09-08-2019 \\ England and Wales
Many people will have been surprised to see Merseyside’s ‘metro-mayor’ Steve Rotheram in the news attacking the RMT for going on strike to keep the guards on the trains. Most people thought this had been settled, with the guards being kept on.
For months, Merseyrail has been trying to get out of simply keeping the guards on with their current duties, terms & conditions. Rotheram had nothing useful to say in all this time. Now, when the talks have failed to deliver what the public wants—which is the guards kept on—he attacks the union for ’moving the goal-posts’.
The actual double-standards are from Labour politicians like Rotheram who ultimately oversees MerseyTravel and MerseyRail.
Labour’s national policy is for renationalisation of the railways, bit by bit. So why is Rotheram so determined to press ahead with driver-controlled operation, a policy based on profiteering? He should instruct MerseyTravel and MerseyRail to keep the guards on in the full guard’s role to ensure public safety.
Support the strikers, and visit the picket lines at Birkenhead Central, Lime Street, Kirkdale, and Southport. The strike dates are as follows:
What the dispute is really about, by an RMT member on Merseyrail:
At the heart of this dispute is the fight to keep guards on all Merseyrail trains from start to end of service so passengers can feel safe knowing that a highly trained safety critical person is aboard their train and he or she can take control of any eventuality which may occur.
The safest way to dispatch a train, contrary to what Merseytravel and Merseyrail claim, is for the train guard to close the train doors which would alleviate any fears passengers would have about ‘trap and drag’ incidents which continue to happen during DOO operation. It is vital that Merseyrail Guards keep control of the train doors for obvious safety reasons.
Merseytravel refused to let train-builder Stadler put door-control panels for the guards to use in the new trains even when Stadler stated they could put the panels into the new trains at no added cost before they started construction. Now Merseytravel are quoting figures of £10-12 million for the new trains to be configured with a panel, whilst Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham sits on a £40 million underspend.
The guards’ strikes last year forced the employer to concede the principle of a second person on each train, something they previously said was impossible. The guards need and deserve the full support of the trade union and labour movement and the public as a whole. A massive campaign of well-supported strike action can force the employers and politicians to agree to keep the guards on and find the money to fund that.
On Friday 2nd August over 300 NHS workers, trade unionists and NHS campaigners attended a Defend the NHS Rally outside Bradford City Hall, to coincide with the current strike by over 400 support and ancillary staff at Bradford District Hospital. The workers were on strike against the Hospital Trust’s plan to move them out of NHS employment into a Wholly Owned Subsidiary (WOS) – essentially a move to privatise NHS staff.
The mood was positive and defiant, with a sea of workers wearing UNISON t-shirts, handing out leaflets to the public and bringing them in to hear a range of speakers from UNISON, the Labour Party and the regional trades council. Sadly no front line NHS workers spoke at the rally, and the Labour Party speakers offered little in the way of answers, simply saying that the NHS would be “safe in their hands”, without explaining how they would reverse the privatisation and cuts that we have seen under nine years of austerity; however this did not sully the mood of the workers.
Thousands of pounds had been flooding in towards the strike fund, from unions around the country, with an initial two weeks of industrial action planned (after an earlier walk out for a week). A meeting of UNISON workers is scheduled next Wednesday to discuss the next steps to prevent their jobs being moved out of the NHS. This group of workers have the confidence and support from the people of Bradford to continue their struggle.
Unfortunately Estate Management workers in Unite have not joined the strike, which was initially disappointing to the workers. However this does not appear to have affected their mood and determination greatly, given the hundreds of vehicles honking their support as they passed the picket line. One Unite bus driver, upon seeing the picket line on his route, got a Unite flag before his next route and hung it out of the window as he passed the picket outside Bradford Royal Infirmary, to the cheers of the picket line, in a clear show of solidarity with workers in struggle. Workers were also brought bottles of water, donuts, and other snacks to keep up their energy levels throughout the day.
Workers on the picket line also saw this as a semi-political strike, soon after the “election” of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, and his close relationship with Donald Trump, who wants a piece of the NHS in any post-Brexit trade deal. One of the more popular chants was “No Donald Trump in the NHS”.
The picket will continue, from 7am-2pm on weekends and 6am-2pm during the week throughout the action. Everyone is made to feel welcome, the workers are delighted for the effort people make to show solidarity.
Please send donations to ‘Unison Health’ UNISON Resource Centre, St Mary’s Hospital, Greenhill Road, Leeds LS12 3QE
Donations to the account at Unity, Unison Health Branch
Acc No 49021215 Sort Code 60-83-01
Tel 01274 396383
Over 400 support and ancillary staff at Bradford District Hospital are taking a fortnight's strike action from 1 August against the hospital trust's plan to transfer them out the NHS and into a wholly owned subsidiary company. These backdoor privatisation proposals are the brainchild of the Tories along with NHS England, which helps trusts avoid paying tax. This is part of their long term plan to breakup the NHS into bitesized privatised chunks for future investors. For example, the proposed Bradford company is already looking for business elsewhere in the region to supplement its profits.
These disgraceful plans have run into trouble almost as soon as they were launched. Trade unions members are fighting back across Yorkshire. Most trusts have been forced back by determined and united opposition from affected staff members in Mid Yorkshire, Leeds and Doncaster. The Wigan Unison members also forced a climbdown by their trust after a limited period of strike action. It was looking as if the plans were being kicked into the long grass by the NHS after a review of their success, until this dispute blew up.
In an earlier ballot in Bradford Unison had failed to get over the 50% threshold for taking legal action and the trust mistakenly assumed they could railroad this through. However, with a more determined recruitment campaign and a second ballot, Unison secured an overwhelming majority of over 80% for strike action. Management decided to call the union's bluff and refused to back down. The first week-long strike took place last month with overwhelming support from the workers and the public.
On every day of the strike over 300 turned out with at least 40 new members joining the union. The picket lines were noisy, united and jubilant. The unity in action has been an inspiration. Filipino, Asian, Afro-Caribbean and white British workers have stood shoulder to shoulder and grown more militant as the strike has developed. At the first mass rally, when asked if they were prepared to take more action, workers demanded the union take them out for a fortnight!
On the back foot, the trust has tried to offer sweeteners by suggesting they will guarantee the same terms and conditions as in the NHS for 25 years. This has been rejected unanimously by the strikers. They demand to stay in the NHS.
The battle lines are now drawn. This strike is of national importance. A victory could see off the whole idea of wholly owned companies in the NHS. It is vital the strikers get moral, financial and practical support. UNISON’s national leadership must continue and step up it's support for the strike, which is receiving wholehearted support from the local labour movement. We can't allow these strikers to be forced back due to hardship. Workplace and union donations are urgently needed. Please send in messages of support and visit picket lines when you can.
Victory to the Bradford strikers!
Please send donations to ‘Unison Health’ UNISON Resource Centre, St Mary’s Hospital, Greenhill Road, Leeds LS12 3QE
Donations to the account at Unity, Unison Health Branch
Acc No 49021215 Sort Code 60-83-01
Tel 01274 396383
The Socialist Party, and before it the Militant tendency, has been a section of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) in England and Wales since 1974. The CWI is an international organisation based on the ideas and methods of democratic socialism, Marxism and Trotskyism, and further developed by the hard work and sacrifices of comrades across the world.
This includes 3 TDs (MPs) in Ireland, an elected councilmember in Seattle, and members fighting in the revolutionary movements in Sudan, Hong Kong and elsewhere. Sadly, after 45 years, the majority of the leadership of the CWI and England and Wales section have chosen to abandon the CWI and the bold ideas it was founded upon.
On Sunday 21st July, a Special Congress in London passed a resolution stating that the many members of the Socialist Party who still support the CWI, "will have to do so outside of the Socialist Party". In reality, the resolution is a cowardly method of expulsion from the party, following a campaign of witch-hunts, bullying and lies against the majority of CWI sections.
This was all but confirmed when a leading Socialist Party member from the platform said: "goodbye and good riddance" to CWI supporters - a remark the leadership has refused to retract.
The majority of the SP leadership are running scared from a debate about socialist programme and tactics, only half way through an agreed one-year process of debate. Instead of having a discussion in the democratically convened leadership bodies of the CWI – the International Executive Committee and the World Congress (which all sides had agreed to) and risking losing a vote, they have chosen to expel the majority of the organisation and walk away with the resources, including hundreds of thousands of pounds, against the will of the majority of its members.
They have, in effect, attempted to enact the bureaucratic expulsion of the majority of the CWI: entire organisations and groups in Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Greece, Hong Kong, Israel/Palestine, Ireland, Italy, Ivory Coast, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Quebec, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Taiwan, Turkey, Tunisia, and the USA from the CWI, as well as a majority of members in Germany and South Africa who oppose their plans.
Over 100 comrades in England & Wales, including a majority of active members in over a dozen key cities, stand together with the CWI majority in opposing this course of action. A meeting on 22nd July voted unanimously to refound the CWI in England and Wales, rejecting these bureaucratic expulsions and continuing to organise in the proud tradition of Militant in Britain - the traditions of socialist democracy and Marxism.
Further explanation and analysis will follow. We call on all Socialist Party members, and in the wider workers and social movements to join us in fighting for a socialist world!
Around 100 socialists attended an historic rally and meeting over two days on 21 and 22 July to refound the England and Wales section of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI).
The Sunday rally brought a flavour of the international strength of the CWI, with speakers from Germany, Hong Kong, Sweden, the US, and Ireland.
Becci Heagney, former national committee member of the Socialist Party of England and Wales, chaired the rally. Fittingly, the first speaker was a founder member of the CWI: Per Ake, from Sweden, who declared “the international is dead. Long live the international!”
The rally also heard from Jaco who described the excellent and dynamic interventions by Socialist Action (CWI China/Hong Kong/Taiwan) members into the explosive mass democracy movement in Hong Kong, which has paralysed the Carrie Lam regime with demonstrations of up to 2 million (1 in 4 people).
Socialist Action members are working in exceptionally difficult circumstances and are helping to popularise the idea of a one-day political strike to smash the new extradition laws. They are calling for the movement to spread to mainland China in order to topple the world’s biggest dictatorship.
Jeanine from Germany brought solidarity from the Faction for Revolutionary Internationalism there, which is fighting its own battle in solidarity with the CWI majority.
Keely gave an account of Socialist Alternative’s (CWI US) campaign work around the Stop and Shop Strike, where 31,000 shop workers went on strike across New England. The dispute demonstrated the importance of a flexible approach to tactics when taking part in and supporting trade union disputes, even those where our members do not already have a base.
Keely explained how the innovative approach of Socialist Alternative helped to win an important layer to the ideas of revolutionary socialism through this dispute.
Joe Higgins, a founder member of the Irish section of the CWI, described the recent successful Repeal referendum in Ireland in which our comrades, including our three elected TDs, played an absolutely central role. This was a spectacular defeat for the reactionary Irish Catholic Church, as well for the state and builds on the fighting record of Socialist Party Ireland in leading the anti-water charges movement.
The meeting also received a warm message of solidarity from Seattle’s Socialist Alternative City Council member Kshama Sawant, who is currently battling to be elected for a third term to continue the fight against the world’s richest person: Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.
Mike from Huddersfield ended the rally affirming: “what we have today on this platform is the strength of our international” and summarised the mood of the room that though angry at the result of the dispute, we are enthused by what will be possible going forward with our sister parties by our side.
This enthusiasm was indicated by the fantastic financial appeal, introduced by Nof from Coventry, which raised £15,000 on the night, with thousands more gathered since.
The next day around 80 now ex-Socialist Party members met to discuss the way forward following our expulsions, to continue building the CWI in England and Wales.
While the meeting was aimed at drawing out the lessons of the dispute, including the political roots of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Socialist Party leadership, the discussions were very forward-looking.
Leading trade unionists from around the country spoke on the need to develop a serious approach to building within the trade union movement, including among the increasingly militant workers in the gig economy.
The critical importance of trade union bulletins was also raised by a number of speakers. Revolutionaries need to be steeled to navigate the sharp twists and turns in the trade union movement, especially when up against hostile bureaucratic elements. Open and honest discussion among members, including drawing upon the wealth of experience across the international, will be essential in ensuring these lessons are learned and recorded for the future.
CWI members raised the need for energetic interventions into the growing movement around climate change, which has seen young people begin to move into active political struggle – partially explaining the Green surge in the recent elections.
With a looming global climate catastrophe, the socialist transformation of society has never been more urgent. It is paramount, therefore, that socialists intervene positively and creatively into this movement, winning young people to the banner of revolutionary socialism.
Others issues discussed were how socialists intervene into movements around special oppressions, such as women and LGBTQ+ issues. While recognising that many of these movements are cross-class in nature, socialists have a duty to intervene to fight against divisive ideas such as identity politics, which is typically used to play one group off against another.
The leading role played by CWI members in Ireland, Belgium and the US in movements against special oppressions are rich in lessons for socialists. We must go forward and debate these achievements in an open and honest fashion, including drawing out how mistakes, when they are inevitably made, can be corrected. As Keely stated: “In the past, the CWI did not act to help address challenges our sections are facing. We need to share in collective triumph and collective mistakes.”
The best way to maintain a healthy, democratic socialist organisation is to develop a “critical membership”. An informed approach to our work, nationally and internationally, will be essential in achieving this.
“He who has the youth”, to quote Lenin, “has the future”. And the meeting was certainly young. But there was also no shortage of experience – with some comrades claiming membership as long as 40 years. Every speaker clearly represented the best and most dynamic traditions of the CWI.
The CWI remains the most powerful and effective Trotskyist international in the world. And while its numbers are yet still small, the work we do on the ground in more than 30 countries enriches our perspectives about the world situation.
Ultimately, it is this combination of youth, experience and internationalism that will enable the refounded England and Wales section of the CWI, armed with a clear Marxist programme, to build the forces of socialist revolution into the future.
Amidst the turmoil in Hong Kong - with hundreds of thousands, even millions, on the streets every day - CWI Hong Kong managed to spare Jaco, a leading member, to come to Britain and Ireland for a week to tell the truth about what is happening there.
Jaco spoke alongside other international speakers at an electric CWI rally held in London on Sunday 21 July (see report). In following days, at a Midlands meeting held in Leicester, and a Northern one in Manchester, Jaco gave a first-hand account of the monster demonstrations against the proposed extradition law in Hong Kong, and the dynamic intervention of the comrades in Socialist Action (socialism.hk) who have handed out thousands of leaflets and sold hundreds of papers. Jaco gave clear answers to questions from the floor, such as whether a military intervention by China is likely.
The meetings attracted over 30 people each, including former Hong Kong residents now living in the UK whom we did not know previously and who wish to remain in touch with a view to taking part in solidarity action here. The Northern meeting was held on one of the hottest days of the year and rail disruption meant that Jaco was unable to reach Manchester, but we were able to arrange a video link that was very effective. The collections at the two meetings raised over £500 towards Jaco’s air and rail fares.
The CWI section in Hong Kong is doing fantastic work and this was a great opportunity to hear about it and to express solidarity with them.
The election of the Eton-educated, racist toff Boris Johnson as Tory leader and thus the new prime minister reflects the political crisis of British capitalism, but it also poses a fresh And urgent challenge to the workers’ movement.
Despite his bumbling persona and his populist rhetoric, Johnson is an ideological representative of the super-rich. He campaigned on promises to cut taxes for the wealthy. This is an affront to those barely surviving thanks to Tory ‘welfare’ reform, communities suffering the impact of cuts to services and the millions of workers struggling to make ends meet. He will continue and perhaps even sharpen his predecessors’ attacks on the working class.
The central plank of Johnson’s campaign was to take the UK out of the EU on 31st October, no matter what. He and the Tory Little Englanders don’t give a damn about working class people. A hard Brexit under Johnson will mean not just the maintenance of the EU's anti-working class policies but their stepping up.
Johnson stood for the Tory leadership on a platform of tax cuts for the rich. Under his plans the the 40% rate of income tax will be raised to £80,000. This against a backdrop of historically high inequality. One recent study suggests that inequality is as high today as it was at the start of World War Two. Meanwhile average pay for the bankers, who Bojo resolutely defended during his campaign, was £2 million per year as of March 2019.
Johnson has promised spending like more police on the streets and £5,000 per school student but it remains to be of and how this would be achieved. The fallout from a no-deal Brexit as he envisions it would mean there would be nothing left to fund services. In reality these promises are just a sop to working class people who, after nine years of Tory government have had enough of austerity. They are unlikely to quell the anger that lurks not far beneath surface. Huge social explosions and upheavals are inherent in the current situation. Even the Tories are aware that one false move from Johnson could act as the trigger.
Johnson made defeating Corbyn a key battle cry in his campaign, reflecting the fear of the capitalist class of even Corbyn’s modest, social democratic policies. Unfortunately, Corbyn is currently in a weak position, having made concession after concession on Brexit and around the largely manufactured antisemitism scandal to Labour’s Blairite right, who would rather see the Tories remain in office than a government under his leadership.
Corbyn can win a future general election but, to do so, he and all socialists in the Labour Party must now go on the offensive. Corbyn’s anti-austerity programme in the 2017 general election enthused millions and should be built upon now. Immediately Labour must hold rallies in every town and city calling for a general election, and putting forward socialist policies. This can help build momentum towards a general election and prepare the ground for creating a movement to get rid of the Tories.
This should include campaigning around a clear, socialist programme of nationalisation, an end to austerity and measures to eliminate poverty through investment in socially useful jobs and services. Corbyn and those who back him should put forward a vision for a socialist Brexit, which would free his government from the shackles of the capitalist EU, its barriers to nationalisation and state investment, while also avoiding hard borders and defending workers’ rights, the environment and migrants.
To achieve this, Corbyn will have to also go on the offensive against the Blairites who are ensconced the Parliamentary Labour Party. Democratise Labour from top to bottom, allowing the aspirations of the rank-and-file membership to be fully reflected in its upper echelons. Central to this is the question of mandatory reselection, giving local memberships the automatic right to remove sitting MPs who do not reflect their views. This should be urgently implemented in preparation for the next election, to ensure Labour can present a clear and united message and to prevent the Blairites sabotaging a government under Corbyn’s leadership.
Johnson sits atop a profoundly weak and divided Tory party, reflected in his ‘night of the long knives’ cabinet reshuffle. The beginnings of mass opposition to him is already being demonstrated through youthful protests. The trade union and labour movement should launch an offensive to drive Johnson and his ilk from power, organising coordinated strike action and mass demonstrations against austerity and poverty pay and demanding a general election. We've heard fine words from the leaders of the trade union movement over the past nine years but now is the time for them to act. If they are not prepared to do so, working class people should not wait to mobilise their potential power and strength in workplaces and communities.
Such a revolt of working class people would lay the foundations for a movement that could end the misrule of the discredited Tories. It could also be the beginning of a movement that could fight for a socialist alternative to their austerity policies and the capitalist system it they defend.
This political statement attempts to explain to readers, in particular those aware of and active in the labour and social movements throughout Britain, the context in which a new formation organising members of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) in England & Wales has been born. We, and the CWI internationally, will publish more in-depth and specific material in the coming days and weeks, including some of the key documents from the internal debate in the Socialist Party and CWI which led to our expulsion and decision to continue the struggle for genuine socialism and internationalism as a new organisation.
On 21st July 2019 the Socialist Party of England & Wales voted at a specially-organised Congress, in favour of a motion to effectively expel over 100 members of the party for their opposition to the leadership’s drive to break away from the CWI. The CWI is the international socialist organisation, present in over 40 countries on all continents, which the Socialist Party (and Militant before it) has been affiliated to since its inception.
Days later in Camden, around 200 members supporting this decision, overwhelmingly from England & Wales, declared that they were to “re-found the CWI on the basis of a Trotskyist programme and method”, with affiliation only open to those prepared to accept their leadership.
This effectively ended 7 months of debate, a debate which all sides had agreed would run for a year, leading to a World Congress in early 2020. 7 months before, the majority of the Socialist Party’s England & Wales Executive Committee (EC), which also dominated the day to day leadership of the CWI (the ‘International Secretariat’- IS) had formed the unfortunately-named ‘Faction in Defence of a Working Class Trotskyist CWI (IDWCTCWI). From its inception, this faction made up a minority of the International Executive Committee of the CWI (a higher leading body which elects the IS).
As the debate went on, this faction not only failed to win over a majority of CWI members to its central positions, but lost support more and more rapidly. By the time they had pushed through the split, their faction had the support of less than 25% of the CWI’s active membership.
The leaders of the IDWCTCWI claim that the reason for this crisis is the development of a “petit bourgeois opposition” in the form of the IEC majority which, “has taken a right-ward opportunist turn, buckled to the pressures of identity politics, turned away from conducting a systematic and consistent struggle in the trade unions and blunted the revolutionary socialist programme that the CWI and its sections have fought to defend.” They assert that this political divergence justifies them ignoring the democratic structures which elected them, and boycotting the democratically convened meetings of the CWI IEC and World Congress.
We are confident that any independent observer will judge for themselves the lack of validity in these statements taken from the CWI website (which the IDWCTCWI now controls, against the will of the majority of CWI members). The truth is that those leading this faction had decisively lost the debate on a world scale and were cutting and running from the debate to prevent any further haemorrhaging of support and credibility, or the loss of their leading positions - “regime change” as they termed it. How can it be that in any kind of democratic and Marxist organisation a minority can take the decision to “re-found” it to the exclusion of the majority?
The majority of the CWI, which we are a part of, strove from the very beginning of the debate to avoid a damaging and counterproductive split in the ranks of the CWI and Socialist Party. While the debate centred around fundamental political issues - essentially relating to how to face up to a new situation and mass movements around the world, applying socialist ideas in an up to date and flexible, as opposed to a conservative and dogmatic fashion - we consistently made the point that the dimensions of the real political differences at stake did not justify the spectre of an organisational break.
In the current stormy world situation, the working class and its organisations cannot afford to be weakened unnecessarily. From the moment of the faction’s creation, we opposed the over-polarised method of debate which was being employed, which seemed to be more designed to build a case for a split through denunciation and exaggeration of everything, than to politically strengthen the organisation.
A democratic socialist organisation must be able to have constant democratic debate, with a culture of free discussion and criticism, which in no way undermines its unity in the struggle for socialism. Indeed, the CWI has a proud history of democratic and measured debate.
So how did we reach the point of this damaging split?
The IDWCTCWI was formed at the end of just 4 days of discussion at the meeting of the CWI IEC in November 2018. This meets to discuss international political developments and elect a day to day leadership for the CWI, the IS.
At this meeting, a series of controversies broke out around the work of the Irish section. Essentially, those who went on to form the IDWCTCWI claimed that in their bold intervention into the Repeal referendum on abortion rights in 2017, the Irish comrades had capitulated to “Identity politics”.
Instead of attempting to engage in a genuine debate on these issues the IS sought to railroad through a split with the Irish section. In the weeks leading up to the IEC, leading members of numerous national sections reported that they had received phone calls lobbying for a quick split. It was this that IEC members objected to and it was on this issue that the IS was outvoted at the IEC meeting itself. The majority of comrades said yes to a full political debate, but insisted that this take place in line with our democratic traditions, and not with the threat of a split hanging over our heads.
Instead of listening to concerns of the comrades and adapting their approach the IS majority started along the path to the crisis that now envelops their organisation. They formed their faction, announcing the existence of “fundamental differences of principle” before any discussion had taken place within the ranks of the CWI to clarify the issues and to seek unity in a principled basis.
It was this method of rash organisational measures taken before any discussions had taken place that was to be a hallmark of their approach throughout this dispute, marked by their rapid bureaucratic degeneration.
In place of political arguments, the IDWCTCWI instead concocted conspiracy theories to justify its existence. The IEC majority was dubbed the 'Non Faction Faction', a supposedly shadowy undeclared grouping that had been operating within the CWI for years to undermine its leadership.
One by one, as sections’ leaderships opposed the approach taken by the IS to the Irish section, a list of political crimes was attributed to them. Sections such as the US, Greece, Belgium and Hong Kong/China/Taiwan were accused of turning away from the working-class and not carrying out systematic work in the trade unions. Others were accused of watering down their programmes, and bending to opportunism and reformism (fighting for reforms without fighting to replace capitalism with socialism).
We do not have the space in this brief statement to go into all of these accusations in detail. Suffice it to say that even a cursory look at the work and material of the majority of the CWI speaks for itself. From the IDWCTCWI, in place of serious analysis we have quotes selectively ripped out of context to prove a conclusion already drawn before pen had been put to paper. They first decided that a split needed to occur, and then set out to make the case politically. This is Marxism in reverse.
Many of those in England and Wales who refused to go along with this approach were accused of another crime - “conciliationism”. It was claimed that we had put unity before politics. The truth of the matter was that we simply didn’t agree with the faction’s analysis of the work of the majority of our International’s sections and were not prepared to follow the IS and EC majorities towards an unnecessary split and sectarian isolation.
Like the IDWCTCWI, we agree that only the working class, through its collective strength and economic power, can bring about an end to capitalism and the socialist transformation of society. We agree that this necessitates patient work building in the workers’ organisations, the trade unions. But we also disagree with a rigid and dogmatic approach to that work.
The exact nature of the work of a healthy socialist international organisation in trade unions will vary from country to country depending on a vast number of factors. These include level of unionisation and attitude of workers toward their union, the level of bureaucratisation in the union, etc. The question is of course, not if but how we carry our work the unions and how best to organise amongst the working class to rebuild a fighting, socialist labour movement. Throughout the crisis the response of the IS majority to anyone raising this question was to point to the work in England and Wales, where very good trade union work has been done by the Socialist Party, and call on comrades to simply replicate that.
The dispute also sharply revealed the IDWCTCWI leaders’ conservatism on issues around women’s and LGBT oppression. The Socialist Party in Ireland has played a pioneering role in women’s movements particularly around the Repeal referendum on abortion rights in 2018. They have been
at the forefront of the movement emphasising the collective role that the working class must play in the struggle and the demand for real abortion rights. They launched the Socialist Feminist movement, ROSA, in 2010 which has become an important point of reference for radicalised young women in particular.
What was the first intervention which the leaders of the IDWCTCWI made in relation to this movement? Was it in the run up to the campaign to offer advice and help on how the section should orientate to the movement? No. It was when the referendum was done and dusted, to question whether the Irish section was devoting too much time and resources to the women’s movement and criticise them for allegedly “turning away from the working class” in the process.
In practice, they developed an increasingly rigid distinction between classical working class industrial struggle over economic issues, and mass movements against specific forms of oppression (gender, race, sexuality etc). The genuine approach of revolutionary socialism sees the connection between the two in the fight against capitalist misery, a connection which is demonstrated in strikes against women’s oppression, an increasingly important feature of the worldwide class struggle.
The same tendency was revealed in relation to LGBTQ+ rights. In one of the debate’s key documents, IDWCTCWI leader, Peter Taaffe, wrote “we also support the legitimate rights of the LGBTQ+ movement, so long as they do not conflict with the rights of others, and can be resolved by democratic discussion”.
We reject this approach to any liberation movement. We do not buy into the claims that there is any “conflict of rights” between trans people and other sections of the working class. The effect of adopting such an approach would be divide our class along gender, sex, race and other lines and would be an impediment to building a united working class movement to change society.
That the leadership of the IDWCTCWI seem to have conceded to such an approach is a worrying development and shows a tendency to bend to the consciousness of a small, more backward layer of the working class.
Socialists oppose all forms of prejudice, oppression and bigotry. We fight to achieve the immediate aims and demands of movements fighting for liberation.
Most importantly, the role of a revolutionary socialist organisation is to patiently explain how all oppression is rooted in class society. And that they can only be defeated on the basis of a mass movement, led by the working class, that can fight to replace capitalism with a socialist society.
Another key difference was on the issue of the “transitional method”, which refers to how socialists put forward our programme for revolution today. Leon Trotsky wrote “the transitional programme” in 1938 at a time of acute capitalist crisis. He explained that “transitional demands” should link the day to day struggles of working class people to the need to a fight for the socialist transformation of society.
Over the past year, across the world hundreds of thousands of young people, particularly school students, have taken party in climate strikes protesting against capitalism’s inability to prevent a looming environmental catastrophe. In this movement we saw how the approach of the Socialist Party leadership was often reduced to the repetition of abstract slogans, centrally “socialist change not climate change”, which was posed as a socialist alternative to the “system change not climate change” slogan which predominated in the movement.
While of course we agree with this slogan, the central task of a socialist organisation intervening in this historic international mass movement is to patiently and skilfully explain why effectively fighting for “system change” requires embracing a socialist programme. This, and not focussing on competing abstract slogans, is the essence of a really “transitional method”.
A genuine socialist approach would give socialism real content, for example by calling for the nationalisation of big fossil fuel companies and for the nationalisation of the automotive industry which on the basis of a democratic planning could be retooled to produce environmentally sustainable public transport and other vehicles. It would explain how chaotic and conflict-ridden capitalism is incapable of the international cooperation and economic reorganisation and planning necessary to really avoid a global climate catastrophe.
Instead of such an approach, focussed on patiently explaining the need for a socialist programme, the Socialist Party leadership became more focussed on how many times the word “socialist” appeared on placards and leaflets as the sign of a healthy intervention.
Perhaps the biggest expression of the Socialist Party leadership’s political degeneration is in the increasingly bureaucratic and undemocratic approach it took to the debate, which accelerated at an alarming speed in the last months.
Their original message to Socialist Party members was that all they wanted was a debate which would be “clarifying” and “educational” for the whole of the International. At the National Congress of the Socialist Party in March a motion was unanimously passed committing the party to undertake a year-long debate and participate in the CWI World Congress in 2020. Just weeks later, in May, that had all changed. We were told that a split was now inevitable and it was better that we “go our separate ways”. Why this change of heart 5 months into a debate that was supposed to last a year? Was it because we had achieved clarity? Or because the IDWCTCWI faction had conclusively proved their case to the membership? No, quite the opposite in fact.
At a IDCWTCWI faction meeting in London in April, a rupture took place between the principle protagonists of the faction. The leadership of the Spanish state section ‘Izquierda Revolucionaria’ not only walked out of the faction but out of the CWI altogether, taking with them small groups in Portugal, Mexico, Germany and Venezuela to found a “new international”. We had warned from the start that the faction was an unprincipled lash-up, and that there were important contradictions within it, not least between the IS majority and the Spanish leadership.
The main significance of this for the IS faction was that it meant there was no way they would be able to win a majority at a World Congress or IEC meeting of the CWI. They had lost the debate in the International, now finding themselves in a minority in Germany (where most of the leadership had supported them) and were facing significant and growing opposition in England and Wales. This is when they decided to cut and run.
While any comrade or group of comrades has the right to decide to leave an organisation, in this case this was combined with an undemocratic grabbing of the collective material and financial resources of the entire organisation, despite a majority of it clearly disagreeing. In preparation for this, a democratically-elected CWI financial auditor was refused access to the accounts of the CWI, to find out how members’ money was being spent.
At a May Socialist Party National Committee (NC) meeting in London, we were told that the debate was over. This NC meeting voted to remove the two members of the Socialist Party EC who had opposed the faction’s drive for a split. Slurs and slanders were directed against them and others who opposed the leadership faction. The newly elected 100% IDWCTCWI Executive Committee then refused to circulate an open letter signed by over 130 Socialist Party members protesting at their approach. When eventually forced to circulate the letter, they only distributed it with the signatories removed. These are not the actions of a leadership confident in defending its position in an open and democratic debate.
Before May the two dissenting members of the IS had already been told they were not welcome to work in the International’s office, and their wages were later withheld. Attempts were also made to withhold the wages of Socialist Party full time workers who opposed the faction.
All the while, the day to day leading bodies of the party and the international were not meeting, being exclusively dedicated to factional struggle. As a result of the actions of a tiny group of leading members, the work of the entire party and the work of the international leadership ground to a halt.
The Faction for Revolutionary Internationalism (FRI) was formed in the aftermath of the May NC to uphold the democratic rights of all members of the party. We also fought for a thematic democratic debate to take place throughout the whole of the party and to re-commit the party to a year-long debate, taking the threat of a damaging split off the table. This call fell on deaf ears. We also formed in opposition to the sectarian and conservative political trend which the Socialist Party leadership was embracing. We were, and are still, fighting to uphold the real ideas, programme and methods of the CWI.
The FRI successfully built support throughout the Socialist Party, and won the support of a majority of active members in several key cities including Manchester, Salford, Merseyside, Leicester, Sheffield, Huddersfield, and Brighton.
A new chapter, based on revolutionary internationalism, socialism and democracy
While we were ultimately unsuccessful in preventing this damaging split, we remain determined to build a strong Marxist force in Britain and internationally, together with the CWI which remains united and is fighting in over 30 countries worldwide. We are united with comrades who are fighting for socialist revolution as we speak in the mass revolutionary movement in Sudan and the popular rebellions taking place in Hong Kong and Puerto Rico.
The leadership of the Socialist Party, in launching a new 'mini international' of small satellite groups in which one national organisation dominates, has turned away from the approach of genuine Marxist internationalism. We are determined to continue to struggle to make working class internationalism more than just a nice abstract idea, and work in Britain as part of a cohesive whole on a world scale, politically and organisationally taking our world revolutionary party - the CWI, in which no one national organisation can dominate - as our starting point.
Capitalism is a system of crisis, endemic inequality and insecurity for the vast majority of the globes population – the working class. We seek to build a united movement of all working class people and the oppressed to defeat that system and build a socialist world.
In order to achieve this it is absolutely vital that we build a party and an international organisation with a socialist programme, which is based on the democratic participation of all of its members. A top down approach with exalted leaders calling all the shots, as became the internal reality of the Socialist Party, will not be capable of building a healthy party among the new generation, who are instinctively repelled by bureaucratic methods.
We seek to be present wherever the working class and oppressed move into action. Be it in trade union struggles against the bosses, movements against all forms of oppression, or community campaigns to defend services against austerity. We seek to point out the strategy and tactics necessary for those struggles to win.
Movements around figures like Sanders in the US, Corbyn in Britain and Mélenchon in France show that there is a deep hunger among working class and young people for change and for a way out of the crisis and instability which is all capitalism can offer. They also show that there is now a huge clamour for socialist ideas.
We support all of those movements. But we also say that the only way we can ensure their victory is by standing for an end to capitalism, taking the wealth out of the hands of the tiny number of bosses that currently control it.
We say that the big corporations and banks that control the vast majority of the world’s wealth and resources should be nationalised and placed under the democratic control and management of working class people. On that basis, a democratic plan of production can determine how that wealth is used for the benefit of all not just the few.
It is on that basis that we can finally liberate the whole of humanity from poverty, exploitation and oppression and build a genuinely socialist society.
If you wish to be part of that fight then join us today!