Monday, 1 February 2010

Syndicalists Speak at Right to Work Rally

Manchester is a city with one cathedral; two serious socialist parties - the Socialist Workers' Party and the Socialist Party; three universities - Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan and Salford University; a handful of veteran anarchist adherents to the Solidarity Federation, the Anarchist Federation and the Northern Anarchist Network; not to mention umpteen local anarcho-climate activists. So many worthy, well meaning people, it is the ideal spot to stage a Right to Work rally like that held last weekend on Oldham Street, Manchester.

Some 600 folk gathered in 'resistance & solidarity' to protect us from all manner of wickedness in this world. A Rag-Bag Rally of remarkable pretension and proportions endeavouring to gee-up those of us who're still either very young, ideologically drunk or incurably naive. A Conference 'of Resistance & Solidarity': proclaiming 'The Only Solution is Revolution' with minor celebrities on the platform and undergraduates in the audience all loaded with more than a little vain expectations.

Jerry Hicks, unemployed since he was sacked 4 years ago, ran a workshop labelled 'Stopping the Jobs Massacre' which might help him advance his campaign for the General Secretary's job in our biggest trade union: Unite the Union. Will he get it? If he does will he change the union or will the union change him? We must wait and see. In the meantime Jerry offers us a few syndicalist amendments to the status quo: 'all union officers must be elected'; 'the union must serve the members not the other way round'; 'union leaders must lead from the front, as I did on the Staythorpe power station picket last year, when the police broke my leg' or 'the solution is workers' control and revolution'. Stirring stuff delivered in a strained, strangled, shouting bellow to a roomful of about 30. Colin Trousdale, a Manchester electrician and typical English syndicalist, spoke about the blacklist in the building trade and the way the Unite union bosses were dragging their feet rather than fighting the victimisations.

The SWP bosses, who were running the rally, don't much like Jerry Hicks since he left their party - hence this workshop was in the equivalent of outer-Mongolia at the Mechanics Institute, well away from the main conference venue on Oldham Street. Because of this I missed the 7 minute speech delivered by Dave Chapple, who alongside Dave Douglass, is probably the most important revolutionary syndicalist in the country. Dave Chapple who was on the platform as President of the National Shop Stewards' Network and according to reports hammered home an attacked on ballot box politics referring to Wobblies of the American IWW like Bill Heywood, and dismissing the left-wing giddiness associated with the coming General Election; telling the Conference that these days he only bothered to vote in union elections.

The rally produced a 'wish-list' and voted to set up a 'Rank & File' movement, which will stand in contrast to the NSSN that is based in the existing unions. In the end it is likely that the 'rank & file' project will render itself to be little more than a fart in a bottle. The SWP organisers are good at rallies but not so clever when it comes to following through: soon the novelty will wear off and they will be off on some other campaign or venture. We should note the headline in the current Socialist Worker: 'Be Part of the New Wave of Resistance'. Well it's part of the DNA of the British left to be always 'in resistance' and never to make serious practical proposals for change. The Government and the bosses set the agenda and the trade unions and the left react to it as best they can. This more than anything displays the primitive and immature [if not feeble-minded] state we are in as a political movement.

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