A RECENT headline in the Financial Times read, “Blair No Longer In Control On Two Fronts”. The two fronts are the Iraq war, in particular the Hutton report, and the vote that will take place shortly on top-up fees for universities.
This indicates the depth of the crisis confronting the Blair government.
The war in Iraq continues to play a dominant role in British politics. Hutton is just one aspect of this. British soldiers shooting demonstrators is another.
On the question of variable fees, the government faces a very serious situation. This is supposed to be their flagship bill, but press reports have suggested they might lose the vote.
We don’t know if Blair will survive. His fate depends on two unreliable agents. Firstly, Lord Hutton, a figure from the establishment who may well not be willing to bring a prime minister down. Secondly, Labour backbenchers who we know can talk a good fight but when push comes to shove can capitulate to Blair.
But I can’t see a way the government can emerge from Hutton and the top-up fees vote without being severely weakened. It is a very dangerous situation for the government.
I want to bring into focus another ingredient in the situation, which is a revival of the industrial struggle.
Over the last few years we have seen the beginnings of an upturn in the struggle which has taken the form of a massive political radicalisation in the shape of the anti-war movement. We must continue to put energy into building that movement.
But there are also important developments taking place on the industrial front. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of the postal workers’ strike last year.
We are coming up to the anniversary of the Great Miners’ Strike of 1984-5. The Thatcher government inflicted a terrible defeat on one of the strongest sections of the organised working class. That defeat has affected the working class movement for 20 years.
I think the greatest ray of hope on the industrial front over the last few years was the postal workers’ strike. To have unofficial strikes, led by rank and file militants, inflicting a major defeat on the management and behind them the Labour government, is a real turning point in the class struggle.
There are all sorts of other things happening. We are coming up to a very important strike ballot among civil servants. There is still discontent seething among firefighters. If you look at pages 14 and 15 of Socialist Worker, you will have seen other groups of workers, such as bus workers, beginning to engage in more determined resistance.
We must develop a consistent relationship with these groups of workers. During the postal workers’ dispute we established sales outside post offices. It is very important that we don’t drop them now.
We can’t afford to be a party that jumps from one campaign to another. We must build up long term relationships with workers.
We can see the fruits of where we have done this. Our comrades in the Post Office helped to lead the strike. On the London Underground a significant group of comrades have built up an organisation of socialists and rank and file militants.
We need to be fighting to recruit as many people as possible, but recruiting and sustaining worker militants can begin to root us more widely in the working class movement.
The organised working class is at the centre of our politics. All sorts of opportunities are opening up for us, around building Respect, but also in the workplaces. We can begin to move from political radicalisation towards the industrial radicalisation that is just beginning.
This is the context for how we build the SWP. Building the SWP doesn’t become less important because we are building Respect.
We have to start from the movement, from our involvement in different campaigns and struggles. Creating a set of overlapping networks of activists creates the environment in which we can build effective SWP branches.
The Marxist forums are critical. They are key to building local party structures that can relate to campaigns in a local area and create a consistent political dialogue with those around us.
We have never been more active than we are now, but activity isn’t enough. The big ideas of imperialism, of reform or revolution, are at the centre of our practice as activists.
The other element in the situation is the need to sell Socialist Worker. We need an organised instrument to relate to the people we are working alongside.
We live in extraordinary times. November was a month of miracles. It began with the post workers’ strike. Then we had the European Social Forum where we had a real impact. And then there were the incredible demonstrations against Bush.
This is a measure of what we can achieve working with the broad movements.
We have to forge the kind of party organisation that can take the fullest possible advantage of the new opportunities opening up-a bigger, more influential Socialist Workers Party.
IN THE discussion that followed a civil servant from London said, “The current dispute is the biggest battle in the civil service for 16 years. Some 114,000 workers are involved.
“But Blair also wants to inflict a defeat on a key member of the awkward squad, Mark Serwotka. We have to win the ballot for action.
“Blair might think that the civil servants will give him an easy victory. We have to prove him wrong. What we do over the next few days will make a massive difference. We should leaflet and sell Socialist Worker outside as many civil servants’ offices as we can.”
Paul, a postal worker, said, “The atmosphere has completely changed in my office since the strike. There is a real feeling of confidence. Our union meetings are much bigger than they were and there are lots of new people getting involved. This year our Christmas party was brilliant. The only rule we had was ‘No scabs allowed’. I had to organise it but it was easy. Everyone wanted to come. Management found out we were organising a union meeting in our car park. They fell over themselves to give us a room for the meeting rather than having us walk out of work to meet.”
JOHN REES introduced a discussion about building the new Respect coalition as an alternative to New Labour:
WE TOOK the step of helping establish the Socialist Alliance back in 2000 because we judged that establishing a political voice that was independent of New Labour would be an advance for the whole working class movement.
We have just passed through two years of the most enormous mass movement against the war. As well as the record demonstrations, there have been hundreds of huge meetings in every town, city and even some villages.
This movement has created a process of questioning and debate about political representation amongst thousands of Labour supporters. The movement has created a new radical left. And it has created a process of political differentiation.
In meeting after meeting, people raise the question of who to vote for because they can’t stomach voting for Blair any more.
This question rose organically from the anti-war movement and is now a major question across the working class movement. And the left and the Muslim community are more united than ever before.
Negotiations are going on. But what will shape the Respect coalition now is not what happens nationally but what happens locally. If we meet with leading RMT and FBU union militants and go to the mosques we will shape the response of the leading figures in the national negotiations. We can gather much greater forces around Respect than we could with the Socialist Alliance.
The National Convention on 25 January is the first important step.
Book coaches now. Whoever you get on the coaches can form the basis of a new Respect coalition in your area. We can have an enormous impact on the political process over the next few months.
THE convention unanimously voted to support a resolution calling on all SWP members to throw themselves into building the Respect coalition to challenge New Labour in the 10 June elections. The resolution read:
(1) The anti-war movement has made possible a broad electoral challenge to New Labour in the 10 June elections.
(2) The SWP calls on all its members and supporters to throw themselves into building the Respect coalition.
(3) Respect must involve at a local level, as it does nationally, far wider forces than the Socialist Alliance.
(4) The SWP must work to involve as many anti-war activists, trade unionists, Muslims, students and pensioners in Respect as possible.
A litany of farce and failures