Britain: ‘Socialism 2012′ an inspirational weekend

A socialist alternative to rotten, bankrupt capitalism

An inspirational weekend of socialist rallies, discussion and debate took place over the weekend 3-4 November, organised by the Socialist Party. Despite the fact that Socialist Party members were out in force just two weeks before for the national TUC 20 October anti-austerity demonstration, Socialism 2012 was very well attended with around 1,000 people taking part over the weekend.

Two large rallies took place in Friends Meeting House, Euston, on the Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon and there were three sets of smaller sessions giving an opportunity for everyone present to discuss and express points of view.

"Did nobody see this coming?" At the opening rally for Socialism 2012 Socialist Party general secretary Peter Taaffe quoted the Queen’s question in the aftermath of the immense banking and economic crisis. "No they didn’t" Peter explained, referring to the legion of economic commentators. "But we did."

In the wake of the worst crisis for over 80 years is mass and rising unemployment and mass poverty. Peter reminded us of the child who starved to death in Westminster while millions of tonnes of food go into landfills. "This shows the character of capitalism – a system based upon production for profit and not social need. It pays them to destroy food, profits maintained, and hold back industry."

As capitalism continues to face its worst crisis since the 1930s Cameron has claimed a ’recovery’. Peter challenged this saying the PM is "whistling in the dark as he waves the figures for 1% quarterly growth". "In fact Cameron has promised ten years of brutal austerity, of mass privatisation – the biggest in history – and mass unemployment, used, as Marx said, as the "reserve army" – holding down of wages while the cost of living skyrockets."

"Even if capitalism could stage a remarkable recovery", Peter warned, "it will be on the bones of the working class. Will the working class tolerate this? Absolutely not."

"We demand – the whole situation in Britain demands – at least a one-day strike. It will draw behind it all the oppressed layers – the youth denied job opportunities on slave or no wages, etc. It can draw in behind it the middle class – 30 shops are closing each day, 1,000 over the last six months with an avalanche of redundancies in the last week alone."

"But this cannot just be an industrial struggle – there is a crying need now for a new mass party of the working class… Five million voters, many of them workers, have abandoned Labour." Peter recounted how, in reality, New Labour prepared the ground for the Tories’ attacks – in driving through the privatisation of the NHS and introducing tuition fees.

Socialist alternative

Fran Heathcote, Department for Work and Pensions group president in the PCS civil service union, made the point in the Sunday rally that Labour was the instigator of enormous cuts in the civil service – even before the crisis.

Explaining what fuelled the militancy in her union and her department she explained that while £30 billion was being gouged out of the welfare budget by the Con-Dems, £30 billion had been awarded to the rich in tax breaks. "If", Fran explained, "the main political parties are incapable of standing for us, we need to do it ourselves."

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is valuable in standing election candidates in an attempt to build a political voice for workers. Steve Hedley, RMT assistant general secretary, spoke at the Sunday rally and reported on the big number of disputes RMT members are involved in as privatised transport means attacks on workers. The union officially supports TUSC because as Steve said: "the working class needs an alternative and socialists fighting for that alternative".

Speaking about the campaign to build a new mass workers’ party, Peter said that a clear programme will be vital. Syriza in Greece may create a ’left government’. But its leader Tsipras is not prepared to go the whole way – Xekinima, our sister party in Greece, pushes for this. But the programme we have campaigned around since the onset of the crisis: cancel the debt; nationalise the banks and commanding heights of the economy with democratic workers’ control and management; and make an international class appeal, initially to the working class in Spain, Portugal, and even France which is wracked with crisis, is increasingly supported.

This is shown in the fact that notice has now been given for the coordinated action on 14 November. Peter called on trade unionists to emulate that here – starting with solidarity lunchtime meetings on the day to discuss preparations for a 24-hour general strike.

Rob Williams, national chair of the National Shop Stewards Network, made a powerful speech in the Sunday rally showing how the working class is on the road back to struggle after suffering some defeats over the last decades. He, as others had, gave a taste of what an alternative could look like. Instead of closing Ford factories they could be turned to alternative production under democratic working class control and management to make socially useful and environmentally friendly transport.

The Socialist Party’s deputy general secretary, Hannah Sell, spoke at the Sunday rally. She pointed to the growing rage at the capitalist system where even Occupy’s ’99% and 1%’ can’t illustrate the gross inequality. The Economist pointed out that in America the share of national income going to the top 0.01% (some 16,000 families) has risen from just over 1% in 1980 to almost 5% now.

In Britain that rage is fuelled by every utterance of the Tories. Hannah reminded us of the salivating at Tory conference over ’hurting the feckless poor’.

Ed Miliband is terrified that this rage, channelled into a mass movement, could bring down the Con-Dems and sweep Labour to power. His ’One Nation’ speech at Labour’s conference was an attempt to convince big business that he is not ’Red Ed’ but a safe pair of hands for British capitalism.

General strikes

Socialism terrifies the ruling class, Hannah explained. They try to convince us to accept the ’new normal’ which they call ’muted growth’ – in reality factory closures, more unemployment and more people forced to sleep in the streets while £800 billion lies idle in the bank accounts of the big corporations because they can see no profitable way to invest it. This will not be accepted.

Trying to play down the impact of a 48-hour general strike in Greece, where workers face up to 80% cuts in living standards, a spokesperson for one of the government parties said: "My own personal feeling is that social reaction will not correspond to the weight of the measures and will be much less than anticipated because people can see there is no alternative."

Part of our role, Hannah explained, is to show there is an alternative. There is no lack of wealth – £20 trillion is stashed in tax havens by the super-rich, more than the entire combined debt of the OECD countries.

She commended Matt Wrack, general secretary of the firefighters’ union FBU, for taking a motion on nationalisation of the banks to the TUC where it is now official policy. Matt had already spoken from the platform of the rally making the case for taking this demand out into the trade union movement.

Hannah added that this has to be extended to taking the big corporations that dominate the economy out of the hands of a tiny elite and into the democratic ownership and control of the working class so the economy can be planned to meet the needs of the 99%.

Hannah pointed to how the ideas of socialism were, in the course of the struggle in South Africa, being heard by tens, if not hundreds of thousands of workers. This shows how such ideas can become a material force. She invited everyone to join the Socialist Party to play a part in this process.

Over the course of the weekend a number of those attending who were not already members of the Socialist Party said they would join. This included the assistant general secretary of the RMT, Steve Hedley, who announced his decision at the rally. He said he agreed with 90% of what the Socialist Party stands for and was willing to discuss the other 10%.

Sean Figg, organiser of the whole event, closed the rally, inviting others to do the same and join the Socialist Party.

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