sheffield anti-cuts: a fairer capitalism?

21 06 2011

Clifford Biddulph found the Sheffield anti-cuts alliance heavier on top-table speakers than real politics or organisation

The second public meeting of the campaign against the cuts in Sheffield was was far smaller and less representative than the first founding meeting last year, despite the recent demos and strike votes. Less than one hundred people sat in a University lecture room with seats for five hundred, to listen to seven speakers. It was a trade union rally, not a meeting for activists to discuss the socialist alternative to the crisis of capitalism and how to organise to make the transition to  a real movement.

The character of the speeches was very defensive. It was all about keeping what we had. Defending our welfare state against the Nasty Tories as if the Labour Party was not making cuts in Manchester and elsewhere. There was no criticism of the Labour Party or those union leaders reluctant to fight the cuts. The political implication of the speeches was the Labour Party could somehow represent the fight back or to register that there was a trade union fightback. There was no analysis of the economic crisis and no speaker including a Permanent Revolution supporter, mentioned the S word. John McDonnell MP came closest with his call for a new society.  

The meeting was not so much about the campaign and its members, but about the two leaders of the campaign: Martin Mayer, a left-talking executive member of UNITE, and Ben Morris of the local Socialist Workers’ Party. They are chair and vice chair of the local trades council. This partnership between the SWP and Martin Mayer was recently jeopardised when a UNITE member wrote an article in Socialist Worker criticising the British Airways sell-out deal and UNITE leader Len McCluskey’s role in it. Martin Mayer considered such internal criticism of the left-talking leader of UNITE to be ‘ultra-left’ scabbing on the union.

The SWP, fearful of its alliance with union officialdom, rushed to apologise or claim a misunderstanding of the article. In Sheffield the alliance with Martin Mayer was consolidated when Ben Morris posted on the anti cuts campaign e-mail list a call for the campaign not interfere in the internal affairs of the local Unison council branch. This is an old bureaucratic Labourite and Stalinist argument. According
to Morris the anti-cuts campaign should not support those Unison  members petitioning to claim back their branch from right-wing union leaders in partnership with the  management. Regional officers have now put the branch in special measures following the dramatic loss of members.

But the Unison leaders have failed to fight the cuts. Rod Padley, Unison branch secretary, has been hostile to the anti-cuts campaign, but campaign members are expected to gag themselves and not criticise from the outside.

Ben Morris made the opening speech of the rally. He celebrated what he described as massive votes for strike action by various unions  including the PCS and the NUT.  He mocked the Government who wanted to say trade unionists could retain the right to strike as long as they did not exercise the right. There was tonnes for the campaign members to do. It was all about instilling confidence in the working class to move to a general strike. The aims of the general strike were left unspecified.

Andy Smith, a Permanent Revolution supporter, teacher at Sheffield College, and member of UCU, made a powerful trade union speech. Andy and UCU members battled for four months against the threat of 120 compulsory redundancies at the college. The teaching staff had voted 196-4 in favour of strike action. Six strike days had already taken place. Now a deal which would not involve compulsory redundancies was close. It was not about negotiating skills but industrial militancy. It was not the students or teachers that had caused the economic crisis. We were not all in this together, it was class war.

Liz Lawrence of the UCU also raised the banner of class war. It was not just about defending education from the cuts, but transforming education and the unions. The Hutton Report was absurd in seeing decent pensions as a problem. Pensions were simply a debt owed to workers. If the TUC wanted concessions we should reject this approach. The employers would only come back for more. The speaker was very much against any two tier system of pensions which would divide and rule trade unionists.

The keynote speech came from John McDonnell, the Labour MP. We must protect the welfare state created by the Labour Party, undermined by New Labour and now attacked by the Tories. The struggle against the Coalition government which Lib Dem voters had not voted for, was the biggest crisis we have faced since the Great Depression. Recession turned into depression in the 1930s due to cuts.
This lesson had not been learned. We should take the old slogan of ‘never again’ seriously. Employment, council housing, benefits and education were all under threat. Community care grants were to be abolished and food vouchers from local councils would replace them. Cuts in housing benefits would make people homeless. Brick by brick, week by week the Tories were destroying what Labour had
built. We could riot or be consumed by alcohol or drugs.We should fight for a new society. The chair of the campaign called not for socialism or something called a  new society but to make the rich pay: a fairer capitalism.

The  members of the left groups and well known trade union activists in the audience were presented with a description of the symptoms of the crisis rather than an analysis of what was taking place and what the alternative was. John Mcdonnell MP implied that the Labour Party could represent workers again and rebuild the welfare state, but did not put forward any intellectually coherent case for a new society. Capitalist welfare was built by Tories as much as Labour in the past. The fundamental differences between global capitalism today and the
welfare politics of the past were not examined. There was no coherent explanation of where we were and where we needed to get to.

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15 responses

21 06 2011
Chris Marks

On the whole – fair enough. The SP PCS bueracrat did “mention the S word”, but then again he also voted for the 2 tier pensions sell-out.

In the very limited time available for contributions Lee Rock, by all accounts quite a thuggish, unpleasent CPGB member gave the panel a decent dress-down on the content and structure of the meeting, and Gemma Short a fellow Workers’ Liberty member gave the only speech of the night arguing for a political direction for the struggle after the 30th.

The way the meeting was structured and the speakers invited was completely against what had been decided at the SACA steering committee meeting where we argued for a few speakers, mostly local activists and a long period for a political discussion from the floor. What transpired was essentially, as your article implies a stich up by the SWP, SP (both got speakers on the platform) and the Stalinists.

Commune supporters in Sheffield should come to SACA meetings, specifically the AGM next month, and support the arguments for democratic and accountable decision making within the anti-cuts group.

21 06 2011
leo

There was a similar public meeting called by Bristol anticuts alliance yesterday. General intro speeches by Katrine Williams, PCS Wales chair and Roger Davey, Unison Health exec. Then people divided in three parallel discussions on: disability rights&health, women&cuts, organising against cuts, fight for the right to protest. Then a final round of plenary speeches by Christine Blower (NUT gen. sec) and Sean Vernell, UCU FE exec.
Only 80 people turned up at this ‘conference’. The founder of the anticuts alliance said that BADACA has plateaued and is in stagnation. A lot of people are good at having speeches on meetings, but just half a dozen people do things as agreed (e.g. stalls, leafleting).
The need to link up with private sector workers was often mentioned in the meeting. An NUT South Gloucestershire guy said that they already do this, they go to workplaces in private sector and have lunchtime discussions.This lunchtime thing was a popular topic yesterday, is it a nationally promoted union tactic? The programme for J30 is a BADACA rally and march, from the city council through town centre, a shopping area to end up in a park, with stalls and music. The hope is that strikers will come and join the march or the rally in park. I think it was the Unison exec Davey who said that 750.000 people will be on strike on J30… He said everybody who went to London on M26 plus a quarter of million more (those, who couldn’t get their seat on coaches… strange maths, how can he know that?!)

22 06 2011
Barry

Hi Chris

Clifford left after the sixth speaker not just to catch the train, but because the way the meeting was structured showed contempt for the members of the campaign. so he missed Gemma’speech. Otherwise he would have put her main points into his report. The most sickening spectacle was the way the conceited,self important, chair of the campign, Martin Mayer made speeches between speeches as he introduced the speakers. His tired unthinking hollow rhetoric is something we do not want if we want to attract people to meetings.

Solidarity

23 06 2011
thefargatespeaker

Very similar sentiments expressed here: http://www.thefargatespeaker.wordpress.com/2011/06/14/j30-building-up-for-the-next-big-one/

The publicity for this event invited people to ” come and speak from the floor” of their experiences of cuts (as a kind of cursory gesture to grassroots organising). I’m not surprised that in the end only a very limited amount of time was given to this. The fact is that, in Sheffield at least, the Left (Trotskyists, Labour and Trade Union leadership) and their insistence of taking on a “leadership” role is choking any prospects for a generalised fightback. I’m not surprised that many who came to the first meeting, and who were subsequently patronised and ignored, didn’t return. The anti-cut alliance has similarly made no attempts to re-connect with the (still existing) student networks involved in the University occupations. Largely, I suspect, because of the more direct action and non-representational focus of these groups.

23 06 2011
Laurie McCauley

Chris M,

I don’t know what you’ve heard about our member Lee but he is far from ‘thuggish’ and until recently was branch secretary of the PCS at Sheffield DWP, the city’s biggest single employer.

He was certainly being assertive in attacking the scabs on the platform- sentiments you seem to agree with. Members of the SWP fit your description much better, who loudly told Lee to ‘shut up’ during his speech. Hardly the sort of attitude to debate we want at working class events, and a sign of how sensitive the SWP is to having it’s unprincipled cosying up to Labour and the TU tops rumbled. Rather than getting serious about revolutionary unity, if anything the Left appears to be closing ranks even more.

A report of the rally by another CPGB member is online here:

http://communiststudents.org.uk/?p=6742

24 06 2011
whatrhymeswithrosie

Laurie,

A correction (I am surprised you don’t know your own comrade), Lee has never been branch secretary of PCS DWP Sheffield. The current branch secretary is Tom Bishell and previous to that it was Steve Lloyd.

Rosie

25 06 2011
Barry

Hi Comrades

i think the description of Lee as a thug is rather harsh. It is sometimes necessary to be sharp with the likes of Martin mayer and his SP and SWP supporters. But sometimes there is a danger of becoming locked into a struggle with these kind of people and their politics on their political terrain,rather than a focus on connecting with the grass roots as our friend faregate speaker wants. The grass roots have been ignored by the leaders of the campaign as fargate speaker and Clifford have argued. The swp focus on not alienating or upsetting the Local council Unison Branch leader and an over emphasis on the trades council is typical. Going down the channel of pushing offialdom left. we all have limited time and energy and have to prioritise. Whats the argument for the importance of attending the AGM?

25 06 2011
Chris Marks

Comrades,

While I can’t really fault Lee’s contribution in the meeting his behaviour towards others – for example, after the meeting he intimidated his Branch Sec simply for wanting to chat to him – is thuggish. I take your point that the behaviour of the young SWPers in that meeting was far worse, but that doesn’t excuse the way Lee behaves towards other comrades. There’s a difference between being sharp and being a thug. I stick by my description.

On the topic of the SACA AGM. Firstly, it’s politically dishonest NOT to intervene positively in an organisation that claims to be fighting the cuts in your city, but that is fucking everything up. Secondly, and to put it very simply, we need to win the arguments on structures and on a strategy going forward to enable a truly rank-and-file and POLITICAL anti-cuts group that discusses and organises the fight back in the city and isn’t a vehicle for others to unaccountably plan public meet-and-greets with the national union bureaucracy’s and build for ‘the next big thing’. This means going to these meetings, bashing heads and being sharp and unpopular with people that have no coherent political direction on fighting the cuts.

Don’t tell me you don’t relish that opportunity.

25 06 2011
Barry

Hi Chris

Your Rhetoric is certainly intimidating. politically dishonest not to attend! Thugish means violent or involves violence. Well the thugs were a sect or a group who used relegion as an organising principle to kill and rob people who were travelling in India.

You are right that lee is not politically pleasant or lacks charm, but thugish? mybe not the correct word. Clifford did attend the founding meeting. When martin mayer asked for motions from the floor, Clifford put a motion to elect a steering committee from the meeting. This was supported by fargate comrades. But Mayer then refused to accept the motion.

The commune were at the first steering committee meetings in that awful meeting place,the Trades and labour Club. The democratic arguments won the approval of the meetings, but were ignored by the
SWP/SP/stalinists who run the campaign from outside the official
structures.

Are the AWL standing for the position of chair? Is there a motion on making the campaign democratic?

26 06 2011
Chris Marks

So,

Your position is basically, ‘we’ve tried once before, they ignored us and besides, we don’t like the meeting room’. Not strike you as a bit churlish?

We’re not planing on standing for Chair, we have one officer and we’re not in the game of trying to take over leaderships positions rather force a scenario where the rank-and-file have control and the officers hold no executive authority above open meetings.

There will be a motion on democratising the structures of the campaign submitted by ourselves and some TU ‘independents’.

26 06 2011
Chris Marks

… it would be good to have your input and ultimately, support.

26 06 2011
so....

The decayed rump of New Labour. The MI5 controlled SWP. The scum who still call themselves Labour. The mediators of capitalism. Protecting your jobs.
Lock the door now the horse has bolted. Screw into your poverty you fucking traitors like we have been screwed in ours.

See you on the barricades..

27 06 2011
Barry

Hi Chris

we do not need three chairs or three leaders who substitute for the membership. So we just need an admin person or secretary. The steering committee with any member free to attend and make their view known would run the organisation. Are the AWL proposing to constitutionally abolish the chair and two vice chairs as official positions. Otherwise they will dominate outside the official meetings as they have done so far. The chair could be rotated or chosen at each
meeting.

On the angry contribution above from someone who can make a bold
contribution, but is too timid to provide a name. Well are you attacking all workers in the public sector? if we have to live in poverty then so should you lot.is that what you are saying. Your Initials are not ME are they?. fighting other working class people is not an answer and will not lead to the barricades but all round defeat.

will not lead to any barricas

28 06 2011
Barry

Hi Chris

just a comment on your charmless use of the word churlish. The commune has limited resources in sheffield. The amount of time we can put into a top down, top table run campaign is limited.

20 12 2011
Anon

Lee Rock had ‘time’ called by the chair repeatly, then by the rest of the meeting, and finally stopped when a student near him in the SWP called ‘time’ again – shouting at two visibly LGBT comrades, ‘shut up’ followed by ‘do you wanna take this outside?’. His partner, another student, Max Brophy (who gained an impressive 1,600 votes in the Sheffield SU election earlier in the year) spoke from the floor to address Rock’s disgraceful behaviour to a loud applause from the rest of the meeting. Rock continued to pace around after the meeting in an intimidating fashion.




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