Archive for November, 2010

Workers and Students Unite to Launch Portsmouth Anti-Cuts Campaign

November 19, 2010

Over 150 Trade Unionists and Community activists packed into a university lecture theatre last night to officially launch the Portsmouth Anti-Cuts Campaign. The meeting, hosted by Portsmouth Trades Council, sought to use the momentum generated by recent local anti-cuts marches and public meetings to build a community wide campaign prepared to take on every single proposed cut.

To open the discussion on the way forward the meeting was addressed by Laurie Heselden South East representative of the Trades Union Congress, who said: ‘These cuts are a massive experiment. No country has ever cut its way out of a recession. These cuts are not being made because they have to be. They are doing this because they want to do it.’

However, after Heselden proceeded to read the charge sheet of cuts which the public sector will be facing he then outlined the limited TUC strategy of training union reps and building for a national demonstration in March.

In contrast Ben Norman, speaking on behalf of ‘Youth Fight for Jobs: South’ challenged Heselden by proposing that the campaign should back the PCS call for a national trade union demonstration before Christmas, a proposal greeted by the first round of applause of the evening.

‘The 50,000 students who marched to defend education were but the tip of the Iceberg, a litmus test for the nation’s anger.” Norman said. “If we wait for four more months before taking national action any march may just become a funeral procession for the jobs which will have been lost and the futures which will have been blighted.’

The Youth Fight for Jobs speaker also called for the campaign to be committed to fighting all cuts and proposed standing Anti-cuts candidates in the upcoming local elections.

Contributions from the floor included discussion on the

The meeting also elected a steering committee including trade union reps, student’s union officers, and school students from the Portsmouth Save Our Schools campaign and delegates from the Pensioners Association.

The campaign will next meet on Monday, November 29 at 6pm at a venue to be decided.

 **More to follow **

Southsea Community Unite To Defend Mosque

November 17, 2010

Over 60 socialists, trade unionists, students and community organisers rushed to the Jami mosque in Portsmouth on Saturday evening to defend it from a rumored attack by the English Defense League. That morning the mosque has been vandalized by a small group claiming to be from the EDL and it was believed they would return later in the evening.

Before the resulting protest Socialist Party members approached a group of football fans who were waiting outside the mosque with a ‘support our troops’ banner. The group claimed that they were protesting against the extremist group who burnt poppies in London on Thursday, but said they had nothing to do with the EDL. This group were later joined by around 70 more protesters many carrying union jack flags and chanting ‘England ‘till I die.’

The EDL had sent a small number of members from London to agitate within the nearby football crowd and attack the mosque, however while fireworks, stones and glass bottles were thrown at both the mosque and the counter-demonstration the majority of the protesters refrained from any openly racist chanting, opting instead to sing the national anthem while calling to ‘support our boy’s and ‘respect the poppy.’

In contrast the counter-demonstration in defense of the mosque continued to grow throughout the evening, uniting local trade unionists, socialist party members and Unite Against Fascism activists with those who had gone to the mosque to pray that evening. While some individuals briefly aggravated the situation by chanting about ‘Nazis’ and ‘Fascists’ the majority of the counter-demonstrators remained calm, simply refusing to leave until the police arrived and dispersed the protesters.

While the protest was directed at the mosque the true nature of the protesters’ anger became apparent when Portsmouth South Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock appeared, seemingly just to be photographed by the press. As soon as the demonstrators saw Hancock the chants and the singing were immediately replaced with chants of: “You betrayed us to the Tories” and shouts of “It’s thanks to you that people like us are on the dole.”

It is clear that while the anger of Saturdays protesters was aimed towards the mosque, the real roots of their frustration lay in economic desperation and anger with those claiming to represent them, especially as Portsmouth remains an unemployment black spot.  It is clear that until a broad based ant-cuts movement, which poses a clear political alternative, is developed such scenes will continue as this anger is misdirected and vented.

The launch meeting of Portsmouth Coalition Against Cuts, which aims to be such a local movement, will take place on Thursday 18th November, at 7.30pm in Park Building.

Tea Party Socialism: Is there common ground with American Libertarians?

November 4, 2010

With the American mid-term elections now over the US political landscape has shifted the very way every pundit and commentator predicted it would. The Republican Party now hold the House of Representatives, they have gained seats in the Senate and President Obama faces two tough years of partisan politics and potential stalemate.

Yet it is the Tea Party movement, the loosely connected anti-tax and anti-establishment grassroots wing of the Republican Party which has seized the headlines and ratcheted up the column inches. The Tea Party, roughly believed to involve 2% of Americans according to the Washington Post, is as diverse and contradictory as it would appear extreme.

Indeed it is very easy to follow the line of argument that Ian Hislop recently began when explaining the tea party’s relationship to the Republican establishment: “The Republicans are very right wing … and the Tea Party are mad.”

 The sheer existence of this movement, which seems dedicated to fighting against their own self interests with their stance on health care and professed love of free market economics, has been met with confused bewilderment on this side of the Atlantic, with George Monbiot describing it as one of the “biggest exercises in false consciousness the world has seen.”

While the movement has no leader, its spiritual leaders, at least in terms of publicity and media profile are Sarah Palin and rabid Fox News presenter Glen Beck. Palin, with her small town, rural conservatism, and Beck, with his patriotic fervour and fear mongering broadcasting, attempt to portray the movement as a party of patriots, harnessing the righteous anger of the working family against the corruption of Washington and the tyranny of Big Government, to restore American pride and traditional values under God.

The figure heads of Beck and Palin, with their reactionary views and their support from Murdoch’s media and the millionaire Koch brother’s money have a clear aim to control and use the grass roots movement to attack and defeat the Obama government and enhance their own political agenda. This, linked with the movements support for immigration restrictions in Arizona and anger at the supposed ‘ground zero mosque’, which is in fact neither at ground zero or indeed a mosque, both point to reactionary elements within the movement and contradictions to the zero-government libertarian line.

Yet for all their contradictions , for all their diversity of opinion and for all the ravings of those who would claim to lead them, grass roots tea party supporters are linked by two causes – a rejection of the Democrat government’s handling of the economy, a rejection of ‘big government’ as a philosophical entity. While these are wrapped in traditional right-wing values they are the only two points which unite all of its supporters.

Currently this attack on big government is framed between right-wing libertarians and the very mild social democracy of Obama, who is attempting to steer the US economy away from a double dip recession through watered down Keynesian policies of government intervention, such as the stimulus package and the nationalisation of General Motors. However, even these measures are mild compared to the more established social democracies of Europe, or even the extensive social work programs of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’.

By European standards the Tea Party’s libertarian stance seems like they are a movement determined to fight against their own social interests. After all when it is remembered that in the UK it took a World War before working people won the welfare state, with a health system free at the point of need, It seems almost nonsensical that a movement of American working people should fight so passionately against even the weak version of a welfare system that Obama has tried to enact.

From the Tea Party position however, the fight against big government is seen as a fight for individual freedom and rights, a view taken from the fundamental ideas of the Founding Fathers, distorted through the modern lens of Individualism and consumerism.

This supposed return to the values of the Founding Fathers is the true genius of the Tea Party as a galvanising political force. In his book Don’t Think of an Elephant George Lakoff wrote that when it came to political campaigning the Republican Party and the American Right were far superior to the Democrats or the Liberal Left when it came to the art of language and framing the debate.

It is the ability to frame an argument or a policy which, Lakoff argued, could convince swathes of American voters to vote against their own self interests. This he reasons is because while the left talk of facts the right talk of values. When it comes to propaganda values trump cold facts.

For the Tea Party the argument has been framed around ‘freedom’, ‘individual rights’ and ‘constitutionalism’, all acting as a rhetorical facade for free market politics which would do nothing to benefit the very cause the activists claim to fight for.   

But what are the cold facts of the Tea Party when stripped of their rhetoric and framed values? The majority of Tea Party activists appear to be a mix of middle and working class people, the squeezed middle as they call themselves.  It would also appear that the main driving forces behind the movement are fear and economic hardship.

On a grass roots level they are not simply a reactionary group, responding to the ‘progressive’ actions of Obama, rather they are driven by economic factors.  They are angry that the Wall Street bankers received billions of their tax dollars while local people lose their jobs. They are fearful and angry about rising unemployment, they resent the corrupt relationship between big business and government and they feel disenfranchised and unrepresented.

They are fearful for their futures and by attacking the government and the economy they have identified the right problems, but found the wrong solutions. If this is what they represent, can Socialists win them away from the politics of the right? If so the task may be made easier by understanding and co-opting their ideas and values.

The imagery and symbolism of the Tea Party, both in their name and the historical figures they claim to represent, Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, reveal an attempt to return to distorted enlightenment and modernist ideas. While Sarah Palin and Glen Beck may have claimed to be the heirs to Abraham Lincoln at their recent Washington Rally it would certainly not be difficult to argue for reclaiming these historical figures in the name of progressive, even Socialist politics.

 The Boston Tea Party, after which this movement was named, is popularly accredited with being one of the first acts of the Revolutionary War by American colonists against British Imperial rule. While the event itself was sparked by disputes centred on merchant taxation of goods without political representation the war itself was one of self determination against Imperial domination and absolute Monarchy.

For Marxists the American Revolution was a ‘bourgeois revolution’ insofar as it was a war between the monarchy of Britain and the rising merchant and property owning class which would bring capitalism in its wake. In this regard the American War of Independence, alongside the French Revolution, were progressive historical events, showing the development of society and the conflict of classes.

While George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were not Socialists, there were committed democrats; albeit of the land owning and even slave owning variety. For all their flaws they, their revolution and their system of basic parliamentary democracy, were far more favourable then the absolutist rule of King George III. Indeed their ideas, cornerstones of the enlightenment, were foundations later built upon by figures including Marx and Engles.

Similarly President Abraham Lincoln, the president who fought the American Civil War of 1861, abolishing slavery and preserving the Union, can be claimed by progressives. While Lincoln, as President of an expanding capitalist power, cannot be claimed as a socialist, his role in American history can be seen as positive to the socialist cause.

The American Civil War represented a battle between the Northern ruling class, based on industry and rich from labour, against the reactionary Southern Ruling class, based on land and rich from Slavery. While Socialists campaign against Capitalism in the modern setting, in a historical time frame, it remains preferable and more progressive then slavery.

Indeed Karl Marx followed the course of the Civil War, often writing about it in regular newspaper articles for the New York Herald. Marx actually went so far as to write to Abraham Lincoln to praise his position against slavery, to declare that working men across Europe supported the Union and that Lincoln was a “true son of the working class.”

It was not only Marx and Engels that praised Lincoln, looking to associate him with the cause of working people. In the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s the American section of the International Brigade, fighting on behalf of the Republic against Fascism, was named the Lincoln Brigade.

While their choice of symbolism and their use of history can be debated, the fundamental way they are used by the Tea Party is to reject ‘big government.’ To the Tea Party big government equals bureaucracy, inefficiency, elitism and corruption at best and dictatorial oppression at worst. This is why even the mild interventions of Obama, which are motivated more as means of saving capitalism then empowering working people, are denounced as ‘socialist’, ‘communist’ or akin to the totalitarianism of Stalin’s Russia.

It is an aside, but perhaps an ironic point that both the Tea Party libertarians and democratic Socialists perceive themselves as being decedents of great ideas, distorted or betrayed by history. In a recent debate with Socialist Alternative in Seattle the Tea Party speaker proclaimed: “we don’t live in a capitalist country, there hasn’t yet been a true capitalist country.” She later denounced the Soviet Union as an example of the tyranny of big government and the failure of Socialism, a point met by the Socialist speaker who claimed that the USSR did not represent true Socialism and that there had never been a true socialist country.

In exactly the same way that Socialists argue that Stalinism, with its many crimes, was a distortion of our ideology, but that the original ideas of Marx, Engles, Lenin and Trotsky may yet deliver humanity to a better world, so the Tea Party libertarians look at Obama, Bush and the Neo-liberal world in crisis today and say that it is a distortion of the original capitalist ideas and that a return to the ideas of Washington, Adam, Jefferson and Franklin could usher in a world of freedom.

However, if Socialists were looking for a way of reaching out to Tea Party members and finding a bridge of commonality to start discussion and win them away from the ideas of the right, the issue of the state may yet be it.

To reformist liberals and social democrats the idea of a big, benevolent state with welfare provision for all is a central tenant of ideology, however democratic socialists go far further, but not to the tyrannical state of Stalin, but to a worker’s state as a transition to no state at all. Engels first described the state as being little more than ‘armed bodies of men’ preserving the power of the ruling class, by violence if necessary.

Under capitalism the state is a tool for the ruling class to promote, extend and defend their power. Under liberal democracies it is possible for the working class to win concessions and reforms such as a health service or welfare provisions. However as long as the state structure exists it will react and defend the interests of capitalism.  This was the lesson of the Paris Commune and of the Allende government in Chile, both of which were crushed by forces of counter-revolution.

It is the task of socialists not only to fight for reforms within the confines of capitalism, or even the state structure itself if a democratic socialist government were to be elected, but to fundamentally take on state forces and to create a worker’s state. This was the task facing the first revolutionary government in the early Soviet Union, which was built upon the democratic system of workers councils (Soviets), but used the apparatus of state, such as the Red Army, to defend the revolution from attack, and the infrastructure of state to feed the civilian population.

While the Soviet Union did descend into degenerate bureaucracy and dictatorship under Stalin, Lenin and the original Bolsheviks always believed that even having a workers state was but a transitional state while the gains of the revolution were defended then spread. With the revolution secure working people could take command of their own lives and their own place in society, through workers control of industry and workplaces.

Through total democracy and economic freedom the state would wither away, becoming a mere tool of administration to help coordinate the democratically organised planned economy. Under such a system the individual would not be subsumed to an enforced will, there would be no monolithic state machine controlling all, rather individuals could play a key role in the running of their own communities and workplaces, enjoying more freedom then experienced at any time in human history. That is the Socialist vision of rights and freedom.

The difference between the libertarian rights desire for a small stare and the revolutionary socialist position is that no state today, brought about though government cuts in spending, would mean a rampant unrestricted capitalism. However, a transitional system of socialist economic and political democracy would allow the withering away of the state apparatus, ensuring genuine democracy and empowerment of all people, which is far closer to the philosophy of rights and freedoms of the American Founding Fathers.

While the Tea Party may have served the Republican cause of punishing the democrats at the mid-term polls, thus blocking the Obama administration, they may find that the establishment of the Grand Old Party turn against them now they have served their purpose. It has already been called ‘the worst kept secret in Washington’ that the Republican leadership are searching for a presidential nominee who can prevent Tea Party hero Sarah Palin from standing in 2012. Aside from galvanising their own cause the Republican Party leadership have no need for a grass roots libertarian organisation such as the Tea Party meaning that their support, both from the party apparatus and its supporters in the media and big business may start to dry up.

The Republicans and their corporate backers may have seen the short term electoral advantage of supporting such a force, but they would have no confidence in figures such as Sarah Palin or Glen Beck to actually run the economy and lead a government. This has led to two predictions. Firstly if their numbers continue to grow and their support is maintained perhaps the Tea Party can challenge and sweep aside the GOP establishment, leading to a rightward lurch of the party, much to Democrat delight. Alternatively voters may feel that they have had their punishment vote, treating the mid-term elections in a similar way that the electorate in the UK treat the European and local elections. This would mean a far higher turnout in a presidential election in 2012 with voters feeling they may want a ‘sensible’ vote rather than a Tea Party protest.

However, there may be a third option. If the economy does descend into a double dip, with repossession and unemployment continuing to rise, then anti-government anger may continue. Yet with the Republicans now in control of the senate and with Tea Party candidates likely to either join with, or be frozen out, by the establishment, right-wing politics may no longer be seen as a viable alternative.

Instead perhaps these working people may yet cast around for a new alternative, one which chimes with their closely held revolutionary principles of rights, freedom and democracy, but without the strings to big business or the fear mongering of Palin and Glen Beck. And when they do, it is our role of Socialists to embrace them as our own.

Portsmouth Workers Vow: Not One Single Cut!

November 1, 2010

“We will not accept one single cut! We will not accept one single job loss!” That was the rallying cry in Portsmouth city centre on Saturday as over 150 trade unionists and students marched against the cuts.

The rally and march, organised by the PCS union with the support of Portsmouth trades council, brought together activists from across the labour movement, uniting them alongside campaigners from the Students’ Union and community groups including the Pensioners Association and the White Ribbon Campaign against domestic violence.

Socialist Party member Chris Picket spoke on behalf of the Tiny Tots Campaign, a group of parents who are fighting to save a local nursery school from closure.

Chris spoke about the importance of uniting local community led groups with the wider trade union movement and declared, to great applause, that this and other demonstrations around the country proved the need for a national demonstration this year.

Speaking on behalf of Youth Fight For Jobs: South, Ben Norman called for a coordinated campaign between the city’s student movement and the growing trade union led action.

“Students are facing an un-holy trinity of attacks in the form of higher fees, education cuts and rising unemployment,” he said. “Only by uniting students and young workers with their teachers, lecturers and with public sector workers can we defeat these attacks.”

Other speakers included the President of the Students’ Union as well as several local PCS and Unison members from neighbouring local government offices.

This demonstration will be followed by a public meeting to formally launch the Portsmouth anti-cuts campaign on the 18th November. The meeting will take place at 7pm, at Park Building and will be hosted by the Trades Council.

Students Challenge David Willets to Justify his Attacks on Education

November 1, 2010

A delegation of students and trade unionists representing Youth Fight for Jobs: South have lobbied Havant MP and Minister for Universities David Willets at his constituency office to challenge the minister on the findings of the Browne Report, student debt and his government’s plans for savage education cuts.

Accompanied by a journalist from the Portsmouth News the delegation, comprised of members of UNITE, and RMT trade unions, and Portsmouth and Southampton Students’ Unions, picketed Willets’ office, and succeeded in holding an hour long meeting with the minster who  infamously declared students to be ‘a burden on the taxpayer’.

Clare Blackwell, a medical student from Southampton University , challenged Willets on his projections for student debt and his assertion that higher levels of debt wouldn’t restrain working class college students from going to University.

Clare also rejected Willets’ claim that cuts in education would be sparing, revealing that technicians and support staff had already been made redundant and that under staffing in departments meant that in many overfilled lecture theatres students have to sit on the floor or on walkways.  

Andy Waterman, RMT member and former Portsmouth Student, said: “Willets claims that his plans will allow students to pay off this burden of debt when they graduate, but the point he’s ignoring is rising youth unemployment, which is higher across this region then it has been for a generation.”

When asked if he accepted that under a free market system some Universities would ‘go to the wall’ Willets agreed, saying:  ‘You could have private companies taking over universities. It is something we have to think about. There are a range of possibilities. No government has ever been able to offer an unconditional guarantee that universities would carry on under their existing management.”

Aside from publically challenging Willets and gaining valuable press coverage the event also succeeded in building links with teachers and union reps at Havant College  ensuring that Youth Fight for Jobs continues to play a key role in uniting students and workers across the region.