Socialism 2005 - Rally and weekend school
The 800 people that attended the Socialist Party’s Rally for Socialism were united by their horror at what modern capitalism means for billions of people and their desire to change the world. By the end of the night they were also united in having been enthused and inspired by the event. Their enthusiasm took concrete form when a magnificent £27,861 was raised in financial collection.
Speakers included the cousins of Jean Charles de Menezes, Mark Serwotka general secretary of the civil servants’ union PCS, Matt Wrack general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, Joe Higgins, Socialist Party MP in Ireland and Peter Taaffe general secretary of the Socialist Party. As well as speakers there was film of workers in struggle in Pakistan, Brazil and Ireland.
Some of those who came were longer standing members of the Socialist Party, who found themselves re-invigorated. One member summed up the mood when she said: “It was definitely one of the best Socialist Party events I’ve been to and I came out feeling inspired and refreshed. If I wasn’t already a member, I’d definitely join right now.” Others were completely new to socialist ideas but came away convinced that the best way to fight to change the world was to join the Socialist Party. At least 28 people filled in Socialist Party join cards.
The Rally for Socialism was part of Socialism 2005, an annual weekend of discussion and debate hosted by the Socialist Party. In total over 900 attended this year’s event, more than double the number who attended last year. This is an indication of the growth in support for socialist ideas in general, and of the growth of the Socialist Party in particular. Many of those who came were young people who have been politicised in the anti-war movement and have found the answers to their questions about how to change society in the Socialist Party. Throughout the weekend there were 36 different discussions on debates on a wide range of issues – from music and science, to historical issues, to discussions on how we can fight to defend the NHS and public housing. Speakers include human rights lawyer Louise Christian, Derek Wall of the Green Party Executive and many more.
The weekend finished with two superb closing sessions. One – hosted by International Socialist Resistance and Socialist Students – had a wide range of speakers, all young, explaining how young people could ‘fight for their future’. The other rally launched the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party. Speakers included Yann Venier from the Socialist Party’s sister organisation in France – Gauche Revolutionnare, Janice Godrich President of the PCS and Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist.
Socialism 2005 was an event that concentrated on ideas, on discussion and debate. However, as Marx once said “philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point, however, is to change it”. Everyone who attended Socialism 2005 came away with an increased interest in socialist ideas (shown by the £1,400 worth of books that were sold), and more importantly, a determination to put them into practise.
A BUZZ filled the main hall at the Friends Meeting House as we began to pack in for the main Socialism 2005 rally – older members who had been part of the mass struggles of the 1970s and 80s and, in their hundreds, school students, college and university students, young workers. A new generation of fighters who want to change the world, who are looking for socialist ideas.
Ken Douglas, Socialist Party
“We’re angry” said Hannah Sell, national organiser of Socialism 2005. “Angry that 20,000 people die from poverty every day; angry at Bush and his murderous war in Iraq; angry that a collection of individuals own more wealth than three billion people on the planet.”
Big business thought they had seen the end of socialism with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s but as more and more workers enter struggle to defend their wages and conditions, then socialist ideas are arising again.
Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, national co-ordinator of International Socialist Resistance (ISR) described her experiences at the World Social Forum in Brazil and how ISR had tried to bring the culture and vivacity of Brazilian socialists to Britain. The red contingent of ISR and Socialist Students, the flags, the music, the chants mark them out on every demo, particularly the massive Make Poverty History demo in Edinburgh.
But young people aren’t joining us just because we’re the brightest and liveliest but because of our socialist ideas.
The young people who marched behind our Make Capitalism History banner in Edinburgh know that every aspect of their lives is under attack. A 16 year old on the minimum wage of £3 an hour would take 200,000 years to earn the same as Top Shop boss Philip Green! Climate change threatens our future while Exxon/Mobil make $110 million profit every day.
Nathan Aldridge, a member of Military Families Speak Out and Socialist Alternative (sister party of the Socialist Party in the US) explained how the anti-war movement is growing. With two brothers, one just back from Iraq and one in Afghanistan, he knows the brutal realities for US soldiers.
Up to 100,000 protesters participated in vigils over the summer to support Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, as she held her own vigil outside George Bush’s ranch, to ask him why her son had to die. Students have walked out of school to protest against the war and occupation.
The hall then rose to salute the family of Jean Charles de Menezes who was shot by police following the bomb attacks on 7/7. They spoke movingly about their determination to fight for the truth about his death and for justice. They thanked the Socialist Party for our support and Jean’s cousin added: “Tony Blair thinks that he rules the world, but compared to the people he is very small. You have to fight to the end, not just for dreams. Maybe this is a new beginning, to try and build a society where something like this doesn’t happen.”
“Workers must stand and fight together. If we can’t fight against capitalism then we can’t stand up. Fight together and bring socialism back.” This was the call from Harbinder Singh, one of the Gate Gourmet workers who are still fighting for their jobs and justice.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS civil servants union declared that he was proud that his union had led the fight back against Blair and Brown’s attacks on the public sector, where 104,000 workers were sacked on TV. PCS is one of the fastest-growing unions in Britain because it is prepared to stand up and fight for its members.The union was responsible for 48% of strikes in the last year - think what millions more workers could do to fight privatisation and war.
Trade union officials who don’t want to fight should get out and we have to ensure that the tide sweeps out these corrupt politicians who look after big business and stab workers in the back.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, which disaffiliated from the Labour Party in 2004, echoed the importance of socialist ideas - having the chance at a meeting like this to look up from the detail of union negotiations to the wider perspective of struggling for a socialist society.
No one could help but be inspired as the rally was shown film footage of Joe Higgins, Socialist Party TD (MP) in Ireland taking on the establishment in the Dail (Irish parliament) over the scandal of Turkish migrant workers employed by multinational company Gama.
Speaking at the rally in person, Joe described the huge vacuum that exists on the left. The situation internationally is crying out for a socialist lead.
Hurricane Katrina ripped away the cloak and exposed capitalism. The most powerful country there has ever been, able to send 700,000 soldiers halfway around the world to Iraq, was unable to rescue its own people in New Orleans.
Joe emphasised the need for socialist ideas to be taken out to all those who want to change the world and become a mighty force – preventing environmental catastrophe, abolishing poverty and war.
Sascha Stanicic general secretary of SAV (the Socialist Party’s sister party in Germany), echoed the need to build an international socialist workers’ organisation. He reported on the massive attacks that had been launched against the German workers, the formation of a new Left party, and the role of SAV in initiating a demo of 100,000 workers and you and winning councillors.
Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party, said how inspiring the rally had been, how every contribution had informed and showed a way forward.
He explained how Blair’s legacy would be a weakening and worsening of the conditions of the working class, the destruction of Fallujah, the shooting of Jean Charles, and 90 day detention without trial.
In the past Britain had been a haven for revolutionaries. Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky had all lived in exile here; now it is a haven for gangsters and privateers, like Russian billionaire Abramovich. The rich flaunt their wealth in the face of the working class because of the capitulation of the Labour and trade union leaders.
Victory could have been guaranteed at Gate Gourmet. Solidarity action, spread across Heathrow, would have smashed the opposition of the employers.
We have to build an alternative. Inequality is woven into the very fabric of capitalism – there is enough food for everyone but 800 million go to bed hungry every day. This is a system that doesn’t deserve to survive.
We have a program, a policy, an idea. Karl Marx said: “Once an idea captures the imagination of the working class it becomes a material force”.
We must build our party, open our doors but for every ten who would join us there are many more who would be ready to join a mass party. The Socialist Party are launching a campaign for a new workers’ party. We applaud and support Bob Crowe’s initiative for a conference towards building a mass alternative to New Labour.
The best layer of a generation are coming to join the struggle for socialism. We have held the line and now we can go forward and take on the greatest task in history, the liberation of humankind.
Film footage at the rally showed members of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), the socialist international to which the Socialist Party is affiliated, at the World Social Forum (WSF) in Brazil.
Another film showed the devastation wrought by the earthquake in Bagh in Kashmir and how the Trade Union Rights Campaign Pakistan, supported by the CWI, has delivered food and aid to the stricken area.
A brief history of the Socialist Party and its predecessor, Militant depicted the tremendous struggle of Liverpool city council against Thatcher’s Tory government, the 1984-85 miners strike and the million-strong Poll Tax non-payment campaign.
The Fighting Fund appeal at the rally raised a magnificent £27,614 – quadrupling the amount raised at Socialism 2004.
Jane James described the collection as a chance for some audience participation and the response was incredible.
The collection began with a tremendous donation of £8,000 from Steve Glennon in Stevenage who had inherited some money. A young student from Leicester gave £1,000 inherited from his nan “who was a proud socialist.”
Porters from Whipps Cross hospital in Walthamstow, London had clubbed together to donate £50. Danni, who is unwaged gave £5.
Some branches and regions had collected money from members and supporters to make group donations. Hackney branch donated £1,125, Lambeth £768.50, Tower Hamlets £725, Wales £2,695 and £700 from Mansfield and North Derbyshire.
Thanks also to Paula and Chris (who work for the London Party) who donated £250, Damhnett Kelly £1,000 and Oliver Campbell £5.
We are just sorry that we can only mention some of the donations because every one is immensely appreciated.
Thanks to all our members and supporters who contributed to the appeal. The tremendous result reflects the confidence and determination to struggle for socialism.
10% of the collection will be sent to the Trade Union Rights Campaign Pakistan to help trade unionists there to assist the earthquake survivors.
Linda Taaffe, a member of the national executive committee of the National Union of Teachers opened the packed final rally on the campaign for a new workers’ party. She introduced Janice Godrich, civil service union PCS president.
Alison Hill, Socialist Party
Janice explained that she was supporting the declaration because the PCS is in the front line of the battle against the government’s attack on the public sector.
She called for all young people to join a union and build a united struggle against the attacks on working class people.
Roger Bannister, a member of UNISON’s national executive, related how he had recently been asked by UNISON head office why his branch, Knowsley, had significantly increased its membership several times over the last few years.
“Strike action is the best recruiting sergeant” he explained and the person from head office seemed a bit surprised.
“Few national trade union leaders are really up to the task” he said. Many examples show this - the most notorious recently being the British Airways baggage handlers being sent back to work when they came out in solidarity with the Gate Gourmet workers.
“In the 1980s in Liverpool we picked up the banner of socialism and delivered a body blow to the Tory government. During the struggle against the poll tax in the 1990s, when many on the left, including the SWP, had abandoned non-payment, we picked it up and went forward to victory.
So now’s the time to pick up the banner of socialism again and build a new workers’ party.”
Tony Mulhearn, one of the 47 heroic Liverpool councillors who stood up to a vicious Tory government, introduced his speech underlining the degeneration of New Labour into neo-liberalism. This degeneration is summed up by David Blunkett’s demise - a man “who thinks it’s his good looks and charisma which makes him attractive to bourgeois women”.
“These people are the real Sultans of Bling” he said. “You can judge them by the company they keep - which inevitably has an effect on the policies they carry out.
He ended by explaining how in the 1980s, when supporters of the Militant had a huge influence in the city, the Liverpool District Labour Party (DLP) had policies about jobs, homes and services. But it also had a policy for the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy.
Then would have been a good time to launch a new workers’ party which could have kept the traditions of socialism and struggle alive through the subsequent years when New Labour was on the ascendant.
“Now the objective situation is rotten ripe for the establishment of a new party.”
Yann Venier from Gauche Revolutionnaire, the Socialist Party’s counterpart in France, spoke about the strike movement sweeping France and the recent riots in many cities. He explained how young people have every reason to be angry, even if they have chosen the wrong target to protest against.
They are facing unemployment and a government intent on cutting most of the social gains won by the working class. The measures are like those pursued by Thatcher in Britain - privatisation, cuts in social security and pensions, attacks on working conditions and wages, redundancies and the introduction of authoritarian laws.
The trade union leaders are trying to negotiate with the government but the government are not interested. A general strike is needed but the union leaders are actively blocking any attempts to build the struggle. When the sailors from nationalised ferry companies were struggling against privatisation, their leaders accepted partial privatisation. The CGT leaders were still trying to negotiate whilst the sailors were being attacked by the paramilitary state forces.
The political organisations of the left and the far left are no better. All they are doing is looking forward to the presidential elections in 2007.
The Gauche Revolutionnaire (GR) has a strong position in Rouen and when riots broke out there, GR were alone in arguing against the repressive measures and coming out in support of young people.
“We see the need for a combative programme against the government’s cuts - which links to the need for socialist change, ” Yann concluded.
“Britain has produced a generation of angry youth, it’s vital that we show them that there is something worth fighting for.” Frankie Langeland, ISR organiser in the Eastern region emphasise how young people may start discussing with us because they are against the war but then they find they agree with our ideas.
Ken Douglas, Socialist Party
Jim Thompson, Socialist Students organiser in Exeter mentioned just some of the campaigns we have organised. There was the campaign against ‘Miss DMU’ at DeMontfort university and unionising student workers, cuts in lecturers at Brunel, bus fares and library prices at Swansea university and against the devastation of Fallujah at Sussex university.
It shows that we’re not just a discussion group, that we fight on day to day issues and seek to link up with workers and trade unions wherever possible. Socialist Students have organised solidarity visits to PCS picket lines and lecturers strikes.
Mark Treude, SAV councillor in Aachen in Germany brought solidarity greetings and explained that he was the only councillor who had spoken out against privatisation and cuts at council meetings. After one meeting, workers had stayed behind to applaud him and he had persuaded one of them to begin to build opposition to the cuts in their trade union.
Nathan Aldridge from the US described the mass walkouts led by Youth against War and Racism in several cities.
Bush and Blair thought the invasion of Iraq would be easy but it is our analysis that has been proved correct, said Colin Wray. We have to continue to campaign for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and support the right to resist the occupation while opposing indiscriminate terrorism.
James Kerr stressed the importance of discussing socialist ideas. Many young people who first joined us because they were against the war and wanted to organise themselves and discuss politics. Many have now moved into the workplace, joining trade unions and fighting cuts, privatisation and attacks on pensions.
The inspiring G8 protests showed the power and anger of young people. Young members now have to take on the responsibility of leading, organising and building ISR. Youth are the future of society but they have to fight for that future, a scoialist future.
What they said
The weekend was fantastic, very uplifting and encouraging not to mention informative. There was so much going on, shame it had to be condensed into a weekend.
Also, the feeling that we are part of something progressive and radical rather than just a small detached group in the North West puts a different perspective on things. Anyway, I phoned my mum after the weekend and explained in detail what happened and how affected I was by it and, well, she might come herself next year!
Also, Jonathan Swift from Lancaster is now completely "sold" to socialism and this has given us real impetus to put together a fighting strategy for our area! Thanks for everything you did, especially in regards transport to make this possible.
Andrew, hospital worker, Kendal
Jon Swift from Lancaster, who joined at Socialism 2005, says "I had a top weekend. Eye-opening, inspiring, motivating... I look forward to changing the world!"
The new Kendal/Lancaster branch is launching a campaign against cuts to the A&E and mental health wards at Kendal hospital, as well as building at Lancaster University.
An outstanding weekend, well done to the comrades who organised it - it’s inspired and reinspired all comrades who attended with a fantastic turnout and excellent sessions.
Beth Baker and Martin Clements (PCS Bradford) "The rally was really quite inspiring - to see everybody in solidarity. The worst thing was having to choose which session to go to - there were so many good ones!"
Robbie Faulds (PCS Sheffield) "It was much better than I expected. Level of debate was very high. I wish it could have gone on for a couple of weeks!"
Iain Dalton (Huddersfield University Socialist Students) "Really enjoyed the input from the international comrades. You can read about it in the socialist, but it’s so much better to hear about it first hand."
Neil Jacques (new young member Wakefield) ""Getting together with socialists from all around the country gives you real hope for the future."
Nigel Poustie (Leeds SP) "Best thing was singing The Internationale - never done that before."
Ollie Paton (Sheffield University Socialist students) "Increased my knowledge. Answered quite a few questions I had. Made you want to go out and increase your activism."
Babs Hamilton (Huddersfield SP) "Wonderful weekend. Would have liked to go to all the talks. Highlight? Just being here, being free to think. Away from all the pressures of everyday life."
Vicky Perrin (Huddersfield SP) "Crèche was absolutely fantastic and made all the difference to me. Didn’t have to miss anything. Jake (my son) loved it, and he got two meals a day which was more than me!"
Abeer Ali Aljuhanay (new Sheffield SP member) "Brilliant. Very inspirational. It was not just talking about old socialism but about what’s happening now."
Special feature from The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales