Key political issues discussed and debated
Over the weekend of 26/27 June, in central London, hundreds of socialists, trade unionists and young people gathered to discuss and debate the key political issues of the day, hosted by the Socialist Party.
The US/UK-led war and occupation of Iraq has obviously cast a long shadow over politics, both internationally and domestically. But other social issues such as the government’s attacks on the public sector and the trade unions, racism and the rise of the far-right, the urgent need for new mass workers’ party to represent the interest of the working class, also demand attention. These issues and many more formed the agenda of socialism 2004.
There were three main rallies addressed by international socialists, human rights activists, leading trade unionists and Socialist Party members.
A summary of these rallies is reported below. socialistworld.net
The price of occupying Iraq – a world in turmoil
The first session of Socialism 2004 – The price of occupying Iraq – a world in turmoil – was hosted by the socialist.
Our editor CHRISTINE THOMAS explained how ordinary Iraqis are paying the price for war and occupation in Iraq with 100 civilians a week dying since April.
Workers in the US and Britain also pay the price through cuts, and through attacks on jobs, the welfare state and public services. In the socialist we report how workers and young people are fighting back and we put forward a socialist alternative to the horrors of capitalism – war, poverty, terror and environmental destruction.
TV viewers were shocked at pictures showing how the occupying forces tortured and abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Iraqi writer HAIFA ZANGANA, who experienced such abuses when she was jailed and tortured under Saddam Hussein’s regime, was the rally’s first speaker.
"While we’re talking," Haifa said, "US war planes are conducting about 140 sorties a day in continuous bombardment of Fallujah and other cities. The occupying forces are now "handing over sovereignty" which is just a change of labels. The occupying forces are moving from occupation to colonising under the mandate of the United Nations.
Recently, when over 1,000 Iraqis were killed in Fallujah, over half of them were women and children. They weren’t even allowed to bury their dead, the hospitals were closed and ambulances were not working.
In a wedding party massacre on the Syrian border, 40 people were killed and the coalition forces general said there was "no indication of wedding gifts at that party." Were people supposed to have a list registered at Harrods to be protected form bombardment?
Most of the people arrested by the occupying forces are innocent but 10,000 – 15,000 people have been kept in prison, with no-one being charged after 14 months of occupation, with no access to lawyers or their families, who have to queue outside prisons begging for news of their loved ones. Women prisoners have suffered rape.
The US’s main priority is controlling Iraq’s oil. The occupying forces claim that if they leave, there will be a civil war and we will start killing each other. They tell us we can’t rule ourselves. But this is wrong. History shows that the Iraqi people can find a solution to their problems.
Joao Batista – Babá
A BRAZILIAN MP from Para in the Amazon, JOAO BATISTA, ’Babá’, left, got a rousing reception. After the formerly left Workers Party (PT) moved dramatically to the right, and began attacking the working class, Baba and three other MPs voted against the attacks, leading to his expulsion from PT. Baba is now a founding member of Brazil’s new workers’ party SOL.
"About 40 million people out of 170 million Brazilians live in poverty, 20 million live on a monthly salary of less than $20. Many revolutionaries in Brazil want to destroy capitalism, the system which can’t solve the problems of poverty, even though some ’lefts’ think we can!
In Britain, workers suffered a laboratory experiment under Thatcher to impose a neo-liberal agenda. That has now been applied to the world’s poorest countries.
From 1964-1984 Brazil had a military-police dictatorship. In 1979 Lula, a metal worker, led the first strike against the dictatorship, paving the way for a new national trade union movement and in 1980 to the founding of PT.
The mass movement fought for direct presidential elections but the ’democratic’ presidents had the same policies as the old military regimes. Many activists were killed, but the struggles increased PT’s growth.
But after Lula fought the 1989 presidential elections and lost, he then decided to move purely to the electoral plane. When PT won in 2002, on a wave of anger at problems such as 20% unemployment, Lula moved even further right.
He agreed to all the IMF and World Bank demands to end ’debt’, appointed a former Bank of Boston president to the National Bank – in the last year repayment of interest has cost Brazil’s workers $50 billion while only $1.5 billion had come in from outside investment. The PT government attacked workers’ rights – on pensions especially. Three MPs opposed this.
Months later Lula turned armed police on a public sector workers’ rally in Brasilia. New laws such as a bankruptcy law hit working class people. 75 land workers were killed in 2003, threatened by landowners, many of whom are deputies supporting Lula’s government.
We want our new party with a clear socialist programme to become a focus of the struggle against neo-liberalism and capitalism. We are fighting to build our forces amongst the youth and to become a focus for opposition to international capitalism, Bush, Blair, the World Bank etc
SOCIALIST PARTY general secretary PETER TAAFFE explained that what happened in Brazil was typical of the betrayal by ex-leaders of the Social Democracy and of former Communist Parties.
These parties are now capitalist formations pure and simple whose leaders trade on their former radical credentials to carry through a vicious neo-liberal programme and attack working-class living standards.
Lula is a product of the mighty struggles of Brazil’s working class but now his party has cruelly betrayed that class, precisely when capitalism is showing its incapacity to solve working-class people’s problems. They are dragging humanity through endless war and into an abyss of poverty.
The world now sees unprecedented polarisation between rich and poor. The world’s ten richest people have a combined wealth of $266 billion, enough to meet all the UN’s health programmes while the 54 poorest countries with a combined population of 750 million people have seen a deterioration in their real living standards.
Those figures could be repeated in practically every country worldwide. In Eastern Europe, in 1989 workers were told that capitalism would lead to American living standards. Now the life expectancy of a male in Russia is just below that in India.
And the working class of countries such as Germany and the USA are under attack as the employers try to drive them down to the standards of Eastern Europe.
It breaks your heart to see on the streets of Latin America, young people forced to beg and scrape a living selling a few trinkets. These countries sold off Latin America’s resources to the banks and industries of the West to devastating effect.
In Britain June’s elections saw Labour getting its lowest vote for over 80 years. That’s largely because of the Iraq war. Before the war, our claims that Iraq would become another Vietnam were dismissed as fantasy. But there is now developing an inevitable national insurgency and resistance to a foreign oppressor.
In fact Iraq could bring far worse economic problems for the US than Vietnam. This time they expected to capture the country’s oil reserves but instead the price of oil is going up.
Politically they are supposedly giving ’sovereignty’ to Iraq’s politicians, who are seen as puppets. Now unfortunately there’s an extending circle of terror with gains for right-wing political Islam. The alternative we put forward is a socialist solution based on the interests of the working class and poor peasantry.
For all its horrors, this war is one more factor causing huge problems for the capitalist ruling class. One move we need, in Britain as well as Brazil, is the formation of a new mass workers’ party as a step towards building the forces of socialism.
No let up in the struggle for socialism
ROB WINDSOR, who chaired the final rally at socialism, wasn’t downhearted at losing his council election by just 16 votes, not least because he has received much support from local people.
Rob amused the audience by reading out a letter he received after the election from Stella Manzie, the chief executive of Coventry city council. In it she said: "No doubt I may see you on the council again in due course but in the meantime I am sure I will bump into you around the city. Possibly outside my office with a megaphone".
Rob suggested that under the new Tory-controlled council he would probably find himself inside the council offices with a megaphone and 200 supporters!
Rob is adamant that his part in the struggle to defend and advance the interests of the working class of the city will continue on or off the council.
But as Dave Nellist pointed out in the rally, the next elections are 101 weeks away and the campaign to get Rob re-elected has begun.
IN AN inspiring contribution Socialist Party member CHRIS BAUGH, newly elected assistant general secretary of the PCS civil servants’ union, showed how workers will join the trade unions if they’re motivated to do so by policies which fight for ordinary union members.
TOMMY SHERIDAN, one of six MPs from the Scottish Socialist Party in the Scottish Parliament, told the rally that Gordon Brown recently said he was prepared to spend "as much as it costs" on the war and occupation of Iraq. We should have the same ’as much as it costs’ attitude to social spending.
Miners’ strike rally
Participating in a "mini revolution"
SATURDAY EVENING’S rally marked the 20th anniversary of the miners’ strike. Former Yorkshire miner, PAUL MARSHALL, told the audience: "We all thought it would be a short-lived fight ending in a victory for us but after the ’battle of Orgreave’ it showed we were in for a long struggle."
Paul described the brutality of the police against the striking miners who were picketing the coking coal depot at Orgreave. "It was a terrifying experience. I saw the police go crazy, we were chased by horses and police dogs." Paul also related that the courts handed out harsh sentences against the striking miners, while the media piled-on the lies.
But it was also a time of great solidarity in the working class. "You shared your food, there was a great community spirit, everywhere we had political discussions", Paul emphasised. He paid tribute to the wider working class for their unremitting support, in particular, the heroic role played by the Women Against Pit Closures. "Workers internationally kept us going," he added
But when it came to the role of the Labour leaders at the time, Paul was scathing: "Neil Kinnock. He fled when he should have led."
Looking back Paul summed up the experience by saying: "The miners’ strike was my mini revolution. It was my bit of socialism."
A second front of workers’ struggle against the Thatcher government at that time was the struggle of the working class to support the programme of jobs, homes and services led by the Liverpool city council. A leading figure in that struggle was TONY MULHEARN a Liverpool city councillor and Militant supporter (the forerunner of the Socialist Party.) It was the ideas and methods of struggle put forward by Militant that maintained this mighty battle against the Tories when almost every other Labour-led council capitulated.
Tony recalled how they organised "some of the biggest workers’ demos in the history of Liverpool. The biggest was a 60,000-strong demo made up of council workers, Liverpool dockers who went on strike that day and the wider working class of the city."
This movement enraged the ruling class. "We were attacked from all quarters because we carried out our promised policies when we were elected." He described for instance, how Lord Chief Justice Lawton (a former Mosleyite Blackshirt) described the Liverpool councillors principled actions as "the pinnacle of political perversity".
Nonetheless, the campaign did secure extra funding for Liverpool but the councillors, despite no evidence of wrongdoing, were eventually dismissed from office. "We were framed up by the District Auditor", said Tony. But the stab in the back came from the Labour Party and trade union leaders. "One of the main criminals in all this was Neil Kinnock".
Kinnock’s speech at the 1985 Labour Party conference in Bournemouth undermined the councillors’ stand and unleashed a witch-hunt against socialists. The result is that today the reactionary Liberals run the City, the Labour Party is reduced to a rump, and the workforce has declined from 31,000 to 18,000. Looking back, Tony remained defiant. To loud applause he said: "Faced with the same situation, we’d go down that road again".
Challenging the rotten right-wing labour leaders was brought up to date when Socialist Party member MARTIN POWELL-DAVIES spoke. Martin was contesting the general secretary’s position in the National Union of Teachers (NUT) following the retirement of arch-right winger Doug McAvoy. Unlike McAvoy, Martin pledged not to take the £94,000 salary if elected. "How can he relate to the problems of a young teacher?", Martin demanded to know.
Martin’s campaign went under the slogan of: "Break with the past failures, time to start winning," which chimed with many teachers. But as Martin pointed out: "This isn’t only a slogan for the NUT, it’s a slogan for the whole union movement."
The final speaker was Socialist Party executive committee member KEN SMITH. Ken is the author of the newly published book on the lessons of the miners strike. (see advert page 11) Ken pointed out that several TV documentaries this year covered the miners’ strike from a defeatist perspective. But although the NUM was eventually defeated, 1984/85 was also a year of struggle and solidarity.
Ken explained that the ruling class represented by Thatcher set out to break the best organised section of the working class in order to restore the profits of British capitalism. Thatcher was only successful in attacking the NUM because of the failure of the trade union leaders prior to that struggle to defend other groups of workers. They then failed to delivering effective solidarity action during the miners’ strike. "Nonetheless", concluded Ken, "because of the heroic resistance of the miners Thatcher failed to destroy trade unionism and failed to destroy the ideas of socialism."
Building new mass workers’ parties
THE FINAL rally drew up a balance sheet on the recent local and European elections and, in particularly, the performances of the Socialist Party and the other left groups. It also addressed the critical task of how to develop a new, mass party of the working class as a left-wing alternative to Labour.
This is an issue which is relevant to the working class worldwide and so it was appropriate that Irish Socialist Party councillor, CLARE DALY, spoke first on the class struggles in Ireland; notably the campaign to scrap the Fianna Fail government’s unjust ’bin tax’, and how the Socialist Party in Ireland has played a pivotal role in this struggle.
Clare (who along with Socialist Party TD (MP) Joe Higgins was sentenced to one month’s jail for defying a court injunction not to participate in anti-bin tax activity), said that during the campaign: "The whole apparatus of the state, including the Gardai (police), the courts, the media and the establishment parties and politicians were all rolled out against the working class."
Clare explained how the Socialist Party’s campaigning methods and tactics of direct action meant the 70% non-payment of the tax at the start of the campaign held firm. These tactics included the blockading of bin trucks on the working-class estates. One truck was blocked in for three weeks!
The crucial period of the battle lasted six-eight weeks but support from the trade union leaders was too little and too late.
In the recent elections Sinn Féin (SF), which poses as radical party, benefited from not being tainted with the corruption of the establishment parties. However, while formally opposing the bin tax, SF played a minimal role in the campaign. The Socialist Party, unlike Sinn Féin, had few financial resources to fight the elections. Nonetheless, Clare reported that Mick Murphy, Socialist Party member and well-known bin tax fighter in Dublin, topped the poll to win a council seat in Tallaght ward, beating the SF candidate. "We doubled our council representatives to four and increased our vote. Significantly, for the first time we now have a councillor outside of Dublin."
In her contribution Socialist Party national campaigns organiser HANNAH SELL paid tribute to socialist fighters, Clare and Joe. "As their jailings shows, there are no material privileges for Socialist Party members who play a leading role in the struggles of the working class."
Hannah made it clear that, as socialists: "We stand in elections as part of the struggle to raise the political outlook of the working class to the need to change society, not as an end in itself."
And it’s urgent that we get rid of this capitalist system. Hannah pointed out that despite being the fourth richest country, one in five families regularly go hungry.
Hannah attacked the Blair government that was hell-bent on destroying public services through privatisation, which is dressed up as providing "choice". "New Labour in effect say they can’t afford to provide decent local hospitals but they can afford £4.2 million a day for the war in Iraq", she said.
Both Hannah and DAVE NELLIST in their contributions spoke of the elections as a snapshot of the mood of the working class and middle classes. The huge protest votes showed people’s enormous anger at Labour over the Iraq war and other issues but also anger at the other establishment parties.
Dave pointed out that it was Labour’s worst election result in over 80 years, with the governing party trailing the opposition parties in third place. The election reinforced the Socialist Party’s call that the trade unions and the left begin to organise a new party to represent the interests of the increasingly disenfranchised working class. Otherwise there is the danger that the far right will benefit; both the fascist BNP and the UKIP ("the BNP in blazers", as Dave called them).
Dave said that in Coventry where the Socialist Party polled 12% city-wide and secured two councillors, "Voting socialist in Coventry is no longer a ’protest vote’".
However, Respect (led by the Socialist Workers’ Party in alliance with the Muslim Association of Britain), didn’t present a socialist programme in its propaganda and failed to achieve the electoral breakthrough it had talked of. Although it polled strongly in east London and one or two urban areas where the Muslim electorate is most concentrated, nationally it only secured 1.7%. This is no better than its predecessor the Socialist Alliance and other left groups have secured in previous elections.
The political funding decisions of the RMT railworkers’ union and the firefighters’ union has resulted in placing these unions outside the Labour Party. Dave argued that they must use their new political freedom to begin the process of forming a new socialist alternative. The Socialist Party will play a key role in this process.