Ideas for Freedom 2004

Submitted by Anon on 17 July, 2004 - 7:38

This year's Workers' Liberty summer school was held on 3 and 4 July in Archway, north London. Nicole Ashford reports

There was a wide range of debates on current issues, as well as discussions on historical topics.

Activists Jo Wilding and Ewa Jasiewicz offered eyewitness accounts of the situation in Iraq, from Falluja and Basra respectively. Houzan Mahmoud from the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq gave her perspective on the prospects for solidarity with the Iraqi trade unions. Solidarity editor Cathy Nugent introduced a session on the revolutionary paper and Mick Duncan and Massimo De Angelis debated the way forward for the anti-capitalist movement.

Billy Hayes, General Secretary of the CWU, joined Alex Gordon of the RMT and AWL member Chris Hickey, an activist in the PCS, to debate the issue of working-class political representation. Billy Hayes supported continued affiliation to the Labour Party, arguing that there was a 'curious coalition' between the pro-disaffiliation left and the anti-union link Blairites. Alex Gordon admitted that the question of a viable political alternative to Labour remains unanswered - but said the recently-expelled RMT could not now go 'crawling back' to the Party and renounce independent politics in Scotland. Chris Hickey said the Blair regime was qualitatively different from previous Labour governments in the way it had blocked the labour movement out of politics. He called for the establishment of local Labour Representation Committees to campaign on basic working-class issues like pensions and the two-tier workforce.

From the floor, RMT activist John Leach said that after Ken Livingstone's comments encouraging scabbing there wasn't a chance of convincing London Underground workers to fight in the Labour Party: "you'd be lynched."

In a debate on the left and elections, Manny Neira (ex-CPGB, Red Platform) said the Respect coalition was a negative move, away from socialist politics. The left had failed to offer a serious alternative to Labour. For the Green Party, Chris Cotton said George Galloway's links with the Saddam Hussein regime meant Respect was not a coalition he could support, and described it as "very undemocratic".

For the AWL, Pat Murphy said socialists should relate to elections in terms of how they fit into a broader political project. He criticised the Greens, who in Leeds have formed a coalition with the LibDems and Tories. Support for a party should, he said, be dependent not solely on its policies but on its class character. There was no way socialists could be part of Respect, a coalition of the SWP, a right-wing Labour MP and - somewhat semi-detached - the Muslim Association of Britain.

Jim Bywator, an AWL activist based in Chicago, introduced a discussion on the left and the US elections. He said George Bush and Democratic challenger John Kerry represented a consensus of anti-working class ideas. Much of the support for Ralph Nader's campaign in 2000 had now collapsed behind Kerry, perhaps because of guilt that the Nader campaign was responsible for "letting Bush in". There was a lively debate on whether, this time round, socialists should give critical support to Nader, whose campaign now is less left-wing: he is not talking about war and has dubious policies on immigration. On the other hand he has a record as a social reformer, albeit a liberal, and represents an alternative to the two big bourgeois parties.

In a lighter session, Kat Pinder - aka Kitten from Big Brother - joined Clive Bradley of the AWL to discuss just how bad is British TV. She said reality television offered a sort of escapism for people who feel disconnected from what's going on in the world. There was an entertaining discussion about the impact of the multi-channel world, and whether there'd really ever been a TV 'golden age'.

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