by Steve Ryan
So it’s 2010 and the media is full of reflections on the last decade. Looking at it from the point of view of the Left it’s an interesting one. Massive marches against war, the rise of the BNP, the collapse of pretty well all initiatives to build an alternative to Labour. The rise and fall of left led unions alongside occupations and wildcat strikes, climate camps and environmental protests, the list goes on and in many respects shows the Left on the defensive.
Depressing? Actually no. Looking at the areas of hope in the last 10 years is a lesson for the future.
Whilst the Left struggled to form a new workers’ party to the left of Labour and failed, the anti capitalist movement of movements largely prospered. Innovative actions around the G summits, climate camp, the return of horizontal structures and consensus decision making, clearly challenged the establishment (environmental activists are seen as a major threat by the security services and the state), and impacted the public consciousness around the need to take climate change seriously.
Whilst even the most left wing unions called off well supported strikes at the hint of a minor concession, workers occupied factories and took wildcat action. Trade councils are on the rise and the National Shop Stewards Network gets stronger,
Whilst the western labour movement conceded huge ground to capitalism, including now under a recession with unions accepting pay cuts cap in hand and social democratic governments cutting public services and privatising, in Latin America worker self-managed factories arose and got involved in participatory budgets.
What does this teach us ?
Whilst clearly the Left has been battered over the last 30 years and has been on the defensive, that defensiveness is now in danger of being ingrained. All struggles are seen to some degree as hanging on to existing terms, conditions etc. Fine in itself, but without making the case for why this is, and more importantly MAKING demands to extend these, workers tend to get to a stage of passivity.
The Left clearly needs a vibrant mass workers’ movement that has a vision of the society it desires. In the meantime it is time to start to think in a proactive manner, to give a glimpse of what that society might mean.
Transitional demands are always good . As there is a recession and we all know there is money to go round, instead of accepting pay cuts or even pay adjustments around the rate of inflation (why ARE they called rises? ) workers should be fighting claims based on what they feel they need to improve their standard of living .
On top of this with millions out of work and the advances in technology and a long hours culture, why is there not a mass movement for more leisure time instead? Most unions have a policy for a 35 hour week but few have taken it seriously. Given where we are in the 21st century should there not be a call for a 30 hour week, paid sabbaticals as a right and more leave?
As regards workers’ self management few but The Commune are actively promoting this, yet in the 1970s the debate was mainstream as can be seen from some of the articles published by The Commune on debates between Solidarity and the Institute for Workers’ Control. Fast forward to 2009 and it is Tessa Jowell, yes that’s her, setting up a commission to look at mutuality and co-operative ownership in the public sector. OK we can all spend hours pointing out that this isn’t about self management etc… but the fact is that the debate is now out there, and the Left should be there arguing the case for real workers’ self management
In short then it is time for the Left to assert itself, make demands and take the case for a new society to workers when the demands are rebutted or watered down. Clearly if some demands are met this usually gives workers confidence, and can be built on. All struggles should be widened out politically, something again much of the Left has been reluctant to do for some time.
Couple this with working towards a mass workers’ movement for communism and real progress can be made.