Jim Denham writes:
I have, personally, been through what might be called a “dark night of the soul“, agonising over whether to support Left Unity in the general election. The Shiraz team has been in emergency session all day, thrashing out our considered position. We’d have liked to have got the news to you all earlier today (we aimed for 12 noon), but it hasn’t been possible, due to the intense and sometime heated nature of our internal debate. Anyway, this inspirational report (below) in today’s Morning Star clinched it for us – we’re backing Left Unity!
Filmmaker Loach launches Left Unity manifesto at squat
LEFT Unity is contesting the election to keep socialist ideas alive, Ken Loach said yesterday as he launched the party’s manifesto at a London squat.
The filmmaker, whose spirit of 1945 documentary celebrated the achievements of Labour’s post-war government, said his party now carried that flame.
He said: “Left Unity is against the logic of the market. It’s for the interests of the people. And therefore it’s different.
“It’s so important that we keep these ideas alive.”
Despite insisting that he was “only a rank-and-file member,” Mr Loach is Left Unity’s highest profile supporter.
He set out the case for the party he helped form in 2013 in a polemic at a Soho squat, where journalists sat on the floor to listen alongside activists.
It could have provided a set for one of Mr Loach’s cult social-realist films and was chosen to highlight Britain’s social housing crisis.
Squatters cheered a manifesto pledge given by principal speaker Kate Hudson to legalise squatting as part of the solution.
Mr Loach said Left Unity would draw strength — and votes — from the “huge anger, alienation, fear and hunger” felt by people outside the Westminster bubble.
He said they had been abandoned by Labour in a wide-ranging attack on Ed Miliband’s party.
The Bectu member also cited Labour’s failure to restore trade union rights stolen by Thatcher as “another reason why we need a separate party.”
He said: “We need stronger unions with a leadership that represents the interests of the workers and doesn’t just give money to the Labour Party for the Labour Party to cut its throat.”
His criticism came as Labour launched it’s work manifesto with a pledge to ban bosses keeping workers on zero hour contracts for more than 12 weeks.
Labour MP Ian Lavery, chair of the party’s Trade Union Group, said the announcement “put aside all doubt” about its commitment to working people.
He told the Star: “To state that unions and the Labour party do not represent working people is an insult when the labour movement fights to protect workers’ rights, stop exploitation and generally better the lives of working people on a daily basis.
“The reality is that the trade union movement is not only part of Labour’s past but also the future – as is proved by today’s announcement.”
Left Unity candidates will be on the ballot paper in 10 constituencies.
The Star asked four of squat’s residents whether they would vote for the party, but none confirmed they would.
Paul, who voted Lib Dem in 2010, said he was “completely disillusioned” by the Lib Dems’ tuition fees U-turn, while Elise said she hadn’t decided which party offered the most “radical change.”
“I’m not convinced Labour is are a left-wing party – Ed Miliband isn’t working class,” she said. “But I haven’t made up my mind who to vote for yet.”
Much to my surprise, this is rather good:
“But it isn’t just a choice between two different plans, two different ways of getting the deficit down. It’s a choice about what kind of country we want to live in.”
Lets have more of that, and less of this …
This statement, in Q&A format, appears in the present edition of the AWL paper, Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website. We reproduce it here for the information of readers, but please note that not everyone associated with Shiraz is a member, or even supporter, of the AWL:
In almost every constituency, Workers’ Liberty favours a Labour vote in the general and council elections in 2015. But the Labour Party is committed to maintaining austerity, just like the Tories. Why vote Labour?
It’s not true that there’s no difference. While Labour’s current policy would leave the framework of neo-liberal austerity intact, the Labour Party has been forced to shift on issues like the NHS, zero-hours contracts, the Bedroom Tax, and even public ownership of the railways. On all of those issues, its policy is far less radical than socialists would like, but it is not “just like the Tories”. The Tories are committed to extending anti-union laws; Labour aren’t.
A left that insists there’s no material difference between a government committed to at least partially reversing NHS privatisation and one committed to extending it is a left disconnected from the reality of working-class life.
Those policy differences are empty promises. We’ve been here before.
Working-class social pressure is the key factor. If they do not feel under any pressure, Labour’s leaders won’t implement even the minimal policy commitments it has already made. If there is enough pressure from their trade-union base, they will move. A bit.
Only a tiny bit. Democrats are a lesser evil than the Republicans in the US; Chirac was a lesser evil than the fascist Le Pen in the French presidential run off in 2002. Workers’ Liberty doesn’t favour a vote for the Democrats, and criticised those on the French far-left that supported a vote for Chirac in 2002. Why is this different?
Although its leaders have always had pro-capitalist politics, Labour is not just a capitalist, or “bourgeois”, party. It has historic roots as an attempt by a section of the industrial labour movement to create a political wing that would act for workers in politics as the Liberal and Tory parties acted for employers, and a continuing structural link to the majority of unions in the country.
The Labour-affiliated unions (most of the big ones) can at will change Labour policy by putting proposals to Labour conference and voting them through. Mostly they don’t. Or they do, but stay quiet when Labour leaders ignore the policy. But we should call for the unions to use that political clout, not to walk away and give up.
The US Democrats, or the French UMP (Tories), are, by contrast, straightforwardly capitalist parties. Although the Democrats enjoy funding and activist support from large sections of the US trade union movement, there is no structural link through which rank-and-file trade unionists could even hope to hold Democratic politicians to account or influence the Democrats’ political direction.
The Labour leaders have contempt for the unions. They’re happy to take union money, but won’t do anything in return.
Labour’s leaders want us to see the relationship in purely financial terms : “You (the unions) give us (the Labour Party) money, and we’ll give you a slightly-less-bad set of policies than the Tories.” That’s the relationship the US Democrats have with the unions in the USA; and it’s the way many union leaders see it. But we should change that, rather than passively accept it.
Some on the left like to imagine that the history of the past few decades has been one of Labour-affiliated unions struggling hard for working-class policies, but finding themselves blocked at every turn by the pro-capitalist Labour leaders. In fact, union leaders have blocked themselves by consistently failing to stand up for their own policies within the Labour Party.
In one recent example, Unite delegates to Labour’s National Policy Forum helped defeat a resolution that would have committed Labour to an anti-austerity platform. All the major unions supported the “Collins Review”, which will make Labour Party structures less democratic. Union delegates on the Labour Party Executive, including the RMT’s Mick Cash (now the union’s general secretary), failed to vote against the launching of the Iraq War in 2003.
Surely it’s better to give up on Labour and try to build something new?
Severing, or reforming out of practical existence, the link between the Labour Party and the unions is a long-held dream of the Blairites. Why allow them to fulfil it without a fight?
Our perspective is to transform the entire labour movement. That is, to make our unions fighting, democratic organisations controlled from below, which are responsive to our day-to-day struggles at work and in the community. If it’s possible to make our unions more industrially combative, then it’s possible to make them more assertive in the political sphere too.
The never-affiliated unions are in general no more left-wing or militant than the affiliated ones. Demanding that the unions disaffiliate, rather than demanding that the union leaders fight using every avenue available to them, lets the bureaucrats off the hook.
In the AWL, we are building something new! Only, we do that within the struggle to change the whole labour movement, not by opting out.
Labour leaders have progressively chipped away at union and grassroots influence within the party. The recommendations of the Collins Review, due to come into effect in 2019, will be the final nail in the coffin. The game is up.
If the recommendations of the Collins Review come into effect and are allowed to bed down, the nature of the Labour Party and its relationship to the unions may have to be reassessed. But five years is a long time, and a lot could be done between now and then.
If the unions asserted themselves seriously, the Labour leaders would just expel them, just like they expelled the RMT in 2004.
Possibly. To be honest, the RMT more or less chose expulsion; and if a number of unions asserting themselves politically as a bloc, the Labour leaders could not just expel them.
Maybe the Blairite core of the Labour machine would hive off, perhaps to fuse with the Lib Dems or even the Tories. Maybe the Labour leaders would sever the union link. Labour would split, with the unions taking some left-wing MPs, dissident CLPs, and a minority of grassroots activists with them.
Through a campaign of consistent political self-assertion backed up with industrial direct action, we strive to push the relationship between the Labour Party and the unions to its absolute limits. A split that resulted from such a campaign would provide an immeasurably more favourable platform for the refounding of a labour-movement political party than individual unions disaffiliating one-by-one without any kind of fight.
Even if you want a Labour government, why not at least encourage people to vote for socialist candidates like TUSC and Left Unity (LU) where they can?
Our attitude to Labour is determined by its structural link to the fundamental organisations of our class — trade unions. We have different criteria for assessing far-left propaganda efforts.
Socialist propaganda candidacies are important in building up the activist minority which can then act as a lever to transform the wider labour movement. But then they have be judged on the basis of the quality of their propaganda, whether they do build up a minority, and whether that minority is a positive factor in the movement. TUSC and LU candidates will not so much be making propaganda for working-class socialism as for lowest-common-denominator anti-austerity politics.
If TUSC or Left Unity were:
•meaningfully democratic, with functioning local groups
•explicitly working-class socialist, foregrounding policies about expropriation, social ownership, and working-class rule
•open about their function as propaganda candidacies aimed at raising the profile of radical socialist ideas, rather than pretending to be mass-parties-in-waiting
•clear about the need to get a Labour government to kick out the Tories, and therefore did not stand in marginal seats
… then Workers’ Liberty would be involved. We helped initiate the Socialist Alliance from 1999, and attempted to resist it being sidelined by the SWP when it cooked up the “Respect” project with George Galloway. Some TUSC and LU candidates tick some of those boxes. But, on the whole, their campaigns fall short.
You’re telling left-minded people to vote against their own beliefs, for a Labour Party with neo-liberal politics.
People also vote on the basis of what kind of government they want. A Labour vote for many working-class people on 7 May will not be a vote for Labour’s neo-liberal agenda, but a vote against the Tories, for a party they see as at least minimally connected, if only in a historical sense, to working-class people and our interests. We should not be cynical, or stay aloof from, that entirely legitimate aspiration to kick the Tories out.
True, defeats and setbacks have led increasing numbers of us to see politics (which, for many people, is basically reduced to elections) as an essentially individual, atomised process, a consumer choice.
We want to change that. We want politics — not just elections, but the entire processes of how society is organised and governed — to be a collective experience, which people engage in in a permanent and collective way, through mass organisations. Fundamentally for working-class people those organisations will be trade unions — the only genuinely “mass” organisations in British society, and the only ones which organise workers, as workers, at the point of production.
Getting a Labour government on 8 May will be the beginning, not the end, of a renewed fight for working-class political representation. If, in the campaign to win that government and kick out the Tories, socialists have been able to build up a caucus of workplace and community activists who want to push Labour much further than its neo-liberal leadership wishes to go, we will have used the election time to good purpose.
Veteran Israeli leftist and founder of Gush Shalom, Uri Avnery, offers a surprisingly optimistic assessment of the prospects for the Israeli left in the aftermath of Netanyahu’s shock victory. I’d recommend reading it together with this and this.
THE MESSIAH HASN’T COME and Bibi hasn’t gone.
That’s the sad outcome.
Sad, but not the end of the world.
As the American saying goes: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”
I would say: “Today is the first day of the battle for the next elections!”
The battle for the salvation of Israel must start right now.
SOME PEOPLE say that the best course now is a so-called National Unity Government.
Looks like a nice idea. Unity always sounds nice.
I can muster some good arguments for it. The combination of the two major parties creates a bloc of 54 seats (of 120). Such a coalition needs only one other party to form a majority. There are several possibilities, headed by Moshe Kahlon’s 10 seats.
The advocates of this choice have one good argument: it’s the Lesser Evil. The only other possibility is an extreme right-wing-religious government, which will not only stop any step towards peace, but also expand settlements, enact more laws to choke democracy and impose reactionary religious laws.
It’s a good argument, but it has to be rejected outright.
The Unity Government would be dominated by the Right. At best it would be a government of total immobility. It would be unable and unwilling to make even the slightest move towards ending the historic conflict, terminating the occupation and recognition of Palestine. Settlements would expand at a frantic pace. The chances of an eventual peace would move even further away.
It would do a lot of harm. The Labor Party would be obliged to justify and beautify this disastrous course, disarm the Obama administration and progressive Jewish forces throughout the world. It would be a huge fig leaf for evil.
It would also leave Israel without an effective opposition. If the government coalition broke up somewhere along the way, the Labor party would be too besmirched to constitute a credible alternative. The initial success of Yitzhak Herzog in rousing the old party from its comatose state cannot be repeated a second time. Labor would become a spent force, a vegetable.
Fortunately for the Labor Party, this possibility died almost immediately after the election. Netanyahu killed it with one stroke.
BY THE way, a curious side effect of a National Unity Government would have been that the leader of the (Arab) Joint List, Ayman Odeh, would have become Leader of the Opposition.
By law, the title is bestowed automatically on the chief of the largest opposition party. It confers on its holders many of the privileges of a cabinet minister. The Prime Minister is obliged to confer with them regularly and share government secrets with them.
But even if there is no Unity Government, and Herzog becomes Leader of the Opposition, one outstanding result of the election is the changed situation of the Arabs in the Knesset.
There is a certain humor to this. It was Avigdor Lieberman, the almost pathological Arab-hater, who induced the Knesset to raise the minimum threshold to 3.25%. This was intended to eliminate the three small Arab parties (including the Communists, who also have some Jewish voters), who responded by overcoming their mutual disagreements and animosities and forming the joint list. Lieberman had great difficulties in crossing his own threshold, and Eli Yishai’s party, which includes the heirs of the fascist Meir Kahane, was – thank God – left outside the Knesset. Read the rest of this entry »
Above: bought-and-paid for traitor Milburn
I was about to to write something about these treacherous scumbags, but Lennie’s saved me the trouble. I’d only add that Milburn (who failed to declare an interest when he sabotaged Labour’s health announcement) should be expelled immediately, and Hutton, Mandelson and Blair himself, put on notice that they will follow if they continue to undermine the Party in the run-up to the election.
I put this proposal forward in all seriousness, and it would have the incidental benefit of shutting-up all those who accuse Ed Miliband of “weakness.”
Anyway, here’s what Lennie (not someone that Shiraz always agrees with) has to say, according to a Unite press release:
Labour Does Not Need Back-stabbing Blairite Grandees>
With the days counting down to the most important general election in generations, the leader of the UK’s biggest union, Unite, has condemned those within the Labour party who are undermining Ed Miliband’s leadership.
Denouncing the politicians of Labour’s past as >Blairite grandees, Len McCluskey urged Ed Miliband not to be deterred by these
Addressing the union’s 1200 strong officer and organiser core in Birmingham today (Monday, 2 February), Len McCluskey warned that the Tories’ immense spending power, allied to their wealthy backers and a loyal media, means the country faces a one-sided campaign in May placing a duty to democracy’ on the union to support Labour:
“The electorate is today poised between fear and hope. Fear is the basis of the UKIP menace – blame someone else for all the problems, usually immigrants or foreigners, and seek refuge in an imagined past.
“But it is hope that is blossoming today as we have seen in last week’s magnificent election result in Greece. Labour needs to bottle some of the Syriza spirit and take that anti-austerity agenda to the people here.
“What it doesn’t need is the Blairite grandees – the people who sucked the life out of the last Labour government – attacking every progressive impulse, like the mansion tax and saving our NHS.
“So I say to Peter Mandelson, Alan Milburn and John Hutton: stick to counting your money, and stop stabbing Labour in the back.
“And I say to Ed Miliband – have the courage of your convictions and ignore these blasts from the past.”
Len McCluskey continued: “This is a fight for the future of our society, for the poor and vulnerable. A fight for everyone squeezed by the crisis and the cuts, and for everyone who believes that Britain has gone badly wrong, and who wants to live in a fairer country.
“The Tories are plotting a reduction in the scope and role of the state which even Thatcher could only have dreamed of, taking us back to the days of the 1930s, under the pretext of balancing the books without, of course, asking the rich or big business to contribute. They want to tear to bits every advance working people have secured, every protection we have built up, over the years.
“Let me say today – it’s not going to happen. If a government with the backing of less than one voter in four tries to deny the rights of a movement of millions, we will treat that with the contempt it deserves. And if we are pushed outside the law, so be it. If Unite is ever to die, it will not die on its knees.”
On working for a Labour victory, McCluskey said: I’ve asked our Executive to provide donations to Labour’s election fund totalling £2.5m so far. More will most likely be needed.
“I regard this as doing our duty to democracy.
“Let the Tories get their millions from hedge funds and from shadowy dinner clubs of big businessmen. Our money is clean, transparent to the public, democratically-sanctioned and honestly accounted for. It’s the pennies of our members each week, not the ill-gotten gains of the ruling elite.
“There can be no doubt that Labour’s commitments will make a huge difference – there’s no need to be mealy-mouthed or half-hearted about this – and will provide a platform for tackling the crippling inequalities in our society.”
If we lose the election, we understand how much harder that life will be for the people we serve.
“That’s why I’m appealing to each and every one of you – step up to the plate. Get behind your union and its political strategy, and get behind a Labour victory in May. Answer the Party’s call. Do not stand aside from this battle, or let any doubts and reservations paralyse you.
“We are now facing the fight of our lives.”
For further information, contact Pauline Doyle on 07976 832 861
Make no mistake: Syriza’s victory is an inspiring moment for the working class of Greece and the left throughout Europe and beyond. Shiraz Socialist is not about to join the bleating chorus of sectarians, Stalinists and other defeatists who have already begun predicting a sell-out by the new government. Some of these people on the UK left are well described here by Comrade Coatesy.
However, it has to be admitted that Syriza’s coalition deal with the far right wing anti-immigrant (and on occasion, antisemitic) Independent Greeks party (ANEL) is disappointing and worrying. The following disturbing article from Anton Shekhovtsov’s blog, offers a possible explanation for this unlikely alliance. We cannot vouch for the accuracy of what the author claims, but his theory certainly makes sense and is at least worthy of serious attention:
Greek left-wing SYRIZA forms a coalition with the pro-Kremlin far right
After a landslide victory in the early parliamentary elections held on 25 January 2015, the Greek Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) that secured 149 seats in the new parliament has surprised the left-wing voters and sympathisers by agreeing to form, already on 26 January, a coalition government with the far right Independent Greeks party (ANEL) that now has 13 seats. Popular support for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn led by currently imprisoned Nikolaos Michaloliakos has slightly decreased: the neo-Nazis have secured 17 seats (one seat less than in 2012), but the Golden Dawn is still the third largest party in Greece.
Both SYRIZA and ANEL are so-called “anti-austerity parties” implying that they oppose reducing budget deficits as a response to the Greek financial crisis, as well as rejecting the austerity package put forth by the EU and the IMF. The “anti-austerity” platform may seem the only agenda that has drawn the two parties they share, but they also share a similar approach to foreign policy issues – an approach that may undermine the EU unity over the Russian threat.
Both parties are overtly pro-Russian, and SYRIZA’s leader Alexis Tsipras denounced the sanctions against Russia imposed by the EU for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its invasion of Ukraine that has already cost Ukrainians thousands of lives. In May 2014, i.e. already after Russia had started its invasion of Ukraine, Tsipras travelled to Moscow to meet Vladimir Putin’s major allies such as Valentina Matviyenko, chairman of Federation Council of the Russian Federation, and Aleksey Pushkov, chairman of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee. Both Matviyenko and Pushkov are sanctioned by the US, while Matviyenko is also sanctioned by the EU. This did not prevent Tsipras from holding a meeting with her.
|Valentina Matviyenko and Alexis Tsipras at a meeting in Moscow, May 2014|
In Greece, our [i.e. Russia’s] partners could eventually be Leftists from SYRIZA, which refuses Atlanticism, liberalism and the domination of the forces of global finance. As far as I know, SYRIZA is anti-capitalist and it is critical of the global oligarchy that has victimized Greece and Cyprus. The case of SYRIZA is interesting because of its far-Left attitude toward the liberal global system. It is a good sign that such non-conformist forces have appeared on the scene.
The pro-Russian sentiments of SYRIZA were manifested, in particular, in its voting behaviour in the European parliament. For example, on 16 September 2014, when the European Parliament ratified the EU-Ukraine Association agreement – an agreement that was one of the reasons of the Russian invasion of Ukraine – all six MEPs of SYRIZA voted against the ratification of this agreement.
If SYRIZA is Russia’s “Trojan horse” in the EU, then ANEL led by Panos Kammenos may be even worse.
ANEL (founded in February 2012) is a far right party that Daphne Halikiopoulou and Sofia Vasilopoulou describe as “highly conservative and nationalistic right-wing”. In its opposition to immigration and multiculturalism, ANEL is similar to, yet is more moderate than, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. ANEL is also prone to conspiracy theories. For example, as argued by Pavlos Zafiropoulos, ANEL and its supporters believe that the Greek government “is spraying the populace from airplanes with mind-controlling substances”. Anti-Semitism is not alien to ANEL either: “Panos Kammenos, speaking on a TV program made the baseless claim that Jewish people in Greece are not taxed in contrast to Christian Orthodox Greeks”.
The driving force behind the pro-Russian approach of ANEL seems to be Gavriil Avramidis, who was elected MP with ANEL in Thessaloniki in 2012. He is also head of the Patriotic Social Movement “Greek-Russian Alliance” founded in 2001 and aimed at widening co-operation between Greece and Russia.
Yet Avramidis may be not the only politician in ANEL who is lobbying Russian interests in Greece. Kammenos visited Moscow in the first half of January 2015. Moreover, an article titled “An Attempt at Reviving the Russian Party” that was published on 22 January in the Greek Russian-language newspaper Afinskiy Kur‘er (Athens Courier) discussed the pro-Russian approach of ANEL in general.
|An article titled “An Attempt at Reviving the Russian Party” published in Afinskiy Kur’er (Athens Courier). Gavriil Avramidis is featured on the central photo|
Several questions remain, however. Are pro-Russian sentiments indeed important for ANEL? Will ANEL contribute to the strengthening of SYRIZA’s pro-Russian positions? Will the new coalition government push for lifting the EU sanctions against Russia that is escalating its invasion of Ukraine?
Doubtlessly, Russia will try to capitalise both on the victory of SYRIZA and the formation of the SYRIZA/ANEL coalition government. Putin has already congratulated Tsipras on his party’s victory saying that he is “confident that Russia and Greece will continue to develop their traditionally constructive cooperation in all areas and will work together effectively to resolve current European and global problems”. BBC correspondent Gabriel Gatehouse, currently in Athens, reports that he has seen the Russian ambassador Andrey Maslov entering the SYRIZA main office.
Kammenos’ visit to Moscow was most likely connected to the possibility of the formation of the SYRIZA/ANEL coalition government. At the same time, Avramidis visited the General Consulate of Russia in Thessaloniki on 23 January 2015, i.e. just a few days before the parliamentary elections, to discuss, with Consul General Aleksey Popov, the renewal of the cooperation between Greece and Russia, as well as lifting the sanctions against Russia.
|(left to right) Russian Consul General in Thessaloniki Aleksey Popov and MP Gavriil Avramidis, 23 January 2015, Thessaloniki|
Since the EU is a consensus-based organisation, imposing or tightening sanctions against Russia requires all the Member States to agree to such moves. Hence, the issue of sanctions may become a negotiating point for the new Greek authorities when they meet with more influential EU players to renegotiate the terms of the bailout programme for Greece. SYRIZA and ANEL are “anti-austerity” parties in the first place, so their pro-Russian sentiments may increase the cost, rather than contribute to lifting or blocking, of the EU sanctions against Russia.