Thursday, 6 March 2008

Branch Meeting: British Perspectives 2008

As a preview of this weekend's Socialist Party conference, M gave a lead off on the party's strategic document for the year ahead, British Perspectives. He began by laying out the prospects for the British economy, which, as we all know, isn't great. Whether the credit crunch will manifest in terms of a recession or slower economic growth remains to be seen. This is complicated by the fact the British economy is very lopsided with finance capital in the driving seat and other forms of capital having to sing from its hymn sheet. However, at base, the document argued manufacturing is the rock to which all economies are lashed. And its here that Britain's weakness is rather pronounced. At the moment, just three million workers are employed in manufacturing (this excludes transport workers), but nonetheless that level is the lowest since 1841. Despite this the sector remain a strategic part of the working class - their potential power far outweighs what their numbers suggest.

Undoubtedly, any slowdown will impact on the working class as a whole. But crisis does not mechanically beget radicalisation. Consciousness tends to lag behind conditions, but nevertheless events can bridge the two at times. Consciousness can become as radical as the reality it faces. But as things stand now its likely that workers' struggles during the course of 2008 will develop around issues of pay. Brown's obsession in keeping public sector pay down will likely find an echo in the private sector as they demand their employees accept paltry pay rises to keep the profits flowing. The potential, however, exists that of one or two struggles are successful they could act as an impetus for further action. However, the biggest problem remains the absence of an independent workers' political voice. The SP believes a call for a new party made by several trade unions could rally tens of thousands to its banner. For example, if such a party was in existence the upcoming vote on disaffiliation from Labour at the CWU's conference would be far more likely to succeed. However, in its absence, if disaffiliation goes through the union is likely to become more syndicalist and reinforce a certain anti-party mood.

On immigration and the far right, official statistics would pitch the number of new arrivals since 2004 at 700,000 workers, though the actual figure is likely to be greater. In the most part these workers are appallingly exploited and low paid, and can allow the government to play politics with racial tensions. They're not the only ones who use race and immigration to suit their ends. The BNP may well be in disarray at the moment, split as it is between Griffin's hateful bunch of degenerates, and those daft enough to have taken the fuhrer's turn to populist nationalism seriously. But it is far from finished. Atomisation and alienation from mainstream politics still provide the ingredients for BNP growth, and the coming of a crisis could give them a boost and transform them into a stable far right formation akin to its continental counterparts. On the other hand the seeds for mass anti-fascism are there too - there is widespread opposition among young people toward racist and bigoted ideas.

Finally, one consequence of any crisis could be widespread questioning of capitalism. What that means now, for the SP, is careful and patient preparatory work, to contribute toward and help steer any leaps in consciousness in a socialist direction. If one looks at the SP's forerunner, Militant, in 1978, it then stood at 1,500 members. By 1988 this had climbed to 8,000 and became a household name thanks to the Liverpool City Council struggle and later the fight against Thatcher's Poll Tax. In 2008 the SP once again can claim 1,500 members, but on top of that it has far more experience to draw from and a small, but nevertheless a greater weight in the organised working class. This isn't to say the SP is expecting a repeat of the 80s, but rather a recognition it's better placed now to influence and intervene than was the case 30 years previously.

The discussion touched on many issues - immigration, house prices, credit, and progressive policies in Scotland and Wales. But it was A's contribution that will be of interest to readers. Again he reiterated the need for patience, but also we have to be ready for sudden upsurges. For example, last year's strike action and localised disputes against Royal Mail are coming back to haunt a CWU leadership who thought they were settled. In Stoke the local CWU branch is watching the situation in Burslem as, contrary to the deal that saw the depot back to work, the 12 have yet to have their hearings (the suspension issue was supposed to have been resolved at the end of January). This week management announced the closure of Stoke sorting office, which led to an occupation and could entail further action in the near future. And six workers in Longton depot are being victimised. Behind these local disputes looms a more significant shadow. Like all bosses who plead poverty and manage to award themselves huge pay increases (Royal Mail found £4.5 million to throw at Leighton and Crozier) , management have announced the closure of the final salary pension scheme on April 1st. Unfortunately, in response the union leadership have only organised a consultative ballot rather than an actual ballot. This closes on March 25th - hardly enough time to implement an effective counter to Royal Mail's plans!

The point is seemingly quiet periods contain the combustible material that can ignite later on.


Jim Jepps said...

It's amazing to think that Militant only had 8,000 members in '88 when it was, as you say, a household name - known up and down the country.

Anonymous said...

The Socialist Party has 1,500 members ???
Don't be stupid, that's a totally made up number.

Ms Chief said...

What are the "perspectives2 for Scotland. i know taafe has been up hear doing a wee tour. Or are there different scenarios - if Tommy doesn't go to court (i.e. charges dropped, does go to court and is found not guilty, goes to court and gets found guilty/ Does taafe expect TS to re-join the CWI or expect him to drop out and become a minor celebrity in Scotland? Are the CWI wanting to continue to work in Solidarity/ Does Solidarity still exist? I would be very interested in reading such a perspective document.

Are there really 1500 CWI members in Britain - there's only about 30 in Scotland and I am sure some of them are on paper only.

Phil said...

No, it's not a made up number. The official membership figures for last year pitched it just over the 1,500 mark.

Cat, this weekend's conference is for the SP in England and Wales. As you know, the CWI in Scotland is a separate section of the international. So while there was a section of the document looking at the national question, it wasn't very detailed. I haven't seen the perspectives document for the Scottish section.

Ms Chief said...

I suppose the perspectives for the Scottish section are as I said above depend on the outcome of TS - because they stupidly cheerleadered for him and therefor bound by his consequences. Which I don't think that is all that clever for people who profess to be Marxists.

But British Perspectives are not English ones though are they? This is where it gets complicated.

I will read Philip Stott's guff /perspectives somewhere or other.

Though it will be interesting to see how things this year develop. Was there any perspectives in relation to Islamophobia?

Are youse off to Morecambe? I ate my first parsnip at Militant Conference in Morecambe!

Phil said...

Good point about the title of British Perspectives, ho hum!

I've only had time to skim through BP but I'm sure I saw something on Islamophobia and immigration. I'll have to take another look to be sure. And no, I'm not at the conference cos I've got too much on.

No doubt you'll be saddened to hear (and will probably point it out as symptomatic of our degeneration) that conference hasn't taken place in Morecombe for some time! Until recently it was in Skeggy, but for 2008 it's down in London. A comrade has promised me a guest post all about it.