The very obvious tactics taken by the Evening Standard, in which they are trying to discredit the action taken by the RMT, are nothing short of being scandalous.
They say that there has been no consideration for the passengers. This is totally wrong. We have seen what has happened to the railway industry since privatisation: falling safety standards and cost-cutting, and taking risks with the safety of the travelling public and the people that work in the industry (Hatfield?s gauge corner cracking was first recognised in 1998). Lack of sufficient training and low levels of staffing to make sure that these situations do not arise are contributing factors to what has been happening since privatisation.
The first consideration of a privatised rail industry is increased payments to the shareholders and this leads to the situations that we have seen, like Ladbroke Grove and Hatfield. This is precisely why the RMT have asked their members to take action to make sure we do not see a repeat of this on the London Underground.
The action being taken is also for better terms and conditions for the staff working on the railways and the underground. And why not? Is this not a fundamental goal of what trade unions try to secure for their membership - protecting jobs and improving working conditions? If we can secure a ?no compulsory redundancies? deal, then I think the RMT will have done a good job for its membership. And of course there is opposition to public-private partnership: this is certainly not where we want to go with the Underground.
What we want is the renationalisation of the whole rail network, under the control of workers and the travelling public.
Direct shockOn Tuesday May 8 many students at the Oxford Road-based Manchester Students Union were shocked to find that in the Student Direct newspaper sat an article titled ?Exclusive! An interview with the BNP?.
It was less than a week since the Anne Frank touring exhibition had been at the students union when Nick Smart, news editor of the student union paper, quizzed BNP chairman Nick Griffin and national press officer Phil Edwards over questions such as the present government, ?multi-racialism? and the ?recent problems in Oldham?.
The reason why the BNP claim to be standing in Oldham is because ?we had always been planning to put up one candidate throughout the last year?. It is known that the Nazi organisations are playing the race card due to the attack on 76-year-old Walter Chamberlain, whose family have dismissed the notion of a racist attack.
Other comments that have been issued by the neo-Nazi organisation and published by Student Direct include claims that multi-racialism has brought us ?tuberculosis from Africa and foot and mouth from Asia?. Whilst Phil Edwards claims that ?students are daft? and ?if they?re the future of this country, god help us?, he later sets a challenge to all students to ?name one decent black composer apart from that shit they listen to?.
After this edition of the paper had gone out, students from the university were out in force with a street stall that contained petitions and collected over 200 signatures to call an emergency meeting of the students union. Points of the motion included: ?to recall all copies of this issue of Student Direct?; ?to remove the interview with the BNP from the Student Direct web page?; and ?to ban Nick Smart from ever writing in Student Direct again?. Other points included a ban of the editor from ever writing in the paper again. The grounds on which the students were calling for the meeting were that the union has a policy which states it ?shall not give a platform to fascists or those the union believes will incite racial hatred?.
Unfortunately on Wednesday May 16 at the general meeting the motion was dropped due to the lack of students needed for the meeting to commence. Oliver Brice, the student who had proposed the motion, said: ?Student Direct should never have published the article. the fact that the Nazis have got into the student press is part of a process to try and make Nazis appear respectable. An example must be shown towards Student Direct, and Nick Smart should be banned!?
When asked what he would do if the article resulted in a racist attack, Smart responded: ?I don?t think anybody will get attacked as a result of my article.?
You CPGB lot are a laugh. The Weekly Worker (May 17) carries a report, ?Campaign for an SA party?. Extracted from this report is the following:
?In the afternoon session comrade Sarah McDonald gave a short report on the situation in Scotland, where the Scottish Socialist Party is standing candidates in all 72 seats. However, comrade McDonald observed that its campaign so far has been very amateurish and low-key compared with the imagination and verve of the Socialist Alliance, as described by comrade Larsen. Despite that, its leadership has had a very worthwhile experience in election work, getting Tommy Sheridan elected to the Holyrood parliament.?
Sarah McDonald is both talking and taking the pish. Let?s compare like with like first, comrades. The total population of Scotland is less than that of London. No matter how superb the SSP comrades are on the field of play, there?s always going to be more of you lot. You should be having 10 times the impact that the Jocks do. What?s that? You only have one man and a dog and Lawrie Coombs out of 45 million-plus people?
In the past week of the campaign (May 14-20), the Scottish Socialist Party has:
- nominated and paid a deposit for a candidate in all the constituencies in Scotland;
- received detailed coverage of our manifesto launch in every Scottish broadsheet, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, a three-quarter-page in The Guardian on our campaign.
- The entire Newsnight Scotland opt-out section consisted of an interview with Tommy Sheridan, discussion with Hilary Wainright and the boy MacIntyre from The Independent.
- The SSP has received extensive coverage in all Scotland?s city-wide evening dailies and in weekly local newspapers. Spokespeople, candidates and office-bearers are appearing in national and local press, radio and television.
- Scottish Socialist Party election material will be delivered to every household in Scotland.
- We are publishing a weekly, 16-page Scottish Socialist Voice as part of the campaign and are negotiating a Scottish-wide distribution agreement that will take our newspaper into every Scottish newsagent.
?Very amateurish and low-key??
Here?s an offer to any one of you CPGB hacks: come and stay here in Leith with the Truman household for organised visits to every area of Scotland to witness our work. Pay your own travel. I?ll feed you and provide accommodation. Then look me in the face and tell me our campaign is amateurish and low-key.
We are writing in response to the comments attributed to Sarah McDonald in the CPGB aggregate report, ?Campaign for an SA Party?.
We would like to point out that despite Scotland having a population approximately half the size of London, the SSP has a candidate in every parliamentary constituency, 72 in all. Further, every deposit has been paid (?36,000) and in addition we have raised about another ?30,000 for our election fund. We are confident that we will reach our financial target of ?100,000 for the election. So much for amateurish.
As for ?low-key?, the SSP is mentioned in the newspapers, radio and TV every day. Tommy Sheridan is the most easily recognised politician in Scotland today. According to a recent System Three poll four percent of Scottish voters are ?very likely? to vote SSP and another 11% ?quite likely?.
In our own area we have recently been involved in an anti-eviction campaign that made the front page of The Herald and was also reported in The Scotsman and our local tabloid newspapers. In short the SSP has a very high profile relative to its size.
We trust that the above information will provide yourselves and Weekly Worker readers a more accurate picture of the current situation in Scotland.
There have been three National Front marches in Bermondsey since the beginning of April. These have drawn a significant level of support from white racists in the area. This is an area where racist attacks have been increasing for some time and many black families and individuals are subject to persistent intimidation, harassment and violent attacks (last year for example, one of our black woman members was racially abused and assaulted by a self-declared National Fronter in a crowded Spa Road bakery).
The National Front is building on this situation and exploiting the alienation of local white youth in order to build a racist terror campaign. It is inevitable that when the fascists are allowed to march, racist attacks follow. This is exactly what has happened in the wake of their recent marches.
It is not enough to protest about racism: we need to do everything possible to prevent the fascists from marching in Bermondsey. Local people must see that there is a force large enough and strong enough to defeat the fascists and offer a real alternative to the politics of alienation and isolation. The fascists must be smashed to make racist thugs think twice about carrying out their racist attacks.
On the April 7 mobilisation against the NF, a group from the Movement for Justice was part of a militant, largely spontaneous attempt by about 200 people to break through police lines and stop the NF. This in fact succeeded in breaking the first two of three police lines. Many ANL members were part of this militant action. However, there was very little coordination, and we are concerned that there has been no attempt by the ANL to build on it - on either of the subsequent occasions.
We are especially concerned with the role of the ANL organisers when the National Front most recently marched in Bermondsey, on Saturday May 12. The events on that day were undoubtedly a success for the NF. We need to learn these lessons quickly if we are to unite and turn the situation round during an election campaign where the fascists are sure to step up their activity.
On May 12 the MFJ mobilised an integrated group of 25 people to work with other anti-racists to stop the NF march. We arrived in Bermondsey at 10.15am (the ANL advertised meeting time was 10.30am).
At approximately 10.45am, four members of the ANL/SWP arrived. The two MFJ stewards went over to ask what their plan for the day was. We were informed that the ?plan? was to send people out to do ?anti-racist work? in the local area as the NF march had been delayed till 2pm. We instantly expressed concern on two points: firstly, the safety implications of small groups of people wandering around Bermondsey on the day of a National Front mobilisation; secondly, if people were dispersed the police were likely to make it extremely difficult for them to return to stop the fascists from marching - which was surely the purpose for the mobilisation. We were told that we should wait for one of the main organisers.
At about 11.30am (an hour after the arranged meeting time) apart from our group and a group of anarchists, there were about 10-15 people in the meeting place. Very concerned at this point, our stewards spoke again to one of the main ANL organisers and asked again what they were planning. She informed us that there were people who were flyering in the area but that they would be coming back for 1pm. We discussed with her the best strategy for stopping the fascist march, agreeing that blocking their path at a certain point was going to be the most effective method, but this of course relied on numbers. We were assured that up to 100 people would be coming at 1pm.
By about 1.30pm, it became obvious that no one else was turning up for the protest. At this time there were about the following numbers: 25 MFJ, 10 anarchists, four Communist League, four Labour Party, five Socialist Party, 10 obvious ANL members, 10 independents or ?other? (probably there in response the ANL publicity?). Altogether, approximately 70 people!
We called a meeting of the MFJ contingent and other interested people. A vote was taken that we should try to block and demonstrate at the exit that the NF would be marching out through. The MFJ contingent moved to that point, with a number of anarchists and other individuals, forming a very militant demonstration of about 40 people.
At about 2pm (the NF?s leaving time) the police started sweeping into our demonstration. We managed to hold the position, blocking the exit for about 10-15 minutes in direct confrontation with the police, but were eventually forced back. At this point a number of the demonstrators finally left the pen and ran into the road, and we jumped the railings to join them. What followed was a militant ?protest? as the NF passed us by, smiling and jeering. It was clear that we could get no nearer to the fascists with the small numbers present.
What then followed had to be the worst aspect of the day. Just as the NF moved out of sight, without any notice or explanation, a group of 10-20 people from the ANL (and possibly some others), who made no attempt to work with anyone else, raced away behind the demonstration and disappeared round the corner! This was clearly a stunt and a very dangerous one at that, with not a second thought for the danger of splitting up an already small demonstration.
Nevertheless the MFJ, and a number of independents and ANL supporters (30-40 people) tried to catch up with them, only to see them disappear into the Rolls Road estate. This behaviour naturally increased the confidence of a number of young white racists who went on a rampage looking for people to attack. We confronted a gang in the Rolls Road estate who, when they were faced down, ran away. We held an on-the-spot meeting that voted we had no alternative but to leave the area in a disciplined and organised fashion. To do otherwise would have put more people at risk and increased the sense of victory among the fascist supporters.
There is a particular reason why an honest account of what happened on May 12 has been extensively detailed in this letter. If we are to build an effective, mass anti-fascist movement (so sorely needed), we must have an honest appraisal of both our victories and our failures. For many years now the Anti-Nazi League has presented themselves as the anti-fascist movement. And to their credit the ANL has organised some successful, large mobilisations and boasts a comparatively large membership.
However, there have been failures, and these failures have often been dressed in the language of victory. Reports deflate the numbers of fascists and inflate the numbers of anti-fascists. Thus the ANL claimed that on the first of the recent NF marches in Bermondsey there were only 15 Nazis marching, which, apart from anything else, ignores the 60-100 baying local racists who waited at a nearby pub before joining the march.
The reality is that Saturday May 12 was, overall, a victory for the National Front. Their march was larger than the previous two and they have clearly recruited a significant number of local racist youth, who can be used to carry out vicious attacks in the local area. Add to this the pathetic turnout for the anti-fascists and the NF had a very successful day.
However, this is something that we can turn around. The Movement for Justice is calling for an open discussion with the ANL and all other interested parties on the contents of this letter. We call on the ANL to hold a democratic debate, within their organisation and publicly, on the debacle of May 12 and how to ensure it will never be repeated.
We have very little time to lose. The conditions are ripe for more racist murders, like the killings around the BNP?s Welling HQ in the early 90s, which led up to the murder of Stephen Lawrence.
It is essential that anti-racists and anti-fascists take this threat seriously and agree a strategy for united mass mobilisations to stop future marches and rallies by the fascists and crush the National Front.
Following Phil Kent?s letter (Weekly Worker April 19) and Marcus Larsen?s front page article (April 26), perhaps Marx himself might shed some light on the minimum wage issue. In his article Marcus seeks support from the fact that, so he says, Marx himself wrote a minimum wage demand similar to the CPGB?s into the French Workers? Party?s programme of 1880.
Marx to Sorge, November 5 1880: ?Guesde came to London to draw up a workers? election programme together with us (Engels, Lafargue, and myself) for the coming general elections. With the exception of some nonsense, which Guesde found it necessary to dish up to the French workers despite our protest, such as fixing the minimum wage by law, and the like (I told him: ?If the French proletariat is still so childish as to require such bait, it is not worthwhile drawing up any programme whatever?), this very brief document in its economic section consists solely of demands that actually have spontaneously arisen out of the labour movement itself. There is in addition an introductory passage where the communist goal is defined in a few lines. It was an energetic step towards pulling the French workers down to earth from their fog of phraseology ...?
So what Marcus finds best about the 1880 programme, Marx reckoned to be ?nonsense?! Far from seeking those demands which are least spontaneous, Marx strove to build his communist politics on the logic of the actual class struggle.
Did he consider the very idea of a legal minimum wage to be nonsense? It is unlikely, since we know that Marx was energetically in favour of legal regulation of the working day. What Marx more probably considered to be ?nonsense? was the idea of demanding from the bourgeois state that it should by law decree wages at least equal to those required by ?a workers? statistical commission?.
Marx?s view was that, given the wages system, ?fair? wages were those that would maintain workers in normal vigour at ?the degree of civilisation? and ?the habits and degree of comfort? of their time and country. But, Marx continued - and this was most fully explained by Engels, in a series of articles in The Labour Standard in 1881 - it was only ?through the action of trade unions that the law of wages is enforced against the employers, and that the workpeople of any well organised trade are enabled to obtain, at least approximately, the full value of the labouring power which they hire to their employer?. In the very nature of the wages system ill-organised workers do not ?get even that pittance which, according to the economic constitution of present society, may be called a fair day?s wages for a fair day?s work?.
Wages, by their nature, are more differentiated, more piecemeal-determined, than working hours. The idea that workers could bypass the struggle to form strong trade unions - a struggle most of which lay well ahead for the French workers in 1880 - by instead pressing the bourgeois state to legislate for all workers to get the ?fair? wage, was indeed nonsense.
For sure, the notion of equality, levelling up, was a motivating force within some of the 20th century?s most potent working class struggles: for instance the civil rights movements in both the USA and Northern Ireland. What is important about the ?European decency threshold? figure for a minimum wage - which the Socialist Alliance has rightly picked up - is not that we respect its authors? capacity, but that with it they have given us a lever. We can use that lever to help the mass of workers - ie, those not inclined to take our word for what is needed - to enter a struggle to level up wages and benefits across Europe. Through the struggle our movement can rise to its feet again.
In a society with strong trade unions, and far more extensive state regulation, a demand for a minimum wage may well be one that ?actually has arisen spontaneously out of the labour movement itself?, and no sort of call for miracles from on high. What is as nonsensical as ever is the idea that a capitalist state can ever legislate a ?fair?, worker-determined, minimum wage - and, even more so, the idea that activists should focus workers? attention on the aim of fair wages legislated by the state, instead of workers? control of production and the abolition of the wages system.
The demand for a minimum wage can have virtue, in Marx?s approach, only to the extent that it comes organically out of the labour movement itself, and serves as a lever to expand workers? struggles based on a bourgeois definition of ?needs? (fair wages) into a more general class-against-class form and thus towards a struggle for higher working class needs (solidarity, workers? liberty). Marcus?s approach amounts to remaining within the bourgeois definition of needs but making a point of honour out of a ?communist? calculation of those bourgeois needs rather than someone else?s.
Arbitrarily ?maximalising the minimum?, as the Weekly Worker does - on the minimum wage as on formal-democratic demands - is a false substitute for transitional demands.