The Public Sector Strike on Thursday and Democracy

Croydon TUC received encouraging reports on Thursday that the national one day strike by public sector workers that day had been well supported in Croydon. We await more detailed reports from the unions involved (Unite, GMB, PCS, FBU, Unison and NUT), but it was clear from reporting by the BBC that the strike had been too big for them to ignore. Failing to report anything that might disturb the current cosy Westminster consensus has, of course, become the BBC’s default position of late as witnessed by their news blackout of the recent Peoples Assembly demo.

Labour, in the form of its leader Ed Miliband, failed to support the strike. No doubt he didn’t wish to upset that part of the electorate which reads the Daily Mail. Cameron’s response on the day of the strike itself was to proclaim that the Tory Party manifesto for the forthcoming general election will include further restrictions on trade union rights. In particular, it will call for a simple workplace majority in a postal ballot to be no longer sufficient to call a strike – a majority of everyone eligible to vote will be required, whether or not they actually vote.

No one, of course, expects a Tory Party manifesto to written by anyone outside a small cabal around The Great Leader. Unfortunately, following Blair’s ‘reforms’ to the Labour Party in the 1990s, we have come to expect the same from the Labour Party. Cameron’s announcement does, however, throw into sharp relief the limitations of parliamentary democracy – limitations which are growing ever more apparent.

At the last election only 65% of the electorate voted. This enabled the Tories to harvest 307 seats in parliament – enough to cobble together a coalition government for five years – with the consent of only 23.5% of the electorate. Yet this is the Party that is proposing that workplace ballots must secure 50% of their electorate before a strike can be called – or rather before the many other restrictions around calling a strike can be addressed.

While the hypocrisy behind Cameron’s proposal is breath-taking, it does draw attention to more fundamental issues about the nature of democracy under capitalism. The ultimate aim for communists is a state in which citizens rule themselves, rather than be ruled by a wealthy minority. Parliamentary democracy is a mere shadow of what we mean by ‘democracy’. In a parliament of 600+ seats, less than 100 are likely to be decisive in any one election in determining the outcome. In the 500 other seats, our votes will make no difference whatsoever to the overall outcome. Proportional representation can improve this situation slightly, but it cannot fix the system. The same can be said about better selection of candidates. More women, more workers and fewer lawyers and wealthy individuals with outside jobs would help, but it won’t fix the problem. To achieve the aim we have set ourselves, democracy must be local, participatory and spread across every institution of society, including the workplace and media such as the BBC and the venal, offshore-owned, capitalist press.

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ELECTIONS AND THE FUTURE OF THE LABOUR PARTY

Two developments concerning the future of the Labour Party and its relationship with progressive forces outside that party, including the Communist Party, have been reported this week. First, at the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) AGM there was a motion, remitted to the EC, calling for the establishment of a new party affiliated to the Labour Party, much as is the Co-operative Party, to represent the left within the party. The second development was that Len McCluskey, General Secretary of the Unite union, speaking to parliamentary journalists this week, suggested that if Labour lost the next general election on a programme of cuts, a new workers party might gain his union’s support.

The CLPD pretty well represents the last vestige of socialist organisation within the Labour Party. There are, of course, still a few individual socialists in the Labour Party and there exists the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) which aims to build support across the left inside and outside the Labour Party. The effectiveness of these efforts is, however, hampered by Labour’s prohibition on organising a party within the party and on members who are also members of a party that stands candidates against Labour. The Communist Party has always taken a principled stand on this. We stand in elections, where we can, not because we have any realistic prospect of being elected under first past the post elections dominated by a capitalist mass media, but because we think a truly democratic party, which we are, should be prepared to put its views before the electorate where it can. We also recognise that Labour’s prohibition on membership of parties that stand against it was and is directly targeted at the Communist Party. Unlike many other parties on the left, we refuse to bow our knee over this. Entryism may appeal to some on the left but it is not our style of working.

It is difficult to see how we might gain from the CPLD’s idea for a new, tame party affiliated to Labour even if the Labour Party were to approve such an affiliation, which seems most unlikely.
Whether there might be an opportunity for the Communist Party in the new workers party envisaged by Mr McCluskey remains to be seen.

Elections are expensive. That is why the Communist Party does not currently stand in as many as we would like. We will, however, by standing in three wards in Croydon at the local government elections on 22 May: Broad Green, Selhurst and Bensham Manor. Support, financial and physical, would be very welcome.

Martin Graham
Election Agent for the Communist Party in Croydon

Labour Need to Commit Now to Taking the Rail Network into Public Ownership!

By Chris Guiton

In a recent interview with Progress, Maria Eagle, shadow transport secretary, has denied any ambition to re-nationalise the rail network, stating ‘I’m not interested in setting up some monolithic, centrally-run-from-my-desk nationalised body to run everything to public ownership.’ Instead, she  waffled about devolving power to local communities. You wonder if this represents a retreat from her earlier more positive response to the ‘Rebuilding Rail’ report published by the think tank Transport for Quality of Life, on behalf of the main rail unions: Aslef, RMT, TSSA and Unite.

The report sets out a strategy for how public ownership of the railway could be restored and how a future Labour government could reintegrate rail operations and infrastructure. It calls for Labour to make a number of commitments: use money saved from reintegration to lower fares; award no new franchises; review all existing franchises to assess whether they should be bought out; reduce ‘dividend leakage’; and campaign against the European Commission’s intention for member states to open domestic passenger services to competition.

With rail fares set to rise in January 2013 by inflation plus 3% – in effect, up to 11% depending on the franchise terms, Labour are clearly missing a trick here. Even Tory MPs are waking up to the impact of fare rises on their constituents – and those in marginal seats with significant commuter populations appear to be getting decidedly nervous. Many Croydon residents use the train service to commute to London and elsewhere, and with no prospect in sight of an end to this grossly unfair squeeze on rapidly diminishing incomes, people are justifiably angry.  The case for re-nationalisation is well-understood. A publicly owned, integrated rail network would deliver a better service, cost the taxpayer and commuters less and avoid the excessive transaction costs and profiteering generated by privatisation.

Every reason for Labour to be bolder and for Croydon voters to act accordingly!

Victory to the Sparks

In this leaflet, ‘Communists say: Victory to the Sparks!’ London communists call for unity in the struggle to build the fighting power of construction workers in a guerilla struggle to maintian their working agreements.

Build the fighting power of the workers – unite the struggles.
The Communist Party salutes electricians and construction workers in their epic fight to defend their livelihoods and industry.
Your fight is part of the growing resistance by working people who are being forced to pay for the greed of transnational corporations like Balfour Beatty, their allies in the banks and their stooges in the Con-Dem government.

Why are Balfour Beatty and the other companies attacking your agreements now?
The Communist Party is a Marxist party. We understand that capitalism is based on a constant struggle between the capitalist class and workers, a conflict that can never be abolished except by a socialist society.
The construction industry is now dominated by giant transnational corporations that are directly linked to finance capitalism. Companies like Balfour Beatty operate on the basis of financial institutions. They deal in shares from public-private partnership schemes to raise their profits. As with the banks, company directors receive huge payouts linked to short-term share performance.

In 2010, Balfour Beatty made pre-tax profits of £187 million and the CEO Ian Tyler took home a pay package worth almost £1 million.
Now they are attacking national agreements and cutting pay and standards in the construction industry – all to satisfy the bankers and speculators who demand fast results and ever higher profits.
Construction should be leading Britain out of recession. Our country needs hundreds of thousands of new, modern and affordable houses for its people.
Instead the government and the corporations are conspiring to breathe life into the failed private housing market, while transnational construction firms grow fat by focusing on their bottom line, whatever the cost to the workforce and their families.

Build unity and develop the struggle:
Victory in your dispute will raise trade union confidence in the construction industry and inspire workers in other areas of the economy. That means building and preserving the maximum unity in your fight now.
Support for other trade union struggles, in both the private and public sectors, will raise awareness of the need to confront the power of the transnational corporations, the banks and the Con-Dem government.
The Communist Party will do all in its power to support this fight.

Why you should join the Communists:
The Communist Party is not like other parties on the left.
We have a history going back to 1920 and we have always offered principled support and leadership to foster unity and win real advances for the working class.
We have a proud record of militant struggle in the electrical, engineering and construction industries. Now we are looking to rebuild that strength.
The Morning Star, which we founded and support, is the only national daily paper to cover your dispute and all the issues that matter to working people.
Our programme Britain’s Road to Socialism is a unique document that shows how we can create the path to a socialist society.

What you can do:
Read the Morning Star   Join the Commuist Party