Building the cwi in 2003 in Netherlands and New Zealand/Aotearoa
cwi international conference.
This report is taken from written contributions from cwi sections that were presented to the 21-26 November meeting of the International Executive Committee (IEC) of the cwi, held in Belgium. socialistworld.net cwi online.
Anti-war and anti-capitalism
The new Christian Democrats/Liberal-conservative government is pushing through the biggest package of cuts since WW2; in their own words: “dismantling the welfare state.”
As we anticipated, this has caused a huge discontent amongst wide layers of society against the government, including a big 25,000 strong demonstration in September. There has been a range of union actions – including some warning strikes. The opposition Social Democrats are suddenly posing themselves as being on the Left.
Offensief, the CWI in the Netherlands, had a brilliant intervention on the big anti-cuts demo in Amsterdam on 20 September. With help of Belgian comrades we were present with some 25 comrades. We handed out 4,000 leaflets and sold 210 papers. During the demo we walked in a clear block, wearing red plastic jackets with slogans on them, and we used a megaphone. We attracted attention. Because of our chanting and militant slogans people joined our lively bloc. Afterward the demo, we ran a busy stall and had a good public meeting with international speakers (from Belgium, Sweden and France) about the European wide struggle against cuts. It was a moral-boosting intervention.
See photos at http://www.offensief.demon.nl/verslag20sep.html
Apart from this, we have been present on many different protests and demonstrations in recent months, like the big international dockers’ strike in Rotterdam (see earlier reports on the CWI website). Five comrades participated in Rotterdam handing out leaflets in Dutch and English. One comrade was a speaker, representing railway workers’ union. He is also known as left-winger in the union. The Rotterdam comrades also leafleted the ’Harbour School’, where dock workers are trained, and on the morning of the strike succeeded in getting some students to join the action. We are still in contact with some of them.
We were also present at various union-organised protests and work stoppages during lunchtime events, like the one involving 2,000 Amsterdam council workers. We sold a few papers at these protests and most of the time comrades wore our party red jackets.
We also played our role in establishing local committees of Keer het Tij (‘Turn the Tide’ – the broad coalition against the cuts), including in Breda (through the local branch of the broad left Socialist Party where the two SP councillors are Offensief/CWI members), in Amsterdam and in Utrecht. In Utrecht one comrade was at the forefront of organising a small demo for the local committee against the cuts. His contact with some bus drivers proved to be very useful. At the demo we again had a good intervention and we were definitely the liveliest group.
In Rotterdam, comrades still play an important role in the local anti-war committee, which they helped to establish. The committee succeeded in February in mobilising over 1,000 school students, as a result of a comrade’s initiative to go for a school strike. The committee also organised recently, with help of our comrades, a public meeting on the occupation of Iraq.
After all these activities, we sold all copies of our paper. That has become very common in the past two years, but to sell 450 copies in just three weeks or so must be a record. The paper’s Editorial Board, newly elected at our last regular National Meeting, is producing a new paper.
In Breda, where the two local Socialist Party (SP-a broad left party) councillors are also Offensief members, we play an important role in the local SP branch. The leadership as a whole is more to the left than the SP nationally, the branch is more visible on the streets then most other branches, has monthly membership meetings, a solid political educational course, and online debates on their website (such as on the planned economy). This is at least partly because of our influence. The Breda SP branch organised, following the initiative of an Offensief comrade, a second "Socialism 2003", was held earlier this year. About 25 people attended, and topics discussed included, ‘What direction for the SP – reformism or revolution?’, ‘The Russian Revolution’, ‘Socialists & Art’, and ’Is football being taken over by commerce?’
We were present at this year’s SP national conference, with 7 comrades and some sympathisers. We sold 100 papers at the conference entrance and participated on discussions concerning internal democracy, and the need for grassroots campaigns, instead of only concentrating on media events and getting good results during elections.
In the Amsterdam SP branch our comrades, along with other lefts, played a pivotal role in the struggle for more democracy, political education and, in general, more influence for SP members. In the different parts of the city local sub-branches declared themselves in solidarity with our comrades and they wrote a joint statement about the need for different structures in the branch.
The SP leadership tried to stifle the debate, and used drastic measures to do this. Some of our comrades are Chairs of their local sub-branches, and make sure local members elect them. I was Chair of the Amsterdam South-East sub-branch (which has 180 SP members, with about 20 active in broadest sense, including 4 Offensief members). But I was suspended as Chair by the city leadership. Officially they said this was because of my membership of Offensief, but during the debate (in which the majority of the active members in the sub-branch supported me and attacked the undemocratic practices of the leadership); it turned out the leadership considered our sub-branch (and others) as a “rebel’ branches” that needed to be “disciplined”. It was clear our sub-branch, and my role in it, were seen as damaging for the authority of the leadership.
After this, several active, left wing SP members in different parts of the city became inactive or left the SP.
The Offensief membership is rising and we are through the ’glass ceiling’ in membership that confronted us in recent years.
New people are contacting us, mainly through the website, but sometimes through leaflets or our paper. At the moment, they join more because of our socialist ideas rather than because of our public work in the anti-cuts movement etc.
In Rotterdam a young working mother joined very recently. In Utrecht a longstanding independent socialist joined after contact with us for some time. A Swedish comrade (Matilda) moved for a year to study in the Netherlands. An SP member from Bolivian origin joined in Amsterdam after a meeting on socialist ideas.
We are still in touch with a variety of contacts, and in discussion with potential members, of which fortunately also a few in the south – not far from Breda. In Amsterdam and Rotterdam the branches are growing, which is reflected in our bigger presence at different struggles, and in Amsterdam we are now having regular paper sales in different parts of the city, again wearing the red jackets.
We were recently very lucky to establish contact with a committed group of very young school students in a town near to Amsterdam. They wrote an email to the US section to praise them for their work within the “heartland of capitalism”. We contacted the group, and stayed in close contact since. It seems most members of this young group (who consider themselves Marxists/socialists) are very sympathetic to us.
We started a Marxist educational course in Amsterdam. It will help make all members familiar to our ideas, draw in new people, and consolidate the members that joined most recently.
We are thinking of having a congress next year, and we will attend the Rosa Luxemburg demo in Berlin, in January, with some of the new comrades.
Since the CWI was established in New Zealand/Aotearoa in November 2002 we have operated under the name of Socialist Alternative.
During the months leading up to the US-led invasion of Iraq, when the anti-war movement is at its height, we were able to have some impact on the local political scene in Dunedin (a small university town in the South Island which has been the main base for CWI activities to date).
In March 2003 Steve Jolly made a visit from the Australian CWI section, which included a meeting with some contacts in Auckland. We were also able to organise two public meetings for him to speak at in Dunedin – one in the city and the other on the Otago University campus – which attracted a combined total of around 40 people. From this we gained people who were prepared to work alongside us in setting up a broad anti-war/anti-capitalist group in Dunedin, Youth Against War (YAW).
YAW functioned for a period of about two months until the end of April 2003 during which time a number of small-scale actions were organised. This included a high school student rally on Day X for which extensive leafleting of several major high schools was carried out although in the end, due to the timing of the initial US air strike against Baghdad (around 2.30pm NZ time), about 30 students made it into the centre of town for the action which was scheduled for 4.30pm.
A moderately successful street theatre action or “die-in” involving some 20 mainly high school students was also organised during the period of the US-led air and ground offensive. However plans for a YAW rally on May 1st were shelved after the fall of Baghdad led to a sudden drying up in the numbers of people attending YAW and Anti-war Coalition meetings (although in some of the larger NZ population centres anti-war activists were still able to continue holding protest rallies and marches against the subsequent occupation of Iraq by US and coalition forces).
We were able to continue to organise other public activities, such as stalls and paper sales down on the Otago University campus.
At the present point in time I am also in regular contact with a young comrade who was involved with the ISR in Germany – currently on a one year high school student exchange in NZ. During last weekend’s demonstration at outside the NZ Labour Party national conference in Christchurch we were able to meet up and she is also soon planning a visit to Dunedin.
The most promising opportunity at the moment from the perspective of building the forces of socialism in NZ is the possibility that at its upcoming national conference at the end of November the Alliance Party will decide to re-launch itself as an explicitly socialist party. While the Alliance is still a long way from representing a new mass workers’ party (in terms of both its membership and political programme) the involvement of some its leading activists at a grassroots level in initiatives like UNITE! – a community union organising among beneficiaries of state benefits and casual/low-paid workers –means that it could become a strong pole of attraction for militant workers and radicalised youth.
However, should the expected leftward shift in the Alliance’s political programme fail to materialise it should still be possible to find an audience in NZ/Aoteaora for the politics of revolutionary Marxism and in particular those of the CWI. There are many bread-and-butter issues like the Labour government’s new “get tough” approach to beneficiaries and the need to do something about the plight of an estimated 400,000 Kiwis who earn less than NZ$10 an hour. So, at the moment, in addition to my normal activities as a delegate in the National Distribution Union, I am working with some other local student and left-wing activists (some of whom also belong to the Alliance) in trying to set a Dunedin branch of the community union UNITE! In this regard it is immensely helpful to be able to point to the work of comrades in the Socialist Party in Melbourne who are currently involved in running a similar initiative. This I think is the greatest benefit of belonging to an international organisation like the CWI – you have the example and the experience of comrades in over 35 other countries around the world to fall back on.