Friday, 13 January 2012

North West NSSN: Fag-End or Vanguard?

WHEN only nine turn up to a North West National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) meeting in Manchester, that proposes to co-ordinate activity to bring about the forcing of the TUC into setting 'a date for a second day of co-ordinated national industrial action', one is entitled to ask: 'are these people fleas pretending to be elephants?' It is true that among the nine activists present last night in the Subway sandwich bar on Peter Street, three unions, Unison, Unite and PCS were represented, but the decision to join with the new 'Left Unity' campaign suggests that the NSSN bosses now realise the folly of their decision a year ago to develop their own anti-cuts campaign.

That decision broke the back of the NSSN and caused the syndicalists and independent socialists to leave the organisation; leaving only the Socialist Party and a few fellow-travellers in control. Since then Bob Crow of the RMT union is reported to have said: 'The NSSN has lost some good people!'. The result was that by forcing out the syndicalists and independent activists the NSSN became an empty shell: just another anti-cuts group. The Socialist Party leaders of the NSSN talk big and claim they forced the TUC to call a national demo last March and more recently created the conditions for the co-ordinated public sector strikes on Nov. 30th but it has little conviction. In reality the leaders of the TUC had to be seen to take some action to justify their existence but they tend to be inconclusive events and probably undermine the morale of workers in the long run. These so-called 'general strikes' have been in operation in other European countries for years with often mixed results.

As part of a series of articles on 'Capitalism in Crisis' in the Financial Times, Gideon Rachman, wrote last Monday: 'The failure of the hard left to capitalise on the economic crisis testifies to how profoundly communism was discredited by the collapse of the Soviet system.' Alex Davidson of the PCS even bemoaned this collapse at last night's meeting with some qualification. The problem for the British Left, as well as the hard left, may go further than the fall of the Soviet Union. Some self-deception may be a necessary part of politics, but the self-delusion displayed at last night's meeting and of the left in this country is based in the lack of any serious alternative plan to combat the Coalition Government. That is why 'Resistance' is the most common word on the lips of the left: we've had the 'Coalition of Resistance' and now 'Unite the Resistance' - their form of 'resistance' is merely to react to the agenda set by the Government. No-where is there any attempt by the hard left or even the main stream Labour Party to present a plausible alternative program.

There are clearly problems of capitalism now, but the hard left is using the thinking tools of the stone age to deal with the consequences, and the Labour Party has no clear agenda. Gideon Rachman in his article quotes the Italian communist, Antonio Gramsci: 'The old is dying and the new cannot be born: in the interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms will appear.' Mr. Rachman writes: 'Gramsci's observation does resonate now - in an age of ideological confusion.' Perhaps it was too much to expect the folk at last night's meeting to have any fresh ideas: it was at least recognised that the trade unions had yet to recover from the defeats of the 1980s and 90s, and some had hopes that something may yet evolve out of the Occupy movement.

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