Socialist Worker

Storm grows against Blair

Issue No. 1818

An important meeting of the national committee of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) took place last weekend. The meeting agreed that we are facing a decisive and unprecedented political situation both internationally and in Britain.

A divided ruling class is launching a deeply unpopular war while also facing an upsurge of class struggle at home. Bush's drive to war is creating splits among the ruling class around the world. There are deep divisions at the top of the US ruling class.

Key sections of the US political establishment, including the war criminal Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft, have spoken out against the Bush gang's strategy. The majority of European leaders are hesitant about war. German leader Schroeder has fought his election on an anti-war ticket.

These leaders may go along with Bush's war, but with great unease. The political implications of a war against Iraq are much greater than the Gulf War in 1991, the Balkans War in 1999 or even the recent war in Afghanistan.

Blair is taking an enormous gamble by backing Bush. His commitment to the war is causing doubts and divisions that go to the heart of New Labour. Labour's former chancellor Denis Healey has said that a war with Iraq could bring Blair down. The Labour Party is split from top to bottom. Former cabinet ministers, such as ex culture secretary Chris Smith and former Northern Ireland secretary Mo Mowlam, are queuing up to oppose the war.

Growing sections of the labour movement are in open rebellion against a Labour government. Opinion polls show that a large section of the population are against a war on Iraq.

Alongside this opposition to war, discontent over the government's domestic policies is also bursting out. The bitterness of workers after 25 years of a downturn in struggle is translating into sudden shifts to the left in the unions and the likelihood of new struggles. This is most clearly shown in the revolt of public sector workers over pay led by the firefighters, with the possibility of the first national firefighters' strike in 25 years.

There is also growing unrest across the public sector-among lecturers, teachers, and council workers. Over the next few weeks such groups could be taking action. For the first time since the miners' strike in the mid-1980s there are powerful left wing voices at the top of the unions. These include Bob Crow in the RMT, Mick Rix in Aslef, Billy Hayes in the CWU, Andy Gilchrist in the FBU, and Mark Serwotka in the PCS.

Their election victories are a reflection of the deep anger against New Labour among rank and file trade unionists. GMB leader John Edmonds commented last week that anyone calling themselves a Blairite didn't stand a chance of being elected to lead a union.

All this is creating a potentially explosive situation of mass opposition to war combining with the growing discontent with Blair over pay and privatisation. And the potential was shown most graphically at the TUC conference last week (click here).

The conference came out strongly against PPP privatisation and was split down the middle over the war. The SWP national committee agreed that the demonstration against war on Iraq next Saturday, 28 September, is the most important for years. It has the potential to be a monster-sized show of opposition to war-on the scale of the CND demonstrations of a quarter of a million plus in the early 1980s.

The meeting agreed that building for a very big turnout should be the top priority of every SWP member over the next week. The main danger is that we can be too conservative about the potential numbers and range of people who will come on the demonstration.

Over the next week everyone needs to go all out to build a massive turnout from wherever they live and work. As one delegate put it, we need to 'eat, drink and breathe' building for the demonstration. There should be stalls, street meetings and petitioning in every town, and outside all major workplaces.

As a delegate who had been at the TUC put it, 'At the TUC one general secretary after another laid into Bush and Blair over the war. Over the next two weeks we can go and see every single trade unionist we know and get a mass trade union presence on the demonstration.'

This week university students begin returning to college in large numbers. Further education (FE) colleges and schools are also back. Over the next week there can be agitation against the war on every university campus and FE college site, and among school students. This is a crucial moment that every socialist should grasp.

Organise to fight the war and capitalism

The National committee discussed how we could seize the moment to build a mass anti-war movement, but also within that a revolutionary socialist pole of attraction. The political crisis is creating the potential for radicalisation and a new generation of socialists.

Many delegates said they had never known such an exciting time politically, nor such potential for the growth of socialist ideas and organisation. Everyone agreed that the SWP has been absolutely right to throw itself into the new movements which have erupted over the last two and a half years.

The SWP has played a central role in the anti-capitalist movement, the Anti Nazi League, the Socialist Alliance and the Stop the War Coalition. People pointed out that this has made a crucial difference in building a vibrant and outward-looking anti-war movement, for example. Delegates were also agreed that our involvement in these 'united fronts' should not only continue, but deepen.

Delegates also discussed the importance of winning people to a struggle against the whole system, not just aspects of it. This means putting across revolutionary socialist ideas. In every locality there should be a fortnightly Marxist forum in an accessible venue where people can discuss and debate.

People reported that in many areas the Marxist forums had proved a great success and had become centres of political debate. Successful forums have attracted people brand new to politics and rejuvenated many longstanding socialists. People reported that if the forums are publicised with posters and leaflets they attract new people. The meeting agreed that this positive experience now needs to be repeated and spread to every town and district, and in more local areas.

The meeting also discussed how important it was to get people Socialist Worker every week. Socialist Worker links activity and ideas, and can be a bridge to the people we meet in all areas of struggle and activity. The meeting agreed there should a renewed emphasis on selling the paper and making sure it is distributed.

The meeting agreed that every other week, in the weeks when a Marxist forum is not being held, socialists in a particular town or area should meet up to distribute Socialist Worker and organise future activities. One person reported that the potential for Socialist Worker was shown at the TUC conference where 151 copies of Socialist Worker were sold, including to several union general secretaries.

A delegate from Sheffield talked about the importance of selling Socialist Worker outside workplaces. Sales outside two call centres and three engineering plants had involved new young workers. This had led to a Marxist forum among call centre workers with between ten and 15 people.

People also emphasised the importance of building a much bigger socialist presence in the colleges and schools. It was emphasised that in every locality the SWP has to act quickly to construct local organisation through the Marxist forums and the distribution of Socialist Worker. If that happens there is an opportunity to build a revolutionary socialist alternative within the wider movement and among a whole new generation of activists. It is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.

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Sat 21 Sep 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1818
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