In regard to your recent article on prisons, I thought it was brilliant. It was well argued and hard to disagree with (Rehabilitation, not revenge, October 20 2005).
Both Ian Donovan and Martin Sullivan attack Peter Tatchell on the basis of guilt by association (Letters, April 20). But, as the old saying goes, people in glass houses shouldnt throw stones.
Ian is a member of Respect - a rotten Socialist Workers Party popular front. At least judging from his numerous, tedious and increasingly frothy letters to the Weekly Worker, an uncritical one. Martin is a member of the warmongering Labour Party and a cheerleader for the pro-big business Ken Livingstone.
What of Peter Tatchell? He spoke at a demonstration which was sponsored by and attracted some dubious organisations and individuals. So what? There is nothing wrong with Marxists or socialists engaging in joint actions with all manner of fleeting or unreliable allies. To do otherwise is to cocoon oneself in the politics of purity and sink into sectarian irrelevance.
Eg, the huge anti-war demonstrations in 2003. All manner of people were there, including Tories and fascists. Charles Kennedy, Anas Altikriti and the Morning Stars Andrew Murray were amongst the platform speakers.
To have boycotted such a mass movement would have been criminal. But not to have criticised these allies would have been equally criminal.
NUT call for action
Among several key debates at the National Union Teachers conference over the Easter weekend, the most important was the executives priority motion on the Education Bill. The main left amendment to this emphasised the importance of nationwide school action to oppose the bill, with a campaign for national strikes. The left also argued that action against the bill should be linked up with the fight of other public sector workers who are considering action against privatisation. Conference overwhelming accepted the lefts amendment.
On pensions, the acceptance of the executive report on salaries and superannuation meant that sections of the pensions motion were now out of order. This angered many delegates, as those sections included opposition to raising the retirement age from 60 to 65.
The left was hopelessly divided on the question of faith schools. The CPGB, Socialist Party, Alliance for Workers Liberty and Workers Power supported amendment 31.1, which argued against the expansion of faith schools and for the reintegration of existing religious schools into the local authority system. The SWP, however, spoke against, and the motion was defeated. But conference rejected motion 31.2, calling for the right of muslims to set up faith schools, despite SWP support.
SWPers said they favoured mixed, secular comprehensive schools, but wanted all religions to be treated equally. Speakers against argued that faith schools help segregate the working class and were hardly bastions against racism or islamophobia.
At least left unity was achieved in opposition to the Education Bill. Delegates left conference determined to campaign for a huge lobby of parliament, hopefully alongside other public sector unions fighting privatisation.
NUT call for action
NUT call for action
The threat of a war against Iran is looming. Conflict and contradictions between the interests of neoconservatives in power in the USA and the defenders of the rule of capital in Iran has entered a dangerous phase.
The threat of war is serious. US imperialism and its allies are trying to force the Iranian regime into submission. At the same time, Irans rulers are trying to use the pretext of acquiring nuclear technology and the ensuing international conflict to divert attention from internal crisis, so that they can lengthen their rule.
This stage of international confrontation is taking place at a time when Iranian workers are engaged in daily anti-capitalist struggles against the regime: a government that tries to break up workers struggles with repression and anti-labour legislation.
The anti-war movement is an international movement against expansionism and imperialist intervention in the affairs of other countries. We activists of the Iranian left, who defend the Iranian working class movement and other social movements in Iran, see ourselves as part of this global anti-war movement.
Fighting against war is not the same as defending Irans islamic rulers. In fact, imperialist threats will help maintain the regime, giving it the perfect excuse to deploy its repressive apparatus against political opponents.
The nature of this imperialist war must be exposed and world public opinion must be mobilised against it. Effective resistance against this war is to support social movements inside Iran in opposition to both imperialism and islamic dictatorship in Iran.
We call on all anti-capitalist forces, political groups and organisations to join the forces and activists of the Iranian left in supporting Iranian social movements against war and to strengthen solidarity with the workers movement in Iran.
Act of revenge
Steve Allens raises the question of what happened to the working class militancy of the early 1970s. Alex Callinicos, the Socialist Workers Partys great strategist, apparently leaves it at Thatchers door, lamenting the failure of the working class to rally.
I think we must consider objective changes in British capitalism, with some of the best organised trade unionists defending strongholds in older industries, plus the subjective factor that the ruling class had more determined and ruthless leadership than anything on our side. Thatcher was only their representative.
While we were congratulating ourselves over victories such as Saltley, the enemy was planning revenge. It came when building workers such as Des Warren were jailed for picketing. While we were being told about peaceful roads and partnership, our rulers were discussing civil war, rejoicing over Chile and parading tanks at Heathrow. They didnt need to use them. But they showed their strategy in hammering the miners and the printworkers at Wapping.
Even the best of our union leaders, those who were prepared to lead a fight, were not up to this class war confrontation. As for the rest, the expression used of the British army in World War I of lions led by donkeys is the kindest that comes to mind.
Some of the SWP members I met and worked with in the 1980s were hard-working and dedicated, but always tried to keep everything at the level of trade union common sense, even when this proved inadequate, then blaming the working class for its supposed low level of consciousness.
Steven Allens says the working class was disarmed in the face of a ruling class assault by the organisational and political collapse of the Communist Party. Certainly many serious trade unionists had looked to the CPGB for leadership and its place has never been taken by any of the contenders on the left. But how well did it do before its collapse?
It is worth reading Des Warrens book The key to my cell. Des, who died two years ago, had been jailed under the Tories and was kept in jail under Labour. Besides his scathing criticisms of the TUC for abandoning him, he also accuses the CPGB, of which he had been a member, of liquidating his campaign. As for the SWP, it is only acquiring the bureaucratic method and popular front opportunism of the old Stalinist CPGB, without even its radicalism.
We cannot return to the militancy of the 1970s, nor should we desire to. What is needed in Britain now is to rebuild class consciousness in the present conditions and struggles. Dont go looking for any golden age of old Labour or the CPGB.
We do need to break out of the ghetto mentality of the sects. But bearing the red flag of revolt, not the white flag of surrender. Respect is not the way.
The strike of the Gate Gourmet workers was a welcome sign that working class solidarity is coming back. But it reminded us that Labour has kept the Tory anti-union laws, allowing trade unionists to be victimised without union support. Lets be out there marching for trade union freedom this May Day.
Act of revenge
On the house
It is obvious that Phil Kent does not live in Barking and Dagenham. If he did he would understand how important access to a supply of new council housing is to white working class people in that borough.
My attitude to council housing changed nine months ago when my brothers ex-wife had her house repossessed. Her three eldest children came to live with me and my mother for six months until she got a council house. Those six months were the worst six months of my life. When she got a council house it was as though I had just avoided being killed in a car crash.
It is a feature of capitalism that private house builders will never build enough affordable housing for working class people. While young couples would like to buy their own house, the reality is that they are forced to rent property from blood-sucking private landlords. How can young couples plan to start a family when they do not know where they will be living in six months time, since most rent via six-month assured short-hold tenancies?
In the town where I live there are hundreds of migrant workers from Poland, Portugal, Lithuania and other European countries. These migrant workers work on short-term contracts for gangmasters and employment agencies, either on the land or in food-processing sheds and factories. One local estate agent has admitted that one in four properties sold in the town are bought by private landlords who let them out to migrant workers. The people I talk to mention the numbers of migrant workers in the town as the first topic of conversation after the weather.
This issue acts as a symbol for the grievances of working class people about the acute shortage of affordable accommodation locally and the insecurity of employment. The only way to overcome the scapegoating of migrant workers is to demand that the Labour government embarks on a crash programme of council house building.
Phil should ask himself what he would say to a young white working class couple in Barking and Dagenham who are on the never-ending council house waiting list. While I do not support the BNP, I can understand why such working class people might be tempted to vote for it there. The election of a few BNP councillors in that borough would put enormous pressure on the Labour government to build new council housing in that area.
On the house
On the house
In the clear
I would like to point out some inaccuracies in your latest article on Respect (Reformism from above, April 20).
First of all, there is talk of opening the council books. I have heard this on several occasions from the mouths of Respect candidates.
The claim that there is no class-based politics in Respect is also totally wrong. When canvassing, myself and other comrades always talk about the working class. On a Respect car cavalcade through Tower Hamlets recently, a young muslim woman candidate and John Rees were shouting passionately about the working class from large megaphones strapped to the roofs of cars.
If thats not making our politics clear, then what is?
In the clear
No more talking
The Muslim Council of Britain has rejected talks with gay organisations and rebuffed proposals to tackle homophobia within the muslim community.
Inayat Bunglawala, media spokesperson for the MCB, has disowned Muhammed Aziz, the MCBs adviser on equality issues. Aziz had endorsed dialogue with gay groups and indicated the MCBs commitment to tackle prejudice and discrimination against gay people.
Aziz made this commitment during round-table equality talks that included gay lobby group Stonewall. The talks were sponsored by the equality and diversity forum of the department of trade and industry (DTI). Aziz is named on the forums membership list as an MCB adviser and is seen as representing the organisation at the forum.
The DTI talks resulted in agreement on a five-year plan for dialogue between muslim and gay groups and for joint action against homophobia within the muslim community and against islamophobia within the gay community. Everyone thought an amicable agreement had been reached until Bunglawala denounced the talks with the claim, There are no talks with any gay groups anywhere.
Bunglawala told the Islam TV Channel that the MCB rejected dialogue with gay representatives. Opposing any muslim and gay cooperation on equality issues, he reiterated the MCBs hard-line homophobic condemnation of same-sex relationships as sinful and not acceptable. Bunglawala is apparently so anti-gay that he refused to speak to journalists from the online Pink News service.
We are deeply saddened that the MCB has slammed the door on dialogue with the gay community and has rejected proposals to tackle homophobia. Outrage and Stonewall are willing to work with the MCB to combat homophobia and islamophobia. Sadly, the MCB is unwilling to reciprocate our offer of cooperation and solidarity. It is a great pity that Azizs commendable work has been dashed by Bunglawala and the rest of the MCB leadership.
No more talking
No more talking
Brett Locks excellent article on the disputes between the Lesbian and Gay Campaign Against Racism and Outrage got me thinking about the current relationship between gay rights movements and the left and how homophobia works.
Leftwing homophobia has been in retreat for the last 30 years or so, and today there are very few groups on the left that disagree with the principle of human rights for LGBT people. There are many arguments over policies and priorities, but we all basically agree that mistreatment of people based on their sexuality is anti-socialist.
However, the rise of the more diffuse anti-capitalist and anti-war movements over the last couple of years have allowed assorted dubious allies to start cashing in on popular discontent with consumer capitalism. As the Weekly Worker has previously documented, the cyber-anarchist newswires such as Indymedia have become a magnet for vicious homophobic attacks and the lazy bigotry of the Bush is a cocksucker variety. (For the record, Mr Bush is a heterosexual supremacist and leftists who try and portray him and Mr Blair as a gay couple expose only their own anti-gay agenda.)
At least the naked homophobia of a few hotheads in the nether regions of the anti-capitalist movements is upfront and easily challenged. What is more concerning are those secular and religious groups that have attempted to fuse ecology and trade justice issues with a reactionary agenda on personal relationships, sexuality and secularism. Web-organised groups such as Ekklesia and the Anabaptist Bruderhof Movement are examples, playing up their laudable communal living ideals and slipping in their detestation of homosexuals, transgendered people, pagans and atheists as a footnote. Even the fanatically homophobic Anglican Mainstream has gotten in on this act, comparing gay relationships to the sin of unbridled capitalism (Gay Times April).
On the secular front, some deep green and straight edge collectives such as the magazine Alternative Green have codified womens subordination and homosexual inferiority into a hodgepodge of natural living ideals. Even The Ecologist, considered by many to be a radical magazine, has given free reign to such groups in the past.
Marxists and anarchists of all hues should be prepared to challenge these sorts of organisations. Their ostensible opposition to capitalism doesnt mean their long-term plans are any less unpleasant for those who dont obey their particular brand of justice.