Thursday 14 August 2008

Branch Meeting: European Crisis and the CWI

Last week, Stoke Socialist Party sent a small delegation of members to the annual CWI summer camp in Belgium. Tonight, A and M reported back on several of the discussions. A concentrated on political developments in Europe and the fortunes of some of the CWI sections there, while M concentrated on the organisation elsewhere. In this post I'll be concentrating on A's contributions as the information on most CWI sections, their membership figures and their prospects is really for internal consumption only. (We had membership figures for each CWI section up on the wall - I couldn't help wondering what a certain left newspaper would give to see those figures!)

A opened with the observation that a qualitative change in the political situation is sweeping across Europe. This manifests itself in three ways.

First, there are successions of economic and political crises - Brown's predicament is by no means unique. There was the forlorn hope the credit crunch would be a passing blip, but now several countries are staring into the abyss of deep crisis. Iceland, for example, has been described by several business observers as a hedge fund on the brink of bankruptcy. One current account belonging to the Bosnian government has been so depleted that the princely sum of €23 is all that remains! Denmark has slipped into recession, having fulfilled the 'official' definition of two consecutive quarters of economic shrinkage. And the Eurozone as a whole shrank by 0.2 per cent in the last quarter.

Par the course for our rulers when their economies enter choppy waters, they are trying their best to get European workers pay the price. Nearly everyone has felt the pinch from higher food, fuel and energy prices. In Portugal, unemployment has doubled. In Spain, 300,000 jobs, mainly in the construction sector, has been lost to the collapsing property market. In France, Sarkozy is attempting no less than 116 separate attacks on the French working class, ranging from terms of employment to the social wage. In Italy Berlusconi has picked a fight with the country's education workers with a plan that aims to throw 20 per cent of them onto the dole.

But the ruling class has a problem. Politically, its social base in wider society is very weak indeed, and as a consequence they are increasingly out of touch. New Labour is a case in point. Nationally and locally it refuses to budge from the deeply unpopular policies that have seen electoral humiliation after electoral humiliation heaped upon it. And what are we to make of the bungled announcement, during a crucial by-election in a solidly working class Scottish constituency, that Thatcher might receive a state funeral? But it's the same elsewhere. The SPD in Germany continues to shed members like its going out of fashion as they prop up its 'grand coalition' with the CDU/CSU. Sarkozy has entered the record books as the least popular first-term French president in history. Mainstream politics in Belgium are paralysed and there's talk of divorce among its constituent Walloons and Flemings. And Irish voters delivered a big slap in the face to its ruling class and the eurocrats when they rejected the Lisbon Treaty.

This is a precipitous moment for our class to start moving. And the situation is compelling it to do so. Workers in Belgium have taken advantage of their masters' constitutional difficulties - there have been 80 strikes against below inflation pay "rises". In Britain we recently had the two day Unison local government strike and the first national teachers' strike for 20 years. Greece has been shaken by three general strikes over the last year, including a two month teachers' strike backed by a significant movement of radicalised school students. Transport and manufacturing workers in Poland have taken action, and among them are the first employees of Tesco to walk out.

The rising gradient of crisis and struggle has affected the politics of our class. The tendency present from the 1990s toward the emergence of new workers' parties/left formations has been strengthened. Developments in France and Italy were made in passing, but A preferred to deal mainly with Germany. Electorally speaking, Die Linke is now (just!) the third party in Germany. Its leading figure, Oskar Lafontaine appears to be positioning himself more to the left with more talk about socialism. But unfortunately the programme of the party is not socialist - yet. In the opinion of the CWI, its potential is stymied by a preoccupation with pursuing those polling figures at the expense of the social movements that have so far nourished the new party. The SAV, Germany's CWI affiliate, is committed to helping Die Linke develop in a positive political direction and is currently discussing strategies on how this can be done.

A also touched on Greece, where conditions are very favourable for the development of a new left party. Here the CWI section, Xekinima is part of an 11 party coalition of the left, Syriza. In 2007 it won over 360,000 votes (5.04 per cent) in the general election and is gaining support at the expense of the traditional centre left party, PASOK. Since the upturn of class struggle in Greece its opinion poll ratings have improved by such an extent that PASOK has made overtures for coalition talks. Xekinima and the CWI are opposed to participating in bourgeois coalitions, which is one of the reasons why support for the PRC in Italy collapsed.

In sum, as neoliberalism as a model of capital accumulation and a strategy for class rule is becoming exhausted, we're opening into a more volatile period marked by economic and political flux and increasing class struggle. In short, a period not too dissimilar from the transition to neoliberalism from the old Keynesian/pseudo-Keynesian policies of the post-war boom. The CWI may possess tiny forces but everywhere it is seeking to place itself in the strategic centres of struggle, and it will do all it can to carry them through to a successful conclusion.

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