilst not yet publicly admitting it, they also probably privately feel that the current SSP project is over. They include, to different degrees, Frances Curran, Alan McCombes, Kevin McVey and Jim McVicar, who also enjoy support from a section of the old ISM [10]. There are a number of political responses arising from this other view. For some, it means quietly dissolving ‘into the movement’, for others it means forming a new Socialist ‘think tank’ to develop policies for a future new Socialist movement in Scotland.

However, another strategy has tentatively emerged from within this SSP grouping and amongst their close contacts. This involves joining up with the ISG, who are keen to set up a new socialist unity project in Scotland, to which others can be invited. Within this there would be an ‘inner circle’ (this method of operating also  developed within the SSP [11]) to steer events, but it would be expanded to include selected new people. Meanwhile, prominent named activists and cultural figures give their public support, but are not necessarily part of the decision-making process. The ISG resorted to this method of working when they launched the Coalition of Resistance [12] in Scotland.

This, then, is the political context in which the Radical [13] Independence Conference (RIC) came to be proposed. The idea is supported more strongly by those CWI/ISM survivors in the Glasgow area SSP leadership. Both Colin and Richie, though, see the RIC as little more than a sideshow, both to the official ‘Yes’ campaign and to the SSP’s own campaign.

In the mid-1990’s, many from the old CWI (later the ISM) saw New Labour’s proposed devolved Holyrood parliament as the focus for the new political project, which they went on to advance in the SSA and SSP. Some of these people have similar ideas for a revived or new party in the future, based this time on the promise of the SNP’s ‘independent’ Scotland. Whatever the differences between some Glasgow area SSP leaders and Colin and Richie, both sides largely accept a Left nationalist framework, which leads them to a shared tail ending of the official ’Yes’ campaign.

 

Tale no. 2 continued – The Scottish Left and the Radical Independence Conference (RIC)

The meeting, called under the name of the Radical Independence Conference (RIC), and held on Saturday 2nd June, in the STUC buildings in Glasgow, was opened up to wider sections of the Scottish Left. However, this was the third meeting organised by the ISG and key individuals in the SSP. The organising group had already got as far as issuing a statement of intent and a platform.

“We call on all progressive people and organisations to support, attend and participate in a conference to found an extra parliamentary, pro-independence campaign which puts forward a vision for Scotland that is:

                  Green and environmentally sustainable.

                  Internationalist and opposed to Trident and war.

                  For a social alternative to austerity and privatization.

                  A modern republic for real democracy.

                  Committed to equality and opposition to discrimination on grounds of gender, race or sexuality.

This campaign belongs to everyone who holds a radical vision of an Independent Scotland. Socialists, environmentalists, trade unionists, youth, anti-poverty campaigners, cultural figures and all individuals who support the aims of this movement are encouraged to get involved.”

Already a number of personalities, activists and one blog have signed their name to this statement. They include Iain Banks (author), Bella Caledonia (Left nationalist blog), John Duffy (Secretary, FBU Scotland), Sinead Dunn (President, Glasgow School of Art Students’ Association), Patrick Harvie MSP (Greens), Joan Humphreys (Peace activist), Isobel Lindsay (Vice Chair, Scottish CND), Gordon Maloney (NUS Scotland National Executive), Campbell Martin (Scottish Socialist Party), John McAllion (Chair Dundee Pensioners’ Forum), Mhairi McAlpine (blogger and activist), Robin McAlpine (Chair, Jimmy Reid Foundation and Editor, Scottish Left Review), Greame McIvor (National Secretary, Solidarity), Patrick O’Hare (President, St Andrews University), Jonathon Shafi (International Socialist Group), Domnique Ucbas (Vice President, Strathclyde Students Union).

Clearly, the ISG had made some attempt  to overcome the division that has plagued the Scottish Left since ‘Tommygate’. There are official SSP (Campbell Martin) and Solidarity signatories (Graeme McIvor), as well as one activist who left the SSP (Mhairi McAlpine), who now works under a non-party label [14].  More worrying, though, if openness and transparency are meant to characterise any possible future campaign, is the fact that other individuals on this list, in either the SSP or the ISG, do not publicly acknowledge this fact, e.g. John McAllion (SSP) and Joan Humphreys (ISG). There could well be others who have not given their political affiliation.

Following the call for this wider organising meeting on June 2nd, there were also at least three SWP members amongst the 100 or so  present. Other Socialists have suspected for some time that the SWP and Solidarity have parted company in all but name, so despite the fact that Solidarity’s organiser was already part of the RIC (at least as a signatory), the SWP was a little peeved at not having been formally invited, or knowing exactly who was behind the RIC. Nevertheless, both the SWP’s Graeme Campbell and Ian Ferguson raised the important point that there should have been a general political discussion as to the purpose of the RIC before the proposed workshops went on.

However, the widely known fact, on the Left, that no such prior political discussion ever precedes the setting up of the SWP’s front campaigns, and those signing up just have to accept that all the key decisions in these organisations will be taken beforehand by the SWP Central Committee, meant that this useful suggestion was not directly taken up. Others present just bit their tongues, rather than pointing out the SWP’s own lamentable record in these regards, fearful perhaps that this would only contribute to renewed acrimony amongst people who had hardly been speaking to each other for years. Instead, in a rather unsatisfactory manner, the Chair decided that this political discussion should take place in the workshop specifically designed for organising a conference in October. Many of the ‘politicos’ decided to attend this workshop.

Nevertheless, the ensuing debate in this workshop was mainly conducted in a non-sectarian manner, with even the SWP members showing some restraint, and trying to avoid hectoring others. As it was, the SWP’s most distinctive political position turned out to be a particular variant on an otherwise widely shared political spectrum dominated by Left nationalism.

So, how had such an awkward political situation developed on the Scottish Left? Back on May 1st, 2003, a triumphant SSP had won 6 seats in the Holyrood election. This was achieved against the background of massive opposition on the streets to the Iraq War, and to an unprecedented level of socialist unity. Labour lost 6 seats and the SNP 8. Labour was the ‘War Party’. The lacklustre SNP leader, John Swinney had been publicly exposed as a supporter of that ultra neo-liberal measure – flat rate taxes, whilst Michael Russell, another prominent right-winger, went on to lose his seat in this election. SNP members and a couple of their MSPs joined or moved towards the SSP.

Left British unionism was on the retreat in the SSP, and even the SWP publicly downplayed this aspect of their politics at the time. Left Scottish nationalism (which many former Left unionists, from both CWI/ISM and Labour backgrounds, had begun to take up instead) was being increasingly challenged within the SSP by republican socialism. The highpoint of this republican challenge was the Calton Hill Declaration and the successful protest against the royal opening of the new Holyrood parliament on October 9th, 2004.

Then, a month later ‘Tommygate’ broke out! This has led to much animosity and division in the SSP, and then to the post-split Scottish Left.  The dire results of this are still with us today, 8 years later. However, the failure of the Left internationally to stop the Iraq War, despite the massive scale of the protests, also led many to lose their earlier confidence. This was accentuated by the lack of an effective fight back on the industrial front, both in Scotland and the wider UK. Many looked instead for soft electoral alternatives. In the 2007 Holyrood election, Socialists were wiped out, and a resurgent SNP, under its returned charismatic and populist leader, Alex Salmond, went on to win an extra 20 seats and to form a (minority) Scottish government for the first time.

With the ebbing of political confidence, support for republican socialism also became more marginalised on the Scottish Left [15]. Whilst unionism in all its varieties (especially Left unionism) has also experienced a further fall-off in support in Scotland, the new populist rhetoric of Salmond’s SNP has exerted a strong gravitational pull upon the Scottish Left. This has led to a resurgence of Left nationalism. It has been reinforced, of course, by the further decline of the Scottish Left vote at the 2011 Holyrood election, and by the SNP’s spectacular electoral win, taking a further 23 seats, and forming a majority Scottish government for the first time.

Today, even the SWP has made a U-turn towards Left nationalism, taking it away from its own earlier Left unionism. This is even more marked amongst its breakaway, the ISG. Such political U-turns are not unprecedented, since they do not require any abandonment of an inherited method of working, just a transfer of one’s affection – from one state/nation to another. Many recent (and now not so Left) nationalists in Georgia (e.g. Shevardnadze), Ukraine (e.g. Kuchma), Kazakhstan (e.g. Nazarbayev), Croatia (e.g. Tudjman), and Montenegro (e.g. Dukanovic), were once USSR or Yugoslav unionists and CP loyalists.

So, given the events of the past few years, it is not surprising that the meeting reflected this Left nationalist mood. Yet, there were still interesting discussions, because this political slide was also contested by some of those present. They showed a greater appreciation of the problems with the SNP’s ‘Yes’ campaign; or drew on more recent and partially successful struggles (e.g. from the Anti-Fascist Alliance and the Hetherington Occupation); or wished to retain at least some of the aspects of the socialist republicanism they had learned at the SSP’s highpoint. Therefore, the discussions were worthwhile, and provided some opening for socialist republican ways of thinking and acting.

John Shafi, the ISG organiser and RIC signatory, started the meeting well by placing the independence campaign in its international context, particularly the growing crisis in the EU, and the heroic resistance being offered by Greek workers. Furthermore, it is likely that the current economic crisis will deepen even further, leading to the diminution or even the possible end of the euro currency zone. Any temporary resurgence of the pound will likely be short lived, given the extent of the City of London’s financial involvement in Europe. There will be growing right wing pressure in the UK (particularly from those areas where UKIP threatens to take substantial support away from the Conservatives) for British withdrawal from the EU, in order to promote the UK as a low tax, low wage and relentlessly privatised economy, eager to undercut the EU competition.

If such a course of events develops, the one thing that cannot be guaranteed, in advance, is the continued existence of the current political line-up or balance of class forces, either in the UK or in Scotland, up to late 2014 – the year of the proposed referendum.

Yet, despite this possibility, most of those present at the meeting put such strategic thinking aside. They proceeded as if the current SNP ‘Yes’ campaign is going to be ‘the only game in town’. There was little understanding of the real nature of the SNP leadership’s own political strategy, despite an awareness of its neo-liberal economics and social democrat politics. This seeming contradiction between economics and politics is, in reality, no contradiction at all. Social democratic reforms have always been predicated first on the profitability of the wider capitalist economy. So, when that economy is in crisis, then social democrats’ first job is to get it up-and-running again, and do whatever is necessary to achieve this. In the meantime any reforms are put on the back burner. Today, finance capital is at the very centre of capitalism, so this means doing whatever the banksters think necessary. We can see the baleful result of such politics in social democratic PASOK in Greece and in the Irish Labour Party.

However, the SNP leadership’s real underlying strategy  is not widely appreciated by the Scottish Left.  The purpose of the new modernised and much slicker SNP is to gradually increase the political weight of a wannabe Scottish ruling class, not to lead a struggle for full Scottish self-determination, and certainly not to fundamentally contest US and British imperialism or the corporate capitalist order. The SNP has been able to mount much more professional campaigns, drawing in media proficient people, precisely because it has been courting ambitious members of the Scottish middle class by ditching more and more of its long-standing more radical policies.

The SNP has begun to make inroads amongst management figures in the public sector – previously very much a Labour recruiting ground. Salmond’s backing for Lena Wilson, £200,000 a year Chief Executive of the public Scottish Enterprise, in her moonlighting for the private Intertek Group, at £55,000 for 12 days’ work, is just one example of his determination to show other members of the wannabe Scottish ruling class that the SNP is their party.

There are other examples of this type of nationalist party – Parti Quebecois, Catalan Convergence and the PNV. These parties hope to inherit the property, profits and privileges currently held by their respective states – Canada and Spain –  but transfer them into the hands of a new ruling class within their own more limited national territories – Quebec, Catalunya and Euskadi. Their chosen method to achieve this is to push for incremental reforms within the existing state in a way that is carefully managed from above, designed to prevent any radical challenges emerging from below.

This is also why Salmond is so keen to have the second option ‘Devolution-Max’ on the referendum ballot paper. This would provide his wannabe Scottish ruling class with a second bite at the cherry.  Failing this, the SNP’s official ‘Independence-Lite’ proposals themselves fall well-short of full Scottish sovereignty, and are primarily designed to appeal to disgruntled members of the existing Scottish establishment and careerist middle class. Therefore, despite all the hype, just as in the case of Barack Obama, whose Presidential campaign was about rebranding US imperialism; so Salmond’s referendum campaign is about rebranding the Union.

The SNP is seeking, in effect, ‘Independence within the Union’. The political aim of business-savvy Salmond, in pushing for ‘Independence-Lite’, is not so much to make a hostile takeover bid for part of UK plc, but to go for a junior management partial buy-out, with the promise of continuing profitable cooperation with the parent  company in the future. Under the new proposed set-up, though, all those shares transferred to Scottish ownership would, in future, be marketed with ‘tartan’ trimming.

What Salmond and the SNP leadership do understand, though, is that the UK is very much a declining imperial power [16], and that the old British ruling class, its Scottish members included, no longer holds the power and hegemony it once did. Maintaining British imperial pretensions now depends on the UK acting as loyal ‘spear-carrier’ for US imperialism. That old British imperial glue, which very much held the UK state together in the heyday of the Empire, and was accepted, not only by Conservatives and Liberals, but by mainstream Labour too, has been dissolving for some time.

Nevertheless, given current US imperial backing, and the British ruling class’s centuries long experience in maintaining its domination, the UK state remains a formidable opponent. It can draw on a full range of reactionary constitutional powers, including those provided under the Crown Powers. These provide for a whole host of anti-democratic and repressive sanctions. Some of these were demonstrated in the UK state’s brutal response, first to the Civil Rights Movement, then later to the Republican Movement in Northern Ireland. Therefore, the SNP leadership has fully taken on board the natural caution of those new class backers the party is now courting. They have no intention of either killing off the UK state, nor of challenging the dictates of the global corporations and their main backers – the US state.

This is why the SNP remains committed to retaining the monarchy and hence the Crown Powers. They are prepared to accept that any future ‘independent’ Scottish economy will be subordinate to The City in London, after having their fingers burnt over the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Bank of Scotland (which have not been majority Scottish owned for a long time), and seeing the prospect of a strong euro vanishing. This desire to appease the powerful is also why the SNP has also made some pretty cack-handed overtures to ‘Scottish-Americans’ such as Donald Trump, and through its support for the April 6th Tartan Day in the USA [17].

And, when it comes to recognition of global corporate capital, the SNP has fallen over itself to accommodate its demands – just think, Sir Brian Souter and Rupert Murdoch, or Amazon and the oil corporations. Salmond would like to scrap Trident and see Scotland moved out of NATO’s nuclear frontline. However, although the SNP do not yet say so openly, they would be quite happy for Scotland to be moved into to NATO’s second tier – the Orwellian named ‘Partnership for Peace’. This would make Scottish airbases available as required by US forces. The Irish government has set the precedent for this at Shannon Airport.

Once you are clear about the real purpose of the SNP, then Salmond and the SNP leaderships’ intentions for the official ‘Yes’ campaign become much clearer. They will only promote those policies that are compatible with maintaining or winning the support of their current class backers and the wannabe Scottish ruling class they want to attract. And these aims are completely incompatible with the aims set out by the RIC (or the SSP).

The SNP will be prepared to accept Leftist non-SNP support, as long as such people are prepared to act as ‘useful idiots’ for their campaign. This means the Left confines itself to the verbal or written promotion of a wish list of demands, to which the SNP has no commitment, nor any desire to bring about, but which might attract some more naïve ‘Yes’ votes. Any negotiations with the UK government will be entirely on the SNP government’s terms. If proponents of a ‘radical’ wish list approach fail to organise independently of the SNP, or back down when they are told to, the official ‘Yes’ campaign can continue to tolerate them.

The most naïve speaker at the RIC meeting thought that the proposed conference could apply for official ‘Yes’ campaign funding. Indeed this and certain other contributions produced the most controversial contribution of the day. This came from the SSP’s Murdo Ritchie, recent local council candidate in Glasgow. Murdo is somewhat of a maverick in the SSP, a veteran of many Socialist organisations and campaigns, including recently Scargill’s SLP. Murdo’s own political world seems to be dominated by his view of the rest of the existing Left. This is why he has developed a very pessimistic outlook. He despaired of  the lemming-like leap into the arms of the SNP, advocated by some at the meeting. He even went as far as to suggest a ‘No’ vote in the 2014 referendum may be the best option. Murdo was alone in this. In that wider world, outside Socialist meetings, he seemed oblivious to the dark political forces (not all confined indoors!) which such a ‘No’ vote could give succour to!

The meeting’s slide into increasingly Left nationalist thinking placed the focus firmly on the tactics towards referendum rather than developing a Socialist strategy for independence to break-up the UK state and US/British imperialist alliance – the main force responsible for maintaining the present global corporate capitalist order. Jonathan Shafi, who had started the meeting off so differently, also seemed to accept this lowering of the Scottish Left’s political ambition in his contribution at the end.

There was a widespread assumption that the same continued political line-up – the Tory/Labour/Lib-Dem unionist alliance on one side, and the SNP dominated nationalist alliance on the other – necessitated a concentration on winning a ‘Yes’ vote; rather than building a Socialist campaign, which could, if the political situation changed dramatically take the lead in the battle for Scottish self-determination. Otherwise, it could begin to build up a big enough independent class presence to make its political weight felt, both in the run-up and, just as importantly, in the aftermath of the 2014 referendum. And, once again, there was no further recognition of the turbulent times the various states of Europe, and major alliances such as the EU, are facing.

Some present did see the problems faced by a ‘Yes’ campaign, which simultaneously promises banksters and corporate bosses a low tax Scottish nirvana, and workers and others a more prosperous and greener future. Therefore, there were contributions about the campaign ‘getting the balance right’, or increasing the ‘Yes’ campaign’s radical appeal, but both still tacitly hoped that the SNP would unwittingly open up new doors for the Scottish Left in the referendum campaign.

We have recently seen this type of approach – the political tail ending of others, hoping to make some gains as a result, in other situations. This is just another result of the long period of defeats and setbacks. Nor is this underlying pessimism disguised by calling every meeting, demonstration or strike that occurs – “just brilliant”.

Recently, we have seen the public sector pensions campaign, which culminated in the millions strong strike, and massive demonstrations throughout the country on November 30th 2011. Nobody tried harder than the existing Socialist groups to build this action. The problem was, there was no political preparation for the completely predictable climb down by the TUC and other trade unions leaders. Instead, the Socialist groups largely confined themselves, on the day of the strike, to calling on the same trade union leaders to give us more of the same.

Yet, it was always very obvious that, once an already reluctant TUC leadership had been goaded into organising this day of strike action, they would use the opportunity to say, in effect – “Look Cameron and Clegg, here we are and this is what we can do – so let us get back into renewed negotiations, union by union, section by section”. But, of course, such an approach can never achieve anything but the most marginal concessions.

Most Socialist groups have become dominated in their thinking by a concern for immediate tactics, leaving the decisions over strategy to others – whether it be the TUC (with behind-the-scenes Labour Party leadership help) on the pensions dispute on November 30th, or the SNP over Scottish independence on Scotland’s immediate political future.  Yet, the TUC leadership has no higher sights than keeping the Labour-supported ‘social partnerships’ – government, employers and trade union bureaucrats – going, and hoping for the return of another Labour government [18]; whilst the SNP leadership seeks a new ‘national partnership’ between Scotland and Britain (England, Wales and… [19]) under the Union of the Crowns – or ‘Independence-Lite’.

It was within this overall acceptance of the need to support the SNP’s ‘Independence-Lite’ option, that the SWP’s Iain Ferguson, backed by Willie Black, raised its own distinctive tactical recommendation for the ‘Yes’ campaign. This was that the Scottish Left should support the adding of a second option on the referendum ballot-paper – ‘Devolution-Max’. The purpose behind this is to chivvy the STUC and other trade union officials into trying to break with the current New Labour leadership’s ‘no, nae, never’ strategy, and its British unionist alliance with the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems. Willie also asked us to take heart from the recent Broad Left electoral advance in UNITE [20] .

Certainly the failure of the STUC to take up ‘Devolution-Max’, even with the encouragement of such prominent ‘Devolution-Max’ advocates as former Labour Scottish First Minister, Henry McLeish, is an indication of just how far to the right, the trade union bureaucracy has gone under its ‘social partnership’ with Blair, Brown and Miliband.

However, one important difference between even ‘Independence-Lite’ and ‘Devolution-Max’ is that the former at least gives constitutional sanction to a possible withdrawal from NATO, and the ending of Trident, whilst the latter does not. Of course, this would not happen without a really significant extra-parliamentary campaign, especially considering the SNP’s retreats over these issues.

The economistic politics of the SWP (and the SPS [21], which also supports a ‘Devolution-Max’ option) downplays such important political distinctions. Their attempt to push ‘Devolution-Max’ is just part of these two organisations’ wider orientation upon the trade union bureaucracy, rather than the rank and file. Certainly ‘Devolution-Max’ could well be in some of these bureaucrats’ interests. The major attraction of Home Rule for the old Liberal Party, and of Devolution for Labour and trade union leaders, has always been that this allows the pursuit of careers, both in the protected devolved institutions, as well as the institutions of the wider UK (and, in the past, the British Empire).

Furthermore, the SWP’s and SPS’s focus upon the TUC/STUC and the trade union bureaucracies is consistent with their Broad Left approach in the unions. Here they demand that existing union leaders promote workers’ economic struggles (e.g. over the pensions dispute), whilst their own Broad Left caucuses simultaneously clock up gains in the number of lay and full-timer trade union posts held. This latter approach, though, is often just another example of rampant careerism, encouraged by the difference in the pay of union officials compared to the members they claim to represent [22].

Although the RIC meeting organisers did appear to oppose the adoption of the SWP’s promotion of a second ‘Devolution-Max’ referendum option, it is interesting that the first port of call for a trade union signatory on the RIC statement was a trade union full-timer from the FBU. Yet, the most inspiring action recently taken by trade unionists has been the independent, rank and file action organised by the sparks to defend their all-Britain pay agreement [23].

Unfortunately, what the June 2nd meeting did lack was a serious consideration of wider strategic thinking, including what to do beyond October. Should the ‘C’ in the RIC stand for a long-term campaign or just for a one day conference? These issues still need to be discussed and would probably have been welcomed on the day, given the undoubted enthusiasm of many of those involved to make a real impact in the future. This was shown most clearly in the report-backs from the other three workshops.

 

Beyond make-believe tales towards an effective strategy – the socialist republican approach

Allan Armstrong of the RCN raised an alternative socialist republican approach at the organisation workshop. Such an approach offers a challenge not only to all the established powers of the state (including the draconian Crown Powers) but to bureaucratic privilege everywhere – whether in parliament, council chambers and offices, or in trade union HQs and branch offices. It also suggested a different approach, which does not tail end the official ‘Yes’ campaign.

To make the best of the current wider international political possibilities, the Scottish Left has to raise its sights once more, as it started to do at the time of the Calton Hill Declaration. This means looking beyond the planned conference in October, and making plans to initiate its own active campaign. The purpose of this would not be to put pressure on the SNP leadership, but to take the leadership of the movement for Scottish self-determination out of its hands, and place it amongst those forces which could adopt a consistently anti-unionist, anti-imperialist and anti-corporate capitalist course. This would also mean organising such a campaign on ‘internationalism from below’ principles, bringing in Socialists from England, Wales and Ireland, and hopefully from within the European Anti-Capitalist Left Alliance (or other new forces to emerge out of the current resistance to the Troika’s (EC/IMF/ECB) austerity drive.

The political situation is rapidly changing, and only when Socialists start to put forward our own independent course of action, will we make any real impact in the current conditions of deepening economic and political crisis. Then we can really link the growing demand for genuine Scottish self-determination with the possibility, not only of offering a vision of an alternative society, but of creating the type of independent political organisation and taking the necessary action to achieve this.

Allan Armstrong. 17.6.12

 

 

[1]             Of course, it was dismissed by much of the ‘No’ supporting unionist press in Scotland. However, it is revealing that the official ‘No’ campaign is only going to be launched from a closed news conference with Alistair Darling (Labour), Charles Kennedy (Lib-Dem) and Annabel Goldie (Conservative). After Glasgow City Labour administration handed out grants to the Orange Order for Jubilee street parties, they are perhaps a bit wary about who might be attracted to a Union Jack festooned public launch.

[2]             Dougie Maclean wrote and sang the anthem Caledonia, although the best-known version is still Frankie Miller’s, originally from the 1991 Tennents advert (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TX9h558Tz1E), where the anonymous hero turns his back on Thatcher’s London and returns to Edinburgh.

[3]             Tommy Brennan controversially encouraged the import of Polish coal to Ravenscraig steelworks during the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike.

[4]             This slogan is uncannily reminiscent of New Labour’s 1997 “Things can only  get better”!

[5]             Sunday Herald, 10.6.12

[6]             Sunday Herald, 13.5.12.

[7]             It is not only the Socialists, to their Left, that the official ‘Yes’ campaign will need to watch. There will also be those notorious, thinly disguised racist, populist cyber-Nats, who will respond to British unionist provocations (including from neo-fascist Loyalists) with anti-English bile. The SNP’s official ‘Yes’ campaign, though, is not designed to alienate the British ruling class, either with the prospect of Socialism on one hand, or anti-English sentiment on the other. It  is about striking up a new deal – ‘Independence within the Union’.

[8]             Support for CP-type ‘united fronts’, as opposed to Trotskyist inspired ‘united fronts’, has brought Colin into disagreement with Richie Venton, the SSP’s Industrial Organiser. Richie (also ex-CWI) otherwise shares much of Colin’s belief that the SSP is the only significant Socialist organisation in Scotland. They retain their understanding of the best way to organise politically from their old CWI/Militant training. However, this view no longer enjoys majority support amongst their former CWI members in the SSP, especially in the Glasgow area.

[9]            The SNP’s Edinburgh City Council coalition Depute Leader is the decidedly anti-Left Steve Cardownie (ex-SWP, ex-Labour Party).

[10]           The ISM, or International Socialist Movement, was the majority Scottish breakaway from the CWI (Militant), originally led by Alan McCombes and Tommy Sheridan. However, ‘Tommygate’ blew the ISM apart, and it subsequently dissolved itself. The online magazine, Frontline, represents though, in effect, a ‘Continuity ISM’.

[11]            see section 2b of http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2011/12/23/beyond-the-ssp-and-solidarity-forgive-and-forget-or-listen-learn-and-then-move-on/

[12]          The Coalition of Resistance was first set up in England and Wales by an earlier SWP breakaway there – Counterfire.

[13]            The adoption of the ‘Radical’ prefix rather than ‘Socialist’ is an indicator of the widespread lack of confidence on the Left today about the possibility of a genuine alternative to capitalism. Radicalism like populism is something that can have a Right or a Left face. However, the RIC organisers do not intend to make any Rightwards political appeal; they hope by publicly disguising their own Socialism behind the ambiguous Radical label, it will be easier to bring others on board.

[14]             In this Mhairi is probably representative of a significant section of former SSP members, who chose neither to remain in the party, nor to join Solidarity after ‘Tommygate’, but have found other arenas for their political activity.

[15]             It still continued, though, in a more educational role, highlighted by the Republican Socialist Convention in 2008, which brought Socialists together from Scotland, Ireland (North and South) and Wales on an ‘internationalism from below’ basis. This was organised by the SSP’s International Committee (see             http://scottishsocialistparty.org/new_stories/events/republican-convention-report.html).

[16]             see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/01/11/internationalism-from-below-2/

[17]            Tartan Day was originally launched by Trent Lott, the racist and homophobic Republican Senator for Mississippi in 1998. However, its right wing provenance did not prevent former Labour Scottish First Minister, Jack McConnell, from backing it either.

[18]            Some people have claimed that under Miliband, Blairite ‘New Labourism’ has been ditched. However, if anything, even further Right thinking has taken root in the  Labour Party. If New Labourism represented the impact of Thatcherism on the party, with its acceptance of neo-liberalism and craven subordination to US imperialism; then one of the most significant currents in the Labour Party today is Blue Labour. The development of Blue Labour  reflects a growing acceptance of ideas shared in common with the BNP, especially over immigration and social conservatism. Whilst Blue Labour hasn’t yet replaced the New Labour thinking (which remains strong), it has certainly had more influence than the shrinking Labour Left. The Left could not find enough backers for John McDonnell in his bid for  British Labour leadership in 2010, whilst in Scotland they were unable to  find a Left candidate for the Scottish Labour leadership in 2011.

[19]             Well, Northern Ireland does not figure in the SNP’s calculations at all. This ‘oversight’ is also reciprocated by Sinn Fein, which, in acknowledgement of its leading position of one side of the constitutionally entrenched sectarian Stormont set-up, has declined to publicly support Scottish independence. Needless to say, the Unionists and Loyalists have not committed themselves to any such self-denying ordinance, and give loud backing to the British unionist ‘No’ cause.

[20]              Just how meaningful this Broad Left advance in UNITE is for Socialists can be seen in the article by Jerry Hicks, a worker and Rank and File candidtae, who opposed the Broad Left UNITE apparachik, Len McCLuskey, in the election for the union’s General Secretary, See http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/01/23/union-leader-slams-ed-miliband-but-who-put-him-there-in-the-first-place/

[21]             see http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/14593/29-05-2012/yes-scotland-independence-referendum-campaign-launched.

[22]             It is significant that the Socialist Party (CWI) has dropped the call for trade union officials in the PCS to be paid the average wage of the members they represent, now that they are in the leading position within that union. Similarly, leading ISM members (also from a CWI background) took a similar attitude to this issue, when this it was raised in the SSP, after Bob Crow (paid over £130,000 annually) looked as if he might bring the RMT in Scotland much more closely towards the SSP before ‘Tommygate’.

[23]            Copies of the construction workers rank and file Site Worker paper can be had by contacting siteworkers@virginmedia.com.

_____________________________

Also see:- 

What Do the May 5th Local Election Results Mean in Scotland? at:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/05/31/what-do-the-may-5th-local-election-results-mean-in-scotland/

The Scottish Independence Referendum Debate, Part 3 at:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/05/18/the-scottish-independence-referendum-debate-part-3/

The Scottish Independence Referendum Debate, Part 2 at:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/04/06/scottish-independence-referendum-debate-part-2/

The Scottish Independence Referendum Debate at:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/03/26/scottish-independence-referendum/

Why We Need an ‘Internationalism from Below’ Strategy to Address the Crisis of the UK State at:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/01/11/internationalism-from-below-2/

 

 

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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.

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