Saturday 24 June: discussion analysis and some modest celebration

As we pointed out on 22 May, we are living, in an age of political upsets. So it has proved. Well done everyone who campaigned here in Croydon Central and across the country for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, and shame on those in the Parliamentary Labour Party who campaigned over the previous eighteen months to undermine him. Without this disruption, Labour might well have won this election. But don’t let us deceive ourselves: as we pointed out in that same blog, we have been participating in a flawed process. The weight of the capitalist press, apart from the late conversion of the Guardian, was so biased that, if our elections were properly regulated, the cost of printing these disgraceful rags would have been charged as an election expense. The BBC’s coverage of Corbyn’s Labour was pitiful and continues to be biased in favor of the Right – just consider the coverage currently being lavished on Nigel Farage, the ex-leader of an ex-party. The Electoral Commission has shown itself incapable of controlling election expenses; Big Business continues to buy influence, even inside the Parliamentary Labour Party; and neo-classical economics retains its grip on economic theory and will continue to be palmed off in the mass media and on the BBC as independent and objective analysis.

Local government remains enfeebled. The NHS is still being dismantled. Education still faces cuts. We are saddled with a Tory-Orange coalition for which no one voted. If the LibDems couldn’t check the Tories in coalition, how much restraint can we expect the Orangemen to provide? So the battle now turns on building an alternative to the feeble ‘democracy’ provided by parliamentary and local government elections. The Croydon Assembly and Festival for unity, diversity and democracy at Ruskin House on Saturday 24 June is another step on in this direction. Communists, our friends and supporters and everyone who wants a real democracy are encouraged to register for the Assembly here and turn up on the day for discussion, analysis and some modest celebration.

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Croydon TUC: the beating heart of radical Croydon

Croydon TUC (CTUC) held its AGM on Thursday at Ruskin House. With the resignation of Jon Morgan of PCS due to relocation away from Croydon, the meeting unanimously appointed Kevin Smith of CWU as the President. Kevin was an excellent choice, being active in the initiative to launch the Croydon Assembly, CTUC’s attempt to reach out beyond the trade union movement, and instrumental in forming the Croydon Assembly’s Environmental Forum. Roy Aird was re-elected as Secretary and this and the other appointments and re-appointments to the Executive Committee confirmed CTUC’s place at the beating heart of radical Croydon.

An attempt will be made this year to open CTUC’s monthly delegate meeting, held at 7.30 pm on the second Thursday of each month, to a wider audience by inviting more guest speakers. Invitations have already gone out to the  Campaign against Climate Change and the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom and more will follow with dates to be announced shortly.

The big event at Ruskin House this year will be the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the building in Coombe Road. To mark this event, the annual May Day March from North End (opposite Marks and Spencer) to Ruskin House will take place on Saturday, 13 May and will be followed by speeches, music and celebrations at Ruskin House. It is hoped that Mark Serwotka, the PCS General Secretary, will speak at what will be his first major public speaking engagement following his heart transplant operation. The assembly time at North End has yet to be confirmed, but it will probably be noon. As usual, trade union and Communist Party banners and flags will be proudly born through the pedestrian precinct and on Ruskin House.

Things must change

Another Croydon Assembly was held on Saturday, 20 November at Ruskin House, Croydon. After brief introductions by Ted Knight and ex NUT President Philipa Harvey and an entertaining warm up by Attila the Stockbroker, the Assembly broke up into discussion groups addressing housing, health, education, welfare and the economy – all from the perspective of democracy and how we can make our voices heard. It was a successful day – most participants leaving energised, enthused and determined that things must change.

If the day had one shortcoming,  it was a familiar one: a failure to discuss how to address CO2 emission and global warming. Whether discussed or not, the problem, however, continues to grow. A report by the Stockholm Environment Institute has now concluded that effects of Arctic warming will cause uncontrollable climate change at a global level. With temperatures in the Arctic currently 20C above what would be expected at this time of year and sea ice at its lowest recorded level, this is no longer just a problem for polar bears. It’s going to affect us, our children nd future generations.

How can such a significant issue consistently escape the attention of well-meaning progressives everywhere? One explanation proffered by Alex Randall in Red Pepper is that the centre-left’s arguments on global warming have focussed on the wrong issues: the impact on terrorism, migration and, on the positive side, the opportunities presented for Keynsian job creation. By doing this they have convinced no one and left the way open for the climate deniers, including President Elect Trump, to prosper.

Another explanation, and one that surfaces from time to time in the Croydon Environment Forum, is that global warming is simply too big an issue for any local group to have any impact. Better to concentrate on street cleaning and similar mundane issues more clearly under the control of the local authority.

As communists, we sympathise with the first explanation and reject the second. Part of the problem, as we see it, is that the centre-left fails to recognise that a profit driven (capitalist) society is incapable of addressing the problem. Karl Marx, writing in the nineteenth century, predicted from historical evidence that capitalism would only be overturned and replaced by socialism when the growth in the economy it facilitated became impeded by some fundamental constraint it was incapable of surmounting. Although it took two world wars, capitalism has shown remarkable resilience in overcoming all the constraints it has faced until now. In the 21st century it’s becoming increasingly clear that CO2 emission is first constraint it is incapable of surmounting. The solution – the only solution – is for us to replace capitalism before it destroys us.

 

Note of our meeting on 20 October

Discussion on Housing

The meeting reviewed Jeremy Corbyn’s Housing Policy, published as part of his Labour leadership campaign, and concluded that it had much to commend it. In particular, the aims of building one million new homes during the next five year parliament and providing new safeguards for tenants in the private rented sector in the form of three year tenancies and blocks on “unreasonable rent increases” were welcome and politically attractive. The CP should certainly maintain its support for Corbyn and endorse these proposals. The meeting did, however, conclude that they would ameliorate but not eliminate the housing crisis. For this the fundamental problems with UK housing had to be addressed. It needed to be recognise that treating homes as investments benefitted home owners – those already on the so-called housing ladder, but Marxists understood that, outside the productive process, asset ownership and exchange was a zero sum game. The gains accruing to home owners from owning property – essentially land value – didn’t materialise out of the ether: they were transfers of value  from those who who didn’t own their homes to those who did. One solution would be a Land Value Tax. It also had to be recognised that land and houses were currently over-valued when they couldn’t be afforded by working people. A fall in prices should be encouraged and welcomed, not feared – but it had to be matched with restrictions on banks’ rights to foreclose and requirements on them to write down the amounts they could recover from mortgage loans. For too long banks had made essentially speculative loans secured on land and buildings. passing on the risk associated with these speculative loans to the borrower. The aim of housing policy, the meeting concluded, should be to separate the provision of homes – a basic human need – from the creation of speculative investment.

The anomaly of allowing home owners to build up a capital gain which was then appropriated by the private sector providers of care homes was also discussed.

The meeting went on to discuss how to support the Axe the Act Campaign and their wish to expose Gavin Barwell, the Tory MP for Croydon Central and newly appointed Housing Minister, for having no intention of addressing the housing crisis. Barwell had a majority of only 165 at the last general election having spent almost up to the statutory limit according to his election expenses returns. There were allegations that he had falsified these returns, but the police had now concluded their investigations without bringing a prosecution. The meeting was not impressed with this outcome. Barwell also had a poor record as a Labour Councillor on housing matters, appearing to be keener on sweetening his constituents than pressing ahead with housing development in the south of the borough. It was also noted that the Nestle Building in Central Croydon had stood empty for four years, mostly under his watch, and was not now scheduled for redevelopment until 2018 – probably for luxury flats. The similarity with Centre Point in Central London, left empty for decades while its value increased, was pointed out. The problems of empty property and second homes both needed to be addressed in any comprehensive policy on housing.

Other Business

Ben Stevenson was appointed our delegate to Party Congress on the weekend of 19-20 November at Ruskin House. Members were encouraged to attend as visitors, volunteer as stewards and offer beds for delegates on the nights of Friday 18th and Saturday 19th November. Please make offers to office@communist-party.org.uk

The Party’s Big Red Appeal is up and running. Members are encouraged to donate what you can – cheques made out to CPB and mailed to the Party at Ruskin House or by credit transfer to the Party account – details from the acting branch secretary.

Members were encouraged to attend the Croydon Assembly at Ruskin House on Saturday, 26 November

Next meeting

7 pm at Party Centre on Thursday ,17 November –our usual third Thursday of the month.

 

New Tactics?

The Peoples Assembly is to be congratulated on organising the London march and demonstration against austerity yesterday. The effectiveness of weekend marches in bringing about the social change that we so desperately need is, however, coming into question.

A weekend demonstration and march almost brought down the government in February 2003 and almost halted the invasion of Iraq. The forces of reaction do not, however, stand still in the face of a successful tactic. The government has leaned to counter weekend demonstrations and marches by simply ignoring them, by levying charges on the organisers in the form of traffic management orders, policing costs and mandatory insurance, and by limiting the media coverage they receive. Such adaptive behaviour by the forces of reaction is nothing new. For example, the building of barricades in Paris was almost the trigger in 1848 for another French Revolution, but as Engels pointed out in his 1885 Preface to Marx’s paper on the Class Struggles in France, the army learned how to smash through barricades with cannon and go round them by ruthlessly smashing their way through adjacent houses. When this happened, the soldiers no longer saw behind the barricades “the people,” but rather a gang of rebels and agitators. The spell was broken, and building barricades ceased to be an effective strategy for pursuing social revolution.

This is not to say that weekend demonstrations and marches serve no purpose. Despite the obstacles put in their way, Croydon TUC will be organising its annual May Day March through North End to Ruskin House on Saturday, 30 April. On Sunday, 1 May, trade unionists across London will assemble at Clerkenwell Green and march to Trafalgar Square. These events are worth supporting. New tactics are, however, also required. The Croydon Assembly, an initiative by Croydon TUC to reach out to communities and organisations in the area and draw them into discussion, debate and action is one example. Another is the initiative by French workers and students to Rise up at Night or Nuit debout and occupy public spaces to debate and discuss, melting away in the day and returning the following evening. Reminiscent of the tactics adopted by Occupy, but possibly harder for the authorities to counter, could this be the next way forward?

Croydon Assembly Saturday 19 March

Historically, democratic assemblies of workers such as the Paris Commune and the Russian soviets, built in the old society, played an essential role in the attempt to build a new one. This role was both to provide a bridge to the new society and the democratic framework on which democracy in the new society could be built. This is not an easy task: the Paris Commune lasted a mere 71 days, the USSR ‘only’ 74 years. Next time the democracy in the new society we build must be even more robust.

It is asking a lot of Croydon TUC and its outreach initiative, the Croydon Assembly, to provide this bridging role, but they currently represent one of the best ways of doing this. The Croydon Assembly will reconvene on Saturday, 19 March at Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD, 11 am to 4 pm, and it deserves our support.

Confirmed speakers include Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the FBU, Philipa Harvey, President of the NUT and Dr Philip Howard from the BMA General Council. The main focus will, however, be the launch of the Croydon Assembly Manifesto, a democratically drafted document reflecting previous meetings of the Assembly and now presented to a wider public.

Entry is free and it is possible to register in advance at Eventbrite. Advance registration is, however, not essential. The important thing is to be there and join in.

BYPASSING THE MASS MEDIA

An exception to the near total absence of comment in the mass media (Morning Star excepted) of the BBC’s “institutional bias” in its coverage of Jeremy Corbyn has been Paul Myerscough’s analysis in the current edition of the London Review of Books. The fact that LRB is a low volume, specialist literary monthly illustrates the extent to which the capitalist press, including the Guardian, is united in its hostility to Jeremy Corbyn and explains why Corbyn’s team must bypass them and the BBC if they are to reach out to voters.

Myerscough’s article cites a number of occasions when the BBC’s editorial independence and objectivity when dealing with Corbyn’s leadership has broken down. Readers of this blog could no doubt provide many more examples. Interestingly, Myerscough identifies the cause not as the imposition of a producer’s or presenter’s personal views but rather the dislocation between the new state of party politics following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour Leader and the broadcaster’s entrenched conception of what constitutes ‘impartiality’. The BBC’s idea of impartiality remains centred on the fine gap between the Tory-big business nexus and the Blairite rump in the Parliamentary Labour Party. They have failed to take account of the fact that the Burnham/Cooper/Kendall option, more of the same from Labour, was totally rejected by Labour members and supporters.

An opportunity to assist Jeremy Corbyn in his strategy of bypassing the mass media will present itself on Saturday, 7 November when John McDonnell, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor and Jeremy Corbyn’s principal ally in parliament, will open the Croydon Assembly at Ruskin House, Croydon. Registration is from 10.00 am and the Assembly will close by 4.30 pm. Other speakers include Christine Blower, NUT General Secretary, Andrew Fisher, economic adviser to Jeremy Corbyn, and Candy Udwin, the PCS shop steward the National Gallery sacked and were forced to re-instate. This is a stellar line up and, although you can turn up on the day unannounced, it would be appreciated if you could register at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/croydon-assembly-fighting-the-tories-a-manifesto-for-action-tickets-18754943541. There is no entry fee.

The Croydon Assembly is an initiative by Croydon TUC to make contact, radicalise and organise the wider community. It has the enthusiastic support of the Communist Party members on Croydon TUC. A manifesto has been prepared over the last few months and will be debated and voted on at the meeting. This is definitely one meeting worth attending.

The Future of the NHS and the role of the Independent Left

The news, suppressed until the Tory Party Conference had ended, that NHS Trusts and Foundation Trusts have gone nearly a billion pounds in the red in just three months did not come as a surprise to the Communist Party and others such as Keep Our NHS Public who have been waiting for the figures. Make no mistake, the Tories intend to destroy the NHS and replace it with a US style private insurance based scheme, not stop at merely tendering out services. The outsourcing of Croydon University Hospital’s A&E service, now shambolically and expensively run by Virgin, is just the start. As a step to achieving their aim, the Tories, naively supported by the Lib Dems for the first five years, engaged in a programme of inadequate funding and enforced ‘efficiency savings’. But these alone will not enable them to bring their plans to fruition. For all their bluster, they know they lack enough support across the country to enforce a complete privatisation of the NHS. Not even the backing of the capitalist press and sympathetic coverage by a BBC cowed by the prospect of charter renewal will be enough to force it through. They need a TINA argument – There is No Alternative. They are looking for continued membership of the European Union and ratification of TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, to provide this.

From where will the opposition to the Tories’ plans come? Jeremy Corbyn deserves our support following his election as Labour Leader, especially in his struggle with a sullen Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) – many Labour MPs resent the power exercised by new members and supporters in electing him and will seek to oust him as soon as they can. The NHS cannot, however, be saved by parliamentary opposition alone; nor should everyone on the independent left, especially those in the Communist Party, tear up their membership cards and pile into the forthcoming internal struggle inside the Labour Party. It will take time to clear out the PLP (assuming it can be done) and, meanwhile, we need to organise independently in the trade unions and trade union councils, support what’s left of our free press (the Morning Star and the internet) and campaign on the streets and in our community groups. Even more important than the next meeting of Croydon Constituency Labour Parties is the next public meeting of the Croydon Assembly. This is a genuine, bottom-up democratic initiative by Croydon TUC and will take place on Saturday 7 November at Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD. Confirmed speakers include John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, and Christine Blower, the NUT General Secretary. Such grass roots initiatives, conducted independently of the current struggle within the Labour Party, are essential if continued membership of the European Union on unsatisfactory terms and ratification of TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, both essential steps in the destruction of the NHS, are to be opposed. We cannot rely on an internally divided Labour Party to do this for us. We must do it ourselves.

The Fortcoming EU Referendum

The Croydon Assembly last Saturday (6 June) was a great success. The Cedar Hall at Ruskin House was full and, with workshops in the morning and a plenary in the afternoon, it was more a day for debate and deliberation than a time to sit back and listen to leading figures on the Left give us their views on the way forward after the General Election.  Two of the key speakers, Philipa Harvey, Chair of the NUT, and Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of PCS, nevertheless, gave us plenty to think about.

Philipa Harvey, a classroom teacher in Croydon until she began her term as NUT President, described the folly of over-testing and over-examining school children. While Labour must share some of the blame for this, it is the Tories, driven by their pathological distrust of the teaching profession and fuelled  by the knowledge that their kids are taught under a different system (i.e. privately), who have pressed this to the extreme. Children, Philipa explained, are now to be tested from the age of four.  Yet the most successful education system in Europe (Finland), has one exam when kids complete their education and no formal testing.

The immense personal courage displayed by Mark Serwotka as he continues to battle for his public service members under continuous attack by the government while waiting for a heart transplant can only fill one with admiration. It makes a mockery of the ‘honours’ to be ‘bestowed’  on the great and good in the Queen’s Birthday Honours tomorrow. How disappointing that so few of those offered gongs and titles have the integrity to decline them; how disappointing that so many people who, until then we respected , lap them up while disingenuously claiming that they did so on behalf of their colleagues or their organisation. It was, however, on this occasion Mark’s views on the forthcoming EU referendum that attracted attention. Mark invariably talks sense, so it was something of a jolt when he argued that the forthcoming referendum would be a distraction for the Left and we should not get entangled in it.

It is certainly the case that the trade unions will be split over continued membership of the EU while the Labour Party under any likely new leader will support continued membership even on the existing terms. Cameron’s strategy is clearly to obtain some cosmetic changes to these terms, probably no more than restrictions on who can claim welfare benefits. This, he hopes, will be sufficient to buy off any revolt within his own party. Those on the anti-EU wing of the Tories and UKIP will concentrate on the free movement of labour within the EU, a line that would have some logic if it were accompanied with restrictions on the free movement of capital, but without this it will tend to degenerate into xenophobia and racism. The big issue for workers is, however, their powerlessness within the EU due to the almost total absence of democracy and the corresponding influence of Big Business within its structures  – an influence so great that TTIP can apparently be rammed through regardless of any opposition workers within the EU can mount.  But do these difficulties mean that the Left and, in particular, the Communist Party can afford to turn its back on the EU Referendum?

Seamus Milne argued in the Guardian on Thursday (11 June) that what has been happening in Greece demonstrates that the case for radical change in Europe and a break from anti-democratic and corporate-controlled structures cannot be abandoned to the Right. Who is correct over this, Mark Serwotka or Seamus Milne?  I would tend to back Mark against Seamus nine time out of ten. This, I think, is the one in ten exception.

General Election Blues

No one should be in any doubt that the outcome of the general election last month was anything other than a defeat for the Left and progressive forces in Britain. The SNP managed to obliterate Labour in Scotland by positioning itself to the left of Labour but, given our first-past-the-post voting system for parliamentary elections, it succeeded only in strengthening separatist tendencies in Scotland and entrenching the forces of reaction elsewhere. The Tories secured the votes of less than a quarter of the electorate but enough to give them a comfortable overall majority. We should, however, not cling to the illusion that a Labour government under Ed Miliband would have been able to deliver the goal of greater equality – now identified by Miliband’s critics inside the Labour party as Labour’s mistaken dominant electoral message. How strange that we, the electorate, didn’t notice this at the time!

So where are we now? According to Martin Kettle writing in the Guardian today (Friday, 5 June), we should take Cameron’s claim to head a one-nation government supporting blue collar workers seriously. According to Kettle, even our concerns about the NHS under the Tories are unfounded. He says that Jeremy Hunt is not repeating the mistakes made by his predecessor, Andrew Lansley: according to Kettle, the NHS will “still be there in 2020”. Complacency? With more anti-trade union legislation promised in the Queen’s speech, if that’s not clinging to illusions, I don’t know what is.

Croydon TUC, supported by the communists on its Executive Committee, has long taken a more realistic view about what we could expect following the General Election whoever won. That is why it formed well in advance of the General Election the Croydon Assembly as a way for the trade unions to reach out to the wider community beyond the boundary of organised labour to raise awareness and to encourage people to organise against austerity, privatisation, growing inequality and cuts in public services. CTUC took the view that these would continue whoever won the election. Given the apparent inability of the left within the Labour Party to summon up a mere 30 Labour MP’s to nominate a left candidate to stand as Leader, who can argue that this assessment was incorrect?

The Croydon Assembly reconvenes tomorrow, 6 June, 10.30 am to 4.30 pm, at Ruskin House, 23 Coombe Road, Croydon CR0 1BD.  There is a stellar cast of speakers including Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of PCS, Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the FBU, Philippa Harvey, President of the NUT, and John McDonnell MP but much of the day will be given over to discussion by those who attend. If you can get there, forget the General Election Blues, come along and join in.