Tony Benn never doubted the Labour movement

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It is a sadness that Tony Benn did not live to see the landslide election of Jeremy Corbyn but he never doubted that it could, and would happen… as he makes clear at the end of this speech in the video clip above.

It is very fitting that Jeremy Corbyn should be elected on the anniversary of Allende’s death in Chile.  Pinochet’s dictatorship has acted as a template for the neoliberal ascendancy in the western world, and let us hope that the overwhelming support for Jeremy’s leadership signals the beginning of a ‘domino’ effect for left parties across Europe, and the world in general.  It is fear of this sort of popular rejection of neoliberalism which underpins the trade deals like TTIP… and explains the urgent attempts of the financial-corporate nexus to lock in de-regulation and privatisation, beyond the reach of democratically elected governments.

Now the task is to take on the Tories and their devastatingly, destructive policies both at home and internationally.

Is the whisper of the People heard through “Democracy” looking down on them? @Corbyn4Leader

Democracy or Philanthropy? How can we combat poverty and injustice?

The Collective Voice of Labour

Think tanks, philanthropists, charities, celebrities  and  lobbyists are shouting from the wings the answers to an impoverished world.  Joseph Rowntree, Barrow  Cadbury, Bill Gates, Russell Brand, Oxfam, and NSPCC are just a few. All these are undoubtedly good deeds and with the best intentions, and yet poverty prevails. We can go on, but where where is the place for charity and philanthropy in a democratic society? Do we have a real democracy at all?  Why is Russell Brand’s voice any more valid or interesting than yours or mine?

 For whom do the rich and powerful  speak, and should they?

When rich people make a decision to spend money on supposed good deeds, they abuse power. The media abuses power. Is charity  a quick fix to alleviate stresses in a crisis? Do they address the injustices or reinforce them? It is a quandary which I have struggled with and blogged about. In a true democracy each vote should be equal. Whoever we elect, it seems that the resultant politicians abuse that power we give them.

Caring deeds are admirable, helping one another out on a day-to-day basis comes naturally, and the spirit of ’45 is something our society needs to recapture. That caring  society is exactly what Thatcher denied existed, and that has been eroded. On the other hand having to depend on charity is degrading and humiliating. I think this is why people become suspicious of one another, and fear anyone who’s different to them. We need to learn to trust again. We need honesty, not smoke and mirrors.

What is wrong with everything is capitalism, competing consumers clambering over one another and anything to get to the top of the pile – whatever that is. To throw crumbs from above (philanthropy) cannot justify the means taken to get there. When we build a society whitch satisfies everyone’s needs, and eliminates poverty, spend time alongside one another we have society. Tony Benn believed in a real democratic movement. He said Labour should say what we mean and mean what we say. Tony Benn encouraged me, and now Jeremy Corbyn stands to encourage new generations and rejuvenate our Labour movement. Jeremy Corbyn also stands apart in that belief. With Greece, where democracy was born, now on its knees, is our species doomed?  

It is the collective voice of Labour which must be heard and formulate policies for Labour – a leader needs to facilitate and encourage this voice to be heard.

Every voice matters, but that does not take away the responsibility for education, and we should use our influence to change minds and put the Labour Party back at the heart of the people.  The party should be formulating policy through a renewed internal democracy. First we must put in place a clear statement of our aims and objectives. These must be SMART and agreed by the party. We should be brave and honest. If we are not, no one else will be.  

Straight talking Labour is what we need to be.

From “In Place of Fear” , Ch.2, Aneurin Bevan (1)

“As we fumble with outworn categories our political vitality is sucked away and we stumble from one situation to another, without chart, without compass, and with the steering wheel lashed to a course we are no longer following. This is the real point of danger for a political party and for the leaders and thinkers who inspire it. For if they are out of touch with reality, the masses are not. Indeed, they are reality. For them their daily work is an escapable imperative. While those who are supposed to be doing the theorising for them are adrift like passengers in an escaped balloon, the workers are tied to reality by the nature of their work. In the absence of clear theoretical guidance, they make empirical adaptions and formulate practical categories. So far as these are incomplete, and therefore unsatisfactory, the first result is a distrust for those who have demonstrably failed them.”

We  failed as destruction and divisions of the Labour Party over the last three decades has left an impotent voice, where Labour politicians  are frightened to speak out in the media or alongside workers taking industrial action against austerity, and  yet continue to  agree with policies cutting public services. Our public services should not be available for breaking up for pickings for profit seekers. It is scandalous that a Labour government supported private finance initiatives breaking up our health and education – echoing the Tories. Is it any wonder people did not back Labour?

This is why we have to recapture a true democratic socialist movement. The Labour Party, and our politicians should stand alongside ordinary people who call for justice on picket lines, and marches.  Together we must defend  human rights, and our  trade unions and fight austerity. We must call for tighter control on banks, oppose TTIP and other supposed “free trade treaties”. We must support renationalisation – of the railways, energy, utilities – and democratic control of money, as a tool. All this is what ordinary people know and call for. Why aren’t our politicians?

Our politicians should not be frightened to stand with us against all these injustices and above all expose the truth about capitalism which is driving the world in a downwards spiral, and to stand up for the collective good for all which can be brought about by socialism.

I am backing Jeremy Corbyn to lead the Labour Party, and the people’s democracy.

Building a Movement from Below: The People’s Assembly

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The People’s Assembly: Building from Below:

  • What does this really mean?
  • What are the Implications?
  • Where does Labour Stand?

By Luke Cooper on this Saturday’s People’s Assembly Against Austerity previously published here:

The People’s Assembly

The People’s Assembly has resulted in a considerable bout of energetic debate on the British left, ranging from the super-supportive, to the cynically-critical, and those, on the money perhaps, who are supportively critical. But no one is seriously downplaying the size or scope of the event. With over 3,500 people set to converge on Westminster Central Hall it is clearly going to be the biggest ever gathering against austerity in Britain. It would be foolish to not see this as a big step forward in its own right. Bringing together a grand coalition of trade unionists, grassroots campaigners, socialists, Greens, pensioners, disability rights activists, and maybe a fair few regular people who want to turn their anger into action, is a big step forward for the left and shouldn’t be sniffed at.

This is a particular achievement seen in the context of divisions that have blighted the anti-cuts movement since the Tories came to power. Those of you who have not yet experienced the fractured socialist left, will be shocked to hear that campaigners against austerity have had not one, not two, but three competing anti-cuts campaigns, none of which can seriously claim to have a strong, organic relationship to grassroots organisations.

Life-of-Brian-300x168

It’s an all too familiar example of the infamous Life of Brian sketch that satirically depicts the infighting of the left. What makes that scene so farcical isn’t that people are arguing. The farce lies in how the myriad of groupuscules all have ostensibly the same ideas. In much the same way there has been barely a rizla paper to separate the competing anti-cuts campaigns politically. The People’s Assembly does create the possibility of unity, but it also poses sharply a question of how to unite in a way that maximises democracy and participation.

To kick off an argument about how to do this doesn’t mean doing yet another Life of Brian rendition. It’s not about ‘splitting’ for no good reason, or having huge rows over nothing, because debate is what the People’s Assembly should be about.

There is no shortage of things to discuss and there have been too many left wing conferences over the years when everyone says the same thing, no one dares disagree with one another, and the audience is left bored. Standing shoulder to shoulder with other constructive critics, here are three things that deserve some critical attention. The last one is the most important – what comes next and how it’s organised to maximise democratic participation – because it’s here that the opportunity to build a really powerful anti-austerity movement might be lost.

1. Unions

First off, there’s the unions. It’s excellent that the People’s Assembly has won the backing of the major public sector unions. They are an essential part of the fight against austerity. But there is no getting round the fact their existing leaderships have failed to deliver the action we need to start to the turn the tide on austerity.

When millions went on strike in November 2011 it testified to the enduring power of organised labour. But hopes that this might be a new dawn for workplace radicalism were soon dashed. The strikes were called off. And many of the union leaders who will grace the platforms of the People’s Assembly were central to delivering a rotten pension deal when there was still all to play for. The People’s Assembly will have failed the very people it is seeking to represent, if it doesn’t provide a platform for trade unionists that feel let down by leaders whose pay packets far exceed those of ordinary members and who, for this reason, don’t feel the pain of austerity.

Unison, as the biggest public sector union, has big questions to answer. Not only did it lead the retreat from the pensions fight, but, worse still, its leadership have for many years witch hunted activists out of the union on trumped up charges, with bullying, intimidation and bureaucratic measures becoming the norm. It’s a classic example of an entrenched bureaucracy not wanting an activist union and doing everything in their power to keep the membership atomised and passive.

And this at a time when the Tories are on the offensiveAs Labour MP John McDonnell has put it in admirably undiplomatic terms:

“… In order for free market policies to flourish, for wages to be held back, for privatisation to continue unopposed and for workers to be made to pay for the crisis in the economy then it is equally necessary for the organisations of the workers, our parties, our trade unions, to be made impotent. One way to do that is to clear out fighters and militants. That is what this is. Unison’s leadership are doing the bosses a favour.”

It is little wonder that many Unison activists find their blood boiling when their leaders talk the talk, as they no doubt will at the People’s Assembly, only to the very next day carrying on doing nothing to fight back. It’s right that the unions are involved, but there needs to be be a voice for the grassroots in the hall too.

2. Labour 

Secondly, the major union leaderships all have a strategy: to do everything in their power to ensure Labour wins the next election. If Labour were presenting a powerful and coherent alternative to austerity, this strategy might well look appealing. But what if – as is obviously the case – Labour have no intention of turning back the cuts and, in a stream of recent announcements, have even expressed their commitment to many of the Tory spending and welfare policies.

It’s tempting to see recent policy announcements on welfare as falling into line with Tony Blair, who back in April took a swipe at Miliband’s leadership and warned against Labour becoming a ‘party of protest’. But these announcements have been long prepared for. Labour are happy to vote against the government today, but everyday make it crystal clear they stand for austerity-lite tomorrow.

These facts pose big questions to all of us who want to see a real alternative to austerity. And its one recognised by many Labour Party supporters of the People’s Assembly. Independent columnist Owen Jones, who has gone up and down the country rallying support for Saturday’s meeting, is the first to admit that Labour has offered no alternative. He sees the Assembly as ‘giving Labour some real competition’ because ‘finally, the left is entering the ring’. Jones might sound convincing, but think it through for a moment and the logic starts to unravel.

The People’s Assembly might, hopefully, become a powerful social movement (more on which in a moment). But the Labour Party has long been unresponsive to those – remember the Iraq War when millions marched to say no to Bush and Blair’s crusade? Despite funding the party to the tune of millions, even the unions have no say over policy. But Labour is not entirely immune from pressure. Ultimately it is accountable to a working class electorate that it arrogantly takes for granted. What would start to shift Miliband and co is a party to the left of Labour eating away at their electoral support: a party doing the same to Labour as UKIP is doing to the Tories.

A debate has to take place at the assembly about Labour and the possibility of alternatives. Its one the unions aren’t keen on because it challenges the very heart of their strategy: to sit on their hands, wait for 2015 and hope for a Labour return. To go away from the Assembly having not talked about Labour, and having not had the opportunity to subject its leadership to trenchant criticism for not putting up an alternative, would be a terrible waste. This is especially so when an exciting call has been put out by filmmaker Ken Loach for a new party of the left, one that has already been signed by over 8,000 people. So, Labour has to be at the centre of the discussion. Loach, who is speaking at the Assembly, can use the platform to inspire a debate on a political alternative to the pro-austerity parties. There is far too much at stake for it to be otherwise.

3. Unity

Finally, there is the democratic deficit in how the People’s Assembly is organised that others have highlighted. A statement will be put to the Assembly that neatly side steps the first two big issues – Labour and the union leaders – and can’t be amended by conference participants.

This might seem reasonable. After all, with over 3,500 people set to turn out what if they allwanted to amend the statement? Chaos would indeed ensue.

Benefit-Justice-Campaign-BrumBut it’s not as simple as that. Imagine if the local people’s assemblies that took place all over the country had discussed the statement. Imagine too if they had been able to submit amendments that could then have been composited into the main debating points. Even then perhaps not all of them could have been taken but the most popular amendments could then have been put to a vote. The base at the bottom would have then had a genuine say about the outcome at the top.

Unfortunately, this isn’t set to happen – the statement will only be amendable by local people’s assemblies in the run up to a conference in… 2014. Not only that but it doesn’t appear that the organising group will be elected at the conference either. Despite the many workshops on excellent subjects – a refreshing difference from the day-long-rally-conference – the People’s Assembly risks being a top-down affair, when the movement we need has to be a bottom-up one.

This is intended as an entirely constructive criticism. Because at the very least it’s worth reflecting upon how this new People’s Assembly Movement – which I certainly hope is here to stay – can be organised democratically after Saturday.

A big problem with how the left in Britain does things can be summarised as ‘the cult of the next big thing’. The huge spectacle of the grand conference. The next major protest and demonstration. It is all too easy for activists on the left to jump from one thing to the next without laying down proper roots in communities.

If the People’s Assembly is to play the role that Owen Jones clearly wants it to play – a mass social movement, rooted in localities and built from the bottom up, promoting an alternative to austerity – then it needs to develop a democratic structure that grassroots groups can relate to.

There is no great mystery in how this might be organised. If the wide variety of local and national campaign groups and unions that will all be there on Saturday are able to affiliate to a People’s Assembly Movement, then they can send delegates to a conference to represent their views. The organising group can be elected by and accountable to this delegate conference. Delegation sizes can be suitably weighted from different organisations to make it appropriately democratic. Local People’s Assemblies can be convened to channel proposals into the next huge conference – which should should aim to be 10,000 strong. The People’s Assembly, with this structure, would soon be transformed from a meeting into a real movement.

It’s good that ‘building from below’ is becoming a new mantra on the left. It’s a sign of a cultural change in thinking we are only slowly coming to terms with. But it’s equally important that we start to take it more seriously. That we don’t just let it become a phrase divorced of all meaning. If the People’s Assembly kicks off a debate on what ‘building from below’ looks like in practice – as material prescriptions, and not just vague aspirations, then that will be really welcome. The People’s Assembly is already a success as a conference. The question is what comes next?

Len McCluskey’s unreported speech – A working class politics for the 21st Century.

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Len McCluskeys full lecture at the LSE on January 15th on video:

The Labour Movement and Protest – A working class politics for the 21st Century.

Re-posted from Tony Burke’s website ‘Power in a Union’

The full text of Len Mccluskey’s speech can be read in a previous post on the same website but it is well worth listening to the discussion following Len’s speech for his insights into the Occupy movement, on Ed Miliband, implementation of cuts by Labour councils, and his concerns about the training of candidates and organisers by the blairite  Progress movement within the Labour Party.  However, none of these insights or the main thrust of the speech were reported by the mainstream media.

Hopi Sen, whilst disagreeing with Len McCluskey’s position, writes:

Despite Unite’s size and influence, there were few big names from the Labour party in attendance and the speech has achieved little media coverage, not even making any of the endless lists of top British political stories.

Indeed, the only references to the speech I found on Google news were articles for Iran’s Press TV and the Belfast Telegraph. Perhaps this demonstrates Len McCluskey’s point about the exclusion of the representatives of the working class from British political life. The Trade Unions are still being treated like the “Mad Aunt in the Attic”.

Yet if I had to choose which discussion was likely to have a lasting practical impact on the direction of the Labour party over the next two years I’d make the Union leader’s speech the favourite. Why?

‘Why?’ is certainly a question that we should all be asking, not just of the Labour Party leadership but also the mainstream media.  The so-called ‘free press’ justifies its powerful position as contributing to democracy by keeping the public informed.  However, in this and in so many instances, it signally fails to do so.