‘I feel at home here’. Those were the words so many of the people attending Socialism 2014 used to describe their response to the weekend event. They were workers, trade unionists, anti-cuts campaigners, young people, students and other members of the 99% hit by austerity and wanting to fight back.
Well over 1,000 people spent 48 hours being inspired and, in turn, inspiring others with their commitment and determination to fight back against the misery of capitalism.
The entire event was infused with a contagious confidence that our class, the working class, can fight and can win. That’s one reason why those involved in struggle felt at home.
Workshops, forums and rallies were packed out with people wanting to discuss and debate, listen and learn, and share experience and lessons from the fight against cuts, crisis and capitalism.
The Saturday night rally (see report below) was electric as the huge audience lifted the roof in the Camden Centre in its appreciation of the ideas and analysis put forward by all the fantastic speakers. There were two standing ovations for Seattle socialist councillor Kshama Sawant.
- Socialist Books took over £2,000, reflecting the determination to understand socialist ideas among those in attendance.
- The financial appeal raised £22,000 to fund the work of the Socialist Party and the socialist international to which it’s affiliated, the Committee for a Workers’ International.
- Alan Hardman, long-time cartoonist for the Socialist Party and Militant before, raised almost £1,000 selling prints of his amazing drawings.
A great many outstanding speakers and contributions helped to make the weekend such an enormous success. An army of Socialist Party members worked tirelessly chairing, stewarding, carrying boxes and doing all the countless tasks that are required to put on a successful event.
This event gave a taste of the Socialist Party – confident in the working class’s ability to struggle to change the world – organised, determined, bringing together experience and youth, growing, and proud to be socialist. If you think you could be at home in a party like that, join us!Sarah Sachs Eldridge
Inspirational rally with confidence in future battlesSteve Score, editor of the Socialist
The Saturday rally of Socialism 2014 was inspirational. The Camden Centre was full to bursting with an enthusiastic audience listening to a platform of speakers who have all led struggles, many of which have been victorious.
Chairing the rally Socialist Party national organiser Sarah Sachs-Eldridge pointed to the record of the speakers, not only in fighting the attacks on the 99% of the population by the super-rich 1%, but also in putting forward an alternative to capitalist crisis.
Ian Hodson, president of the bakers’ union BFAWU, whose members at the Hovis bakery in Wigan defeated zero-hour contracts through taking action, in a barnstorming opening speech said: “We showed the power of our class. Yes, you can beat zero hour contracts”. He explained his union’s role in the Fast Food Rights campaign, also supported by Youth Fight For Jobs, and in the campaign for a £10 an hour minimum wage: “There should be no second class workers anywhere. It is also not acceptable to pay workers based on their age, it’s time to abolish the youth rate of the minimum wage”.
Ian went on to say: “Ritzy (cinema) workers in London won a 26% pay rise. Yet they say striking doesn’t win! Tell that to the Ritzy workers. Let’s also salute the St Mungo’s workers who won a victory through strike action.”
Brian Smith, secretary of Glasgow city council Unison (speaking in a personal capacity) and member of Socialist Party Scotland, explained the mood of workers and young people in the recent independence referendum in Scotland. The 1.6 million-strong Yes vote reflected a “huge radicalisation”. It included a big majority of the 16 and 17 year olds who were able to vote for the first time and was motivated by a desire for “a different way of running society”.
Socialist Party Scotland’s slogan of “yes to independence, but fight for socialism” highlighted that an SNP-led Scotland would not “remove poverty or provide working class people with a future. We call for an independent socialist Scotland, linked to a socialist England, Wales and Ireland.” The biggest turnout at the ballot box since universal suffrage began proved that workers are “not turned off by politics, they are turned off by current politicians”.
Although the No vote won, based on a huge campaign of fear waged by the parties of big business, in fact the “losers won and the winners lost”. The collapse in Labour Party support shows the need for a new mass workers’ party, and Socialist Party Scotland is committed to building the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.
The next speaker was Mark Serwotka, recently re-elected as the general secretary of the PCS civil service union. His union has been at the sharp end of the resistance to government attacks on public services; 87,000 civil service jobs have gone in the last four years.
The government is now attempting to “bankrupt the union” by getting rid of the check-off system of deducting union membership subs direct from wages, which is the route of 97% of the union’s income. He warned: “The next government, whoever it is, will be one of austerity, privatisation and spending cuts. The unions need to step up to the plate. The PCS has supported all the coordinated strike action that has happened so far. I call on the leaders of all the unions – let’s strike together as a matter of urgency “. He also pointed to the need “to build an alternative political force that has the credibility to stand in elections.”
Ruth Coppinger, one of the three Socialist Party (Ireland) members elected to the Irish parliament, spoke with passion. A sister party of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, the Socialist Party in Ireland has played a leading role in the massive movement taking place now against water charges. Ruth reported: “A week ago, 200,000 people attended 100 local protests across Ireland. Four weeks ago 100,000 attended a demonstration against the water charges in Dublin, equivalent in terms of population to 800,000 on the streets of London. This has been a mass uprising from below.”
The Socialist Party (Ireland) is spearheading a mass campaign of non-payment to defeat the water tax. But it isn’t just about that tax. There have been years of austerity imposed by the ‘troika’ of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Ironically, the “boasts of the established parties” that there is a ‘recovery’ have played a role in changing the mood. “People are saying – if it’s a recovery why are we having another austerity measure? Where’s our recovery? But it’s also about the betrayal of the Labour Party, who said they would go into a coalition government to defend us.”
The Socialist Party (Ireland) took part in setting up the Anti Austerity Alliance (AAA), linking up with other activists, which won 14 council seats in the local elections in May. Paul Murphy, a Socialist Party member was elected as an AAA TD (member of the Irish parliament) with the result being announced on the same day as the mass demo in Dublin. A political alternative to austerity is being built.
50 years fighting for socialism
Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary, drew the rally’s attention to the role of Militant, the forerunner of the Socialist, which was founded 50 years ago. He also explained the role that the Socialist Party and the Committee for a Workers’ International, of which the Socialist Party is part, has played. He quoted from the speech that Margaret Thatcher wrote for, but didn’t deliver to, the 1984 Tory Party conference because of the Brighton terrorist bombing that year. In it she identified the ‘Militant Tendency’, along with miners’ union leader of the time, Arthur Scargill, as the “enemy within.”
But we beat her “through the mighty movement of Poll Tax non-payers”, which was done in “the same way that our comrades in Ireland are now battling the water charge”.
We also took her on in the massive 1980s’ battle of the Liverpool councillors, some of who were in the audience. “We are proud of the accomplishments of those battles”, Peter said.
Some accuse the Socialist Party of ‘reformism’ because of the Liverpool struggle, and direct the same charge today at our co-thinkers in the US, Socialist Alternative, because of the $15 Now campaign in Seattle. Peter answered this by saying: “Yes we are guilty of winning reforms for the working class! The $15 Now campaign is a model throughout the US and the world. “
In the anti-Poll Tax struggle, we took on the ruling class: “Over 100 were jailed, 34 of them supporters of the Militant.” These movements “show what can be achieved through determined leadership”. In certain periods of history it is possible to win reforms. But in a period of capitalist crisis it is not possible to maintain those unless we are prepared to change the system.
To illustrate how much the living standards of workers are being hit, Peter explained: “If wages had increased at the same rate as bosses’ pay, they would now be £19 an hour. What a condemnation of right wing trade union leaders!
“Warren Buffet, the second richest man in the world, has said there is a class war and the ruling class is winning! Inequality is built into the fabric of capitalist society.” The capitalists’ traditional role was to plough their profits back into investment. But instead, “In the US alone, $5 trillion are sitting uninvested in cash piles; equal to a third of the US national income”.
Some capitalists are worried about the generally low level of wages. The German Bundesbank has even urged trade unions to fight for higher pay! This shows what a blind alley capitalism is in. Yet the capitalists as a whole want to see the austerity programmes continued.
The working class has no mass party through which to fight back. Peter described the crisis in the Labour Party due to its austerity policies. The mood in Scotland is a “catastrophe for the Labour Party”, because of its role in opposing the Yes vote for independence that represented an “uprising of the working class” against austerity.
But it isn’t just a crisis in Scotland. Leader of the Unite union Len McCluskey warned that if Labour continues along the same lines, after the next election it might be time to build an alternative, a new workers’ party. “But we say to him – that’s too late! Workers are looking for an alternative now. Look at Spain: Podemos, founded only a few months ago, is now the largest party in the polls.”
This is why the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is aiming to stand 1,000 council candidates and 100 general election candidates in May next year. It is a bold step, but it must be taken.
Peter concluded: “Capitalism has had its day. No longer can it develop the means of production.” It is our job to fight to get rid of it. “This generation is lucky – because it can take part in a battle to change the world.”
After a finance appeal by Socialist Party Wales secretary Dave Reid that raised a fantastic £22,000, the climax of the evening was a speech from Kshama Sawant, who was elected onto Seattle city council with nearly 100,000 votes as a Socialist Alternative (SA) candidate. She played a key role in achieving a council vote for a $15 an hour minimum wage in Seattle, which will lift 100,000 workers out of poverty, a transfer of $3 billion from the bosses to the low paid. She was given a standing ovation, both before and after her speech. After giving greetings from her party, SA, Kshama said: “Many have written about Seattle as a ‘peculiar city’, to elect a socialist and achieve the highest minimum wage in the country – double the federal minimum. But it’s far more to do with the early awakening of US workers. It is a search for a way of fighting back. There is a strong questioning of capitalism and an openness to socialist ideas”.
Kshama explained how SA is taking up a number of issues, including supporting the fight against huge rent rises for people in low income housing, working with unions fighting for decent pay and fighting against discrimination that faces minority groups. Their work has succeeded in changing ‘Columbus day’ – celebrating a coloniser – to ‘Indigenous Peoples’ day’, celebrating indigenous culture and opposing discrimination.
SA has shown what a difference a socialist representative makes. The council pays $117,000 a year to each of its councillors. Kshama though is taking home only the $40,000 average workers’ wage and donates the rest to a solidarity fund that supports workers’ struggles.
SA’s support has grown; Kshama has a 60% approval rating in her area, higher than any other council member.
The US mid-term elections, rather than indicating a shift to the right, was a verdict on the failure of the Democrats to deliver on any of the hopes invested in the election of Obama. The low turnout showed that. “Two thirds even of those who voted didn’t expect it to bring about any change!”.
In areas that the Democrats lost, there have still been progressive proposals passed, including an increase in the minimum wage in four states. Consciousness is changing because of the bankruptcy of capitalist policies. “The US working class is not weighed down by the betrayals of social democracy like Labour in Britain.” This is why there is so much potential for socialist ideas now.
SA is able to have an effect beyond its size in leading struggles, because of its clear political analysis and confidence in the working class. The fast food workers’ strikes, begun in 2012, showed the mood. The $15 now campaign has spread to 20 cities.
“We are now taking the first steps towards a new mass workers’ party in the US. Capitalism is undermining itself. All its institutions are seen as rotten by big sections of the population. The US congress is less popular than head lice and cockroaches according to a recent poll!”
The explosive potential of the new generation is shown by the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri after the killing of a young black man by a racist police force.
Climate change is also critical. Kshama spoke alongside Naomi Klein and others at a large gathering in New York marking an environment demonstration of 100,000 people.
Kshama finished with the rallying call: “Let’s build the powerful force that we know is necessary – because we have a world to win!”
This was one of the best rallies the Socialism event has held, it lifted the audience and gave us the confidence to go out and build socialist ideas.
On the following day there was a second large rally, again in the Camden Centre, that heard Dublin AAA TD Paul Murphy, St Mungo’s striker Adam Lambert, TUSC chair Dave Nellist, Tamil activist Isai Priya and Hannah Sell for the Socialist Party. A report of this rally and of the many workshops that took place over the weekend will be posted soon.