Sunday, 25 November 2012

Murder and Nothing Else But Murder

At least 112 workers were killed in the fire on the 24th of November at the Tazreen Fashions garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. They and dozens of others every years killed in garment factory fires were murdered both by a venal system but also by culpable individuals.

The mainly women workers in the factory were caught when a fire broke out on the ground floor of the factory. The Director of Fire Operations Major Mohammed Mabub said:
“The factory had three staircases, and all of them were down through the ground floor. So the workers could not come out when the fire engulfed the building.”
“Had there been at least one emergency exit through outside the factory, the casualties would have been much lower,”. 

Some workers jumped to their deaths out of window's to avoid the flames and smoke. Rescue workers have found many un-reconisable bodies so the workers families will not even have the closure of being able to bury their dead relatives.

This is merely the latest of many factory fires in the mainly export orientated garment sector in Bangladesh. At least 3.5 million workers across over 4000 factories work in the Garment Trade. 85% of these workers are women and often work up to 14-16 hour days. These garments are mainly sold to retailers in the west including companies such as Walmart (Asda), Primark, Tesco and  the Arcadia group.  

The owners of this factory and the thousands others like it in Bangladesh and the ruling class politicans of Bangladesh are guilty of murder in the name of profits. They have tolerated wilful violations of poorly enforced safety and health and conditions in the factories of Dhakha. They have not acted after previous incidents and need to be held to account for these deaths and the everyday conditions that can prove to be a slower more insidous death for malnourished overworked workers. 

The major western brands often state they inspect the factories and are intrested in improving the conditions. However these inspections are often announced allowing cosmetic changes to be made and corruption is not unknown to say the least. The prices demanded by the powerful western brands are deliberatley held down and are holding the workers in Bangladesh in misery. If a T Shirt cost £3 in British shops, you can imagine how little of that must be spent on workers wages, safety and wellbeing after the retailers, shippers, and suppliers take their cut of profits.    

Sam Mayer from Labour Behind The Labour said in a interview on the BBC World Service "after every fire we hear from the brands how sorry they are, but action is not taken.....They should be paying the price for the garment that alows factories to be decent".  

The board of Tesco, Walmart, Primark and Arcadia are well aware of the conditions within the factories and the deaths in Factory fires in the Garment industry in Bangladesh and other countries like Pakistan. They say they have acted to improve conditions but still these utterly avoidable deaths happen. As long as they extract vast profits from an industry in Bangladesh were sweatshops, long hours, pitiful pay and dreadful safety is the prevailing conditions they have blood on there hands.

In bangladesh itself unions like thre National Garment Workers Federation is organising mainy women workers for better pay and conditions and has led strikes. Only a strong workers movement there can improve these conditions. We must give pratical solidarity to these workers and aid their fight. 

However in countries like Britain we have a duty to hold the blood drenched directors of our majur retailers as complicit by failing to act wen people are being murdered in the name of profit. Our best tool is organising shopworkers and distribution workers here to fight for their own pay and conditions but also fighting with their brother and sister workers throughout the distribution chain  and building a movement that makes these executives fear the one weapon we have- solidarity

Fundamentally the economic system that rules our planet is guilty of the avoidable deaths of countless thousands of workers across the world. The only humane  and sane stance amongst such atrocity is the overthrow of the murderous rule of profit and the institution of the international rule of the working class.  

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Emile Zola's Paradise

The BBC are now doing a major adaptation of one of Emile Zola’s more neglected novel’s Au Bonheur des Dames (sometimes translated as The Ladies Paradise). This is a good excuse as any for me to wax lyrical about a great but overlooked work.

Quite a few people (especially on the left) have read Emile Zola’s novel Germinal with its grim realistic depiction of class struggle in the coalfields of Northern France. Others have also read Le Bete Humaine and Therese Raquin which are intense psychological thrillers obsessed with sex and death. Compared to these The Ladies Paradise can seem like a slight work. Its often comedic, it has a happyish ending and the one notable death in the novel is played for black comedy rather then shock, realism or horror.

Its set in an around a department dtore in Paris in the last years of the Second Empire of Napoleon III. This is the “Au Bonhuer des Dames” of the title. This vast new store is run by Octave Mouret a obsessive and innovative retail tyrant. Mouret’s great insight is that the sexual  and gender repression  bourgeois women feel can find a  momentary outlet through a fetishised experience of shopping . One of the main themes of the book is commodity fetishism to the point of erotic fetishism. Zola’s description of the displays of silks, Damasques, muslins and lace set up by Mouret in displays look like the 19th century fantasy of oriental harem’s is deeply sexualised. there is much talk of the shoppers admiring the tactile qualities of the fabrics in a obsessive way. One respectable women find herself becoming a compulsive shop lifter because of her obsession with the store and its goods.  

The hero of the book apart from the store itself is Denise Baudu a impoverished young women from the provinces. She starts work at first in her relatives shop nearby to the department store. This drapers shop like all the other shop is being driven out of business by Mouret’s vast emporium. The relatives along with the other shop keepers rail against the new store. Denise though can see the writing on the wall and does not share her relatives hatred. Much against their chagrin she takes a job in the underwear section of Au Bonhuer Des Dames. Zola’s description of working life in the department store is vivid and very recognisable; snobbery, bullying and sexual harassment from management. Then there is the Snooty and rude customers. However the other side of this is a real sense of camaraderie amongst the workers and for the women workers a level of financial and social independence unknown for the vast majority of working class women in 1860s France. The workers are also depicted as more independent then their heavily corseted, dependent and idle clients.

Most 19th century novels would have shown this vast new capitalist enterprise driving out of business the small shop keeper as a uniformly dreadful thing and side with the small shopkeeper. Zola does nothing of the sort he actually presents the going out of business of the small shops as a necessary and inevitable result of material progress. There is a blackly comic funeral of the last shop keeper in the district to hold out who is literally killed by Mouret’s endless expansion of the department store, all of the old desiccated and broken shopkeepers come out to mourn the death of the way of life of the petty bourgoise. Zola pity’s these traders but does not mourn their passing.   

However if this makes the novel sound like purely an early advocate of consumerism it misses Zola’s whole point which is informed by his radical and socialist politics. Zola in general sided with the workers against capital and particular the dehumanising and alienating effects of Capital. His socialism though was shifting and eclectic. His main influence was the utopian socialist thinker Charles Fourier. Fourier was a utopian but he was not a reactionary opponent of capitalism. He believed socialism could be built on of the revolution in production and concentration of workers in large work places. He was also an early advocate of Women’s rights and even LGBT rights (in this he was in advance of  Marx and Engels). Fourier unlike Zola was also a convinced Anti Semite.  Unlike Marx he did not see the workers as the agency to bring this revolution about. Like all utopian’s he presented his blueprint for the perfect society and hoped the French government would carry out his programme.

Zola sees in the large department stores of his day the future basis for a classless socialist society. The camaraderie, the classlessness, the sexual freedom shown amongst the workers is to Zola what modern production allows us to achieve but is held back by the interests of profit, a corrupt government and a hidebound class system.  Symbolically at the end of the novel shop floor workers increasingly take over the running of the store.

The BBC adaptation shifts the action to the north of England in the 1890s. I have no problem with this kind of transposition. You could even set the novel today without loosing a lot of its meaning. However I do hope that the sense of the real possibility for a new society to built out of the old in the interests of the workers themselves is not lost.  

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Banners, Brass and Politics- what more can you ask for!

If you want to understand the labour movement in Britain, go to Durham Miner's Gala. At Durham you see our movement it all its pomp and all its poverty, its great strengths and its many weaknesses. This was my first Gala, and I have to take peoples word for it that it was bigger then it had been in recent years. Local newspapers reported up to a 100,000 people came to Durham for the event.
It is a family day out for many people in the north east, especially from the old pit villages who follow the Brass Bands and the old NUM branch Banners from their community. More people probably go for the Brass bands then come for a the Trade union rally aspect. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as It shows how the unions have genuine deep roots in working class culture.  

The fist Gala happened a few years after the Paris Commune and 30 odd years before the birth of the Labour Party. That it has survived is a great testament to the enduring organisations that the working class have built. With the historical defeat of the great miners strike of 1984/85 and the politically motivated destruction of the mining industry the Miners Gala's days looked number. In the days when the NUM had hundreds of thousands of members they forced often reluctant Labour Party leaders to come to Durham. As a sympton of the miners decline the last Labour leader to address the Gala was in 1989 and the last big figure was John Prescott in 1997. However by bringing in other unions and making it a more general show of Trade union stregnth the event has re-built itself. Surely it is these unions that pressued Ed Miliband into attending this year

The calibre of speaker from the platform was much higher then even big Trade Union marches. There was no TUC regional general secretary giving a obvious speech on why the tories are bad. Also the organisors made no effort to modify the platform to cater for Miliband. So an awkward looking Ed had to listen to and applaude to prominant trade union lawyer John Hendy making a closely reasoned argument for the repleal of the Anti Trade Union laws and Mark Serwotka leder of the PCS union rebuking him for criticising workers striking over pensions and for accepting the tories wage freeze for public sector workers. Then he had to join in the Standing ovation for two Spanish miners who spoke about their strike against the Rajoy government in which the most militiant tactics have been employed.Milibands speech was brief, bland and uninspiring, but some Gala veterans were moved to tears I think more because this was a culmination of years of patient work to rebuild the event then anything Miliband said.  

Whilst it is very easy to get swept up in the moment there are things that all the most inspiring banners and the most moving brass bands in the world cannot hide. The whole event like much of our labour movement is very backward looking. Amonst all of the speakers apart from John Hendy, there was a complacency about the state of our unions and the failure so far to organise the mass of casualised workers in the service and retail sectors. There was no accounting for the union leaders capitulation over pensions and all in all a bit too much reverence accorded to the often rotten leaders of our movement. This made it hard for revolutionary socialists to intervene.

All in all the resurgence of the miners Gala is a very postive thing and it is significant that the Labour leader felt obliged to come  this year. Our movement with its banners flying and bands playing is an inspring sight  and I have every intention of being their next year.  

Monday, 21 May 2012

The Trendies are back!- the unwelcome return of Euro-communism.

During the current crisis in Greece  bourgeois newspapers have looked into the various left wing parties and descibe both elements in Syriza and the Democratic Left as Eurocommunist. I like most people under 35 on the left have never met anyone who calls themselves a Eurocommunist and their remains nothing of this current on the British left today but a few sad hacks pumping out articles for the broadsheets. However we do see an unconscious echo of the language, ideas and modus operandi of “Euro’s” by groups of Socialists who would formally call themselves Trotskyists. Its necessary to know a little bit about this squalid history of the Stalinist offshoot that called itself Euro-communism if we are to identify where its ideas are re-emerging. 

By the late 1960’s the Stalinists Communist Parties of Western Europe where clearly in decay. Their memberships where aging and declining, Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution and the spat between Moscow’s version of Stalinism and Beijing’s version of Stalinism had dealt a serious blow to these parties. They had lost their hegemony of left wing thought to Trotskyist and other groups who were much more attractive to younger students and workers not interested in being border guards for the Soviet empire. Yet the CP’s were still powerful in many European countries and had a genuine base amongst the working class in countries like Italy, France and Greece.

 The worldwide uprising of workers and students in 1968 at best passed the Communist Parties by or at worse like the French CP they were actively opposed to it. The Anti Vietnam War protests were an even clearer reflection of the CP’s irrelevance. The North Vietnamese regime was loyally part of the Kremlin’s block and the western CP’s had been pushing the “peace front” since the 50’s.  Yet it was the Trotskyists and others who often took the lead in marches and agitation. Following on from 1968 there was a rapid rise in the women’s movement, the anti-racist movement and the LGBT liberation movement throughout the west. The conservative, chauvinist and aging Stalinists of the CP were hostile to these movements as well.

As a response many of the leading intellectuals of the CP’s in western Europe began to look to ways of adapting their moribund parties for politics post 1968. There was also a move towards a more critical stance towards Moscow. Already in 1968 the leadership if the CPGB and the Italian CP had come out against the crushing of the Prague Spring. Alongside this slight detachment from Moscow they pushed a particular reading of Gramsci’s recently published writings to justify a re-branded popular front. They argued for uniting the women’s movement, the green movement, liberation movements, Social Democrats and liberals in one united  classless “rainbow coalition”.

They called this Euro-communism and argued it was a new ideology with new shiny terms and new shiny thinkers. But it was fundamentally a new version of a very old phenomenon in our movement - reformism. The Western Eurpean CP’s had been committed reformists since the second world war at least and the Popular Front goes back to the mid 30s. In Britain since 1951 the CP’s policy set out in the British Road to Socialism was to lash up with the leadership of the Labour Party then win elections to institute economic nationalism, withdraw from Nato and be friendly to the Soviet Union. What the Euro communists did was reduce that to simply trying to form a coalition to form a “progressive government” that was socially liberal and Keynesian.  By the end of the 1970’s the leadership of the Italian, Spanish, British and Greek CP’s were Euro Communist. One key element all these leaderships shared was a utter contempt for trade union based working class struggle. Eric Hobsbawn, the leading ideologists of the Euro-communists in Britain argued that because industrial workers were declining in numbers that meant the  working class had to join up with middle class moderates (including some Tories) against Neo-Liberalism of Margaret Thatcher. They used left wing language to oppose trade unionism- talk of the dangers of “Economism“, “Labourism” or “Workerism” was used to avoid genuinely supporting the miners strike. The house magazine of the British Euro Communists, Marxism Today, printed gushing interviews with the leaders of the anti union SDP and left bashing Neil Kinnock. Although they got a lot of press for a short while in the early 80’s Eurocommunism quickly began to disappear. On the one hand the re-branding of the Communist Parties had accelerated these parties decline as old school trade unionists left the parties. For instance in the 1980's what was left of the British CP tore itself apart in a viscious fight between the middle class intellectual "Trendies" and the more working class ageing "Tankies".  On the other hand the entire drift of Euro-Communist politics logically pointed towards liquidation into mainstream reformist parties. Indeed in Italy the PCI transformed itself into a mainstream social democratic party (PDS). After the fall of the Berlin wall the "Trendies" in the CPGB wound it up and the ideologues of Euro-communism everywhere often drifted into well paid positions in academia, lobbying or the media. In Britain some of the “Euro’s” cropped up as advisors in the New Labour government. Some of Tony Blair's speeches echoed the Jargon of the "Trendies"- People's this, Progressive that, New everything etc.

 Now in the current economic crisis, much of the British left is going through a crisis of its own. This is because it sees the conditions in which large groups of people could be won over to working class socialism but at the same time many of the sects they are in are stagnating rather then growing. In the meantime its obvious that some of the new social movements such as Occupy and UK Uncut have attracted young people and even the Labour and Green parties have attracted a modest increase in new members.  So disorientated and disheartened socialists look for a short cut out of this impasse, a shiny new way vehicle. Both the Counterfire grouping and Socialist Resistance argue for dropping everything to build a grand anti-cuts coalition on the basis of the most basic anti-cuts stance. Lindsey German has argued for Counterfire to play down their socialism because it puts people off. The recent split off from Workers Power seems to want to liquidate into a anti-capitalist milieu rather then an anti- cuts milieu but much of there appeal for new thinking for new times is similar to Counterfire‘s. None of these groups would claim any of the politics of Euro Communism. It would also be untrue to say they do anything but support workers in struggle even if we disagree with the advice they give to these workers. However the minute that socialists do not see the working class as the central agent for transforming society and look towards a coalition of classless movements united around tailing the most broadly defined opposition to cuts, anti-capitalism or just of self defined “progressives”, they will begin to head down the road that the Euro-communists took.

There is another road for socialists in uniting with anti cuts movements and non socialists opposed to cuts. This is to engage with these groups but try to win them over to seeing the centrality of working class struggle against cuts, Women’s or LGBT oppression or man made climate change. This is how Workers Liberty have related to Climate Camp, the feminist movement and the anti cuts movement. We also seek to offer a strategy for struggle for these groups that also advances the power and combatively of the workers movement.  The first rule of the First International drafted by Karl Marx was “That the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”. You cannot be a Marxist and believe that the working class can be liberated by any middle class deliverers, “progressive” Tories and Liberals or classless lash ups.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Galloway's win is not a victory for the left

The election of George Galloway and Respect at the Bradford West by-election is not a victory for the left. On issue after issue Galloway lines up with ruling class oppression across the globe. He has worked for the Iranian's regime propaganda news network Press TV, he has supported the murderous regime of Bashir Al Assad in Syria, he is a life long opponent of women's reproductive rights. He is a homophobe who even tried the justify the hanging of LGBT people in Iran. That he is the most famous anti-war figure in Britain says much for the parlous state of our movement then it does about his demagogic politics.
There are some very significant aspects of this win that demand our attention.
Firstly, it reminds us that the disillusionment that working class people feel with the Labour Party is still strong and deep even in their supposed heartlands. This especially true of young working class people from Muslim backgrounds who were at the sharp end of New labours attack on civil liberties and still suffer from police harassment. The Labour leadership continuation of support the futile and brutal war in Afghanistan remains a lingering cause of disenchantment. As long as the Labour councils are cutting jobs and services and the Labour leadership condemns workers taking action to defend their living standards this disillusion will continue. 
Secondly, that the three major parties and Respect took reactionary communal and sectarian approach to campaigning. Labour has a long and shabby history of treating Asian people in Bradford as a block vote regardless of class to be corralled by unaccountable community leaders.  Respect was founded as a communalist project, a popular front of the SWP, Galloway and various petty bourgeois Muslim organisations. In Bradford Galloway's campaign deliberately played on religion to win over influence over the more conservative elements amongst Bradford's Muslim population. One release said "I, George Galloway do not drink Alcohol and never have, Ask yourself if you believe any of the other candidates can say that truthfully".  Another piece of literature hints Muslims will have to account for voting Labour in the afterlife! However ironically many young Asian people switched to Galloway to break away from that communalist tradition of voting the way the community leaders directed. They deserve better representation then Gourgeous George. 

Thirdly, this win could lead to people on the left out of desperation drawing exactly the wrong conclusions. Although Workers Liberty and other always abhorred the demagogy and support for brutal regimes that Galloway revels in, it took others on the left years to realise Galloway is a false friend who damages working class socialism, yet realise it they eventually did. During the recent campaign Galloway had no organised left wing support outside the husk of what used to be Respect. Now socialists desperate for victories and good news my try to claim Galloway as one of our own or replicate his politics and methods. This is a dangerous dead end that disorientates rather then educates our class.

The victory of George Galloway does show a large number of working class people rightly reject the ideology of the ruling class and its cuts. We cannot win over working class people of Bradford who voted Respect to revolutionary socialism without an honest accounting and calling out Galloway as a self aggrandising apologist for murderous despotism and oppression. 

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Slovaj Zizek- Getting Serious?

Over 10 years ago I caught half an episode of the “Perverts Guide To Cinema”.  I was gripped but could not be sure that the mittel European intellectual imposing impenetrable Hegelian, Lacanian and Marxist analysis on old slightly pulpy movies and the work of Hitchcock was not a elaborate joke. Zizek seemed almost a caricature of a slightly mad European philosopher. A take off of Wilhelm Reich, Baudrillard, Derrida etc. Then it turns out Zizek is a real philosopher whose fame only grew in the following years. 

 He was always worth a read when he had articles in the English press or worth a look when interviewed. I still did not take him at all seriously and thought his politics a elaborate joke or a pose to piss off the intellectual establishment. An example of why I did not take him seriously was his theory on the film of the Sound of Music. He argued that although the film is putatively about a singing family opposing the Nazi’s the movie itself mirrors the mental atmosphere of Nazism. So the Nazi’s are cosmopolitan, modern and urbanised and intruding on a reactionary pastoral idyll of a Austrian village and a perfect family. For a minute he had persuaded me and gave me another reason to hate the movie, until I realised the idea that Robert Wise, Oscar Hammerstein and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer were closet Nazi’s is absurd. His decision to write the preface to a re-print of Trotsky’s Terrorism and Communism also seemed intriguing at first but the actual argument he was making was largely controversial and contrary for the state of it. Intrested only in Trotsky the ruthless military commander of the Red Army not his politics after 1923. He was a headline figure at the SWP’s Marxism every year and seemed to me to be stunt casting of a guy who basically was a engaging charlatan.

Then as the financial crisis started in 2007-8 something seemed to happen to Zizek. I saw a few interviews were he said interesting thngs about the economic crisis. He started talking rightly about left anti Semitism being on the rise in Europe and attacking those who excuse Arab Anti-Semitism . This brought him into conflict with absolute Anti-Zionistsand idiots like Israel Shamir. Here is a link to an article about the controversy

However it is the writing over the last year he has done on the Occupy movement, the English Riots and the Arab Spring that seems to have shown a transformation in his thinking and what he see’s his purpose as. Rather then cheerleading or criticising from  the side lines his focus now seems to be on how these movement should move forward. He has left Baudrillard and Lacan behind and has gone back to Lenin, Gramsci and Trotsky.

In an article on the Occupy movement Zizek councils the Occupiers:

“The art of politics is also to insist on a particular demand that, while thoroughly "realist", disturbs the very core of the hegemonic ideology: ie one that, while definitely feasible and legitimate, is de facto impossible (universal healthcare in the US was such a case). In the aftermath of the Wall Street protests, we should definitely mobilise people to make such demands – however, it is no less important to simultaneously remain subtracted from the pragmatic field of negotiations and "realist" proposals”

This is what Trotsky called “transitional demands”. Demands that make sense to working class people and are based on their current consciousness but at the same time challenge the capitalist system and the ideology of the ruling class. Lenin did not have a name for this but his famous formulation from April 1917 “Peace, Bread and Land, All Power To The soviets” are the supreme example of how these demands can work. In itself there is nothing inherently revolutionary about ending the first world war, providing food for the people and land reform (the British state could do all three). However none of these things could be done by the Provisional Government in Russia at the time so the first three demands make the fourth demand necessary- the establishment of Soviet Power and the overthrow of the Provisional Governement.

Zizek’s writing on the English riots too were anything but the mindless cheerleading and wishful thinking of the SWP. He argues:
“Are the shopkeepers a small bourgeoisie defending their property against a genuine, if violent, protest against the system; or are they representatives of the working class, fighting the forces of social disintegration? Here too one should reject the demand to take sides. The truth is that the conflict was between two poles of the underprivileged: those who have succeeded in functioning within the system versus those who are too frustrated to go on trying. The rioters’ violence was almost exclusively directed against their own. The cars burned and the shops looted were not in rich neighbourhoods, but in the rioters’ own. The conflict is not between different parts of society; it is, at its most radical, the conflict between society and society, between those with everything, and those with nothing, to lose; between those with no stake in their community and those whose stakes are the highest.”
In the same article he argues what is missing from the Arab Spring, the indignatios movement and even the Greek protests against austerity is the subjective factor of an organised movement to overthrow the state and capitalism. What is missing in short is a revolutionary party:
“But even in Greece, the protest movement displays the limits of self-organisation: protesters sustain a space of egalitarian freedom with no central authority to regulate it, a public space where all are allotted the same amount of time to speak and so on. When the protesters started to debate what to do next, how to move beyond mere protest, the majority consensus was that what was needed was not a new party or a direct attempt to take state power, but a movement whose aim is to exert pressure on political parties. This is clearly not enough to impose a reorganisation of social life. To do that, one needs a strong body able to reach quick decisions and to implement them with all necessary harshness.”

Zizek is a professional intellectual and academic Marxist not a partisan of class struggle. However Zizek is no longer a elaborate joke but like many who were dinner party Marxists has been shaken by the crisis and the epoch making upheavals of the moment into taking sides and re-engaging with what Marxist ideas actually are for- the emancipation of the working class and the otherthrow of the rule of profit.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Profits and the Sea

The press coverage of the capsizing of the cruise liner the Costa Concordia off the Tuscan coast has mainly focused on the actions of the captain and superficial similarities with the Titanic disaster 100 years ago. Hopefully the truth about the causes of this accident will be found and the culpability of the Captain or the Owners established. One thing we do know is seafarer's and their unions around the globe have been warning about the safety standards aboard ships for years.

There is much truth to the general view that those ships at greatest risk are those under "flags of Convenience" to avoid the more stringent safety and training regulations imposed on ships registered in the developed world. However as Andrew Linington of the Nautilus International union pointed out in his article for the Guardian (16/01/12) there are big safety questions about modern cruise liners too. The size of these vessels has doubled in the last 30 years whilst the lifeboats and evacuation procedures remain the same as 30 years ago. Regulators have not forced ship owners to adopt the newest safety measures and profit hungry owners are not going to spend any more than they have to. As with many industries it was workers organising and public outrage that forced many of the improvements.

Shipping has for obvious reasons long been the most international of industries. In the last 40 years this globalisation has intensified to a massive degree. Crews, more then in almost all other industries, are multilingual and multinational. The unions needed to respond to this by seeking to organise and campaign on a truly international scale, in general they have failed this challenge. Organising seafarers across the oceans of the world is not easy, but its vital to ensure safety at sea.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Its not about Ed.

What follows is not a defence of the wretched Ed Miliband. His failure to back striking workers, his demonisation of benefit claimants and his continued attacks on whats left of Labour Party democracy means no socialist should have any brief for him. However I think it is the case that last weeks "crisis" for Miliband was nothing of the sort.

There has been a lot of talk about Ed Milibands personal poll rating. The latest guff saying he is below Nick Clegg. The absurdity of this can be easily gaged. Can Nick Clegg walk down a street in Sheffield without receiving abuse? Ed Miliband may not be known, found weird or boring but no one has a strong opinion about him one way or the other. His critics say this is his problem. It may be, but excepting Alex Salmond he is not running against particularly popular or high calibre opponents. Clegg is a completely busted flush, Cameron has never won an election and comes across to most people as an arrogant out of touch toff.
Anyhow the polls on voting intentions have shown and continue to show a narrow Labour lead under Miliband. For a brief period after Cameron walked out the EU talks the Tories drew level but by Wednesday the 4th YouGov were showing Labour ahead by 2. Government approval rates are running at minus 25%. This article by Mori shows how voting intentions become a better guide to the results of a general election as the parliamentary terms moves on.
Psephology is a dark art I dont totally trust and Labour should be doing better but the poll ratings are anything but a crisis.

The politics of this so called crisis don't add up to much either. The press strung together three articles/ reports last week as a sustained attack on Miliband by Labour people. Liam Byrne's remarks about economic policy. Philip Glasman's New Statesman Article and the Politics Network report. Of these, the Politics Network report backed the two Eds strategy and called for focus on living standards and growth not defending the public sector. I oppose this approach and think the labour party and movement should be opposing the governments cuts in parliament, on the streets and through strikes. The problem is the Policy Exchange said nothing Miliband disagrees with. Glasman's article is damaging, but he is a loose cannon not particularly well regaurded by anyone in the Labour party. The other politics don't make for a crisis- a half bad performance at Prime ministers questions before Christmas, Abbotgate. Actually on big politics Miliband is setting the terms of the debate on "irresponsible capitalism" and high pay that the tories are following.  The November the 29th pre-budget statement also showed how the Tories are failing their own tests on the economy and the deficit.

So what is this "crisis" exactly? Ed Miliband came to bee the leader of the labour party with a distinct disadvantage. He was not the candidate of the press or even the "left leaning press" the Blairites, the PLP or even half the Brownites. His basis of support was the three general unions a group of young MPs and the soft left. Thus the Guardian, much of the blogosphere, the right wing press and many figures in the party were hostile from the beginning. His ever so partial renunciation of New Labour was enough for him to be seen as a dangerous lefty. What has now been cooked up is a media storm to fill news paper columns. The problem milibands opponents have is that Miliband has spent the year and a bit building up a power base that means he is utterly safe as leader. He has pushed aside the old blairites and replaced them in the Shadow cabinet with the brightest members of the new intake. People who talk and look like him. Ed Balls has been given the control of Labours economic strategy he always wanted and has lined up his faction behind Milibands leadership. Balls knows he would not have this under a David Miliband leadership. Finally the Bliarites are  fundamentally split between those who just want to pull Ed Miliband to the right (Mandelson, Burnham) and those who want to oust him.  

For Socialists all of these jockeying for power amongst the careerists of New Labour is sickening and shows once again the need for a through democratisation of the party and the wider movement. We also need to make the labour party stand up for working class people against the cuts and for a workers government. We should not join the false clamour for Milibands head but use the slight space opened up by his leadership to win the argument branch by branch, union by union and ultimately on the doorstep.