Monday, 16 February 2009

Joint Socialist Party & Respect meeting

Friday night I was at the Friends' Meeting House for the joint SP / Respect meeting with Keith Gibson, SP member and one of the Lindsey Oil Refinery Strike Committee, and Jerry Hicks, Respect member and the Left candidate for Unite (Amicus) general secretary. I may be getting a bit long in the tooth to be enthused by meetings - but I went along - and enthused I was. For two reasons:

Firstly because here was that all too rare a thing these days- a victory for an unofficial strike - in spite of the trade union leadership who at best sat on the fence. And a victory in spite of the anti-union laws that the leadership would have us believe are to be treated as sacrosanct. And most importantly a victory that required some skillful intervention to prevent the dispute being hi-jacked by xenophobia and the Rar-Right. A victory that secured jobs on TU rates and conditions for those workers who had been kept off the contract, but, and this needs emphasising, NOT at the expense of the migrant workers' jobs.

Secondly because the meeting provided an also rare taste of what a united Left might look like. Certainly there are still differences between Respect (obviously in its post SWP incarnation) and the SP. But here the two parties came together to make common cause, with the general secretaries of both organisations speaking from the floor in a manner which was at the same time respectful and yet didn't hide their distinct politics.

The same could not be said of some other Left groups . The SWP, Workers' Power and The Sparticists all opposed the strike to varying degrees, on the grounds that it was a reactionary dispute aimed against migrant workers.

Interestingly with one of the strikers on the platform, none of their speakers had the balls to actually call the strikers racists - in fact sickeningly they had to congratulate Keith and the strike committee on their attempts to steer the dispute away from the dangerous slogan of "British Jobs For British Workers".

One London Underground worker from the RMT, representing probably one of the most diverse workplaces in the country, summed up these groups when he said they 'would not recognise a genuine proletarian struggle if it bit them on the arse'.

I was reminded of the miners' strike and those middle class wadicals who were so shocked to discover that the miners might harbour sexist, homophobic or racist attitudes. For such people it's all very well to admire the workers class from afar - like heroic figures in a Soviet poster - but up close they're not quite so comfortable.

There's all sorts of horrible shit attitudes in capitalist society and some of it sticks - even shock horror - to workers in struggle. You can recoil from this and sit on the sidelines ... or you can engage with it and transform it into something else.

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