Dull speeches

Some 400 people attended the February 12 'Support the unions' meeting in central London. The event had been organised by the Socialist Workers Party and a clear majority of those present were either SWPers or fellow travellers. Paul Foot (SWP/Socialist Alliance), Tony Benn ('independent'), and Mark Serwotka (Public and Civil Servants Union/SA) were the platform speakers. Bob Crow had also been due to speak, but was unable to attend. During the meeting it was revealed that intruders had tried to break into his house last weekend. On new year's eve, Crow was viciously assaulted by two men outside his flat. Suspicion grows that management have hired thugs to intimidate comrade Crow, who has just been overwhelmingly elected the new general secretary of the RMT. Unfortunately, from the podium we were exposed to the usual dull, pedestrian speeches on why the bosses are greedy fat cats and how New Labour are no better than the Tories (yawn). There were no searching political questions - what is the way forward for the unions and the left? What should be the 'line of march'? Instead of anything concrete we had effusive solidarity-mongering. So Paul Foot reminded us that capitalists are exploiters and that "more and more power is going to private companies". Enron is corrupt, added the comrade. He concluded: "We want our public services back - we want our trade unions back." Tony Benn remarked that globalisation - and the worship of money - is the new, far more dangerous, fundamentalism. He approvingly quoted a recent New York Times article which said that Marx may have been wrong about communism but he was certainly right about capitalism. This went down well with the SWP-dominated audience. Benn informed us that he "came late to Marxism", but having done so he was delighted to discover that Marx had come to exactly same the conclusions as him - just a bit earlier, that's all. Comrade Benn also complained - not for the first time - about the euro and the single European currency. Apparently, nasty old Brussels has told Gordon Brown that he is spending too much on public expenditure. "We" should spurn the euro, get out of the European Union, otherwise unelected European bankers will always be kicking "us" around and sabotaging socialism. Benn also recounted how he had recently attended a Marxist Forum (ie, SWP) meeting and heard one comrade explain the need to "smash the state". With a big beaming smile on his face, Benn joked that he could hardly tell this to an 80-year-old woman who wants to be moved to a bungalow. Disquietingly, this essentially philistine sentiment was warmly applauded. Mark Serwotka mocked the red-baiting press - according to The Sun he was the "sixth most dangerous man in Britain", while the Daily Mail thought he was the second. Comrade Serwotka also poked fun at how every time a leftwinger or militant is democratically elected, the media always say they have "seized control". He ended by saying that the strikes in the railways and the benefits offices are about "fundamental disputes" and "fundamentalist rights" - the unions are on "the offensive". As we have come to expect, none of the platform speakers, and hardly any of the contributors from the floor, mentioned the Socialist Alliance - or indeed any other political organisation, SWP included. Maybe it is awfully vulgar to mention your political affiliation in public. Instead various trade union hats were donned. What about wearing the 'socialist politician' hat for once? Danny Hammill