Thursday 29 October 2009

SP Leaflet: Victory to the Postal Workers!

The national strike action has rocked Royal Mail bosses and the government to their very roots.

The strike has been absolutely solid because as postal workers know this is a fight to the finish for their jobs, their union and the future of Royal Mail as a public service and not something for the profits of the bosses.

Adam Crozier backed up by the Labour government and the unelected Lord Mandelson set out from the beginning to break the will of the workers to resist their plans to make the Royal Mail fit for privatisation.

The role of the Labour government in these attacks reinforces the call by members to stop financing the Labour Party. It also emphasises that the
CWU along with other unions need their own political voice.

The CWU should join the campaign to build a new workers' party as part of their overall strategy to win this battle against privatisation and the ending of the post office as a public service.

In the management's leaked document they laid out a number of scenarios to bring the union to heel including threatening "de-recognition" with "only the legal minimum engagement" with the union and reps.

The bosses recognise that without an effective union on the shop floor then they will be able to run roughshod over all the painfully built up working conditions won over decades of struggle. They hoped to frighten the CWU leadership into accepting their plans as "the lesser evil" but it is clear that the CWU branches were not prepared to be blackmailed and the leadership were forced to accept this.

The bosses call for “modernisation” is a euphemism for job cuts, pay cuts and the introduction of a regime in the workplace of fear and intimidation.

What happens now will be determined by what tactics are adopted to win this struggle by the leadership of the union.

Sectional strikes have had a big effect so far in the sense that tens of millions of items of post are blocked up in the system much to the chagrin of management (though it still seems to mean that some workers such as drivers have been penalised for not crossing picket lines in the delivery offices) but what is required now is a clear strategy that will increase the pressure on the bosses and at the same time demonstrate that the postal workers are determined to win this crucial battle.

Discontinuous action up to Christmas seems to be the leadership's strategy as far as the CWU itself is concerned but what is required is a dual tactic of also appealing to the undoubted large amounts of support there is amongst other workers, particularly in the rest of the public sector.

The CWU should make this appeal both at national and local level by means of initiating meetings with their opposite numbers in other public sector unions such as Unison (council and health workers) PCS (civil servants) and other unions such as Unite, the FBU and the GMB.

There should be a clear call for solidarity action by other unions on the basis that the postal workers strike is their fight as well. All public sector workers are facing massive attacks either now or in the future.

Strikes are already taking place around the country, such as Leeds bin workers who have been on all out strike for eight weeks.

Fire fighters are also taking action in Yorkshire, Essex, Merseyside and London.

Bus workers are on strike in south Yorkshire.

A clear call to unite the struggles by the CWU leadership would in our opinion receive widespread support.

The union should organise city wide rallies and demos with a call to all unions to join in and back them. At these rallies the union leaders should call for solidarity action by all workers the next time the postal strikes take.

It is increasingly clear that if the bosses still prevaricate then sooner rather than later the union should prepare the members for an all out strike that will force the bosses to retreat. We cannot allow the bosses any longer to dictate the pace of events. They should be left in no doubt that we will not have another 2007-type deal that is used by the bosses to bully and intimidate workers as individuals that after all is why we are in a union.
The Socialist Party calls for:

- CWU to demand support from the whole trade union movement if Royal Mail try to break the strikes with scabs.
- No more “modernisation” deals - end the attacks once and for all.
- Defend all jobs, pensions and conditions.
- No to increased workloads.
- Defend the union, defend the reps.
- Bring back ‘in house’ all previously privatised work.
- For a united fight to defend public services across all public sector trade unions.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Mainstream Politics and Disengagement

Today our first year politics students had an audience with local Labour politician and American Politics lecturer, Michael Tappin (pictured). Ostensibly his talk was about disenchantment with politics but inevitably it turned to his career as a mainstream Labour representative.

Mike began with a potted biography of his career. He was first elected as a councillor in Newcastle-U-Lyme in 1980 and sat for four years. In '81 he was elected to Staffs County Council and remained there for the next 16 years. From '94-'99 he was Labour MEP for the Staffs West and Congleton European constituency. From 2004-8 he represented Blurton on Stoke City Council, leading the Labour group in his final year before losing his seat. In addition he chaired Stoke South Primary Care Trust from 01-06 and is currently a member of the so-called transition board charged with implementing the recent
governance commission report for restructuring local government in the Potteries.

Over the course of his career there has been a marked decline in political participation (defined as voting). For example, the turnout for the 1979 general election was 76 per cent. By 2005 it had declined to 61 per cent, and fell to 34.7 per cent for this year's European elections (though, it should be worth noting, turnout tends to be much lower for 'second order' elections). For Mike there are a number of reasons for this. First is the growing fragmentation of Britain's (Westminster) two-and-a-half party system, first in its geographical peripheries (Scotland, Wales) and then in England itself with the emergence of the three main minor parties - UKIP, the BNP and Greens. The causes of declining participation and fragmentation is bound up with the disintegration of deference, which in turn was an effect of the class relationships that predominated before 1979. For example, in Stoke communities were concentrated the pits and pot banks. As the industries closed class relationships began to change, dispersing the relatively cohesive collectives they called into being.

Other long term processes were at work too. The hype around globalisation has created the impression that governmental powers have been dissolved by immense global forces beyond the reach of government - so what's the point in voting if politicians can't change anything? There's also the perception politicians are all corrupt and on the make, are socially different from the electorate (many 'younger' MPs and PPCs have gone straight from university to a career in wonkland, and from there to parliament). Finally the insatiable maw of 24/7 news has done a great deal to undermine the control parties have over their message, and the pervasiveness of celebrity culture has successfully supplanted politics, partly because it appears more relevant to many people than the rarefied goings ons in Westminster.

Having diagnosed the many ills of mainstream politics it then moved on to a Q&A session, which revolved around two points. One of these was his career. Asked about his record and what he thought he'd achieved in his five years as a MEP, he listed keeping Indian and Chinese ceramics out of the European market for five years, retaining the back stamp on pottery and securing funding for reemployment in North Staffs.

The other was the party and electoral system. Mike admitted he was unfashionable but believed the present winner takes all system (modified with transferable votes if no one scores the 50 per cent plus one) is the best of all possible worlds. He believes in "the smack of firm government" and argued you trade off effective government as a system becomes more proportional. This is not a boon for democracy as such because the subsequent horse trading that builds coalitions is between political elites. It is no more participatory than the Westminster system. As for the two party system itself, it will only survive if it appeals to the broad spectrum of mainstream opinion.

As I was wearing my sessional tutor hat (and not being a student) I didn't get stuck in, though if I had I wouldn't have gone down the route of 'isn't it time for a new workers' party' point scoring. Instead I'd have asked if Mike believed the neoliberal consensus had turned millions of people off from politics, and if so what sort of politics could begin to address the disconnect? That he stuck to sociological arguments at the expense of political explanations for the crisis was quite telling. How can we expect mainstream politics to change if it can't even look at its failings in a mirror?

Sunday 25 October 2009

Come to Socialism 2009

Good grief, Socialism 2009 is almost upon us! For readers unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the Socialist Party's calendar, Socialism is our annual weekend educational school/rally. It affords an opportunity for comrades to get stuck into a number of tightly focused sessions on a variety of topics (examples here and here) and get up to some general tomfoolery too.

Looking at how things have gone for the SP this year, Socialism 09 promises to be the biggest event yet. We have not one but three union general secretaries speaking at Saturday night's Rally for Socialism - the POA's (and SP member)
Brian Caton, Matt Wrack of the fire brigade's union, and the RMT's Bob Crow. In addition the Irish Socialist Party's MEP, Joe Higgins and SP general secretary, Peter Taaffe will speak. And yes, without a doubt, it will be wrapped up in the traditional way.

Unfortunately this will be the first Socialism I've missed since my first in 2005. It's a shame because there's more than a few sessions I fancy. On the Saturday afternoon I probably would have headed to 'Britain after the general election', which will be discussing what we can expect from an incoming Tory government. Sunday morning would be a toss up between the forum on capitalism in crisis and the session on Sri Lanka. And for the final one in the afternoon it has to be the discussion on working class political representation with ourselves, the Greens, the RMT, Respect, the LRC and the SWP. I am an inveterate sectarian so what do you expect? Chances are our friends the International Bolshevik Tendency will be running a fringe meeting (see
this, for example). If I was a betting man I'd wager they'll be denouncing us for accepting Brian Caton as a member. Shame the only folk who'll turn up will be their erstwhile comrades from the Spartacist League.

Just because I won't be going doesn't mean this blog will be a Socialism-free zone. I've got a couple of comrades who've pledged to guess blog a couple of sessions for me. But I want more! If you're going and fancy a stab writing about a talk/discussion, your overall impressions, the socialist party at the Saint Aloysius Social Club and what not, drop me a line.

Socialism 2009 takes place over the weekend of November 7th and 8th. Get your tickets
here and come along!

Saturday 24 October 2009


I'm not feeling particularly inspired at the moment so here's something I did earlier with Kit from The Polemical Report. This AFAIK is the first in a series of interviews with bloggers the comrade hopes to run. I'm fully aware it is indecent virtual vanity to feature an interview with me on my own blog, but it's certainly no worse than bloggers tweeting when their next TV or radio appearance is going to be. I don't know if readers will get anything from it, but isn't that the risk us bloggers take whenever we post something up?

Yes, that is my Blogger and Twitter pic. And yes, I really do look like that.

Who are you?

I’m Phil BC, a PhD student living in Stoke-on-Trent. I became interested in politics at junior school, and have moved from the right to the left in the 22 years since. I’m a trade unionist and a member of the
Socialist Party.

Briefly explain your blog

Officially: Sociology with a Militant Twist. Unofficially? An opportunity to mouth off on whatever issues that take my fancy.

Why did you start, & what keeps you motivated?

From the start I originally intended the blog to be more academic and sociological, but very quickly the focus became political. Prior to blogging I used to regularly contribute to the discussion list I founded, the
UK Left Network, so I was already in the habit of screaming my opinions into cyberspace. It was inevitable my blog would be more of the same – though hopefully more structured and coherent.

How I keep myself motivated? It’s difficult to say. Once you start writing regularly you feel a desire to keep going, especially if it’s bound up in your real world political activity in some way. If you stop for any length of time it’s much harder to get restarted – as I found out when I lost interest for a few months in 2007.

What are your thoughts on the role of biographical details informing how blogs are read?

I’m not sure about this myself. Does anyone read Guido because ‘He’s Guido’, or does he attract audiences because of the tittle-tattle he trades in? Not that you can entirely separate the two. I don’t know. Would any of my present readers migrate elsewhere if I dropped or changed my political affiliation? I haven’t a clue. I would hope not. Ultimately every blogger hopes they attract an audience because they find what’s written is interesting.

What inspires your blog? Do you have any blogging role models?

Political activity inspires my blogging – the problems of developing a socialist critique and strategy appropriate to the present day animates most of what I do online. As for role models, I hope I won’t be embarrassing anyone! To name a few – Andy Newman of
Socialist Unity, Louise at HarpyMarx, Dave’s Part, Splintered Sunrise, Jim at The Daily (Maybe), Stroppy at Stroppyblog, Dave and Paul at Though Cowards Flinch – all of their writing is spot on in different ways. If I could write as well I’d be chuffed!

If your blog didn’t exist, which other blogs would fill the gap?

Tough question! When I started there were no Socialist Party bloggers I was aware of and now there are loads. I’m sure they would have filled the SP’s gap in the far left blogging firmament. On the strategic thinking side of things the excellent Though Cowards Flinch follows a fairly similar trajectory as I do.
The Third Estate also does some good thinking outside the box.

What are you views on blogger tools (e.g. google analytics, zemanta, etc.) and are there any that you recommend?

I don’t use too many – I’m still too paralysed by what Eddie Izzard calls ‘techno-fear’, despite being an internet user for 14 years. I use
statcounter and that’s it. Once my PhD is done I have a few plans for the site, but they’ll have to wait until then.

What are your thoughts regarding the popularity of particular posts? Are you ever surprised by what people find of interest (or don’t)?

It never ceases to amaze me how some searches end up on the blog, particularly those looking for pictures of women’s body parts! It’s always interesting to see posts detailing the minutiae of small far left parties attract more attention than say an analysis of the predicament of the Labour party or a look at a piece of research. Interesting but not surprising – debates on the merits or otherwise of competing left groups always exercised the bulk of posts in the UK Left Network’s heyday.

Who do you write for? Do you have a target reader? If not, How do you decide what does & does not need explaining?

I guess my primary audiences are Marxists and other passing left-wingers. Occasionally I do write for a broader audience and that sometimes gets picked up and highlighted by bigger blogs. There’s also a small number of academics who pop by from time to time. So when I write a post I have a good idea of who’s going to read it, and from there I set the level of assumed knowledge. Even if I’m writing about something complex I try and keep it readable (either explaining or linking to explanations of technical terms as I go along). See the recent postings of my old
Masters’ dissertation or last winter’s reading of Georg Lukacs’ History and Class Consciousness for example.

Do you set yourself any format restrictions (e.g. length, tone, style)?

I’m very aware of TL;DR! Though it varies - 1,500 words tends to be my maximum. I also always write in Arial. Style varies from piece to piece – it usually depends on the literary merits of what I’m reading at that moment!

Since you began blogging, have you noticed any significant changes in the blogosphere?

Yes, blog designs are much better! There’s more of an intersection between blogging and other social media. Blogs are taken a bit more seriously by the political commentariat. Overall quality of left wing blogging has improved and there’s more of us about.

Is there any advice that you would like to offer to other bloggers?

If blogging is an adjunct to your political activity then you’ll never run out of things to write on. Also just ignore or ban any trolls you attract. They can be the most awful time thieves.

Anything else to add?

Thanks for interviewing me!


Thursday 22 October 2009

Nine More Questions for Nick Griffin

In addition to Sunny Handal's 20 Questions We Should Ask the BNP, here are nine more that have come my way via Urban 75. Whereas Sunny's questions were addressed to the BNP's thinly-concealed fascism these take the BNP up on their record.

1. Why has the BNP consistently (Stoke, Burnley Pendle) voted for above-inflation increases in council taxation, despite its claims against council tax increases and property-based council tax in general?

2. Why did Broxbourne BNP vote to block free bus passes for pensioners against their pledge that "pensioners should get free bus passes"?

3. Why did Halifax BNP councillors in abstain from voting to block the closure of a primary school in Mixenden despite election literature promising to defend all primary schools in the area.

4. Why did BNP in Kirklees agree to council service cuts in Sep 2009 declaring "a lot of the silly posts can disappear. I've always advocated that you get rid of 25% of council staff and no-one would notice. We won't be able to guarantee early retirement and gold-plated pensions."?

5. You, Griffin, have expelled certain BNP members for their political actions (including ex-Conservative BNP councillor Geoff Wallace in Halifax for supporting greenbelt housing) but not those who have implemented these above actions which harm the majority whose interests you claim to further. Why is there this discrepancy?

6. Why did you oppose the firefighters' strike of 2002-2003, asserting that firefighters should not have the right to withdraw their labour to renegotiate terms and conditions of work? You declared firefighters "must be placed on the same level as military personnel and police officers and ... forego their ambiguous position of using strike action". Do you still agree with it?

7. Why did Stoke BNP exonerate chief executive Wayne Nutbeen for closing (in 2005) Royal Doulton's last factories. Nutbeen's explanation was the "company isn't owned by Stoke-on-Trent. It is owned by the shareholders. The board has to ensure it does right by them".

8. Why has Stoke BNP agreed to budgets (2004, 2005, 2007) that cut social spending including Citizen's Advice Bureaus, old people's services?

9. Which aspects of the "national good" in "Oriental countries" would you emulate in Britain first - a 2000% increase in work-related suicides, mass dismissals of workers for attending anti-government meetings or homeless nomad families working in low-wage sectors? (Your manifesto (2009) claimed "Oriental countries such as Japan, South Korea and Singapore have managed their economies to combine private enterprise competition with the national good, and these are the models the BNP would emulate.")

Also at Socialist Unity.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Roots of the Recession

A couple of weeks ago Keele was treated to the inaugural professorial lecture of Bülent Gökay. Having attended a number of his thought-provoking lectures over the years (including this one on peak oil), I thought it would be relevant to my interests, and so it proved. Bülent's paper, 'Tectonic Shifts and Systemic Faultlines: A Historical Perspective on the 2008-9 World Economic Crisis' was written from the perspective of the heavily Marxian-influenced world systems approach and set out to make sense of the present crisis. Is it the case the crazy actions of rogue bankers were to blame, or is there something deeper going on?

Unlike those that have gone before, the present economic crisis stands unique in the speed at which it happened and how no corner of the globe has remained untouched. However, as far as Bülent was concerned most mainstream commentators are at a loss to explain why it happened (see, for example, Alan Greenspan in the BBC's The Love of Money - with his theories in shreds he is forced to blame the crisis on that hoary old canard, human nature).

For those that go beyond essentialist arguments, one needs to look at the processes and longer-term historic trends that are involved. Most immediate, of course, was a boom driven by credit, overlaid with sophisticated speculative financial instruments and the fact economic decision-making happens away from the public gaze and in secret away from the eyes of competitors. Exacerbating and causing this overheating of the global economy were the policies of successive US administrations. As the world's hegemonic power and economic policeman, through the World Bank, IMF and direct aid it encouraged global deregulation and speculative, unproductive economic activity. In so doing capital became almost footloose and seemingly able to roam the world at will, seeking out the most profitable opportunities. This way national economies overlapped and enmeshed with one another at ever greater speed. So when it started unravelling and plunged the world into deep crisis not only were all the failings of neoliberal globalisation exposed, the crisis represented a challenge to the US's leadership.

In many ways this is a crisis made in America. Sub-prime lending, which is widely blamed as the trigger for the crisis was an exceedingly speculative activity. Lending mortgages at (initially) extremely low interest rates on repayments and without the need for a down payment proved attractive to many working class Americans. The lenders naively assumed that once the higher rates kicked in, larger repayments could be met by ever increasing incomes and/or the climbing house prices. Lenders believed this was the chance for risk-free profit, and so did many others, which was why investment banks like Lehman's funneled massive funds into this sector. The other side to this was the US's decline as a manufacturing power. With US-led overseas restructuring via the World Bank and IMF it became easier for capital to uproot plant and transport it half way round the world to churn out goods at a fraction of the labour costs of the home market. But in that market itself, with a drying up of profitable productive uses to which capital could be put, fiddles like sub-prime mortgages seemed like a good outlet.

There's no need to repeat the rest of the story. But there is a danger the crisis might, at some point in the future, repeat itself. The only lesson seemingly taken on board by governments, policy wonks, bankers and economists is the need for more regulation. It goes deeper than this, it was a crisis of the structural changes inaugurated by neoliberalism that encouraged particular kinds of economic behaviours, rather than reckless actions per se. However, the powers that be have stuck with subjective Greenspan-style "explanations" because it suits them to do so. None of them would dare admit the economic policies they foisted on the world these last 30 years have been wasteful, irresponsible and extremely damaging.

For Bülent the present crisis is an outcome of ongoing tectonic structural changes. On the one hand there has been the growth of finance at the expense of manufacturing, and on the other has been the loss of US power and the rise of alternative centres of capital accumulation.

Turning first to finance, in the West and particularly Britain and the US, the switch to the economic dominance of finance capital was rooted in their response to the falling rate of profit. Up until the late 1960s capitalism was booming as it basked in the high water mark of manufacturing. The ratio of profit to (productive) capital investment increased and economies expanded, fuelling full employment and the expansion of welfare states. From the late 60s the tendency for the rate of profit to fall reasserted itself. Rather than being locked into a long-term decline, UK and US capital looked for a way out. The election of Thatcher and Reagan saw them undertake attacks on labour movements and welfare, The resulting restrictive labour laws allowed capital to hold down or cut wages while increasing working hours. Governments attacked welfare spending to fund tax cuts on profits. Privatisation of state assets allowed for new accumulation opportunities. And overseas, weak developing economies were laid open to the predations of Western capital. Productivity rose but real wages lagged well behind. The proportion of wealth coming to workers stopped growing and went into reverse. Widening inequality gaps became the order of the day. Credit assumed an ever greater role in the economy and managed to lubricate the wheels of capitalism, but they could only delay and not stop them from coming off. But at least for a period mega profits poured into the coffers of the wealthy and super rich.

The second point is hegemonic. After the end of the Second World War, the devastation inflicted on the metropolitan centres of capital outside the US (Western Europe, Japan) meant they had no choice but to accept the restructuring of the global economy in America's interest. As they recovered under US leadership they became very effective competitors. While US profit rates were declining Japan and West Germany boomed. Relative economic decline however did not set in until the end of the Cold War, at which point the economies of south-east Asia took off in a rocket of state-directed development. China and India in particular are responsible for most of this growth, and not just because of their massive reserves of cheap labour. Not only are they workshops for the world, their internal markets are growing too. Presently China possesses the third largest domestic market. For Bülent this is the stirring of a new world order to come, one where the West is no longer hegemonic.

This is why the regulatory "solutions" proposed by Western politicians are clearly inadequate. No amount of regulation is going to alter the tectonic shift in capital accumulation toward the East. The uni-polar world of US dominance is rapidly becoming a thing of the past - the world is heading toward a multi-polar phase. And in the economies at the heart of the global crisis, governments are moving to cut public spending, and companies (even ones relatively untouched by the recession) are shedding jobs and freezing wages. Holding these down - in the absence of cheap credit - is storing up more trouble for the future.

In sum, I thought the talk was very interesting, but I have a couple of issues. First, Bülent talked about the present crisis as an economic and ideological crisis. Undoubtedly that is true - Greenspan's comments are echoed in New Labour's continued neoliberal habits of mind, albeit one that has been much toned down. The Tories on the other hand (and Republicans in America) cling on to the sinking neoliberal ship for want of anything else. But Bülent did not expand on the relationship between ideology and economics and how they reinforced each other through the 80s until recently. Second there is class struggle. Its importance is acknowledged as capital (aided and abetted by the state) took on and won battles with trade unions in America and Britain. This found short-termist answers to the tendency for the rate of profit to fall. But I think class struggle is the main missing actor in this narrative. Neoliberal deregulation and privatisation, and firms' ability to hold wages down while intensifying the rate of exploitation would have proven impossible had the key battles of the 1980s been won by labour movements. The credit bubble, the downgrading of manufacturing and today's economic crisis are the bitter fruits of what happened 20 or so years ago.

Will capital ride out the present crisis by successfully making the workers pay for it? Time, and struggle, will tell.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

BNP Members List Leaked - Again

To lose your membership list once is careless, but twice?

According to The Guardian, here's what we knew last night:
• The BNP had 11,560 members as of April this year, including one peer.

• The party appears to have benefited from a surge in female recruits – one in eight party members are now women.

• The highest concentrations of members are in Leicestershire, Lancashire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire
There have been rumours spinning out of the ether of an undercover BNP member sitting in the House of Lords. It is alleged Edwin Bramall is that peer. Readers might be interested to learn in 2006 Bramall was involved in a punch up with Greville Janner over reported anti-Israel remarks in the House.

Naturally the fat fuhrer, Nick Griffin is furious about the leak. "Those who are responsible for the latest attack will be tracked down and exposed" he thundered, while predicting the BNP would attract "waves of support" from sympathetic people. It's more likely there will be waves of revulsion from his own membership. Even the most knuckle-headed member must be asking how this leak could have happened again.

Some demographics from the new list to follow.

10:18 edit: 'Morus' points out in the comments below:

"Just to say we have effectively confirmed that it is not Edwin Baron Bramall who is a member. He is a respectable working peer, Field Marshall, and Knight of the Garter.

The BNP member is a man who styles himself "Lord Brian Bramhall" (notice different spelling).

The BNP members data matches that spelling of "Lord Bramhall" to a postcode. When you search on that postcode, you get this chap's genealogy website.

A version of that website database is here

Lines 37 & 38 confirm that the BNP member is this man, not the noble Baron.

If you could amend the post, that would be grand. We're trying to crush the rumour before it defames Baron Bramall."

10:35 edit: Unfortunately I haven't had the time to go through all the members' names and details. Still, the first 222 names on the list are a large enough sample likely to possess properties that are statistically significant. Of this group:

53 are described as 'activists'.

Only 39 are women.

Just seven appear to be under the age of 25.

Four live overseas (curiously, the member domiciled in the Philippines is described as an 'activist').

Three are ex-forces (excluding the Territorial army officer cadet). Interestingly there appears to be an active serviceman in the "intelligence corps".

12 of this sample live in Scotland, five in Wales and two in Northern Ireland.

Sunday 18 October 2009

What Are Trades Councils?

What is a trades council? When I first got involved in leftist politics comrades would occasionally mention brother or sister so-and-so had been to this mysteriously named body and had either passed a resolution or got some cash from its coffers. What puzzled me was why a business-sounding organisation would be willing to give money to obvious ne'er-do-wells. It wasn't until after I'd become a T&G shop steward that I found out what one was. Trades councils are basically your local version of the TUC to which affiliated trade union branches send delegates. They are bodies comprised of lay activists and their aim is to organise and coordinate cooperation among different trade unions - which is not always easy as some affiliates compete among themselves for recruits and recognition deals.

Brother S and I regularly attend the North Staffs Trades Council on behalf of Keele UCU. Typically the meeting is half about local struggles and campaigns, and half business (which is a big improvement on how they used to be). This week our monthly meet gave the floor to Tom Mellish, who occupies a policy role with the TUC proper as well as being chair of his local council in Lewisham. He spoke on trades councils and the labour movement.

He began with the good news. After the long years of decline, trade union membership has stabilised around the seven million mark. Since 1995 there have been 3,600 new union recognition agreements reach has given unions access to another 1.3 million workers. The macho image often associated with trade unionism lags behind reality as 51.2 per cent of trade union members are now women. But this all needs tempering with the recognition of some negative developments. Current membership growth is low as are new recognitions, and overall union density is low. Only 28 per cent of the work force are in a union, and just 36 per cent benefit from collective bargaining arrangements. The picture is even grimmer in private sector workplaces. Only 16.4 per cent of which are unionised and only eight per cent of firms have a density of 50 per cent plus - not a great base from which to influence industrial policy.

Despite this and the massive drop in numbers from the seventies, the trade union movement in Britain remains strong and are easily the largest campaigning organisations in terms of activists. But even unions and their membership need some convincing. In the 90s unions tried to reinvent themselves as employment insurance service providers. The so-called 'new unionism' saw unions offer holidays, insurance and credit cards. By and large these were not successful nor did they stymie declining memberships. Instead unions should stick to what they do - which is representing the interests of workers. To do this unions need clout: a larger activist base and membership. The legacy of the service model must also be shed: unions are about enabling workers to take action for themselves; not providing a layer of full timers who can be called in to do the representing for them.

Trades councils can help build unions through their independent campaigning activity. But some layers inside unions themselves find local TUCs "difficult". Whereas union full timers have definite objectives and are responsible to the rest of officialdom for their actions, trades councils are not. They are sometimes perceived as left-wing and oppositional. Furthermore trades councils recruitment of workers can be "problematic" because they lie outside existing membership growth strategies. Citing the example of one unemployed workers' centre, a case worker used to regularly recruit non-unionised workers to the relevant union. However the unions were far from appreciative - for them it meant their new recruit profile was fragmented. Extra resources would have to be expended organising these workers, who were often very isolated. Small wonder some elements of officialdom are sceptical.

Moving onto the discussion I asked how many trades councils there are across Britain, given its story has been one of folding councils and declining attendances. Much to my surprise Tom replied there are 134 registered for 2009, which is up from a low of 102 in 2002. It seems campaigning is the key to growing the numbers. Brothers S and J talked a bit about our recent visibility in a number of actions and strikes across the city - two public meetings on the post office, a presence on local posties' and lecturers' picket lines, involvement with anti-fascist and anti-academy campaigning. Our TUC is slowly but surely rebuilding is profile in the local labour movement - through Bro S thought we need a distinctive campaign that can make our name more widely known. Sister J suggested there are other things we can do beyond acting as recruitment sergeants for trade unions. We must remember that, generally speaking, our council is politically unrepresentative of affiliated members, which can compound any "isolation" TUCs have from the rest of the movement. Instead we need to get stuck into these wider issues, which can demonstrate to non-unionised workers the continued relevance of trade unionism. Trades councils can "bridge" trade unionism and issues beyond the workplace.

All in all this was quite a useful meeting. As we head into a situation where the government are taking a chainsaw to public services, the strength of trade unions are crucial to building a viable opposition. Trades councils can and will play a vital role liaising between unions at the local level and mobilising solidarity. If you're a lay trade unionist who wants to see a stronger and more unified labour movement, you can do worse than seeking your branch's delegation to your local trades council. If there isn't one in your locality but fancy setting one up, get in touch with your regional TUC
here. And if you're not in a union already, why not?

Image courtesy of
Brighton and Hove District Trades Council.

Friday 16 October 2009

Twitter Power Vs Media Power

It's been a good week online for progressive people. First we have the humiliating blogger/twitter-led take down of oil trading firm Trafigura and libel specialists Carter-Ruck. And today the Daily Mail online got turned over by Twitter for this scurrilous piece of homophobic garbage.

There's no real need to go into Jan Moir's disgusting character assassination of the late Stephen Gately (comprehensive fisks
here, here and here). But the reaction it provoked on Twitter has been even greater than the Trafigura/Carter-Ruck debacle. Why?

Stephen Gately was a well-liked celebrity no one had a bad word to say about. Moir's gleeful attack on his reputation when the man hasn't even been dead for a week was not only distasteful, but also a catastrophic misreading of the public mood.
The Mail might have got off had it been one of its usual targets like Katie Price, Pete Doherty or Amy Winehouse, but definitely not here.

Then there is the pronounced left-liberal bias among British tweeters, not in the least bit harmed by several popular Labour-supporting comedians commanding thousands upon thousands of followers. Such blatant homophobia coming from a hated and hateful right wing rag is never going to sit easy with this group.

Finally, unlike political or protest activity, the cost of making one's opinion felt or registering disgust is no more than the time it takes to type out 140 characters or less. The low bar of entry encourages engagement.

In both cases, it's as if Trafigura and Moir found an extremely sensitive spot in the liberal-left body politic and aggravated it with a venom-tipped pointy stick. Trafigura excited the anxiety over the erosion of democracy and freedom of speech by monied interests. Moir provoked the passive revulsion felt against the unimpeded flow of bigotry coming from
The Mail and its ilk.

But to become a trending topic that can force itself onto the mainstream news agenda a twitter storm appears to gather momentum by progressing through three stages.

Stage One - A number of "normal" users (usually bloggers and/or politicos with medium-sized followings) start tweeting about an issue, which in turn provokes reactions and retweets from others. Usually this gets an issue trending at the lower end of Twitter's trending topics.

Stage Two - The issue is picked up by mid-rank (in Twitter terms) comedians and celebrities, such as
Charlie Brooker, David Schneider and Graham Linehan, who retweet and spread it about a bit.

Stage Three -
Stephen Fry takes notice, which is brought to the notice of his 840,000+ followers. At that point it goes stratospheric.

To give an example of what a Fry retweet can do, by plugging the Enemies of Reason's post today Anton Vowl's traffic went up from an average of roughly 1,500 page views/day to
almost 34,000 (and that was four hours ago!). When this is coupled with calls to (internet-based) actions it can be quite potent.

And so it proved in
The Mail's case. The whirlwind of anti-Moir tweets fuelled hundreds of comments left beneath the article in question, most of them extremely critical. Later in the afternoon the website changed Moir's title from 'Why there was nothing natural about Stephen Gately's death' to the softer-sounding 'A strange, lonely and troubling death . . .' As if no one would have noticed. Next, following angry emails and tweets to Marks & Spencer their adverts were removed from the article. And the (toothless) Press Complaints Commission has been deluged with complaints. It's one of those nice twists of history that the chair of the PCC's editors' code of practice committee is none other than The Mail's editor, Paul Dacre.

Since then it's taken a slightly ugly turn. Rumours abound of Moir's address being bandied about on Twitter. It's one thing to organise a flash mob of Carter-Ruck's offices, it's quite another to implicitly threaten someone - despite their scummy beliefs.

Perhaps this will be a lesson learned by Moir and
The Mail. It was once said the media exercises power without responsibility. But social media and the rapid responses it enables are changing the rules of the game. Twitter is only one way social media is helping articulate and concentrate the diffuse anger and frustrations that exist out there. It brings right wing journalists and newspaper editors face to face with the disgust and opposition they stir up. And it's possible next time they over step the mark the mob won't just be confined to cyberspace. It might turn up on their doorsteps.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

Twitter vs Trafigura

Thanks to the ill-thought gagging order slapped on The Guardian last night, preventing the paper from reporting this, even the dogs in the street now know what question Newcastle-U-Lyme MP, Paul Farrelly, will be asking in the commons this Wednesday about the oil and energy trading firm Trafigura. What happened today will have media litigators and libel specialists worried.

When you're a company with something of a
checkered history you might not want your involvement with the dumping of toxic waste off the Ivory Coast appearing in a mass circulation newspaper. Hence Trafigura employing libel specialists Carter-Ruck to prevent The Graun following up their original story by reporting on Farrelly's parliamentary question.

Once bloggers (The Third Estate and Guido to name but two) got wind of the gagging order they turned to Wednesday's order book of parliamentary questions and simply blogged what they found there. This broke on Twitter last night and by this morning, the incredulity toward Carter-Ruck's and Trafigura's attempts to crap all over democratic process and cover up a ghastly crime off the West African coast had spectacularly backfired. Hundreds of thousands of people who wouldn't have heard of Trafigura otherwise read about the injunction on blogs and tweets and in turn retweeted them. One can only imagine the involuntary bowel movements at Carter-Ruck's offices. After lunch time it had become a joke and
The Graun got the gag lifted. I wonder if Trafigura will be asking for a refund?

But does this mean the mainstream media is dying on its feet, as some bloggers like Tory Bear
claim? Not really. No blog or alliance of bloggers would have been able to uncover the Trafigura/Ivory Coast story in the first place. A rare few might make a pretty penny from Google AdSense but it's hardly enough to finance the necessary field work and follow up. It still remains that with very few exceptions, when it comes to news reporting blogging is parasitical on the mainstream media.

Carter-Ruck and Trafigura were forced to back down because their injunction was about media management and perception. Their chosen battleground was always vulnerable to subversion because the internet cannot be gagged. As soon as something is let loose it can never be chased down, as last year's release of the BNP's membership list demonstrated. But outside of medialand, the impact Twitter can have on "real world" political processes has so far proven marginal. The use of it by activists in Iran and, to a lesser extent, Honduras, acutely embarrassed the respective regimes and mobilised a diffuse international
sympathy that helped keep the protests and actions in the public eye. But that is all. Likewise, remember Tory MEP Daniel Hannan running around the States this summer badmouthing the NHS? It was a total PR disaster for David Cameron as #welovethenhs attracted angry responses from Twitter users pissed off with his antics and those of the American hard right. There were bad headlines and Tory MPs scrambled to assure voters the NHS was safe in their hands. And yet the polls didn't move. Nothing really changed. And of course, sadly, the BNP remain very much with us.

Twitter and blogging have shown they can force certain items onto the news agenda. But by themselves they will not shape the consequences of bringing them to wider public scrutiny. That still depends on good old-fashioned political struggle for progressive outcomes.

Sunday 11 October 2009

Move Over Labour?

The German elections a fortnight ago brought a bit of cheer to the British left. Die Linke increased its representation in the Bundestag from 54 to 76 seats and secured 11.9 per cent of the national poll (up three per cent from 2005's 3.7 million to almost 4.8 million votes in the constituency and 4.1 to 5.1 million in the list vote). In the mean time the traditional party of the (West) German working class continued its historic decline. The SPD's vote tumbled over 11 per cent and lost 76 seats. Their decision to take part in Angela Merkel's grand coalition with the CDU/CSU has left them badly mauled - and rightly so.

What can socialists in Britain campaigning for a new left party take from these results, aside from a sense of satisfaction? Do Die Linke's results show that potential exists for a similar formation in Britain, as the
Socialist Party's Peter Taaffe argues? Yes and no.

Die Linke's results do not indicate a political space is opening up for a mass Marxist party. As Andy Newman
rightly argues, the success of Die Linke stems from presenting a traditional set of social democratic policies to the German electorate and appearing credible enough to deliver them. Prior to the banking bail out New Labour had spent the previous 13 years putting clear neoliberal water between it and Labourism. And now, when traditional Labourist policies are finding support among the wider electorate, the party will only countenance the weakest of social democratic measures. An 'old Labour' political space exists to Labour's left, and not a revolutionary Marxist one - no doubt to the disappointment of some ultra lefts who think we can substitute a revolutionary party for a broad new workers' party.

But the nature of this political space to Labour's left is extremely problematic. Again, Andy is right
to note minor parties' votes are likely to be squeezed (outside a few constituencies) as the mainstream of the labour movement swing behind Labour and right-wing voters return to the Tory fold.

Here is the problem. While Labour has travelled to the right since Blair became leader in 1994, the opening political space on the left has, despite everything, been smothered
organisationally by the party and the affiliated trade unions. Blair's calculation that Labour's trade union backers would support it come hell or high water, even when his and Brown's policies were kicking them in the teeth, has proven accurate. Even now with Unite apparently running the party there's little evidence of pro-trade union and pro-worker policies. When anger has risen pro-Labour elements of union bureaucracies have moved to diffuse it. Take Unison for example. Opposition to the wave of hospital cuts in 2006-7 was effectively derailed by the leadership's refusal to build a national campaign against the measures. Every time a motion to discuss disaffiliation has been submitted to conference it was ruled out of order. The result of this has tended to be disillusionment and apathy. More trade unionists have been turned off politics altogether rather than join the real but so far weak movement for a new left alternative. Fewer still are actively pushing their unions to "reclaim" Labour. For the time being, the custom and practice of bureaucratic inertia rules the day.

The political space is simultaneously open and closed. One can speculate what will happen to this after the next election. If Labour loses (as seems virtually certain), a stronger social democratic turn in response to the Tory cuts agenda is possible - even if only at the level of rhetoric. On the surface this would close what opportunities exist for socialists who want a new party, but then again maybe not. In Greece, the coalition of the radical left,
Syriza, founded in 2004, has grown in stature while the main party of the centre left, PASOK was in opposition. It is possible in the highly charged political atmosphere of outright trade union opposition to Tory cuts a new opportunity for the left may arise - especially as Labour has done its best to alienate all but the most committed and careerist among younger organised workers.

It all depends if the heirs apparent in Labour have learned the lessons of the Blair/Brown years and whether the unions are prepared to act more politically through the party's structures. If the answer to either is no, the political space for the left cannot be smothered forever. Either Labour accommodates it, or gives way to something else. What is it to be?

Saturday 10 October 2009

MPs' Second Jobs

Gordon Brown's damaged retina has been hitting the headlines this afternoon. So taken is the BBC with the prime minister's eyesight that it is currently the leading story on the website, pushing the latest MPs' expenses story off the front page. I'm sure the appearance of the PM's story after news many MPs will be forced to pay back unjustifiable expenses claims was entirely coincidental.

But there is another parliamentary storm looking to break: second jobs. While no taxpayers were harmed in the lining of MPs' pockets by private firms, they represent a corrosive set of pressures that have no place in any form of democratic governance. First off, big pay outs for consultancies and directorships are just plain unhealthy. How can MPs be expected to investigate and regulate the activities of companies if a chunk of them are on the pay roll as part-time advisors?

Second, it makes MPs even more remote from everyday life. Take
these examples from the Tory front bench. How can we be "all in it together" when some of these jokers "earn" tens of thousands for 12 days/year work? In the Tories' case, at least it has a function. This enables them to hobnob with their base in corporate boardrooms. But what about a certain West Midlands Labour MP who is paid in excess of £30,000 to fly twice a year to sunnier climes to provide "advice" about their specialist subject? Reportedly when challenged their reply was "Why would anyone object? It doesn't interfere with my parliamentary duties". Obviously this MP hasn't a clue their less-than-affluent constituents might care very much.

I'm not opposed to MPs having second jobs
per se, but the rules clearly need a steam clean.

Wednesday 7 October 2009

Marx and Foucault: Some Conclusions

The purpose of this series of articles was to investigate the significant divergences between Marx and Foucault in their treatment of power and the levels their methods operated on. It was then established that both Marx and Foucault would have to undergo some modification of their approaches if they were to be accommodated in the same theoretical framework. The preceding discussion demonstrated how this could be facilitated by Althusser.

Out of the ‘three Foucaults’ (i.e. the periodisation of Foucault's career into three phases - the archaeological, the genealogical, and the preoccupation with the self), the encounter was explored here at the level of genealogy because of the common ground shared by Foucault and Althusser, particularly where the rejection of metaphysics and (different) commitments to materialist social theory were concerned. It is also the genealogical Foucault who has had the widest ranging impact on contemporary social theory. The emphasis he places on the micro technologies of power and subject formation have helped provoke feminist debates around epistemology and ontology and has led to important contributions to the field of sexual difference. For example,
Judith Butler’s challenging but influential work on the discursive construction of sex. Therefore if Marxism is to meet the challenges of providing convincing and rigorous analyses of contemporary social processes, it needs to encounter this body of work. It is hoped the brief sketching out of the terms of a rapprochement between Foucault and Marx will help facilitate this.

The convergence discussed in the last chapter is by no means exhaustive or conclusive. Instead it should be viewed as the opening of a dialogue between the two perspectives. We have seen with Foucault’s how power inscribes the body, providing an account more sophisticated than top-down Marxist explanations of subject formation. We have also seen how beyond a certain level of abstraction Foucault has practically nothing to say, whereas Marxism does. By bridging the gap between the two, Althusser’s approach to social formations offers an avenue for the enrichment of Marxism, adding to the explanatory value of concepts like bio-power and power/knowledge.

The Marx-Foucault encounter is but one place where the explanatory capacity of materialist social theory can be renewed. Today it is a pastiche of different trends and theorists. In their own ways, each subject a particular facet(s) of late capitalist society to searching analysis and criticism and providing a greater or lesser number of insights about its operation. Given the potentiality of abstraction discussed in this paper, there is no reason why the recent innovations coming out of poststructuralist and non-poststructuralist social theory cannot be received by and built upon by a materialist sociology. Pursuing this is ambitious and tradition-wide in its scope. Its challenge is to produce new analysis while constantly interacting, engaging and critiquing the arguments and findings of competing schools of thought. It is hoped the encounter here between Marx and Foucault shows the Marxist tradition has enough theoretical resources to carry this programme through.

The whole contents of
Toward a Marxian/Foucauldian Encounter can be viewed here.

Monday 5 October 2009

Branch Meeting: Workers in Uniform

Without much fanfare, the 15th September edition of The Socialist announced Brian Caton, the militant general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, had joined the Socialist Party. Anticipating this will prove controversial to the SP's opponents on the far left, Stoke branch decided to hold a discussion to clarify the traditional Marxist position on the state, what attitude socialists should have to prison officers, the police and the army and whether they should be permitted to join a revolutionary socialist party.

Brother P began with setting out a thumbnail view of the classical Marxist position of the state. He said that despite there being a wide variety of state forms, capitalist states all have something in common - be they liberal democracies, dictatorships or theocracies. And this commonality is the existence of a repressive apparatus, what Engels famously called 'armed bodies of men' that exist to defend private property and property relations. Other functions, such as the army's "humanitarian" work or the police's 'policing' are, from this viewpoint, secondary to the real reason for their existence. To emphasise these points, P read out a quote from Trotsky's
History of the Russian Revolution:
Toward the police the crowd showed ferocious hatred. They routed the mounted police with whistles, stones and pieces of ice. In a totally different way the workers approached the soldiers ... The police are fierce, implacable, hated and hating foes. To win them over is out of the question.
Do those who wear the state's uniform have a place in the struggle for socialism? Do their occupations place them in irreconcilable antagonism with that struggle?

Brother J said that, like other workers, prison officers, the police and soldiers are selling their labour power in return for a wage. This means they can be open to similar pressures as anyone else. Brother A concurred. None of these arms of the state are homogenous, nor are they immune to being contaminated by the class struggle. In some ways their organisation can prove to be especially susceptible to them. For example, there are few institutions in capitalist society where class privilege and power is as clear cut as the army, and this is the case even among the more privileged elite units. For example, the Bolsheviks were able to split and win over the Cossacks during the Russian Revolution - despite their historically being Tsarism's battering ram against the people. Similarly, the police can be won over to class struggle politics. In 1918-19 the police strike on Merseyside so frightened the ruling class that they called the army out on to Liverpool's streets to confront them. P also noted it was the sympathetic chief of Helsinki's police who hid Lenin during the
July Days.

Clearly neither are a homogenous reactionary mass, and to pretend they are - especially at moments when their interests contradict those of the state (such as the recent debacle over police pensions, or the discontent over inadequate equipment in Afghanistan) - risks driving them further away from the labour movement and firming up their support for the state. A key objective for socialists to weaken them as a defence of bourgeois interests is to establish relationships and encourage fraternisation. Generally speaking the police would find it harder to spy on, harass and batter labour movement mobilisations if their representatives had to regularly sit down with them. Furthermore, in preparation for a future period when the system is thrown into general crisis and socialism is back on the agenda it's in the interests of the labour movement that the police and army do not stand in its way. To this end socialists call for the election of officers, the right to form independent trade unions, and the right to take strike action to
break them from their historic functions.

Brother G argued recent history of police deployment to pursue government's class struggle objectives demonstrated the uneveness of their character. It was not for nothing Thatcher drafted in police battalions from outside areas at the forefront of the miners' strike. Village coppers were too embedded in miners' communities to ever be effective as a means for repressing their families, friends and neighbours. Similarly A added the police already fraternise with a well-organised workforce everyday: the civilian back room staff you can find in any police station.

P returned to the theme of weakening the police as guarantors of capitalist property relations. He suggests no one joins the police because they want to protect the interests of the rich and powerful. While it is true some are little better than thugs in uniform, most join up out of a commitment to the ideology of the thin blue line. The SP's historic call for democratisation of the police is about limiting the purview of the police to their crime-fighting functions above high profile stunt busts and protecting the powers that be. Because it asks the police to live up to their official ideology, it's quite possible reforms and demands of this character could win support from within the force.

Rounding off the discussion, A added there is only one set of criteria that matters for any party member, and that's their commitment to building the party, the labour movement and fighting for socialism. If this is the case then membership is entirely justified, regardless of whether they're a copper, a soldier, or a screw.

Also, it turns out Medway SP were simultaneously having the same discussion. A report can be read

Saturday 3 October 2009

Minor Parties European Election Spending

The Electoral Commission have released campaign expenditure for parties who spent under £250,000 in the European elections. The full figures are available to view here.

There are two sets of figures that stick in my craw. The 153,236 votes (1.01%) cast for
No2EU came on the back of a campaign costing £118,326.

Socialist Labour Party won 173,115 votes (1.14%). And the cost of their campaign? £5,354.

Per vote, No2EU spent 77p and the SLP three pence(!) I'm lost for words.

Here are the figures for other left campaigns:

Scottish Socialist Party - 10,404 votes (0.07% - Scotland only), campaign cost £4,733 (45p/vote).

Socialist Party of Great Britain - 4,050 votes (0.03% - London only), campaign cost £3,760 (92p/vote).

New Anti-BNP Leaflet Hits the Streets

Members of North Staffs Against Racism and Fascism (NorSCARF) were out last weekend leafleting around Abbey Green ward in Stoke-on-Trent. For readers unfamiliar with the political topography of The Potteries, Abbey Green is one of two wards in the city (the other is Bentilee) where all three of its council seats are occupied by the BNP. NorSCARF has targeted the Abbey in this instance because two of the BNP's leading members sit as councillors here. As the Richard and Judy of the far right (or should that be Joseph and Magda?), Alby (pictured) and Ellie Walker are the friendly aryan faces of the fluffy, community-minded BNP (see here). And it just so happens at next year's council elections Alby is up for re-election. If the good people of the Abbey turf him out it would constitute a very heavy body blow to the BNP indeed.

Here is the text of the latest NorSCARF leaflet, with some comments on the end.
Abbey Green Matters - A NorSCARF Bulletin
BNP Oppose New Children's Centre

THREE BNP COUNCILLORS are opposing a new Sure Start Children's Centre at Hillside primary school and in the process are whipping up fears and misinformation.

The Sure Start centre will provide childcare, support for mothers and a baby clinic, and will join a growing list of successful Sure Start centres in the city.

The BNP is opposing the Children's Centre because they claim that mothers will be given drugs support. There are no plans for any drugs support at this centre or at any of the others around the city. But even if there were, surely helping people to come off drugs is sensible?

Not for the BNP. They would prefer to punish all local young mothers for reasons of political dogma.

The BNP have previously proposed cutting funding for the Citizens; Advice Bureau in case it benefits immigrants. They have also opposed new schools and even a new health centre.

It's about time we got rid of the BNP and got ourselves some councillors who will actually help local people.
Curfews, Long Skirts and Matrons: The BNP Policy for Women

SINGLE YOUNG MOTHERS should be refused any benefit and placed in homes run by matrons. That's the shocking motion to be discussed at the forthcoming BNP conference. It calls for these mothers to have "a curfew of approx 9pm, a dress code which states skirts must come to at least the knees and no cleavage to be on show. Failure to comply with the homes' rules will result in the mother being sent to prison, and the baby being taken into care".

This is just the latest BNP attack on women.

Last year a leading BNP organiser dismissed rape as "simply sex". "Women enjoy sex, so rape cannot be such a terrible physical ordeal", he wrote. "To suggest that rape, when conducted without violence, is a serious crime is like suggesting that force feeding a woman chocolate cake is a heinous offence. A woman would be more inconvenienced by having her handbag snatched".

The BNP do not believe that women should have an equal right to work. A leading BNP officer recently told the BBC that the answer to the recession was for women to give up work.

It is no surprise then that so many women reject the divisive and aggressive politics of the BNP.

To start off with this leaflet is much better than the standard "don't vote for nasty Nazis" fare pushed by
Unite Against Fascism and Britain's largest revolutionary socialist party. Years of churning out propaganda concentrating on Holocaust denial and the like has done little to resist the rising tide of BNP support, nor has it inspired enough voters in other parties to turn out. The approach here, combining a pertinent local issue and a (proposed) national policy exposes the BNP more effectively than UAF's moralistic appeals to people's better nature. It's no accident NorSCARF's new *political* approach owes more to its relationship with Searchlight than the SWP's anti-fascist front group. And I wouldn't be surprised if it goes down well in the Abbey. When I was last out canvassing round the ward there were a fair few young mums prepared to give the BNP a punt.

There are a few minor criticisms that can be made - bearing in mind NorSCARF is a broad anti-fascist organisation and not a simon pure socialist outfit. Firstly, it was perhaps unfortunate this leaflet went out shortly before Gordon Brown himself announced plans for (compulsory?) state supervision of 16-17 year old mums. Second, attacking the BNP for opposing new schools overlooks the fact a good chunk of the city are too - for the right reasons. The new schools in question are going to be the government's flagship
academy scheme. If the BNP see a bandwagon, they'll try their damnedest to jump on it. Lastly, the leaflet calls on voted to elect "councillors who will actually help local people". As Labour are best poised to win back Abbey Green, it's unfortunate their likely candidate is of the lowest calibre possible. See this, for example.

But in all NorSCARF are on the right track.

Friday 2 October 2009

Communist Party Split?

Readers will know the Communist Party of Britain has formally withdrawn from the talks around founding a successor organisation to No2EU. As opposed to being part of the coalition, at the next election the party has committed itself to standing its own candidates; supporting communist party members from overseas domiciled in Britain as part of their peace and socialism alliance; backing Respect, son of No2EU and other left challenges; and of course calling for a Labour vote as well.

For anyone reasonably acquainted with the Communist Party's politics the withdrawal come as much of a surprise. Since its foundation in 1988 the CPB have backed Labour at every election. The only exceptions have been the handful of occasions the comrades have stood their own candidates. In recent years it's been no secret a section of the party have been chafing against their historic auto-labourism. A section of the leadership were reportedly impressed with Respect, with an affiliation vote being narrowly defeated in 2007. And of course, the CPB was a core component of No2EU - the first time it had been part of a nationwide left challenge to Labour.

However, since the comrades' withdrawal from talks with the RMT, Socialist Party and Alliance for Green Socialism, unconfirmed rumours have reached me that trying to placate the auto-labourite and pro-left alternative wings have led to a split in the leadership. It would appear no less a figure than Rob Griffiths, the general secretary of the CPB, has resigned from the party over the decision to withdraw from the talks. Other leading figures are reportedly considering their positions also.

As I've said, this is an unconfirmed rumour and I'll post up more information when I've received it.

Also in other left regroupment news, the SWP has written to the core groups of son of No2EU and Respect about electoral cooperation. We may still yet see a viable left challenge emerge.

Saturday edit: A couple of interesting contributions from the Former Communists' forum:

"The official lines are all silent, nobody's talking. It seems Griffiths was rather pissed after the outcome of the EC meeting on sunday (that part's almost certainly true) and rumours are circulating that he's resigned (not impossible). There is certainly a large grouping around Griffiths' position.

In the end we'll know when either the official announcement of a new General Secretary being appointed goes out, or Griffiths and co. issue their call to arms to sympathisers or this whole rumour dies out and turns out to have had no merit."

"Some bits and bobs from the Former Communists\ forum:

"The official lines are all silent, nobody's talking. It seems Griffiths was rather pissed after the outcome of the EC meeting on sunday (that part's almost certainly true) and rumours are circulating that he's resigned (not impossible). There is certainly a large grouping around Griffiths' position.

In the end we'll know when either the official announcement of a new General Secretary being appointed goes out, or Griffiths and co. issue their call to arms to sympathisers or this whole rumour dies out and turns out to have had no merit."

"I've just heard an unconfirmed rumour that Griffiths, Haylett and their supporters intend to leave the CPB and set up a new organisation called the WCPB (which apparently stands for Worker Communist Party of Britain). Their intention is to affiliate with the RMT's new electoral platform and to try and wrest control of the Morning Star from the rump CPB."