The depth of the economic crisis and the urgent need for a response from the labour movement shaped a national meeting of elected delegates from Socialist Worker Party (SWP) branches last Sunday.
Martin Smith, the SWP’s national secretary, opened the meeting by saying, “A hurricane has swept through the economic system. We can’t just speculate on its effects – we need to intervene.
“The crisis sweeping through the banking system is destabilising the world’s biggest corporations and countries.
“It is also bringing an increase in imperialist rivalry.
“Nobody knows how deep or how long this crisis will last. But it will impact on society for years to come and it will be severe.
“What is certain is that there will be further attacks on working class people. The level of resistance to this is what matters.
“This crisis is the most importance test the SWP has faced for 30 years. Earlier in the year we were talking about how Brown’s Britain was hurting people.
“Now it is far worse. The bitterness and anger is deep. We need to link that to resistance and seize the time.”
Throughout the day, delegates described how they and fellow activists had responded to the crisis.
The ideology of neoliberalism, which has been dominant for 30 years, is now in crisis as the market has so obviously failed.
This has opened a political space for left wing ideas that can feed into people’s bitterness against the system.
Protests against the banks in different parts of the country in recent weeks showed the importance of mobilising quickly and the potential for pulling people together into a range of campaigns.
Delegates from Portsmouth, Glasgow, Birmingham, London and other areas described how their mobilisations put a flag in the sand and declared that workers shouldn’t pay for the economic crisis.
In particular, the protests showed the potential for using the People Before Profit Charter as a mechanism to mobilise wide support.
The charter can crystallise the key demands around jobs, housing and services, and is also a tool for agitation.
Many delegates spoke about how the political climate was making new initiatives both possible and necessary.
Simon, from Haringey in north London, told the meeting, “We read in the newspaper on the Sunday that Haringey council had invested in banks in Iceland and wasn’t going to be able to pay its workers’ wages.
“Someone who works for the council told us workers should get paid on Wednesday.
“So we met that Sunday evening. The next day we handed out hundreds of leaflets at the workplaces, saying if the money wasn’t paid they should protest.”
Although the economy is tumbling into recession, already meaning attacks on jobs and pay, this doesn’t mean everyone will immediately fight back.
But there will be resistance that needs to be encouraged.
Delegates commented that there was a sharpening of the political nature of the arguments socialists are facing.
Every struggle that takes place can become a focus for wider discontent.
A number of people who spoke explained that what socialist activists do makes a difference – particularly in the trade unions.
Liz, a council worker, said, “We have to respond to the frustration people feel and make it concrete to them.
“While the Unison union has gone to binding arbitration in our dispute over local government pay, we can’t just do nothing and leave a passive anger. It matter what activists do on the ground.
“We have to put pressure from workplaces on union officials and negotiators.”
A London bus worker spoke about the strength of the picket lines in the recent strikes and the frustration at the suspension of the latest strike that had been set for this week.
A teacher from south London said, “Teachers in the NUT union are balloting for more strikes over pay.
“While campaigning to win the ballot, I have seen people politicised by the previous strike arguing against the idea that you can’t fight because the government hasn’t got the money.
“They are also saying that if we don’t stand up and fight now the government will attack us again in the future.”
There was a clear consensus that the urgent job of socialists is to encourage resistance by working with the widest layers of people, while building the SWP.
Upsurge in radical ideas on campus
The economic crisis has led to large numbers of young people becoming interested in Marxist and left wing ideas, activists in the Socialist Worker Student Society (SWSS) reported at the SWP party council.
Many universities had seen SWSS groups host large meetings on topics such as “The revolutionary ideas of Karl Marx” and “Marx vs the market”.
These included a 70‑strong meeting in Oxford, 60 at the London School of Economics and 60 at Essex university.
Dominic Kavakeb, president of the student union at Essex university, said, “Campaigning is at the heart of everything we do.
“Building on campus is really exciting right now – people can see what we’ve been saying about capitalism is true.”
Julie Sherry from Glasgow university said, “Students have been getting involved in strikes by going down to picket lines.”
She added that they were now busy building for the “World In Crisis” one day conference to be held in London on 6 December.