Thursday, 25 January 2007

Branch Meeting: Annual General Meeting

Tonight was Stoke Socialist Party's AGM and it was down to yours truly to deliver a short lead off on branch strategy.

I kicked off with an overview of our fair city, noting along the way the disappearance of the pots and mines, the decline of manufacturing and Stoke's transition to a low wage service economy. This industry is not secure either, with the ever-present threat of outsourcing hanging over call centres, for instance. Looking at other West European states the trend toward post-industrial economies was manifest prior to the rise of neo-liberalism, but this process was accelerated in Britain by Thatcher's successful attacks on the labour movement. As a result that key section of the class prepared to fight for its interests in the past has declined and the balance of forces have temporarily shifted in the ruling class's favour. What this has meant in Stoke is wide layers of the class have lost confidence in their ability to make their destiny. On stalls for example, Stoke comrades often have people coming up, signing a petition, buying a paper and then wishing *us* good luck with the campaign. There is no appreciation that fights against hospital cuts, for instance, is their fight too.

But not all is gloomy in Stoke. Where there is capitalism there is struggle, and where there is struggle, groups of people will be prepared to fight. Stoke is a unique place in many ways, but it hasn’t defied this law of the class struggle. Like everywhere else spontaneously struggles can seemingly appear from nowhere, as Tuesday's walkout of 40 pupils from Berryhill School testify. In terms of industrial struggles postal workers came close to strike action last week in a dispute over working practices. This looks set to simmer as one of the union stewards has been suspended by Royal Mail and their branch have decided to stand up to this pathetic attempt at intimidation. At the end of this month civil servants will be taking to the picket lines again, and over the last 12 months we’ve seen council workers and health workers taking action. Even relatively privileged sections of the class have been compelled to take action, such as recent disputes at the colleges and universities.

We then concentrated more specifically on our party activity and what lessons we can draw from our 'routine work' of stalls, paper sales, and so on, our experiences in the local NHS campaign and the electoral intervention in Abbey Green. I then addressed how we can improve our work with trade unions, among young people and a number of other technical matters.

NB. This is a heavily condensed version of a document running to about 2,500 words, a comprehensive account of Stoke SP's 2006 will have to wait for a rainy day.

Then came the discussion. F opened on the necessity to keep our NHS work going because of the frustrations patients and staff are suffering as services are continually cut to the bone. Though resistance to the cuts is not as forthcoming at the hospital itself (primarily because of the role played by the unions) it is an issue that could spark anger and activity in the near future.

After explaining to L what the comrades involved in trade union work have in mind, N suggested we need to find ways of getting highly exploited and non-organised agency workers involved in the labour movement. M emphasised the need to be careful when carrying out such work because of the threat of victimisation. On trade unionism in general A noted that the lack of union organisation can present dangers along with opportunities. The lack of a workplace presence can mean a lack of decent representation and exacerbating the isolation of the trade union tops from the class. But on the other hand sporadic future struggles could explode and the unions not be in a position to derail them.

M spoke a little while about our interventions at the local universities and the plans we have building for the NUS day of action against top-up fees in February. I asked him about the friendly relationship we have with a group of independent student activists and it does look like there will be plenty of room for us to work together on many issues.

With the end of the discussion we moved to vote for a number of comrades responsible for certain areas of work. All nominations passed unopposed. With the branch reorganisation and with knowledge of what we want to achieve this year, Stoke SP is now in a position to make the best of whatever 2007 throws at it.


big_d said...

is it disheartening when you write a beast of a post like that and no one replies?

Phil said...

The pain is indescribable, lulz.