CPGB-ML » Posts in 'social welfare' category

What is the People’s Assembly for?

The Grand Old Dukes of Opportunism

The Grand Old Dukes of Opportunism

Leaflet: The People’s Assembly must beware the Grand Old Dukes of York!

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Many of the union leaders who are giving their ‘support’ to the People’s Assembly, and who will certainly expect to have a deciding say in whatever it does, are supporting Labour’s austerity plans.

Unite’s Len McCluskey said: “If Ed Miliband continues in this vein, then we will win working people back to Labour.” He even endorsed Ed’s forced labour scheme, offering to “bring these promises to life”.

Such statements by leading trade unionists show what a blatant fraud the PA is. Far from being a “national forum for anti-austerity views”, developing a “strategy for resistance to mobilise millions of people”, the Assembly is being conjured into life merely to help get the anti-worker, pro-austerity imperialist Labour party elected in 2015.

As if to prove the point, the leadership of the Stop the War Coalition (StW), who wrecked the anti-war movement in the service of the Labour party, have now moved on to the PA for a repeat performance.

In 2003, 2 million people demonstrated in the hopes of stopping the Iraq war – the biggest demonstration London had ever seen. StW was supposed to be the umbrella organisation that would bring about the unity necessary to stop the war. What it actually did was to ensure that the mass response to the war was as muted and ineffective as possible.

First, the leaders flatly refused [despite the members voting for it] to organise any action to disrupt or sabotage the ruling class’s war effort (such as urging rail unions not to transport weaponry or media unions not to transmit war propaganda).

And second, they joined with the ruling-class media in maligning those who were targeted by the imperialists’ wars. Today, having successfully turned 2 million anti-war protestors into passive cynics, and with the wars still raging, StW has dwindled to a trickle.

Is this what we want for our anti-cuts movement? If you call a plumber to fix a leak and instead he floods your house, would you hire him again?

We need to do better than this if we’re going to defend ourselves against this all-out attack by the ruling class.

A real people’s assembly is a soviet - a council of workers deputies. It is a body of workers who come together to represent the real interests of workers, and to fight for them.

The ‘People’s Assembly’ as planned is nothing but a political sausage mincer aimed at turning all our anti-austerity anger into a monopoly-capital-friendly Labour party government – which will give us yet another dose of misery and exploitation once elected.

Meanwhile, John Rees (or one of his friends) has already written the ‘declaration‘ that the Assembly delegates will be ‘asked’ to ‘endorse’ on Saturday. So what exactly will they be talking about all day??

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Leaflet: The People’s Assembly must beware the Grand Old Dukes of York!

Blog: The Miliband McCluskey love-in and why it matters (The Void)

Blog: Food poverty on the rise (The Not So Big Society)

Blog: Domestic abuse survivor on hunger strike after government removes benefits (Scriptonite Daily)

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Spiritless ’45

The true spirit of '45: A Soviet soldier hoists the red flag over the Reichstag in Berlin, marking the complete defeat of Nazi fascism.

The true spirit of '45: A Soviet soldier hoists the red flag over the Reichstag in Berlin, marking the complete defeat of Nazi fascism.

There are some good bits in Spirit of ’45, the new film from Ken Loach. Some of the interviews and archive footage about working-class life in the 1930s are a poignant and timely reminder of the social horrors inflicted by capitalism in the throes of a global overproduction crisis – right down to the vermin-infested blankets and deadly absence of health care.

And the juxtaposition of such cruel personal reminiscence with the end-of-war scenes of jubilation and hope from 1945 could have set the context for a much more interesting film, taking a fresh look at the birth (and premature death) of the welfare state.

Instead, we are offered yet another panegyric on the supposed achievements of ‘old’ Labour ‘heroes’ like Clement Attlee and Herbert Morrison.

Not a word is said about the imperialist superprofits upon which the ruling class crucially depended to subsidise these temporary and partial concessions to the working class.

Not a word is said about the poisonous pro-imperialist policy of the Labour government, hell-bent on preserving those same superprofits, no matter what the cost to the hundreds of millions of people locked in colonial bondage around the world.

Most glaring omission of all: not a word is said about the popular levels of enthusiasm aroused by the heroic exploits of the Red Army in putting fascism to the sword and in defending its own, infinitely superior version of a state that put the welfare of workers at the top of every agenda.

It was that threat of a good revolutionary example set by the Soviet Union that emboldened workers to demand “no return to the ’30s”. And it was the special role of Labour imperialism to help deliver a ‘welfare state’ – a pale capitalist imitation of the Soviet original – in such a way as would simultaneously tie the working class to the colonial agenda of monopoly capital and clear the way for the post-war reversion to anti-communist red-baiting (on a script written by Orwell, another of Loach’s ‘heroes’).

All of this is a closed book for the filmmaker.

Starved of any international context, the film stumbles on impressionistically, locked always behind the little-British narrowness that remains the trademark everywhere of ‘left’ social democracy.

After airing some woolly criticisms of the earlier shortcomings of the reforms (same old managers at the National Coal Board, failure to nationalise all transport), the film hastens on to the sudden arrival of the Bad Fairy, Thatcher, and her (unexplained and apparently personal) crusade to smash everything up.

Just one of the film’s talking heads makes a single brief reference to the overproduction crisis, but beyond that there is no attempt to explain what was fuelling the assault upon workers’ conditions and rights. In fact, having finished its history-hopping journey from the ’30s through ’45 to the advent of Thatcherism, nothing remains but to open the screen to a few soundbites from some pale anti-communist ‘left’ luminaries like Tony Benn, John Rees and Alex Gordon, before the film finally runs out of steam and the credits roll.

As the deepest ever overproduction crisis is pushing Britain’s ruling class to accelerate its dismantlement of the welfare state, Spirit of ’45 is an opportunity missed to examine not only what brought Britain’s hard-bitten imperialist rulers to make such serious concessions to workers in the first place, but also why those concessions were only ever going to be temporary while the capitalist system remained in place.

These are questions whose answers are urgently needed to permeate the workers’ movement if we are going to be successful in breaking out of the downward spiral of imperialist poverty, crisis and war. Lasting rights for workers will not be won by going back to the ‘good old’ reformist dreams of ’45 – days that inevitably led to where we are today – but by smashing the capitalist system and going forward to build socialism.

Labour sabotage in Harlow

Protest in central London against cuts to welfare, 2012

Protest in central London against cuts to welfare, 2012

This article is part of the industrial report that was presented at the 9 February meeting of the CPGB-ML central committee.

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Another illustration of the role played by Labour councillors in implementing so-called ‘ConDem’ cuts – actually capitalist cuts – is the behaviour of the local Labour group in Harlow.

Harlow Trades Council has long supported the work of Harlow Welfare Rights and Advice in its efforts to serve the often hard-pressed local community. Recognising the clear need for the services provided by HWRA, Labour’s General Committee supported its retention before Christmas. What’s more, when the continued existence of the body was challenged on some dubious legal technicality the GC voted for a mediated solution that would not deprive the people of Harlow of this service.

Yet at 7.30pm on 28 January, Labour-run Harlow council abruptly changed the HWRA locks, banning staff from entry and at a stroke bringing its vital work in the local community to a halt.

Whilst this act of vandalism was initiated by a civil servant (the council’s chief executive Malcolm Morley), one very disgruntled Labour councillor noted that “It is clear from my discussion with members of Labour’s cabinet that the leader and a majority of the cabinet are in agreement with the officers. Most notable for their full and active support of Malcolm Morley are leader Mark Wilkinson and cabinet member Tony Durcan.”

The yawning gap between Labour’s words and its deeds prompted the councillor to reflect: “I am very disappointed that councillors don’t have much of a say in running the council. The reason I became a councillor is to help people in Harlow, but so far I have not seen any changes apart from what the government want us to implement.”

The secretary of Harlow Trades Council, David Forman, has drawn some interesting conclusions from this experience, noting that “Labour councillors hide behind the law like a matador hides behind his red cloak, which merely conceals the tools of destruction.

“A failure to understand the class-based nature of the state, with the law and judiciary being key weapons in the armoury of the ruling class, leads those on the right and centre ground to see the state as neutral and benign.

“A deliberate rewriting of history … allows the labour movement to be lulled into thinking fine oratory and legal manoeuvres by the middle classes produces reforms. In reality, it is a series of struggles on the industrial front by a militant working class that leads to changes on the political front.

“All this obfuscation is designed to disarm the working class and make them dependent on their so-called ‘betters’, thus allowing Labour and reformist union leaders to spout the worn-out phrase: ‘There is no alternative’.”

It is indeed social democracy (including its ‘left’ face) that blunts the edge of class struggle and conceals from workers the only real alternative: socialism.

Death by a thousand cuts

This article is part of the industrial report that was presented at the 12 January meeting of the CPGB-ML central committee.

Riots in Tottenham by Surian Soosay

Riots in Tottenham by Surian Soosay

The announcement of an across-the-board 1 percent cap on benefit rises is the latest salvo in a capitalist offensive against the working class.

By pretending to champion the ‘workers against the shirkers’ (ie, the employed versus the jobless), the government hopes to divide and undermine the working class. Labour’s feeble response, pointing out that the benefit cut will hit low-pay working households dependent on tax credits too, merely ropes off another section of the working class (‘strivers’, a 21st-century version of the ‘deserving poor’), further reinforcing the debilitating notion that some capitalist cuts are ‘fairer’ than others.

Meanwhile, the salami slicer grinds on relentlessly in every borough, regardless of which party is turning the handle.

Birmingham city council intends to cut £600m from the £1.2bn budgets under its control. More than a thousand council workers have already been made redundant, with another 1,000 to follow this year, and council leaders predict that by 2017, 7,000 jobs will have gone.

The leader of the Labour group on the council refused demands that the council should defy central government and pass a ‘deficit budget’, instead announcing “the end of local government as we know it”, entailing some services being completely wound up and others pared to the bone – eg, fortnightly or monthly rubbish collections.

In their account of this meeting, Birmingham Against Cuts reported that “One young person from Handsworth who was there with the Save Birmingham Youth Service campaign talked passionately about how his youth worker had helped him, and without the youth service (which faces further cuts this year) he would probably be following a life of crime. He said he could see another riot and asked ‘Do you really think you can handle what will happen if you cut youth services?’”

Or, as the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Yves Daccord, puts it in a wider context: “If the economic pressure on people goes on, yes it will have a social impact on people. And if young people especially don’t see any future, any options, you might be confronted also with unrest – like in 2011 – and there is no reason that this unrest will not repeat itself one day.” Daccord went on to draw a parallel with the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Even if the council in Birmingham relents over youth service funding under this kind of pressure, this will only mean £1m being taken out of another budget, raising the economic and social pressure somewhere else. Something has to give.

See also: ‘Who stole our future?