Saturday, 27 September 2008

Labour Party Conference 2008

To be or not to be…

WHEN THE GOING got tough back in the 1960s Labour leader Harold Wilson famously said that a week is a long time in politics. Well Brown’s Labour government has 20 months to play with until the next general election. But if Labour doesn’t radically change its direction it will face crushing defeat at the polls at the hands of the Tories. Unfortunately this message has barely sunk through to Labour Party conference in Manchester this week, least of all to the New Labour leadership who still imagine that they can weather the storm of the current capitalist crisis by pursuing the same Thatcherite policies that have alienated millions of workers who make up much of Labour’s core vote.
Sure we heard union calls inside the hall for the taxing of the rich and the renationalisation of the energy companies but nothing will come of it unless the unions link their demands to the financial support they give the Labour Party to keep it afloat.
The two issues are linked. The Tory offensive against the working class began when they returned to office in 1979 and it has largely continued under New Labour since 1997. The state and public sector was privatised. Collective bargaining was severely curtailed and vital services like the Health Service, public transport and local amenities have all become seriously underfunded.
Working people who can remember the 1970s look back nostalgically to the days of free medical treatment, affordable council housing, dole money as a right, pensions linked to average earnings, controlled transport fares and energy costs and a domestic rating system that didn’t crucify working class homeowners. It was paid for by the profitable sections of the public sector and through progressive income tax.
We must mobilise the class in its own defence to fight for the restoration of state welfare to at least the levels existing in 1979. This demand can easily be met by returning to the income tax levels that existed in 1979 and returning the privatised corporations to state control. We must make the rich pay for them by disgorging a fraction of the wealth they extort from the working class every year.
This can only be done by building fighting, militant trade unions with leaderships determined to fight to defend their members interests against the employer and willing to use their immense financial bargaining and constitutional power within the Labour Party to ensure that a future Labour government carries out the wishes of those it was established to represent.
At the fringe meetings the left social-democratic and Trotskyist “alternatives” are scrabbling around for yet another platform to challenge Labour at the next election. Some sects still seek the Holy Grail of the “correct line” which will miraculously win over millions of workers if only it is repeated again and again and again. Others believe that left unity can be built around a left social-democratic platform that specifically excludes the Labour Party and its affiliated trade unions.
They call for social-democratic reforms while campaigning against the only mass force capable of implementing reform, the Labour Party itself. They foster the illusion that there is a left electoral alternative to Labour when the reality is that the only alternative, in the current situation, is a Tory or a Liberal Democrat government.
None of them wonder why Labour lost London or why the Tories have a 20 per cent lead in the opinion polls. None of them ask why past attempts like the Socialist Alliance, Respect and the Scottish Socialist Party have all failed.
A Labour government, with the yet unbroken links with the Labour Party, the trade unions and the co-operative movement, offers the best option for the working class in the era of bourgeois parliamentary democracy. The NCP’s strategy is for working class unity and our campaigns are focused on defeating the right-wing within the movement and strengthening the left and progressive forces within the Labour Party such as the Labour Representation Committee and the unions.
At the same time we must build the revolutionary party and campaign for revolutionary change. Social democracy remains social democracy whatever trend is dominant within it. It has never led to socialism. Our Party’s strategy is the only way to fight for the communist alternative within the working class of England, Scotland and Wales. We want day-to-day reforms and they can only be achieved by the main reformist, social democratic party in Britain, the Labour Party. We want revolution and that can only be achieved through the leadership of the communist party.

Messages from the Left to New Labour

by Mervyn Drage in Manchester

IT WAS stimulating to be a part of the national Stop the War Coalition/Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament march last Saturday and to converse with comrades and friends from across Britain and the world.
There were many political, trade union, internationalist, peace and environmental banners on the march, which was called to put pressure on Labour Party delegates to end the predatory wars of occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The colourful, noisy and exciting march of around 5,000 men, women and children wended its way from All Saints, past the ring of steel around the Labour Party conference, the Midland Hotel and the GMex Conference Centre to end up in a rally in Castlefield.
Several New Communist Party members and New Worker supporters attended the march and rally and we completely sold out of papers.
The massive over-the-top policing of the event was most disturbing; we observed many Greater Manchester Police photographing demonstrators and taking notes. Police in military-style formations and mounted police revived memories of state oppression during the epic miners’ and printers’ disputes of the 1980s.
The Midland and Radisson hotels and the GMex Conference Centre and adjoining roads were sealed off to the public. Large metal bollards were used to close roads.
The right to protest peacefully is enshrined in law but it appears that protesters are being surveyed and monitored, and in effect criminalised, merely for exercising their democratic rights.
We need to know what the police, the security services and the state do with the information they are gathering on us. The worldwide capitalist crisis is intensifying and the Big Brother surveillance and database state is upon us.
A plethora of Labour conference fringe events took place but those meetings in the “secure zones” of the Labour Party conference were disgracefully off limits to the public. However it was possible to attend events at the nearby Friends’ Meeting House, the Mechanics’ Institute and local hotels.
New Workers were sold throughout the week at several fringe events and meetings, including the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) rally at the Mechanics’ Institute on Monday evening; the NO2ID public meeting at the Reynolds Building, University of Manchester on the Tuesday evening; and at the Question Time for the Left event at the Friends’ Meeting House on the Wednesday evening.
At the LRC rally, Karen Reissmann, the sacked psychiatric nurse, with 25 years’ work experience, gave an impassioned speech against NHS cuts and against private medicine.
John McDonnell MP, who chairs the LRC, spoke in favour of a radical anti-capitalist Labour manifesto and he announced that New Labour was on its last legs. He noted that right-wing Blairites are seeking to replace the current lame-duck Prime Minister Gordon Brown with David Miliband. Tony Benn also spoke at this meeting.
In the current global capitalist crisis, John McDonnell said that all New Labour could come up with was more privatisation of public assets and the introduction of more market mechanisms in the public sector.
He asserted that as New Labour was becoming increasingly irrelevant and there was a virtual coalition between Labour leader Brown, Tory leader Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Clegg on economic policies. He said it was imperative to articulate a socialist alternative policy to enhance and protect the lives of working class people and their families.
Other meetings are events during the week included a lunchtime Sinn Féin meeting on Sunday 21st September on the theme, “For a United Ireland”.
There was a demonstration outside the Marks and Spencer store in Market Street on Monday morning organised by the GMB trade union in defence of their member, Tony Goode, who was dismissed from this bullying global corporation for revealing to the media details of cuts in the redundancy terms of 66,000 Marks and Spencer workers in Britain.
On Monday at lunchtime the Communication Workers’ Union organised a march and rally on the theme: “It is Time to Deliver a Positive Future for the Royal Mail – Labour Must Listen”.
Also on Monday, at 5pm, there was a public meeting at the Friends’ Meeting House to support the five Cuban patriots imprisoned for 10 years in the United States for opposing terrorism. And on Wednesday there was a lunchtime public meeting at the Friends’ Meeting House organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, on the theme: “If they can talk to the IRA, why can’t they talk to Hamas?”

Labour conference 2008

‘Tax the bonus system out of existence’

DEREK SIMPSON, joint general secretary of the giant union Unite, last Monday at the annual Labour Party conference in Manchester, demanded that Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer, should “tax huge city bonuses out of existence. In an emergency motion to the conference, Derek Simpson called on the Government to challenge the city bonus culture which he says is “out of control”.
He said: “The powerful mega elite with no connection to ordinary people, an amoral class without a care for how their reckless behaviour is now wrecking lives.
“Alistair, these people want ordinary people to share their pain but they won’t share their gain. If you can’t regulate the bonus culture then tax it out of existence.
“It’s time for internationally co-ordinated government action to rein in these finance pirates, take the lid of their secrecy and punish them when their actions lead to disaster for working people.”
The union is also demanding a windfall tax on the giant oil and energy companies to be used to help low income people to pay their rising fuel bills – and Unite backed the demand with full-page advertisements in national newspapers.
According to Unite, even a “modest” windfall tax on oil and energy companies would generate an immediate £3.6 billion – enough to provide nearly six million homes in Britain with an estimated £250 each this winter towards their fuel bills and still have money remaining to make homes across the country fuel efficient.
According to joint general secretary Tony Woodley: “Energy companies in this country have seen their profits leap by an incredible 538 per cent in five years, money they’ve used to line their shareholders’ and executives’ pockets. Yet all consumers have had is price pain.
“In homes across the country, people will be facing an inhumane choice this winter: that of whether to heat or eat. That is simply an obscenity in this the fourth richest country in the world.
“People are looking to Labour, the party of social justice to put an end to this. We say it can be done – it is affordable, it is moral and action must be taken to protect needy people this winter.”
Unite is also launching a Warmth Webline to collect consumers’ energy cases, which the union is promising to present to the Government as further evidence of the need for immediate financial assistance.
The union also tabled an emergency motion to the conference calling for action to protect finance jobs.
Derek Simpson said: “This crisis has a real human cost with thousands of hard-working families at risk of losing their homes. The big city bankers have been exposed, they are not the masters of the universe they are the masters of disaster.
“In the short term HBOS and LTSB must engage with the unions immediately and reassure staff that they will do everything possible to protect jobs. If the banks don’t the Government must step in, they have already intervened and we believe, if necessary, they should intervene to protect jobs in the financial services.
“Looking ahead, the Government must act and undertake a thorough review of the regulations covering the activities of the finance institutions. We can never allow greed and excess to damage our country like this again.”
Meanwhile the public sector union Unison was calling on the Labour Party to remember why it was set up. Steve Warwick, who chairs Unison’s Labour Link, told a packed fringe meeting on the opening day of the conference: “The Government needs to start taking bold steps that speak loudly and clearly about its values and priorities.
“And that means priorities like continued investment in essential public services, delivered by Unison members: public services like childcare, long-term care for the elderly, community health services, youth and community centres, adult education and employment advice, and affordable social housing.
“The return of the Tories to power would be disastrous for our members and for the services they deliver to the public,” Warwick said.
“That’s why we all need this Labour government to demonstrate authority and a sense of purpose and show this country whose side it’s really on.
“The events of the past week have shown what can happen when regulation is weak, when greed takes over and the wider public interest is lost from view.
“History is once again teaching us the importance of a strong and active public sector, acting for the greater good and accountable to the wider society.
“That’s Unison’s agenda. It should be Labour’s agenda.”
Unison also took a swipe at Labour’s privatisation policies. The union last week published a report showing how using private companies to provide public services is exposing all Britons to enormous financial risks and examining the impact of the £79 billion “public services industry”.
“This hard-hitting report shows that the Treasury is at risk of having tens of billions of pounds of liabilities heaped on it, because of the way public services are now delivered and funded,” said Unison general secretary Dave Prentis.