Opportunities ahead in period of mass anger against austerity
Socialist Party Scotland (SPS) held its largest and most successful conference since the relaunch of our organisation which followed the split by the leadership of the Scottish Socialist Party from our ranks in 2001. The conference held in Glasgow saw a very high level of participation and positive mood, reflecting the growth of the party and the confidence in our political analysis and perspectives.
There was a unanimous feeling that in a period of mass anger at the austerity measures being implemented and an increase in struggle amongst workers and young people we can grow still further.
Niall Mulholland, from the International Secretariat of the Committee for a Workers’ International the worldwide socialist organisation that the SPS is affiliated to, introduced the first session on the "World in Crisis". Niall outlined aspects of the continuing and deepening world economic crisis of the capitalist system. Countries across the planet are either in recession or have low and stagnant growth. Measures taken by the capitalist class have worsened the situation with quantitative easing failing to end the paralysis of the financial sector.
Austerity policies have led to falling living standards, a massive rise in unemployment and a pauperisation of the working class. The incomes of 472 million workers across the planet cannot meet basic their needs.
The economic crisis is a factor in geopolitical instability with capitalist countries in conflict over resources and markets. Niall pointed out that the imperialist powers (mainly France) were intervening in Mali not for humanitarian reasons but to secure access to economic resources. The occupying forces could end up bogged down in an escalating conflict.
Niall focused on the developing revolutionary situations in the Middle East and North Africa and the need for the working class in these countries to build independent mass parties and trade unions to fight for their interests. While the continent of Europe is now the epicentre of struggle with the working class involved in huge struggles against austerity.
Niall concluded by pointing to the example of the work of the CWI in Greece and South Africa where our forces have taken initiatives to create political representation for the working class. In South Africa the CWI has played a leading role in the miners’ strikes that has led to a new political formation the Workers and Socialist Party.
SPS National Secretary Philip Stott introduced the session on political perspectives for Scotland. Philip outlined the bleak economic picture faced by British capitalism with no possibility of immediate recovery and the likelihood of a triple-dip recession. Scotland, as a low wage service sector based economy has been hit hard by public sector cuts and wage freezes and has been in recession for the last four quarters up to July 2012. Joblessness and poverty is rising. The capitalists have no solution to their crisis which by their own admission is unprecedented and only a socialist solution would end the nightmare for the masses.
Anger is palpable at the draconian austerity, epitomised by the Bedroom Tax, being inflicted by the Con Dem’s and increasingly passed on by the Scottish government. The key question is how to mobilise mass resistance to austerity. Workers are prepared to fight back. Already we have seen mass mobilisations in strikes and demonstrations by public sector workers over attacks on pensions, but these were sold out by the right wing trade union leaders.
Our members are playing a critical role in campaigning for a 24 hour general strike and have been successful in winning support for this from Scottish Unison.
Philip highlighted the independence referendum, which will dominate Scottish politics for the next two years. The vote in late 2014 will take place against the backdrop of an unprecedented economic crisis and plummeting living standards for the majority. Major class battles are also likely in the period leading up to the referendum, with important sections the working class looking for a political alternative to savage austerity. The referendum is likely to be seen by many workers and young people as an opportunity to break from unending cuts.
Scottish Labour is moving even further to the right under the leadership of Johann Lamont – opposing even the limited reforms introduced through the Scottish parliament in the last few years.
Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of the British capitalist class oppose the break-up of the UK and will campaign ferociously to defeat a Yes vote in 2014. The so-called "Better Together" campaign, a coalition of the ConDem’s and Labour, will run an overwhelmingly negative campaign based on fear and the spectre of Scotland being economically worse of under independence.
However The Yes Scotland campaign, under the influence of the SNP leadership, is a bland, top-down and uninspiring effort. It seeks to appeal to all sections of society with the idea that independence would deliver a "fairer and socially-just Scotland" SPS are giving critical support to a Yes vote in 2014, while at the same time arguing for an independent socialist Scotland to forma voluntary socialist confederation with England, Wales and Ireland.
By putting forward our programme on the national question in this way we can engage with a radicalised section who will vote for independence looking for a way out of the death spiral of the system. We will also avoid cutting ourselves off from those layers who oppose independence for understandable class reasons.
The potential for a new mass workers party to undermine support for the SNP and Labour is significant. Even back in the early 1990s there was a big space to the left of Labour and the SNP – who stood way to the left compared to where they are now. This was partially filled by the rise of Scottish Militant Labour and later the Scottish Socialist Party, before the party leadership wrecked the potential for the SSP to develop.
The emergence of a new party will require moves by a significant section of the trade unions, linked to the anti-cuts movement and socialists in the direction of the creation of a new party. The scale of the crisis and the growing working class response
to the austerity measures are creating the conditions for a new party. SPS will continue to encourage and support the standing of socialist, trade union and anti-cuts candidates through the Trade Uunionist and Socialist Coalition and the Scottish Anti Cuts Coalition.
Anger into action
Brian Smith, Branch Secretary of Glasgow City Unison, spoke about how the anger seen in the mass mobilisations over pensions on J30 and N30 in 2011, could be utilised over pay. His union branch is pressuring Scottish Unison to reject the pay offer of 1%. Brian pointed out the value of explaining transitionally and agitationally that lowering worker’s wages in a time of rising prices and living costs would not solve the economic crisis but worsen it.
The point about the anger over pay was echoed by Diane Harvey who reported on a recent meeting of the Unison Scottish Children’s Reporters branch when stewards dismissed the arguments of union officials over pay.
Jamie Cocozza from Glasgow highlighted the scare tactics of the "Better Together" unionist campaign. Jamie explained that at the moment the campaign is toxic with the involvement of the Tories and moribund with Scottish Labour’s move to the right.
Wayne Scott highlighted the potential that the Bedroom Tax has as a galvanising factor for all layers of the working class in Scotland to rally around as they fight austerity on all fronts.
Amendments were put foward and voted for on the issues of immigration and the far right as well as the environment by Richard Neville and Fraser Street. Richard raised the need for socialists to approach the issue of immigration with policies that can unite the working class in the workplaces and communities cutting across the division whipped up by the right wing media. Fraser’s amendment exposed the real agenda of the SNP who pose as green advocates of renewable energy but leave Scotland’s resources and renewable potential in the hands of big business whose only priority is profit. It stressed the need to put forward a socialist plan to deal with the environmental crisis based on public ownership.
Ryan Stuart made points about the radicalised consciousness of young people giving the examples of their support for the Arab Revolutions and the Occupy Movement and the need for socialists to win authority for their ideas and program by patiently overcoming the scepticism of youth towards organisations and parties.
The mood of optimism and confidence was reflected in the financial appeal made by Diane Harvey after which party members pledged to increase their subs by a total of £170 a month as well as donating £720 for the CWI’s international work.
Building the party
West of Scotland Organiser Matt Dobson opened day two, introducing a discussion on building the party. Matt pointed to the favourable political situation meaning more people were coming towards socialist and anti – capitalist ideas. The party can grow quickly if it is visible, bold and systematic in following up those who express an interest. Matt gave examples of building a new branch in Renfrewshire and the new areas of work the party has begun across Scotland.
Sinead Daly raised the importance of work amongst women highlighting their key role in the battle against the cuts and the mass protests against rape and violence in India. Socialist Party Scotland members called a successful protest at the Irish consulate in response to the death of Savita. The party has increased female membership and has an increasing number of women in the workplaces and colleges showing an interest. A national Socialist Party Scotland women’s meeting is being organised in Glasgow on March 9th – International Women’s Day.
Sessions on work amongst young people introduced by Ryan Stuart and replied to by Wayne Scott, and on the trade unions led off by Jim McFarlane and replied to by Ian Leech, concluded the conference. The youth discussion saw many young members speaking at a conference for the first time illustrating the confidence gained from participation and the key organising role played by SPS young members in the successful Scottish March for Jobs in October 2012. The party will be mobilising for the anti – trident demonstrations in the spring which will attract radical youth.
The trade union session focused around tactics to build pressure for co-ordinated action across the private and public sector with the key role of the National Shop Stewards Network being highlighted. Members also reported and outlined lessons on our successful interventions into disputes such as the Sparks action against the BESNA and blacklisting. Discussion also centered on the need to challenge the trade union bureaucracy over industrial strategy by standing in elections. SPS member, Jim McFarlane, is standing for the Unison National Executive Committee alongside a slate of other Socialist Party and other left fighting candidates. There is also a need to continue raising the demand for the trade unions to break the link with Labour and take steps to create a party that fights for the interests of workers. We will be organising a conference for trade unionists and community campaigns through the NSSN and the Scottish Anti Cuts Alliance in May to co-ordinate struggle.
Conference also elected a new national committee to co-ordinate the party’s work.
2012 was a year of growth in terms of numbers and influence in the trade unions and amongst young people, 2013 will continue this trend if the optimism and determination shown at this conference is anything to go by.