Building Among Young Workers

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Above: CWI Summer School

My contribution to the Youth discussion at the CWI summer school in Barcelona:

In England and Wales, one of the areas of youth work we’ve focussed on is our orientation to and development of young workers. One of the challenges of this work is getting access to young workers.

Unlike students who can be found in large numbers on campuses, there is no one place where young workers come together. This is particularly true as trade union consciousness among youth is generally low. This means that we have to go directly into workplaces to engage with and attract new layers of young workers.

One of the ways we have done this is by organising campaigns around fast food rights, £10Now and days of action exposing retail outlets that use exploitative zero hours contracts. To try and engage young workers in workplaces known to be hostile to workplace organising we have organised actions where we go into a workplace and leaflet as many workers as we can before management ask us to leave.

As well as attracting new layers we have taken steps to develop our young worker comrades. Alongside student bureaus we have had a number of meetings for young workers to discuss how we can intervene in the workplace. This has been important as young workers face more insecure and unstable conditions which can be very different to conditions experienced by older comrades.

More often than not, young workers are in workplaces that have no trade union recognition. Management can get away with more bullying and intimidation and attempts to even discuss organising can be met with extreme hostility. In drawing out these perspectives this has guided our work and allowed us to better equip our young comrades in the workplace.

By having discussions on a day in the life of a care worker, a shop worker, a waiter etc. older workers are exposed to the conditions faced by the younger counterparts and can better advise younger comrades how to recruit other workers to trade unions and get organised.

It’s also important that time is made in branch meetings to discuss the conditions of the trade unions. As trade unions will often be held in the grip of bureaucratic officials and young comrades will need guidance to give them the confidence to transform unions into militant fighting trade unions.

One of our successful areas of work in this area is in relation to Usdaw (the shopworkers’ union) which is Britain’s 4th largest trade union with over 430,000 members. We have been developing a caucus and had our biggest intervention so far at this year’s national conference. Our young comrades have been at the forefront of regenerating the broad left within the union.

Likewise, our young members put forward and spoke on a number of important motions which resonated and got some of the best responses from delegates. In time this will no doubt lead to contacts and new recruits.

The steps we are taking are currently small and the tasks ahead great but comrades, by investing time and energy into preparing young workers today, we will be developing the cadre who will have the confidence and understanding to inspire and lead the workers’ struggles of tomorrow.

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On Young and Precariat Workers

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Above photo taken by Mary Finch

Below is an editted version of my contribution to the discussion on British Perspectives at the Socialist Party’s March 2017 National Congress:

Ryan Aldred, Plymouth and South West

Comrade chair, comrades.

For many youths growing up in the 90’s, those putting forward a so called “alternative” to the Tories would have been Tony Blair, promising a university education for everybody and a life of prosperity thereafter. And how prosperous we are now! This was followed by Nick Clegg, promising to end tuition fees and put a brake on Tory austerity; well done there Cleggy!

It should therefore come as no surprise that in some of the most deprived areas, that young and precariat workers take a very jaded approach to Corbyn. There is some mileage in more boldly putting forward our programme among these layers. It is mainly a layer of older workers returning to the Labour Party and more politically engaged students who identify with Corbyn and recognise that he is qualitatively different from his neo-liberal predecessors.

There is a backwardness in class consciousness and particularly combativity compared to previous periods. This, coupled with the atomisation of young and precariat workers especially along with their abhorrent living conditions which can explain the increasing prevalence of mental health issues working class people are struggling to overcome. With poverty contributing to isolation and social exclusion leading to depression and the constant worry of living hand to mouth resulting in greater levels of anxiety.

It is these same material conditions which give rise to an often inchoate and elemental anger which can quickly rise to the surface and potentially spill over. Thus in this volatile period there is a danger that we could see a return of the riots which took place in 2011 as the conditions are still there which caused the riots to erupt.

Likewise, we could see a new occupy style movement albeit one on a higher political level due to the increased pace at which processes and events are taking place compared to the original occupy movement. Moreover, we’re likely to see the explosive injection of youth on demonstrations such as we have seen with the anti-Trump protests for instance.

With the lack of generalised industrial struggle in this period compared to some of the heroic struggles that took place in the Thatcher years, combined with the lack of organised opposition from Corbyn and general lack of momentum in Momentum, we could see the frustrations of youth finding expression in a resurgance of ultra-left and anarchist ideas. We have already seen this in embryo in the anti-party mood in the indignados and occupy movements and this will no doubt increase if we see further betrayals by left populist parties such as Syriza in Greece.

With all this unpredictability and volatility, one thing remains glaringly obvious, we will continue to see the accumulation of capitalist contradictions, agitating and radicalising the working class and especially the youth and more precariat layers. Improving technology is exacerbating this, self-service machines replacing shop workers and, as reported in the Financial Times this week, electronic lecturing displacing even this once secure profession.

We’ve seen the opportunities for super exploitation with apps such as deliveroo and uber eats, this has been compounded by Phillip Hammond’s budget, targetting the self-employed which will hit those in the rising gig economy hardest.

There is a desperate need for a bold and audacious alternative and in the absence of a serious fightback from the Corbynistas, TUSC is well placed to build towards that, even with the disappointing withdrawal of the SWP from TUSC. By showing confidence in our ideas and our programme, as evidenced by our strong intervention in the March 4th NHS demo, we can win new layers to our ranks and capture and hopefully harness some of that anger.

By being patient, flexible and resilient when building amongst casualised and particularly young workers, accommodating for comrades’ daily struggles, we can build confidence in these layers to take their first steps organising in the harsh conditions of zero-hours living.

This can help us to sink deeper roots into the class to ensure workers don’t internalise feelings of failure for not being productive members of a capitalist society which sees fit to discard them. By agitating among these workers to express their rightful indignation at a system that is failing them, whilst linking their struggles into the wider struggles of the working class by helping to organise these layers, we can prepare the ground for the revolutionary idea that we can instead discard this capitalist system and build with our class towards a socialist alternative.

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Corbyn Supporters Gain Momentum: Now to Reject Austerity and Build the Socialist Movement

Momentum Taking Shape

The development of Momentum has the potential to be an important step in the process of organising Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters. This is important for mobilising the swelling support for Corbyn as a means to challenging the ideas of austerity and firmly putting the ideas and policies of Socialism back on the mainstream agenda. It is clear that the right-wing Blairites that currently have control of the Labour Party machine are organising a very open coup against Corbyn as evidenced daily in the press attacks by the likes of Ben Bradshaw, Simon Danczuk and John Cruddas. Momentum has the potential to effectively counter the Blairite opposition to Corbyn but it will only realise that potential if it remains open and does not shy away from taking on those who have polluted the Labour Party over the last 30 years.

Momentum has raised the interests of many, whether old Labour members who have been disillusioned in the past by Labour’s lack of opposition to the Tories who are now coming back or new layers, inspired to get involved by Corbyn’s anti-austerity message. It has also attracted those from outside the ranks of the Labour Party to play a part in building the movement. Trade unionists, community campaigners, those not willing to throw their lot in with a particular party at this point and those in various other political parties are currently engaging with Momentum. If it remains open and broad in this way the Socialist Party will continue to support and be a part of this process.

However, Momentum is still finding its feet nationally and because of this it is fulfilling a number of different roles in different areas. In some places it is very open, democratic and welcoming of those from the wider labour movement. Yet, in other areas it is closed off to anybody outside of the Labour Party. This is a mistake as it limits the scope of debate and leaves Momentum being very insular rather than aiming to appeal to broader layers to build a mass working-class movement.

On Debate and Dealing With the “Moderates”

It is clear that there is another group which is very interested in Momentum and that group is the so-called “moderates”. The same group of “moderates” that have a stranglehold on the Parliamentary Labour Party and the majority of councils. The same group of “moderates” who are doing all they can to stop the loss of their free ride on the gravy train by trying to shut out and isolate Corbyn’s supporters. Whether it be making members feel unwelcome at meetings, duping the public by speaking socialist rhetoric one minute then putting through swingeing cuts the next or manipulating Momentum meetings to cut out any views that contradict their own, these “moderates” will stop at nothing to keep their grubby mitts firmly at the reins of a party which is steering in another direction.

Corbyn’s election promises struck a chord; a single compromise on austerity would be a betrayal of all those who have engaged and are willing to support a position of Councils coming together to oppose the cuts. Trying to compromise between the tens of thousands taking their first tentative steps into the field of politics who outright reject austerity and the thousands of Labour Councillors who have, up until now, put through austerity without any resistance but “with a heavy heart” would be an impossibility.

It is disappointing that Jon Lansman, one of the directors of Momentum, pulled out of a planned debate at the Socialist Party’s annual Socialism 2015 event recently due to the Sun releasing a “reds under the bed” article:

http://www.sunnation.co.uk/corbyn-aide-to-join-ex-militant-leaders-to-plot-battle-for-labours-soul/

The terms of the debate cannot be allowed to be set by the likes of Murdoch’s gutter press. Likewise, trying to appeal or placate the right-wing in the Labour Party by compromising on policy or on the purpose of Momentum would be a huge error on the part of the Corbynistas. Furthermore, Momentum meetings should not shy away from political debates and discussions. It’s important to build and organise campaigns which people can get behind but at the same time the reasons for why those campaigns are being pursued and focussed on should be up for discussion.

Thus, anybody trying to dampen the call for political discussion or calling for unity above all in the Labour Party has to be seriously questioned on what basis that unity should or even could be achieved. There have, of course, been notable exceptions where Labour Councillors have opposed the cuts such as Keith Morrell, Don Thomas and Kevin Bennett to name but a few but they were expelled from the Labour Party for their efforts. These Councillors all did so whilst the Labour Party was under Miliband’s control but the Labour Party has not been forthcoming in welcoming these Councillors back into their ranks yet and all have found a home in TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition). Those calling for unity without question were deafeningly silent about unity in these cases and yet these Councillors have enjoyed the popular support of ordinary working-class people for daring to actually carry through their promises of opposing austerity in deed as well as in word.

Local Elections

Corbyn’s supporters have come into the Labour Party with the Blairites rushing through the selection process for next year’s local elections in order to ensure they can exclude the new layers, many of whom won’t yet be eligible to vote in these selection meetings. It is clear to the likes of right-wing Labour MP Frank Field that if Blairite candidates were to be deselected then he would be prepared to support them as independent candidates over the legitimately selected Labour candidate. With Corbyn’s supporters effectively barred from influencing who will potentially be representing them in council chambers up and down the country in the 2016 local elections will they be prepared to support independent candidates who genuinely support Corbyn if they are stuck with Labour candidates who don’t support Corbyn?

TUSC and the Socialist Party is in the process of writing to all Labour candidates running in the local elections next year to find out where they stand on opposing the cuts. If Councillors up for reelection are willing to move no-cuts budgets at the annual budget setting meetings and if new candidates are willing to pledge to openly support Corbyn’s call for councils to come together against the cuts then the Socialist Party will be happy to not stand candidates against them. Indeed we will do all we can to help be a part of the campaign to get these people elected. However, would it be right to allow Blairite candidates a free rein to stand unopposed when they will be undermining Corbyn’s policies and doing the Tories dirty work for them by implementing the cuts which are opposed by Labour’s leadership and a quickly growing layer of working-class people?

There are many challenges ahead but unity has to be forged on the basis of a programme which rejects austerity in word and deed and emphatically rejects the ideologically driven cuts which have hammered the poor and vulnerable whilst the rich have been showered with tax breaks, bailouts and massive profits. Workers have a world to win.

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Labour and Tories Enter Grand Cuts Coalition

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Since the General Election, Labour have been increasingly inward looking as they come to terms with falling horrendously short of shutting the Tories out. Drawing all of the wrong conclusions, the leadership are moving rightwards as they view their defeat in the polls as a sign that they were too left-wing. In reality, the lack of an alternative on offer is really the issue which has seen them falling short of forming the next Government. Labour promised to continue on with the austerity onslaught started by the Conservatives and their now collapsed Liberal Democrat partners and in doing so have been snubbed at the polls.

Despite the similarities in their economic strategy, Labour had nevertheless been posing themselves as an alternative to the Conservatives in their rhetoric. This will have undoubtedly swayed many voters who have seen Labour move further and further rightwards but would hold their nose and remain faithful to Labour to “stop the Tories getting in”. It will therefore come as a shock to many of these people to see Labour reveal how far they have degenerated as they have now formally agreed to share power with the Conservatives in Plymouth’s hung council.

http://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/Labour-strikes-power-sharing-deal-Conservatives/story-26553401-detail/story.html

Labour will no doubt justify this arrangement as a means of shutting the 3 UKIP Councillors out from becoming kingmakers with the Tories now that Labour have lost their majority on the council. If that is the case then Labour will quickly fall to pieces as it is simply siding with what it considers to be the least worst of two bad options. If Labour were willing to take more of a lead and not implement the eye-watering cuts passed down from national level they would probably never have lost their majority on the council but this latest move will only alienate those who will have voted Labour to keep the Tories out.

In light of this move, Plymouth’s 3 UKIP Councillors will most likely portray themselves as the rebellious anti-establishment underdogs but only a cursory glance at their voting patterns shows that they are just as much a part of the problem. Having offered no resistance to the cuts by not tabling an alternative budget and even voting against implementing a living wage for all Council staff, it is clear that UKIP in Plymouth are just another brand of establishment offering another brand of austerity.

With no illusions in Labour as the reality of this grand cuts coalition will start going about its business of butchering public services, people will very quickly start looking for alternatives. The trade union leaders will now have a very difficult time arguing that Labour are an alternative when the evidence is clearly showing otherwise. The attacks on jobs, conditions and public services will now come thick and fast and people will be looking for a means of organising to fight back and resist the compounding of an already desperate situation.

People will not need to look far as the Socialist Party and TUSC continue to campaign for an end to the cuts and the immediate implementation of a £10 an hour minimum wage, standing shoulder to shoulder with workers as they take to strike action. Labour’s collaboration with the Tories shows that they are not in any way an alternative. We can either mourn at the loss of a Party that is no longer ours or we can be part of the building of an alternative that effectively counters what the Tories have in store for us. Now is the time to get involved with TUSC, join the Socialist Party and build a movement to end austerity.

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Reflections On The TUSC Campaign Trail…

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With just over 3 weeks to go until the General and Local Elections take place I have found it useful to take 5 minutes between putting letters and statements together, preparing for hustings and leaflet drops as well as canvassing, to reflect on the changed mood from last year.

One of the first things that I have noticed this year is the diminished support for UKIP when speaking to people on doorsteps. It was to be expected that UKIP would be prominent in last year’s elections as the local elections ran concurrently with the European Elections but one thing that has been striking this year has been the lack of vocal support this year compared to last year for UKIP. I have had conversations with a number of people who have expressed support for UKIP, more as a protest vote than anything else, but there has been a marked drop in self-proclaimed UKIP supporters or voters.

This seems at odds with the giant billboards, masses of leaflets going out as well as the seemingly full-time commenting on local news websites of some UKIP supporters. However, this will all have been paid for by millions which have been provided by rich donors that were once loyal to the Conservatives.

Something else I have noticed is a lack of canvassing and grass roots campaigning by the other parties. I have spoken to plenty of people who almost seem surprised that a rosette wielding Socialist is knocking at their door of an evening until I point out that there’s only 3 weeks to go until polling day. Again, there are plenty of billboards from all of the Capitalist parties being erected across the city in an almost clandestine turf war but this seems to be the extent of it. The battle for hearts, minds and political ideas seems to have been reduced to an almost clinical advertising campaign.

One other very encouraging difference I have noticed in this election compared to last year is that these elections are much more political than in previous years. It is clear now more than ever before, at least in the course of my political experience, that people are searching much more deeply for a political outlet which best represents their increasingly irked voice. There is a clear rejection of the tired swing from Labour to Conservative and back again as more and more people are looking to parties that can offer a way out of the protracted crisis caused by the current rut Capitalism finds itself in.

Some have been pulled in by the simplistic and mistaken view that immigration is the cause of every societal woe, whether it’s overcrowded schools, the stagnant wages or the alleged influx of health tourists “burdening our NHS” offered by a rightwards lurching UKIP. Others are turning to the seemingly refreshing views of the Greens, who have lurched leftwards in their rhetoric with promises to end austerity and promise of a minimum wage of ₤10 an hour by 2020. Yet when the Greens have been in a position to end austerity, such as in Brighton and Hove or Bristol, they have capitulated and joined an increasing rainbow coalition of austerity wielding parties. Not to mention that ₤10 an hour is needed now, not some time in the distant future.

There is a dwindling rump of support for the Conservatives and Labour, mainly made up of stalwarts and party faithfuls that have not yet come to terms with the fast changing political landscape. Things cannot go back to the way they used to be. Labour seem to be desperately trying to shed its working-class base as it has spent more and more of its time marketing itself to big business with continued austerity whilst opportunistically also offering rhetoric about communities and helping the most vulnerable. This flies in the face of the reality of Labour councils which have dutifully implemented austerity passed down to them by the Con-Dems.

Likewise, the Conservatives have not managed to attract voters beyond its core support as most people are under no illusions about us all being in this together after 5 years of wages, terms, conditions and public services being hammered.

It’s hugely encouraging to be out canvassing on the streets and being greeted, on the whole, with a barrage of questions as it is clear that the working-class are really starting to explore the potential avenues for them to venture down on the political plain. Fed up with more of the same or petty compromises working-class people are looking for a way out of the sustained poverty and misery being unnecessarily inflicted upon them.

As a Socialist Party member and TUSC candidate in the local elections this May I am glad to be there offering a genuine alternative to austerity through the striving for a socialist transformation of society. The ground is fertile for our ideas, having spent just an hour canvassing we were able to pick up 6 contacts as well as a much larger number of people who said they would seriously consider casting a vote for us this May.

Even more inspiring was the presence of a Norwegian student in attendance at our latest branch meeting, directly as a result of our sustained campaigning efforts. Keen to learn more about what the Socialist Party, and indeed the Committee for a Workers’ International, has to offer, I am confident that this can be replicated many times. We are turning more and more heads in this election and more importantly gaining new members and organisers. This will really accelerate the process of building a strong workers’ movement hungry from poverty, hungry for change… hungry for socialism.

I would like to dedicate this post to Declan Clune, a faithful reader of my blog since its inception.

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Plymouth City Council Sets Budget: Democracy Cut First

It is one thing to put forward a budget which diligently adheres to Con-Dem austerity measures; it is quite another entirely to even deny questions from the public about matters relating to the budget. However, that is exactly what the Labour led council are doing in Plymouth.

The amount of “democracy” that is permitted in the Council Chamber is scarce at the best of times, with members of the public only allowed to submit a single question per City Council meeting up to a maximum of 50 words. Yet, not even this luxury is being afforded at a meeting that will discuss the setting of a budget which will hugely affect the lives of everyone in Plymouth.

Meetings of the full City Council can be unwelcoming at the best of times, with Councillors quickly shouting down anybody that dares step outside of the exact wording of questions. It can be very frustrating with the amount of hoops that have to be jumped through to even get a question submitted. Questions have to be submitted 5 clear working days before a Council meeting takes place which gives ample opportunity for Councillors to write wordy replies that often dodge the nub of a question. Moreover, without the right of reply you have to then wait a full 4-8 weeks to raise points or get further clarification on an issue.

Nevertheless, Plymouth’s Labour led Council has denied even this opportunity to the very people who will be hit hardest with the latest round of cuts which are being issued. Council workers are already seeking to ballot for strike action as they are being forced to sign new contracts with worse terms and conditions. In addition, many of the public services are being put out to tender as part of the “transformation agenda” which is synonymous with privatisation; as services which can be run by co-operatives can be bid on by the private sector within 3 years.

Members of the Socialist Party as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) were planning to put questions to the Council to challenge them on their faithful implementation of Con-Dem cuts. However, the Council will not be allowing the opportunity which raises a myriad of questions for Plymouth voters to be thinking about.

If Labour really cannot provide an alternative to austerity why not at least be prepared to defend that position to members of the public? If Labour are going to faithfully continue to implement Tory austerity are they any different to the Tories? Who can people vote for if they want to see Councillors who will oppose all cuts, protect jobs and services and fight to see funding restored to pre-2010 levels?

There is only one electoral option which is making that commitment in Plymouth this May; TUSC. If you would like to get involved with the TUSC campaign and see an end to eye-watering cuts then help to build TUSC and be a part of the biggest electoral challenge TUSC has mounted yet:

http://www.tusc.org.uk/support.php

TUSC: The “Jiminy Cricket” of the Labour Party

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Like most Saturdays I was helping to run a stall with fellow Socialist Party members in Plymouth City Centre. Usually it goes without incident, although last year we received quite a bit of hostility from the police and the City Centre Company throughout the local elections. Today seemed to be just another day for selling our party’s newspaper, The Socialist, whilst engaging in discussion with passers by.

Being that it was quite a wet and windy day, it seemed at some points as though the more sensible thing to do may have been not to have held the stall but nevertheless we persevered and 6 of us ran the stall. It is because we did that I was able to have a very insightful conversation which raises many questions. The reason for this is that we had a Labour Councillor approach our stall looking for directions for a Youth Parliament event. Not wanting to squander the opportunity, I took the time to then ask a few questions of this Councillor to clarify their position on a few issues which both TUSC and the Socialist Party have been campaigning on.

At first, I was told of the usual horrors of being in a position where cuts have to be made due to the Tories cutting from Central Government, leaving no choice for local Councillors. I was then told at great length how this Councillor has done all they can to mitigate the worst of the damage currently being done to services and working conditions. What I did not then expect was to then be commended on the work which TUSC has done to provide a “Jiminy Cricket” or a conscience to the Labour Party.

I was then told that there was a concern that we were likely to split the vote which would open up the door to UKIP but I must admit that it felt as though this line had been rehearsed. It is also a perspective which I would disagree with as I am of the opinion that TUSC is picking up the votes of people that would otherwise be disenfranchised or tempted to vote UKIP as a protest vote. What was more intriguing was the fact that the belief that TUSC was seen by this Councillor to be a Jiminy Cricket type figure to the Labour Party was clearly a genuine one.

This is very telling as it is indicative of a guilty conscience from somebody who is clearly not fully behind their Party’s actions. Moreover, the fact that this person was willing to give a financial contribution to aid what is essentially a rival political party is also very telling. I would ask this Councillor and all others who are in this position in the Labour Party (I’m sure there are quite a few out there) to give serious consideration to the actions being committed by your party.

If you are not satisfied then I invite you to speak out against the needless austerity which is being imposed. If you are worried about the consequences of doing so, I would argue that this is a damning indication of how undemocratic and out of touch the Labour Party has become. I would also point out that there is a place for you if you should find yourself outside of the Labour Party, it is with the growing number of people who are willing to do something to challenge the idea that there is no alternative to austerity. It is with TUSC…

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