Hackney Council bankrupt
Hackney council is bankrupt and has been ordered by government to cut services across the borough. Libraries will close, transport for disabled people will be abolished, temporary staff and supply teachers have been sacked. A section 114 notice has been in place for the last two weeks, effectively halting all spending and crippling services.
On Monday November 6 councillors met to push through an unprecedented package of cuts. Following a lunchtime march through the streets, the early evening saw over 1,000 people gathered outside the town hall expressing their anger at the decimation of Hackney's services and betrayal by their elected representatives.
The town hall was fenced off from the public by riot barriers and further protected by police on the steps of the public building. In the car park behind were several hundred police in riot gear. The protest moved into the road and brought Hackney traffic to a standstill. The riot police moved in to block it.
Finally, a few members of the public were allowed into the public gallery and the meeting proceeded. Councillors traded insults as they cut £3.3 million from social services and £1 million from under-fives provision, with an estimated 500 jobs to be slashed across the board.
The Audit Commission report reveals that at the end of this financial year Hackney council will be another £40 million in the red. This is just the beginning. Max Caller, the new chief executive, has been hired to enact a policy of total privatisation and to ensure all vestiges of democratic accountability are taken away from local government.
But resistance and anger are growing. Hackney Socialist Alliance must take this opportunity to put forward a principled socialist alternative, providing some hope in this inner city borough, where the already shameful contrasts between rich and poor, public and private, are about to get much worse.
Raising our sights in Poplar
At the Poplar and Canning Town constituency hustings on November 1, Socialist Workers Party veteran and local general practitioner Dr Kambiz Boomla was selected as Socialist Alliance prospective parliamentary candidate for the general election. Around 30 comrades, almost entirely SWP members and supporters, met on the Isle of Dogs to choose between comrade Boomla and comrade Stan Kelsey of the Communist Party of Great Britain, who had contested Bethnal Green and Poplar for the CPGB in 1992. While the overwhelming vote for comrade Boomla was no surprise, the hustings provided a useful opportunity for a healthy exchange of views.
Comrade John Davis (SWP) speaking from the chair, characterised the East London SA as a "society of community activists and trade unionists", and reported the recruitment of 14 new members during the Stratford by-election, where a 7.5% vote was achieved.
Guest speaker comrade Marcus Larsen (CPGB), chair of the London Socialist Alliance, welcomed the fact that the left had "tentatively stood together" in the Greater London Assembly elections, after failing to do so in the 1999 European Union contest. Now, after the successful Coventry conference, we are moving towards a national challenge to Labour. He was encouraged by the unprecedented unity of the revolutionary left, and praised the excellent relationships and positive culture of comradeship on the LSA steering committee. Chris Bambery's call for 'big ideas' in response to the anti-capitalist mood was correct.
Comrade Kelsey declared that parliament was a part of the capitalist state apparatus - not an instrument of the people's will, but merely a means of gaining consent to the way we are ruled. Revolutionaries must use elections and parliament as "guerrillas in the enemy camp", giving voice and leadership to the struggles outside parliament. We need a new Labour Representation Committee or an old Labour Party like a hole in the head, he said. "The workers whose votes we seek must know we reject both the Soviet gulags and failed parliamentary reformism. Nationalisation was not socialism. It had nothing to do with workers' control, democracy or freedom."
We must greet the anti-capitalist mood, comrade Kelsey continued, with "our vision of self-liberation - a worldwide socialism which is the first step towards real human freedom; a socialism which can only be won through an unremitting struggle for consistent democracy". Liberation, he said, cannot be delivered from above: not by parliament, nor even by a revolutionary party.
We must not say, 'Vote socialist, trust us, leave it to us.' Our message must be, 'Get organised, fight for what you need, never mind what the system can afford.' Instead of empty pledges, we must put forward an action programme for mass struggle and self-liberation, and fight for a healthy culture of open, public debate between contending views. This is the way to unite all political tendencies in the advanced part of the working class into a democratic centralist revolutionary party, declared comrade Kelsey.
Comrade Boomla joined the International Socialists in 1974 and had been a shop steward in local hospitals. Having taken part in the 'Don't vote fascist' campaigns to undermine the British National Party's docklands influence, he now felt "much more positive" in offering a real alternative.
Having worked locally as a general practitioner since 1982, comrade Boomla had campaigned against Tory health spending limits alongside Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick, speaking on the same platform. In 1997 he voted Labour, "expecting to see immediate improvements in the health service", and was jubilant at the Labour victory. Now "Fitzpatrick, as a New Labour junior minister, will not be able to defend local public services against private ownership and control, so must be opposed by the Socialist Alliance".
While agreeing we need a different kind of party to old Labour, comrade Boomla said we need to earn our right to working class votes by "putting our marker down" in each campaign - restore the pensions link, against closure of Fords Dagenham, which employs a large portion of the Poplar and Canning Town electorate, against "private ownership and control of public services", etc. "We leaflet for you," said comrade Boomla, "and perhaps you will leaflet for us in the general election."
As comrade Kelsey countered, this does not constitute leadership, which requires "raising the sights" of the movement instead of telling it what it already knows.
Lewisham SA backs Sam Dias
A meeting of Greenwich and Lewisham Socialist Alliance unanimously decided earlier this week to back the Socialist Party's Sam Dias in the November 23 Pepys ward by-election.
At an earlier meeting, on October 24, the SP had refused point blank to contemplate a contest under the name 'Socialist Alliance', and insisted, whether the rest of us liked it or not, that comrade Dias would be a Socialist Party candidate, standing as Socialist Alternative. The majority, made up of comrades from the Socialist Workers Party, the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, the CPGB and one comrade who is not a member of any of the major groups - in short, everybody apart from the SP comrades - had called for her to stand as SA.
The only concession the SP was willing to make was a statement, buried deep within its election leaflet, that the organisation is part of and 'supports' the Socialist Alliance. Nevertheless, this week's meeting, held on November 7, recognised that it was important that comrade Dias achieves a good vote: she could even be elected onto Lewisham council alongside the SP's Ian Page, who won one of the other two Pepys seats in 1999. Nobody was blind to the ultimatumist sectarianism of the SP - it sent just one junior comrade to the November 7 meeting - but there was a healthy desire to defend left unity and do all in our power to keep the SP on board.
So Greenwich and Lewisham SA will throw its weight behind the campaign, joining in canvassing with immediate effect, and issuing its own leaflet. This urges a vote for comrade Dias as someone who will "stand up against New Labour's contempt for working class people" and calls for local people to join the London Socialist Alliance, which "stood Ian Page in the Greater London Assembly elections". Comrade Page has also been unanimously adopted as our candidate for Lewisham Deptford for the general election.
In view of the significance of the Pepys ward campaign, important decisions regarding SA candidacies in other constituencies have been deferred until our next meeting on November 28.
Newport Up and running in Wales
A meeting of the newly formed Gwent branch of the Welsh Socialist Alliance took place in Newport on Thursday October 26, attended by 10 comrades. Representatives of the Socialist Workers Party and the CPGB were present, plus a few non-aligned members. Interestingly, this latter group included recent defectors from the Socialist Labour Party, who have evidently grown tired of Arthur Scargill's sectarian approach to left regroupment. There are no Socialist Party or Cymru Goch activists in Gwent.
The meeting agreed on an interim structure for the branch and those assembled looked forward to campaigning together on a wide range of issues. A decision on contesting seats at the general election has been deferred to a later date, although it was decided to write to both the SLP and the Morning Star's Communist Party of Britain about their electoral intentions and invite them to stand candidates as part of the WSA.
A public meeting to launch the branch will take place in Newport on Tuesday November 14. Disappointing, however, was the approach of some comrades to this meeting. Members were urged to make 'positive' contributions by certain individuals present. Quite obviously, these jibes were aimed at the CPGB, with the implication that our interventions might threaten the unity of the meeting.
In response, it was pointed out that the CPGB - unlike the SWP - had supported the Socialist Alliance project from the outset. Moreover, any attempt to confine discussion to uncontroversial 'bread and butter' issues would mean ignoring strategic political questions which divide the left and obfuscate clarity around the class struggle.
Meanwhile, the national council of the WSA met on Sunday October 15. Comrades from the Socialist Party announced their intention to stand in four named constituencies in the general election under the banner of the WSA. No opposition was raised to this bold and welcome announcement, although some comrades present correctly pointed out that the allocation of seats would need to be ratified by the appropriate branches of the WSA.
Preston Lancs election appeal
Lancashire Socialist Alliance is standing a candidate (Terry Cartwright) in the Preston by-election.
The LSA has been in existence for only seven weeks but in that time we have managed to raise our profile, picket government ministers, have several well-attended public meetings and raise the banner of socialism across Lancashire. We are fighting the election to give working people a chance to express their disgust with New Labour, but also to offer them a hope for a better future - a future built around socialist principles.
Unlike New Labour and the Tories, however, we do not get support from the rich and the fat cat bosses - we have to rely on ordinary people's support. To get our message across and produce the sizeable vote we are striving for requires money. We are putting out this appeal in the hope that that socialists, environmentalists, direct actionists and trade unionists across the country will contribute to our campaign and help us give New Labour a bloody nose.
Please make cheques payable to 'Lancashire Socialist Alliance' and send to: LSA, c/o 39 Grafton Street, Preston.