Friday, April 22, 2011

Perth Queer Community Organises to Achieve Safer Venues

Lisbeth Latham

There have been growing concerns within Perth's LGBTI community over the state of the city's two main queer venues. These concerns, which initially emerged as informal grumblings have, during the part of this year, increasingly taken on more concrete forms. First with the creation of a Facebook group “Perth needs a new gay pub ", which had 300 members in its first two days of existence and now has more than 700 members. The establishment of group sparked an article in Out in Perth that
aired some of the issues and gave the owners of both the Court Hotel and Connections a right of reply to the concerns, the Cross Campus Queer Network then initiated a community forum under the title of “Reclaiming Queer Venues” held on March 26.

CCQN in its call and media statements in the lead up to the forum identified four issues regarding venues which had motivated it to call the meeting. These were:

  • hostile and sometimes violent security;
  • discrimination against trans people;
  • indiscriminate and arbitrary bannings and the enabling of sexual assault through the continued admittance of sexual predators

The aim of the meeting would be to generate action that could make Perth’s Queer Venues safer and more inclusive of both the Queer community and the broader Perth community.

The forum, which was chaired by Shamini Joseph, UWA co-Queer Officer, and prominent community member and former co-president of Pride WA, Daniel Smith, attracted more than 80 people. Significantly the meeting attracted three members of the Legislative Council, Greens’ MLCs Giz Watson and Lyn McLaren and ALP MLC Lisa Baker; as well as Connections Nightclub owner Tim Brown, and Grahame Watson, Out in Perth editor.

While the forum provided an important opportunity to allow members of the community to express their concerns and frustrations regarding the character of the Court and Connections, the meeting’s primary focus was on achieving practical action to resolve concerns. The possible actions identified were:

  • to identify existing venues that could be colonised as Queer friendly venues and to investigate the possibility of establishing a new venue with a range of services and facilities for the queer community
  • taking direct action to highlight the problems at both the Court and Connections and acting to create safer spaces in the venues through this action formal documentation and lodging of complaints regarding problems
  • seeking to work with Pride WA to establish a queer accreditation process for venue endorsement
In the wake of the meeting there have been a number of important developments which have strengthened the campaign. This has included the establishment of Reclaiming Queer Venues (RQV) as an independent campaign coalition and a number of WA queer and queer supporting organisations adopting statements around the Court Hotel.

Since being established as coalition RQV has created its own campaign website and Facebook presence as well as a Facebook page QueerCritique Perth. QueerCritique Perth initiative exists to allow members of the queer to rate Perth's bars, clubs and other venues based how queer-friendly they are.

Pride WA, the WA Gender Project and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) have all made statement raising concerns regarding the Court Hotel. The Pride WA statement, passed at its AGM on March 28, criticised the Court Hotel for not contributing financially to Pride while it holds a Pride After Party that directly competes with Pride WA’s major annual fund raising event. The WA Gender Project has concerns regarding the number of complaints from Perth’s Transgender and Transexual community regarding “a sudden rise in alleged discrimination by Court Hotel Staff”. These
complaints relate to allegations that staff have prevented trans patrons from using the toilet they identify with, and have suggested that they use the disabled toilet if they are unwilling to use the toilet associated with their legal sex. Both the male and female toilets at the Court feature signs stating that patrons of the opposite sex found the toilet will be evicted. In an open letter to the Court PFLAG states that it is “concerned at alleged increases in violence and discrimination towards members of Perth’s lesbian and gay community” and that “as the only gay and lesbian pub in Perth, it is important
that our children and their friends are affirmed and feel safe [there]”.

Under these growing criticisms the ownership of the Court Hotel has been forced to respond, however their responce has thus far failed to satisfy it critics. In response to concerns over safety, Bree Day, the Court’s owner told the March 29 West Australian “Our venue is safer than it has ever been. We welcome all people regardless of their sexual preferences and our patrons enjoy themselves regardless of which way they identify. Thousands of people enjoy the Court every weekend and that’s enough for us to believe they feel accepted”. RQV spokesperson Shamini Joseph rejects this
argument, “More people accessing a space or a pub doesn't make it safer. You need a management
who take drink spiking and claims of violence seriously – which the Court’s management doesn’t appear to be doing. If the Court was serious they would be looking at better training for their security staff, so people feel like are protected”.

On its Facebook page, the Court Hotel has made reference to community concerns about the need to reclaim venues, by implying that the campaign is motivated by hostility to “straight” people and arguing “we think you should reclaim your venue! The more the gay and lesbian and extended community come to the venue the more gay and lesbian the venue will be! It’s that simple!”

Joseph rejects the claim that the campaign is heterophobic, “Wanting to reclaim queer venues isn't anti-hetero. Straight people are welcome in any queer space, as it is queer culture which makes a venue queer. We're not asking for less straight people to come to the Court, we're asking for less homophobia, transphobia and general objectification of gay culture in our own pubs. We're asking for management to understand and promote this culture rather than actively exploiting and
knowingly profiting from its demise.”

The development of Reclaiming Queer Venues is an important development in queer political activity in Perth. Action that has the ability to not only achieve safe and genuinely inclusive venues in Perth, but also to empower the community to act in its own interests.
To get involved in the campaign email or visit, if you would like to help rate Perth’s venues go to


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tunisia: A government in continuity… but capable of retaking the initiative

Ahlem Belhadj
International Viewpoint
April 2011

This interview with Ahlem Belhadj was conducted by Jan Malewski, on March 16th, 2011.

Mobilisations of some hundreds of thousands of people have finally brought down the Ghannouchi government. A new interim government has been formed by Béji Caïd Essebsi. What does this government represent?

The second Ghannouchi government, even if it got rid of some former RCD ministers, kept others. It represented continuity with the old regime. On February 24 there was the movement that we call here “Casbah 2”— there were more than 300,000 people demanding that Ghannouchi go. On February 27 Ghannouchi and the other RCD ministers resigned.

The kasbah, the left, the National Council for the Protection of the Revolution, the regional committees for the defence of the revolution — everybody demanded a “technocratic” government to lead the country “administratively”. But in my opinion the far left committed an error in demanding a “technocratic” government. The January 14th Front made the mistake of not advancing the demand for a workers’ and popular government.

This is a “technocratic” government in appearance only, because it is led by Béji Caïd Essebsi, a former minister under Bourguiba, an ex-diplomat and ex-president of Ben Ali’s parliament, even if it is true that he said “no” to him. Today his government has come to satisfy the popular demand for a Constituent Assembly which breaks with the old regime. He has dissolved the Rassemblement Constitutionnel Démocratique (RCD, the former ruling party). At the same time, it is a government completely in continuity on the economic and social; levels, even more than continuity, because it is still more linked than its predecessors to US and French imperialism. The satisfaction of the popular demands appears then as a gain, but what kind of Constituent Assembly will it be whose election would be supervised by such a government? There lies the whole problem!

The government has also announced the dissolution of the security service, Ben Ali’s political police.

They first announced that this service consisted of 200 persons! Then they understood that this wouldn’t stand, so they came up with other figures. The known figures indicate that the body of the police comprised 120,000 officers, today they tell us it was 50,000, The situation remains fairly opaque at this level, what is it that has been dissolved? What remains? We don’t know!

He also announced the dissolution of Ben Ali’s party, the RCD. What has become of it? What has happened to the many branches of this party which managed the country?

There are many former-RCD branch offices which are used by the popular committees or by the UGTT or by the self management committees or revolutionary committees. Only the central buildings have been taken over by the state. There were also 12,000 full time employees working for the RCD. Some of them have resumed their functions, at least where they have been accepted, because in many places the people have not allowed them. If the RCD has been dissolved, it has now led to the emergence of three parties, around three of its “personalities” who have requested and have obtained the recognition of these “new” parties. It amounts to a continuation of the RCD.

Are the banned political parties now recognised?

There are now 49 parties recognised and the list is going up every day. The Parti communiste des ouvriers de Tunisie (PCOT - Communist Workers’ Party of Tunisia) was recognised two days ago. The Ligue de la gauche ouvrière (LGO – Workers’ Left League) has not yet requested official recognition, but it is on the agenda.

So far as the election of the Constituent Assembly is concerned, what are the discussions inside the left, in particular inside the January 14th Front? Is there a stress on the control of the future elected representatives in this Constituent Assembly by the popular committees, or are we witnessing more an electoralist impulse, with each party trying to have “Its” representatives that is to say bending before a form of institutionalisation?

The two trends exist even if currently there is a push towards institutionalism. At the same time there is the emergence of revolutionary councils in the regions and in the different localities. There are many things being done at the level of self-organisation because the municipalities have been dissolved and the councils, self proclaimed by the people, are in the position of managing local affairs. At the same time, at the central level, to counteract the National Council for the Protection of the Revolution, there has been the creation of the “Higher Committee for the Realisation of the Objectives of the Revolution, for Political Reform and Democratic Transition” — already its name expresses fully the difficulty of attributing a clear mission to it. On this “Higher Committee” 71 persons have been nominated, of which 17 represent associations and 12 political parties, while 42 are individuals.

Is it an attempt at coordination or centralisation of the local revolutionary committees?

Not really because there are very few representatives of these local committees inside it. There are one or two people who are directly linked to such committees and at the same time there is the representation of the different parties recognised until now, there is the UGTT and the associations as well as the individuals who have a certain influence in their neighbourhood.

The left is present on this “Higher Committee” which means that the decision to boycott it or not is more difficult to take, because some think that the left has perhaps the possibility of acting so that this body is not completely institutionalised and cut off from the rank and file, that it could influence this “Higher Committee” so that it has links with the local revolutionary committees. Some people on it are from the left or far left.

The great difficulty also relates to the fact that the parties which make up the January 14th Front did not go collectively — as the Front — to discuss this proposal Some groups, factions or parties agreed to be there independently of others and three parties are represented there officially. The first debates inside this commission concerned the representativeness of its members and the debates are still ongoing.

Are there attempts at a national coordination or a national congress of the local self-organised committees? Or a discussion on this subject?

The National Council for the Protection of the Revolution to some extent plays this role of coordination of the local committees. But it has been weakened by the setting up of the “Higher Committee”, whose creation has to some extent the aim of replacing it. The main constituents of the National Council — the UGTT, the Lawyers and League for Human Rights — have gone over to the “Higher Committee”. Thus, right now, there is no longer a legitimate national leadership of the revolution.

The January 14th Front which met yesterday — even if it was not able to make a clear decision on its presence on the “Higher Council” — adopted a communiqué requesting a meeting of the National Committees so as to decide together, But we know that the leadership of the UGTT has already decided, that the Lawyers and the League for Human Rights will also join this “Higher Committee”. In my opinion the battle for a coordination of the structures of self-organisation will be again perhaps possible at the level of this “Higher Committee” but it is far from being settled, because one senses that the pressure of electoral institutionalism is already strong. In short, it is a time when confusion is great. One is pushed to be part of the “Higher Committee” because the National Council is ceasing to exist.

I think that that in the future it will be necessary to lead a fight both within the “Higher Committee” and outside it and that pretty soon it will become clear that it amounts to an attempt at instrumentalisation, with the aim of counteracting the whole dynamic of the revolution which until now escaped the institutions.

Where did the initiative for the creation of the “Higher Committee” come from?

It came as a response to the request of the National Council which wanted to be recognised by the president and to have the prerogatives of legislating - by agreement with the central leadership of the UGTT, which did not consult the unions on this question. For more than a month that there has been no broad meeting of representatives of the structures of the UGTT, which would have been able to decide on its policy. Thus inside the UGTT there has been no possibility of discussing this orientation.

What should be done now so that the revolutionary committees which exist locally can structure themselves at the regional and national level? What can be done so that at a given time there can be a national meeting, controlled from below, and not a meeting of those who have been named as "leaders"?

That is effectively the difficulty, because the danger is that the many people who take on responsibility for self-organisation at the rank and file level leave the “high politics” to others. With the announcement of elections on July 24 the Constituent Assembly — whether by a majoritarian or proportional mode of election — the dynamic of self management is undermined. Maybe in this intermediary period — between now and July 24 — the committees of self-organisation can play the role of link between this debate which starts “from above” and what the self-organised masses are discussing. In any case that is the current issue.

I am a member of one of these local councils in the governorate where I work. For the moment this debate is very embryonic there. The discussions of the council concern above all immediate questions and there is no discussion on what seems to be too abstract: the Constitution, political life. What interests and motivates people is what they can do. For the moment they are not thinking about how to go from there to the question of coordination of the councils.

Are there forms of workers’ control developing in the factories?

For the moment not really. There are some experiences, in the enterprises belong to families linked to Ben Ali, where the workers have found themselves without any management — they have fled — and have taken responsibility for the management of these enterprises. There have also been quite a few farms which have been taken over by the workers, who have expelled those to whom Ben Ali’s government had given these state properties. Around 80 big farms are involved. By way of example in one of these farms there are some 500 people if you included the employees and the members of their families. So there is a form of collective management of these farms. In the educational structures also, in many places, there has been the election of those who direct them — rather than them being named from above. In public transport there has been a big strike to change the chief executive who was a member of the RCD. But this is not very generalised.

-Ahlem Belhadj is a feminist activist and former chair of the Tunisian’ Association of Democratic Women. She is one of the leaders of the Ligue de la gauche ouvrière (LGO – Workers’ Left League).


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The European workers movement: dangers and challenges

Murray Smith
New Socialist
6 March 2011

With the onset of the world economic crisis, the European workers’ movement finds itself in a new phase, one that is replete with dangers and challenges. It is important to underline that we are in fact in a new situation and not just a continuation of the previous period.

There is nothing new about the fact that the European working class is under attack and on the defensive. There has been since the 1980s a systematic drive, increasingly coordinated by the European Union (EU), to impose neo-liberal policies in Europe. The aims have been to lower the cost of labour (wages, benefits, social programs), to remove limits on capital and to open up new sectors of the economy to private capital. So we have seen deregulation of the economy and of finance in particular, the imposition of "flexible" working practices, an increase in precarious work, privatizations and "reform" of the social state in the sense of undermining universal rights to pensions, unemployment benefits, free healthcare and other programs. Collective bargaining agreements are identified as a structural problem, the weakening of unions defined as an objective (Financial Times editorial, 2010-05-10). Such a weakening has occurred in some countries, but not all. The speed and scale of the attacks has varied across countries, but the direction is unmistakable. The cumulative effects have undermined, but not destroyed the welfare state that developed in large measure during the post-WWII economic boom.

Now ruling classes are stepping up the attacks. To use a military analogy, they are moving from a war of attrition to a war of movement, making a frontal assault on wages, working conditions, the public sector and social programs.

A Frontal Assault
There is no doubt that Europe’s ruling classes, acting through national governments and European institutions, backed by the IMF and the OECD, are quite consciously using the crisis and the deficits to push through a series of measures. They have the immediate problem of reducing deficits which are the product of governments bailing out the banks in 2008 and of the recession. This left several peripheral economies of the eurozone (Greece, Spain, Ireland, Portugal) with difficulty in borrowing money, with the danger of them defaulting on their debts, which would have serious effects on European banks. At the time of the Greek bail-out, Martin Wolf admitted in the Financial Times (2010-05-05), "It is overtly a rescue of Greece, but covertly a bail-out of banks". That is true not only of Greece. Banks and financial institutions from the big three of the EU — Britain, France and Germany — own more than half the Greek debt, and also more than half of Irish, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian debt. All of that came to a total of over $2 trillion as of December 31, 2009 (figures from the Bank of International Settlements).

The price of bailouts to Greece and Ireland was the imposition of drastic austerity programs. In the spring of 2010 it was the Greek crisis that sounded the signal for a renewed offensive by EU governments. The conditions which were then imposed on the Greek people were draconian: wage reductions of 10 to 15 percent, in a country where the average monthly wage is 1200 euros; drastic reduction of the workforce in the public sector, replacing only one out of every five workers who retire; measures to facilitate sackings in the private sector; cuts in the health and education budget; further privatizations; raising the VAT, an across-the-board tax which hits the poorest hardest, from 19 to 23 percent; reduced pensions; raising the retirement age to 67. With minor variations, these measures have also been imposed on or adopted by Ireland, Portugal and Spain.

The object is in fact to use the crisis to impose harsher measures on the recalcitrant. This is not only to cut deficits and reassure the markets. It is also to accelerate the offensive that aims to make Europe more competitive in the new international context. This is fundamental. The social state, even weakened and under attack over the last thirty years, has lasted because Europe could afford it and because it helped pacify workers. Now the word is that the game’s over. The shift in the balance of economic power, the rise of new non-European economies, is underlining the fact that the standard of living and level of social protection that has characterized Western Europe since 1945 is no longer viable, from the point of view of the ruling class.

In its most drastic form at present, the offensive affects the so-called "peripheral" eurozone economies, and also several countries in Eastern Europe. But it is a Europe-wide assault. We are seeing austerity measures and a major attack on unions in Italy (centred on the FIAT car factories), and in France we saw last year’s counter-reform of pensions.

A case that stands out is Britain, where the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat ("ConDem") coalition that came to power in May 2010 has launched an offensive of breathtaking proportions. Taking the need to reduce the deficit as its theme, it has imposed sweeping cuts in public spending — direct government spending, but also the amount of money allocated by the central government to local authorities. This has led to those authorities closing down public services, cutting subsidies to volunteer groups and laying off tens of thousands of local government workers. Massive increases in student fees have provoked equally massive protests. VAT has gone up from 17 to 20 percent. Real wages today are no higher than they were in 2005 - in effect a six-year wage freeze, something not seen since the 1920s. In a parallel move the government has begun sweeping reforms of the health service which amount to the widespread privatization of services and will lead to large-scale job cuts.

Left Politics in Europe
Faced with this offensive, what has been the reaction of the European workers’ movement? In the first place, resistance has centred on the unions rather than on political parties. This is unsurprising when you look at the situation of the political Left. Without exception, the social democratic parties have rallied to the dominant neo-liberal discourse, enthusiastically or shamefacedly and with varying degrees of speed and internal conflict. This is true not only or even especially in theory, but above all in practice, in government. And they continue to do so today.

Three of the four "peripheral" countries — Greece, Spain, Portugal — are presided over by social democratic governments. If we look a little further back we can see the role played in government by social democracy in Germany between 1997 and 2005, as well as in the UK, France and elsewhere. There are some signs of re-positioning to the left in the French Socialist Party, the British Labour Party and the German SPD. However, these moves remain very timid and it is always necessary to look very critically at the left-wing rhetoric of social democratic parties in opposition — it invariably melts away under the pressure of office. Let us not forget that PASOK won the Greek elections in the autumn of 2009 with a left discourse which was in contrast not only with the preceding right-wing government but also with previous PASOK governments. Now, the PASOK government is doing as the EU and the IMF tell it to. Only three of its MPs refused to vote for the austerity programme last year (they abstained, and were promptly expelled from the PASOK parliamentary group). That does not necessarily exhaust the question of these parties. Under the pressure of the crisis and the scale of the attacks on the working class, cracks may appear. But this is likely to be a slow and uncertain process.

What about the forces to the left of social democracy? First of all there are the Communist parties. Some, while taking a position of opposition to neo-liberalism, operate in a sectarian and divisive way. This is above all the case of the Greek Communist Party. Then there are the Communist parties (in France and Spain, notably) which are part of coalitions/fronts with other forces of the radical Left. Thirdly, there are the traditional far left organizations which in some ways mirror the CPs, ranging from sectarianism to serious involvement in new coalitions and parties. Finally, there are new parties involving forces from different backgrounds (as in Portugal and Germany). In some countries the radical Left, more or less united or divided, has serious weight (Portugal, Germany, Greece and France in particular). But nowhere has it succeeded in supplanting social democracy as the main force on the left.

For the moment and for some time to come resistance will be centred on the trade unions, which are recognized as representative organizations by workers. The unions can mobilize. When they issue a call to action workers respond, especially if the unions act in a united way. The two big confederations in Greece, GSEE (private sector) and ADEDY (public), organized seven massive one-day general strikes in the course of 2010. The first one of 2011 took place on February 23. In France, in the movement against pension reform that began in the spring of 2010 and reached its high point in the autumn, the trade union confederations were the backbone of the movement. This was structured around a series of one-day national strikes and demonstrations which at their height put 3.5 million people in the street. In Portugal, the Communist Party-led CGTP confederation organized a demonstration of 300 000 people in Lisbon on May 29, 2010. Then on November 24, a general strike, called for the first time since 1988 by both the CGTP and the Socialist-led UGT, was massively supported, with 3 million strikers out of a workforce of 4.7 million. In Spain, a strike called on September 29 by the CCOO and UGT confederations was supported by 70 percent of workers.

But such one-day strikes are really the limit of what the big confederations will do. And governments know it. So it may be inconvenient, but they can stand it. The main union leaderships are conservative. They don’t seek confrontation, they want consultation and conciliation. Their problem is that there is less and less of this to be had, and fewer concessions on offer. So they are pushed into reacting to attacks. Furthermore, many unions are linked to social democracy, formally or informally. So when they are faced with a social democratic government, it is one thing to protest, quite another to engage in an all-out confrontation.

Even quite moderate unions are forced into confrontation by the capitalist offensive. But they are not prepared to fight to the finish, whereas in general the governments and the employers are, making only marginal concessions. Sometimes after protesting the unions can be co-opted into collaborating with the government, as happened catastrophically in January in Spain over pension reform. Nevertheless, to the extent that the main unions do mobilize, they help to open up a space for resistance.

There is a problem of the need for unions to adapt to the new situation, for new leaderships to emerge, at all levels, which are capable of determined resistance to the employers’ and government offensive. This implies a certain degree of political understanding of what is at stake. It also implies a democratization of unions which often function in an extremely bureaucratic way, in order to bring them under the control of the rank-and-file members. Such a reorientation and renewal of trade unionism can happen in two ways, by the appearance of new unions and by evolution within the existing confederations. When we look at the situation in each country there are positive signs. In France there are radical unions like Solidaires and the FSU, but there are also significant left currents within the main confederation, the CGT. In Italy the metalworkers’ federation, FIOM, part of the main CGIL confederation, is spearheading resistance, on a national level and in particular at FIAT. In Spain, in reaction to the sell-out over pensions, independent unions organized strikes and demonstrations at the end of January in Galicia, the Basque Country and Catalonia, and there were manifestations of opposition in the CCOO and the UGT.

Far From Hopeless
There are other encouraging signs. One absolutely key factor is the role of young people. One of the most dynamic elements of the movement in France last autumn was the massive mobilization of school students. In Britain, the attacks of the ConDem government have given rise to what is shaping up to be the biggest movement of university and school students since the 1960s. There are also what can be described as "citizens’ mobilizations," for example the growing and increasingly militant movement against the cuts imposed by the ConDem government in Britain, involving trade unionists, neighbourhood action groups and young people.

In spite of the scale of the challenge, the situation of the workers’ movement in Europe is far from hopeless. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that workers are ready to mobilize if given a lead. Sometimes and in certain countries the offensive by employers and governments has been halted or slowed down. Opposition has been led by the unions, but it has involved students, young people and ad hoc fronts, sometimes including forces from social democracy.

But in spite of partial victories, the neo-liberal steamroller has continued to advance. The first task is to counter the offensive. Just saying no is not a sufficient response, but it is an essential starting point. The first line of defence is to mobilize against the measures. This is not in general very difficult. It is blindingly obvious that ordinary workers, particularly in the public sector which is everywhere under attack, young people and pensioners bear no responsibility for the economic crisis that has unfolded since 2007. The slogan, repeated in almost identical terms all over Europe, that "it’s not up to the workers to pay for the crisis, the bankers and financiers should pay" seems like simple common sense. The anger is there.

A Key Weakness
But there is an ongoing weakness of the workers’ movement, which gives the advantage to governments and the ruling class. The weakness is political. It lies first of all in the inadequate nature of the forces that are leading the struggle. But it also lies in the absence of a credible, visible political alternative to neo-liberalism. Such a political alternative is not a precondition for resisting attacks in the short term, perhaps even winning battles. But at a certain point the absence of a coherent alternative has a demobilizing effect.

One of the brakes on mobilization and resistance to the new offensive is the lack of a political alternative and indeed disillusion with politics, including and even especially with the traditional Left. This places a heavy responsibility on the radical Left. One of the strongest weapons of the ruling class for thirty years has been the claim that "there is no alternative." It has to be shown that there is one, that anti-capitalism can move from protest to developing a program that aims to win majority support. This problem predates the present crisis, but the crisis has made it a much more urgent question.

One response on the left to the tactic of repeated one-day general strikes is to argue for an ongoing general strike. That would certainly be the best way to win. The fact that it has not so far happened anywhere does not mean that it is impossible. But there are obstacles - not only the passivity of union leaderships but many hesitations and doubts within a working class that is much more atomized and insecure than it was thirty or forty years ago. And it does not have to be all or nothing. France last year showed that even short of a full-scale general strike the actions of the most radical sections of workers and the youth mobilization, combined with mass demonstrations, gave extra force to the movement, which came close to winning.

The other lesson to be learned from France is that every time a victory has been won, and indeed whenever there has been a serious battle, the battle of ideas, winning over public opinion, countering the government’s propaganda, has been crucial. On this front, political organizations of the radical Left as well as global justice groups like ATTAC have played a key role.

It is useful to cite some positive examples. If we look at the victorious campaign in France against the European Constitutional Treaty in 2005, it was won by a mass political campaign involving forces from both the political and the trade union wings of the workers’ movement, along with intellectuals, global justice activists and others. When the CPE (a government proposal for a weaker employment contract for young people) was defeated a few months later, it was defeated by what is best described as a social and political front, involving political parties and trade unions and spearheaded by youth and student organizations. And last year’s movement in France saw a similar combination of strikes, street demonstrations and a mass political campaign. These kinds of movements can win, and they are also the crucible in which a renewal of the workers’ movement can take place and new political forces can emerge.

Murray Smith, formerly international organiser for the Scottish Socialist Party, is a member of the anti-capitalist party Dei Lenk (the Left) in Luxemburg.


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