Two of us made the five hour trip from Bangor to London to participate in this annual event. The first session I went to, was the one added to the agenda only a few weeks ago on Burma, which indeed I'd been asked to chair. The session featured video footage of the recent protests and also a clip from john pilgers documentary on the 1988 uprising, as well as a brief introduction by Clare Doyle from the CWI. The discussion had some good input, but didn't really get going properly due to (i think) most of the people there coming to find out about burma, rather than knowing anything that much about it themselves (to be honest, I probably fell into that category too!).
Next on the agenda was the Socialism 2007 rally for socialism. The first speaker was Brian Caton, General Secretary of the POA (prison officers union), he hit back at the IBT (those who don't know a fairly insignificant left sect) who had been protesting against the us supporting the POA's recent strike, making some really good points about prison conditions, and admitting the existence of some reactionary prison officers, but saying they weren't welcome in his union. Next was Mel Mills, who if you go back on this blog to when I was in Huddersfield you might find mention of, she was the anti-cuts candidate who stood in a ward of Kirklees counil last election and reported of the advances made by the Save Our Services alliance in Huddersfield - anyone who says the CNWP is stillborn should take a look at this campaign. Next was a very short piece by a remploy shop steward, who my favourite line from was "I've got more socialism in my big toe than Gordon Brown". He was followed by Sadiq Abakar, a Socialist Party member facind deportation back to Darfur, where some of his family have been murdered and which he escaped from several years ago.
The Dave Nellist, who was hsoting the event read out some solidarity greetings from CWU NEC member Dave Warren (who seems to be leading the no campaign against the rotten deal with Royal Mail) and also from the striking NIPSA classroom assistants in Northern Ireland. Matt Wrack (FBU General Secretary) was the next to speak, starting with paying tribute to the firefighters who had recently died in Warwickshire and talking about the attacks on the fire service and the FBU. He was followed by a brief contribution from a Burslem Postal Worker who spoke about her branches struggle against trade unionist victimisation. Mark Serwotka was next, giving a lecture to an extent of left unity (more of which in a minute) and gave some example of the attacks on civil service workers including speaking of civil servants who were on maternity leave and expected to come in to do an IQ test two days after she was due to give birth, otherwise she would face the sack!
Peter Taaffe made the last major speech of the evening, in particular commenting on the need for a new workers party and drawing some conclusions from the split in RESPECT. Then followed the finance appeal rasing about £20,000, a short piece of film footage about the Russian Revolution and a very short contribution from a speaker from Socialismo Revolucianario (CWI in Brazil).
I failed to get much sleep that night, which meant i was quite knackered the f0llowing morning, but i managed to make it through the day nonetheless.
The first session I went to on Sunday was on the Shop Stewards Movement in the 1970's by Bill Mullins (SP industrial organiser). He started by giving an overview of that period of time, an era of revolutionary movements (france 68, chile 73, portugal 74 etc.), before commenting on the highly organised nature of the trade unions at that time, with 10 million workers in TUC affiliated unions and a period of mass action to defend and improve workers conditions. He talked briefly of the role of the CPGB in organising the Liason Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions, the main body through which the shop stewards organised, as well as many comments on his experience of being a shop steward at that time. The discussion focused on the mistakes of the CPGB and also on the existence of elements of workers control at that time. As well, Dave Chapple, co-convener of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) suggested to Bill taht he should write a pamphlet of his experiences for discussion within the shop stewards movement today.
The next session was a debate on Venezuela between Karl Debbaut of the CWI and Jorge Martinez of Hands Off Venezuela and the IMT. (I've summarised this a little from my notes, no doubt there will be a write up fo thsi on the SP wesbite in a bit anyway)
Karl started off by pointing out the importance of Venezuela internationally, especially with Chavez talking about socialism, it had attracted the attention of many workers and young people (indeed I had a discussion with an otherwise unpolitical UCU rep the other day about Chavez). He pointed out that the CWI supports reforms that help workers, but we are critical of the IMT because they are fairly uncritical of Chavez and in Karl's opinion are more interested in having the ear of Chavez than in the politicla independence of the working class.
Jorge then outlined the IMT position on Venezuela, that there has been a revolutionary process since 1998, with massive participation by the masses but capitalism and the capitalist state still remains, even though the movement is a big threat to that. He concluded with three problems of the Venezuelan revolution, the first was that capitalism is still raking in big profits and that reforms cannot control capitalism. the second was that the state is only in a paralysis at the moment and that's why it could not cruch the movment for the time being. Finally he said there was a need for a revolutionary organisation there.
There were several contributions from the floor, the most interesting two in my mind were one from comrade PG who contrasted the building of the PSUV (Chavez's new Venezuelan socialist party) with the approach of the SP to the CNWP, pointing out that several things in PSUV are being imposed on the working class, the second interesting was on Chavez's foreign policy towards Iran, Russia, China and others, and the role he had played in breaking some strikes in the region (I think ecaudorian oil workers?).
Unfortunately Jorge dodged most of these questions prefering instead to concentrate on some queries that had been raised and points that he agreed on with the contributors from the floor. He did mention a document by the IMT on Venezuelan foreign policy on Iran, which i'm going to read though. Another annoyance for me was that despite their being other members of Hands off Venezuela in the room, none of them wanted to speak even after the chair asking several times that if they did they could be the next speaker.
Finally there was a closing rally on the russian revolution, but it wasn't as good as i had hoped, mainly because the russian comrade who had been expected their to speak had been denied a visa, which was a big shame.
Anyway, I've also been working on some ideas for future posts including one on Alienation and Crime, a review of the new publication Science, Marxism and the Big Bang and others for the blog over the next few weeks.