Thursday, November 19, 2009

Keeping socialism alive in the House

The annual conference of the Labour Representation Committee in London last Saturday focused on next year’s general election and the need not only to keep the Tories out but to maximise the number of socialist Labour MPs in the House of Commons – as opposed to New Labour who are barely distinguishable from the Tories.
The meeting began with Tony Benn, former MP and still a very active campaigner, giving a brief history of the Labour Party from its creation by the original Labour Representation Committee to be a voice for the organised working class – the trade unions – in a Parliament dominated by capitalists and landowners.
LRC secretary Simeon Andrews pointed out that the LRC is a meeting point for different trends within the labour movement – those who want to reclaim the Labour Party for the working class and those who see the party now as a part of the capitalist state and the enemy of the workers.
And he said the interaction of the two trends is what gives the LRC its dialectical vigour, quoting William Blake’s The marriage of Heaven and Hell:
Without contraries there is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to Human existence.

Mick Shaw of the Fire Brigades Union gave an account of his union’s struggles against cuts in local fire services and against Yorkshire Fire Service’s attempt to sack all its firefighters and offer them their jobs back on reduced pay and conditions.
Though firefighters, and the rest of the public sector, are having a tough time under New Labour, the Liberal Democrats want a public sector pay freeze and the Tories want to ban public sector strikes. John McDonnell MP read the LRC national committee statement. “People want real Labour,” he said, “that’s plain. They don’t want the Tories or the Lib Dems or New Labour. We are a beacon of light in the darkness.
“Our job is to put forward that platform; a platform for change that meets the needs of the people.”
He called for strategic support for socialist MPs to ensure that after the next general election, no matter who won, there would be strong voices for socialism and working class interests in the House. He warned that the Campaign Group of MPs now has just 25 members and half of them are planning to retire at the next election and they need to be replaced.
“After the next election, whether it’s New Labour or whether it’s the Tories, we will have to fight anti-working class policies.
“We have no alternative but to build the resistance,” he said. And he called on LRC members and supporters to campaign on the ground, on the doorsteps and on picket lines. “It’s about action in solidarity with those in struggle.”
There followed debate on a number of resolutions, most of which were passed unopposed. These included a motion from the New Communist Party on the threat to welfare benefits.
One motion that did spark contention was the support for the “People’s Charter”. Though it was carried some delegates found it bland and ineffectual. But supporters argued that its formulation would draw the widest possible support and pointed out that it did call for the nationalisation of the banks and had won the support of the TUC.
In the afternoon Cristian Dominguez of the United Confederation of Bolivian Campesino workers gave a rousing speech of the history of his movement “the poorest of the poor” and “the most humble Bolivian people”. They rose up and struggled and marched for a better future and they succeeded in sweeping away the colonial puppets who had ruled Bolivia for the benefit of the imperialists who plundered its natural wealth.
“Some people died on that march; babies were born on that march,” he said.
The struggle ended with the election of Evo Morales, a native from the oppressed working classes, with 53 per cent of the vote.
“They went on to defeat a recall referendum, which ended up endorsing Morales further and on 10th January this year 67 per cent voted in favour of the new constitution, despite strong opposition from the right-wing and fascists.
Dominguez stressed that the struggle of the Bolivian workers is the struggles of all oppressed people all around the world. “It is the struggle of the citizens of the whole world; we have a responsibility to take care of our world for our children and grandchildren.”
It was a day of debate,and a blend of old and new traditions that will hopefully revive Labour’s fortunes next year. It ended, naturally, with a rousing rendition of the Red Flag.
photo: Cristian Dominguez of the United Confederation of Bolivian Campesino workers.

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