After a long period of relative quiet the British working class is reawakening with a vengeance.
Eighth CWI World Congress
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Reports from CWI sections in Canada, CIS and the Czech Republic on their party campaigns and activities over the last twelve months. These are edited versions of reports presented to the Eighth World Congress of the CWI, held in Belgium from 23-30 November. Over the next week, CWI Online will publish many more party building reports from all areas of the world. We urge all readers that agree with the ideas of the CWI to help us in the struggle for a socialist world. Join the CWI today!
CWI Online, 15 December 2002
England and Wales
Although media comparisons with the strike waves of the 1970s are exaggerated, we are nonetheless at the beginning of a new phase of struggle by the British working class. There have been a series of offensive pay strikes by different sections of public sector workers including London Underground workers, train drivers, London teachers, further education lecturers and local authority workers. At the time of writing the Fire Brigades Union is also threatening strike action over pay [the fire service workers subsequently went on strike twice since this report was written, but then the leadership went into negotiations under the auspices of ACAS].
Our party has been involved in all of these strikes. In some, such as the London teachers, we have played a vital role. We have raised the need to link the pay struggles together with a one-day public sector strike on pay.
Trade union work
We are in a far stronger position relative to the rest of the Left in the trade unions than was ever the case in the past. We have 11 members of 7 trade union executives. In some ways more importantly, we have a whole layer of branch secretaries and stewards who play a pivotal role in the unions at local level. We have 2 members on the RMT Regional Council. We are building a good base in the fire fighters and engineers unions.
Parallel with industrial developments has been the rapid growth of the anti-war movement. The demonstration on 28 September was 350,000+, the biggest anti-war demonstration ever in Britain, and the biggest radical demonstration of any kind for many decades. The demonstration was very mixed – it including groups of organised trade unionists (including left trade union leaders such as Bob Crow), delegations from the mosques, and a middle class ’peacenik’ layer. However, the majority of demonstrators were young people who had never done any political activity before and who had travelled to the demonstration independently.
We had the best intervention of any party, selling 2000 papers. We were the only group to use the slogan ’No War for Oil’ – which was extremely popular – with demonstrators pinning our leaflet to their chests. The war is still one of the main issues we are campaigning on.
We organise independent anti-war work. We also take part in the ’Stop the War Coalition’, which called the September 28 demonstration. At present there are not large fresh layers involved in the Coalition at local level. However, the Coalition has some authority because it organised the September 28 demo and the potential definitely exists for wider layers to become active in it if the anti-war movement grows.
Black and Asian work
We have a functioning national Black and Asian caucus. Recently it produced a special four-page paper supplement for the anti-war demo. 400 copies were sold.
Work amongst Women
For years we have carried out very good campaigning work and party education on this vital issue. Many more party comrades have realised the need for them to take more responsibility for organising the work. Two very successful national meetings have taken place this year.
In the elections in May 2002 our average vote increased. Even in areas where our vote was far from spectacular it was generally an increase on the last time we stood. We also fared well in comparison to others on the Left. Of the ten best socialist candidates six were Socialist Party members (including the top four.) On the negative side, despite almost doubling her vote, changes to the ward boundaries meant that Sam Dias narrowly missed being re-elected in Lewisham. However, we still the only organisation on the Left to have elected councillors. We now have four Socialist Party councillors.
The turnout to Socialism 2002 was slightly down on the previous year with 310 attending. However, this was partly due to appalling weather on the second day, which virtually shut down the whole British transport system! However, new people joined at the event and a large number of non-members attended. The mood was very positive. Most comrades thought it was an excellent event. It was also significant that Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the Communication Workers’ Union, spoke at our opening rally.
Winning new members
The improvement in the objective situation has resulted in a marked increase in the number of potential new members this autumn. We are strengthening of our cadre base, through the integration and development of a layer of highly political youth and workers.
Structures and finance
In the last year a number of new branches have been established in new areas in Worcestershire and Dorset. In addition the Teesside, the Stoke/Staffs, and the Kent branches have been greatly strengthened. In Coventry the number of branches have grown.
The National Committee has met four times. It is a very large body. It works well. We have also been striving to ensure that the EC and the Regional full-timer staff meet at least once between NC meetings. We are also striving to increase the number of full-timer party workers.
In the last year we have succeeded in increasing the income despite a number of comrades losing their jobs.
We have recruited many new members who are under the age of 26 this year so far. Most of these youth are higher education students or school students, though the number recruited also includes workers.
We are pushing the building of ISR. There are now ISR groups in quite a few areas of the country. A founding ISR conference for England and Wales is taking place on 23 November. The ISR campaigning work has mainly been against a war on Iraq. The ISR had a 200-strong contingent on the large 28 September anti-war demonstration. Anti-war ISR activities and stunts have taken place in several areas of the country.
We are also doing work to build Socialist Students in the universities. At the Freshers’ Fayres in October we recruited over 800 to Socialist Students and sold over 1100 papers. In this work we are campaigning against the war, but at the same time we cannot neglect the issue of tuition fees and the student grant, as there is still a lot of anger on this issue and a government review is in progress. We are aiming to have a good intervention on a national student demonstration on 4 December.
Our comrades in Youth Against Racism in Europe (YRE) have been active in two areas of the country: the Manchester/Lancashire region, following the winning of three council seats by the BNP last May, and recently in Stoke, where the BNP stood in a by-election. Around 250 attended the anti-BNP rally we initiated in Stoke. In addition to local work regular national YRE material is produced.
We have Socialist Party national youth and student meetings every 2-3 months, open to all young members, over a weekend each time. These play a role in education and also in organising the national work and taking decisions.
Attendance at these has varied from around 30 to 45. We are presently developing a national youth committee, which consists of young party members who are on the party national committee or who are invited to attend the national committee.
So progress is being made in our youth work – though the opportunities exist for it to be faster!
During the last two weeks [late November and early December – the CWI received this report following the World Congress- Editor.] CWI supporters in Finland have organised two public meeting in Oulu (the biggest city in Northern Finland). First there was one against the US’s planned war against Iraq and a second demonstrations in Copenhagen. Our CWI group built a good public profile by distributing posters and leaflets on meetings to schools and on the streets. No other Left group has done this in before in Oulu.
We hope to use this activity as the launch pad for an active anti-war youth campaign. We hope to build anti-war committees in different schools and to mobilise youth to anti-war meetings and demonstrations. Also we will bring some youth to participate in demonstrations in Copenhagen next month.
We are also going to put great importance on education of new comrades interested on socialism and the CWI. We will organise some meetings to discuss our politics.
An important task for us is to begin to publish much more socialist literature in Finnish.
Jari-Pekka Raitamaa, Oulu
The section in Germany was clearly strengthened over the last few years and has carried out successful campaigns and other work. This is the case for all areas of our work. From January 2000 we have grown in membership. In the same period we set up seven new branches. We also started political activity in ten areas where we were previously not present. The positive development can be seen in an increase of all three sources of our finances. The number of monthly papers sold and paid for grew dramatically. We also increased the number subscriptions. The attendance of our annual ’Socialism Days’ event increased from 230 in 2000 to 350 in 2001 and 450 in 2002.
We have sharply increased the number of publications we produce. Over the last two and a half years we have -amongst other material – produced a women’s programme, a pamphlet dealing with the SWP’s (IST) German section, a book on different authors and organisations of the anti-globalisation-movement, a book on the revolution and counter-revolution in the DDR, a translation of the CWI Cuba book, a translation of the CWI Online pamphlet on sustainable development, 25 re-prints of our centre-page articles as small pamphlets, a book on the Russian Revolution, an "ABC of building a branch", a pamphlet on the role of finances in a socialist party, a pamphlet on "are human beings ready for socialism?" (Along with the Austrian section).
We have launched a new website (www.sozialismus.info), with updates several times a week, which had 20,000 hits in its first month and 15,000 in October.
We increased our participation in the work of the CWI. German comrades undertook visits in Serbia, Spain, Italy, Poland, Austria, Ireland, Sweden, Greece, participated in the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, in the European Social Forum in Florence and all the international demonstrations in Europe over the last years (Prague, Gothenburg, Genoa, Brussels, Seville).
We were involved in many local campaigns including election campaigns for local councils, federal state parliaments and the general election. Locally we were involved in campaigns against cuts in education, privatisation of local housing companies, cuts in youth facilities (where we were able to organise youth strikes in Bremen and youth demonstrations in Stuttgart). In Berlin we organised a school students’ strike against the Afghanistan war with 5,000 school students participating.
We established International Resistance as an anti-capitalist and socialist youth organisation, which currently has branches in seven cities and has held two national meetings. We are involved in ATTAC Germany, which is the main organisation of the movement against capitalist globalisation with currently 10,000 members and branches in 150 cities. Inside ATTAC we are now trying to bring together a broad left current of different groups and individuals to fight for an anti-capitalist policy of ATTAC.
We have continued our trade union work with the opposition grouping "network for a fighting and democratic Verdi" in the public sector union and inside the broader grouping of trade union lefts. We also started local trade union caucuses of our comrades in a number of cities and the publication of a workplace bulletin of the "Network" specifically for Deutsche Telekom workers.
Objective and subjective reasons for successes
These successes were obviously partially due to a change in the objective situation – the disillusionment with the Social Democratic and Green government and the development of the movement against capitalist globalisation and against war in Germany. But they are also due to a correct orientation of the CWI section in Germany and a number of measures we have taken.
We understood, well in advance, the youth radicalisation and anticipated the development of the anti-capitalist mood and movement. Consequently we concentrated our work towards young people. We realised the new development that a new layer of young people were looking for our ideas. With the annual ’Socialism Days’ we have an attractive event for this layer. The move of the national centre to Berlin in 2000 was seen as a signal for a new period in the party. But we also improved some organisational things: we are planning longer in advance, we try to have more national campaign which involve the whole organisation, we have put resources into new areas and put a stronger emphasis on political education.
One of our main campaigns for the next months will be the campaign against the Iraq war. An anti-war movement is in its early stages in Germany. On October 26th there were many demonstrations and we were able to have a speaker for IR (which is connected to a School Students’ Against the War Committee) on the biggest demonstration in Berlin.
We expect the biggest youth radicalisation to develop once a war has started and prepare for that. We have set up anti-war-committees in schools and universities. We are preparing for youth strikes on ’Day X’ (the day the war starts). One main campaign will be for a national demonstration against the NATO summit in Munich on 8 February 2003.