Friday, 5 December 2008

At the factory gates

Up at 5am this morning to go and leaflet one of the few remaining factories left in the area for the National Shop Stewards' Network. It's an auto-component plant that is affected by the struggle to keep the Ford plant open in Southampton.

It's been a while since I did any activity like this. I am reminded of when I first joined the Socialist Party - or the Militant Tendency as it was back then in the 80's.

In those days, when we were 'underground' in the Labour Party, recruitment was a bit more circumspect than now, and student recruits in particular were treated with suspicion. So for six months I was a 'contact' before I became a full member.

One of the regular activities that I attended was a paper sale at a factory gate - at 6:30am on the other side of town. Week after week myself and one other comrade would brave all weathers, with very little success.

Shortly after I finally became a proper member, the factory sale was quietly dropped from the program of activity - clearly it had been adopted only for my benefit, as some sort of test.

On reflection this may seem mad - but there was some method in playing hard to get. The odd right wing Labour 'mole' did try to infiltrate - and it also detered students who might have frivolously joined out of ideological tourism. As a result, unlike many others on the Left we were insulated from the worst aspects of middle class student-ism. And to this day we remain a predominately working class organisation.

It was still fucking cold and miserable on those paper sales though.


Dominic said...

Know how you feel, I'm an SP member in Southampton who's been leafleting at that Fords plant. A few days ago it was so cold my fingers felt like they were on fire, so very painful. Lets hope we can make a difference.

On the issue of 'middle-class student-ism, while I would agree we are still pretty good, sometimes, some of the older comrades, understandably wanting to break out of the isolation they've been in since the 90's can make mistakes on this. A couple of years ago we 'recruited' two VERY middle-class students, one of them, frankly being what I would call upper-middle-class. I wrote them off instantly and KNEW that within a year they'd be gone, but was dismayed to see how much effort was put into attempts to 'politically develop' them when frankly they both just nodded their heads and would agree 'politically' with whatever the hell we said. It was concrete activity that they should have proven themselves with, much like your example.

I observed them outside the comfort of branch meetings, their arrogant contempt for the working-class, one of them even being a racist! Anyway, they were soon gone and I felt quite smug about it to be honest. If comrades excuse them leaving by saying 'oh they were just not integrated well enough' my response is, 'well, who's fault is that!' In not making, what were in my opinion quite reasonable demands on them as far as political activity was concerned, rather than it being a good thing in 'not putting them off' it merely delayed the inevitable and wasted everyone's time. Still I believe lessons were learnt, since then we've recruited dozens of comrades and even opened a new branch in Winchester and of those comrades ALL of them, both workers and students are solidly working class. Just last month, 2 of these salt of the earth working-class students did a stall with me for 2-hours in the pouring rain, only 2-people stopped given the weather but they were both keen not only to show their commitment but also agreed that it was important that we are 'seen to be here' to promote the Socialist Party and it's members are courageous class fighters.

Just a final point of clarification though, about one of those middle-class students who held racist views, I only found this out after many months, when they were already in the process of dissociating themselves from the party, had that not been the case I would of course brought the matter to the attention of branch.

journeymanblog said...

I should add that 'middle class' and 'student' are not automatically synonymous. Although in the time since I was a student, the introduction of fees have certainly made it harder for working class kids to go into higher education.

And even being middle class is not a crime in itself. If so then Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky were guilty. The real test is the ability to base themselves on the outlook of the working class.

Getting up on a winter's morning to stand outside a factory is maybe not such a bad way to find this out...