Sunday 30 September 2007

Burma- One Solution: REVOLUTION!

Over a thousand people turned out in Central Auckland on Saturday 29th September to support the peaceful revolution in Burma that is inspiring the world. The demostration was called by the Solidarity Union, and supported by the Council of Trade Unions (NZ), Burmese Federation of Trade Unions, the Burma Support Group (AUSA), Amnesty International (NZ), the Service and Food Workers Union, the NDU, the Green Party, Socialist Worker, Greens on Campus, Radical Youth, Pax Christi and Global Peace and Justice Auckland. A National MP even spoke- which was more than could be said of NZ's ruling Labour Party, who were conspicuous by their absence. The Labour government wants to negotiate a free trade deal with Burma, and has refused to impose sanctions on the dictatorship since 2005.

Joe Carolan of Solidarity Union introduced the speakers, and called on NZ student and trade unions to take action to support their words-

"Now that the MyanMar military Junta has smashed the monasteries, beaten, imprisoned and murdered the monks, and opened fire on the people in the streets, there can be no retreat. All work and trade must stop. A General Strike must paralyse the nation.
Workers and student organisations are now on the frontline in Burma. Our NZ student and trade unions have a moral duty to support them in this time of need. The CTU has backed todays protest. But Burma needs more.

The trade unions of New Zealand are the largest democratic organisations we have. Unions who came today should take up workplace collections to support the Burmese Federation of Trade unions, whose representative Naing Ko Ko joins us here. They know best how to deliver the support to the resistance at home.

All NZ companies who profit from slave labour in Burma should be the targets for future protests- NZ does 4.4 million dollars of dairy business with the Myanmar regime, and the Super Fund invests in Total Oil's exploitation of Burma's reserves. Helen Clarke wants to sign a free trade deal with the regime. All should immediately be stopped. There can be no trade with a slave labour regime."

Naing Ko Ko of the Burmese Federation of Trade Unions paid homage to the Buddhist monks, who led the march down Auckland's Queen Street. He said that the struggle that they have started must be continued by the country's workers and students, many of whom are now forced underground. Tinmama Oo of the Burma Support Group in Auckland University Student Association pledged that her generation of Burmese would never give up and never surrender, and that one day the brutal military dictatorship would be overthrown.

John Minto from GPJA warned people not to trust groups such as the UN Security Council, ASEAN, the US Military or the politicians in power to solve the crisis. He looked to the huge outpouring of internationalist solidarity from ordinary working people to deliver the support to the Burmese resistance as the only power Burma's people could trust.

The revolution in Burma will inspire the workers of Thailand, who are living under the iron heel of the Thai military with little condemnation fromthe Western political establishment. The revolution in Burma will inspire the workers of China, who were slaughtered along with the students of Tiananmen Square when they stood up from freedom in 1989, The revolution in Burma has inspired the people of Aotearoa, who will continue to organise practical solidarity for the resistance in the weeks and months to come.

Video of the Auckland protests and speeches

Tuesday 25 September 2007

NZ Unions to rally in Solidarity with Burmese workers and students


Demo in Aotea Square, Auckland

Sat 29th Sept 2pm

Demonstrate your solidarity with the revolution breaking out in Burma against 20 years of brutal military rule. SPECIAL GUEST SPEAKER: Naing Ko Ko. pro democracy activist (Federation of Trade Unions Burma) and former political prisoner.

"The peaceful people's revolution in Burma against an oppressive and brutal military dictatorship now faces a crucial few days, as the Junta declares it will crack down on protests and demonstrations with the utmost of severity. But the huge marches in Rangoon, Mandalay and other major cities that have been led by monks, have now been joined by students and workers. Solidarity Union calls on workers and students here in Aotearoa to come and show your support for our courageous brothers and sisters in Burma this Saturday, 2pm, in Auckland's Aotea Square. Please bring your union or organisation banners and placards calling for freedom for Burma. This world does not need a horrific repeat of the massacres of 1988. "

Special speaker at the rally in Auckland will be Naing Ko Ko, a trade union and democracy activist with the Burmese Federation of Trade Unions, who was jailed and tortured for six years by the military dictatorship. The rally is also supported by the CTU, the Service and Food Workers Union, Amnesty International, AUSA Greens on Campus, Socialist Worker, the Space Inside Social Centre and Radical Youth. We appeal to other community groups to come and stand with Naing and the Burmese people in solidarity, and demand that the NZ Government has no truck with the military butchers or the companies that are profiting from Burmese slave labour.

- Joe Carolan
Solidarity Union Secretary

One way to support the struggle for democracy in Burma is to put pressure on international companies that still has trade relations with the regime. According to the International Labour Organization of the UN, ILO, as well as the democratic opposition in Burma, it is impossible to engage in economic activity in Burma without providing the junta with direct or indirect support. For that reason the international trade union movement has published a list of companies with links to Burma. Together we can encourage the companies to abandon those links, thereby putting pressure on the regime.

You can read the list on:


Over the past month, thousands of monks and civilians have been protesting in cities across Burma, demanding an end to injustice. The protests have now grown into the largest public demonstrations since 1988.

Peaceful protestors took to the streets of Burma on 19th August following fuel price increases of up to 500 percent. The dictatorship responded to the first protests with a brutal crackdown on democracy activists. On the eve of a major protest in Rangoon on 22 August, the regime arrested 13 leading democracy activists in midnight raids. Despite intimidation, including brutal attacks on protestors by regime thugs, hundreds of demonstrators have continued to protest.

More than 150 people have been arrested and most remain in detention. The regime has accused peaceful protestors of involvement in terrorism, and is threatening jail terms of up to 20 years. Those arrested face torture, including beatings, electric shocks, burning, and the ‘iron rod’ where a rod is run up and down on the shins until the skin and flesh are removed and the rod is grinding on bone. High profile members of the 88 Student Generation of democracy activists Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Ko Mya Aye, Ko Yin Htun and Ko Jimmy are among those arrested.


'Communist plot'

State television said the demonstrations of the past week were being fomented by communists and exiled media and student groups.

September 26, 2007 - 12:14PM

Savvy young bloggers in Burma are breaking through the military junta's tight internet controls to post photos and videos of swelling anti-government protests, experts say.

The Government blocks almost every website that carries news or information about the South-East Asian country, and even bars access to web-based email.

But an army of young techies in Rangoon works around the clock to circumvent the censors, posting pictures and videos on blogs almost as soon as the protests happen.

Many of these images have been picked up by mainstream news organisations because bloggers have managed to capture images that no one else can get.

When Burma's detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi stepped outside her home in Rangoon to greet marching monks and supporters on Saturday, the only pictures of the landmark moment were posted on blogs.

Mizzima News, an India-based news group run by exiled dissidents, picked up one of the photos of Aung San Suu Kyi and said more than 50,000 people accessed their website that day.

"People were saying they wanted to see more pictures of Aung San Suu Kyi," said Sein Win, Mizzima's managing editor.

The bloggers are mainly young university students in Rangoon who have made it their mission to post messages and pictures since the anti-junta rallies broke out there on August 19, he said.

"We have many volunteers in Rangoon. They are mostly university students and they keep sending us messages, pictures and video clips about the demonstrations."

Messages on blogs have applauded Buddhist monks, who have led the protest movement. The movement has grown into the biggest challenge to the junta since a 1988 uprising that was crushed by the military, killing at least 3000.

"Many people were thanking monks for their courage and were rallying support behind monks," Sein Win said from Thailand's northern city of Chiang Mai.

"The censorship is very tough, but many people want the world to know what is happening in Burma."

The California-based Mandalay Gazette also said young people in Rangoon were supplying pictures on the protests.

"It's encouraging to see messages of support coming as far as from Russia, and some messages said monks were correcting the junta's 'wrongdoing'," said a US editor, who declined to be named.

A Thai-based Burmese reporter from the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Norway-based broadcaster, said it had received video clips and photos from "many volunteers" in Rangoon since the protests began last month.

"The quality of pictures from Rangoon is very good. Many young people were helping us and the junta cannot control our freedom of information," said the reporter, who operates anonymously for safety reasons.

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders has called Burma a "paradise for censors" and listed the military-ruled nation as one of the world's most restrictive for press freedoms.

Since the protests, the regime has cut off the mobile phones of prominent pro-democracy supporters and of some journalists representing foreign media.

State media today accused the foreign press of stirring unrest.

No foreign journalist has obtained a visa to enter Burma, under military rule since 1962, since the start of the anti-junta rallies, rights groups said

Democracy for Burma now!
support the people power revolution against the Military Junta
Time and Place
Saturday, September 29, 2007
2:00pm - 3:00pm
Aotea Square
Queen Street

Contact Info


Monday 24 September 2007

Challenges for RESPECT- Councillor Salma Yaqoob

Challenges for RESPECT

by Councillor Salma Yaqoob - National Vice Chair

George’s document accurately outlines the two biggest challenges and responsibilities we face today: “to build Respect directly and to place it at the centre of a progressive realignment”. In order for Respect to rise to these challenges there are some foundation stones that must be in place.

Firstly, if Respect aspires to be a coalition of individuals and organisations from quite divergent political backgrounds, but united against imperialism and neo-liberalism, it is imperative that the internal political culture inside Respect is one that is at ease with difference and pluralism and not threatened by it.

Secondly, Respect has to proactively seek to embrace the broadest currents of progressive opinion if it is to fulfil the aspirations behind its launch.

The need for Respect

The need for a party to the left of Labour is more urgent than ever. This is confirmed for me on the second Tuesday of every month, when I attend the meeting of Birmingham city councillors. It is indicative of the sorry state of affairs of the Labour Party that they are regularly outflanked to the left by the Tories.

Under New Labour, wealth inequality and privatisation has increased dramatically. Gordon Brown calls on public-sector workers to accept a cut in their real level of pay, while 1% of the population owns one-third of all personal wealth in this country. Where the Tories only managed to sign 100 PFI deals with big business, Brown has delivered more than 600 wasteful and privatising schemes.

Meanwhile, Liberty argues that the government is ‘laying the infrastructure of Orwell’s Big Brother state’ and we see the ever-increasing beat of US war drums against Iran.

Despite the significant obstacles the first past the post system poses for smaller parties, I remain convinced and committed to the future of this project.
The broad constituency in favour of peace, equality and social justice is growing. On many issues it is even a majority in society. Millions of people are against war, against privatising and running down the welfare state, against racism, and for greater equality. There is an opportunity to be a voice for these millions, and to offer an electoral alternative to the parties of war and injustice.

Facing realities

Despite the growing number of people who oppose imperialism and neo-liberalism, the balance remains in favour of the parties of war, privatisation and racism.
Tony Blair won the 2005 election in the face of mass protests against the war. The growth of the BNP across the country far exceeds our own modest successes. Yes, Labour will lose seats at the next election. But the vast majority of them will be lost to parties to their right.

Respect therefore faces a situation where there is widespread and growing sympathy for the type of ideas we espouse, but where the parties of the right are increasing their stranglehold on electoral politics.

In a situation where our opponents remain far stronger than us, it is essential that we seek to operate in the most consensual and pluralistic manner possible, open to cooperation with all those, regardless of party, who share our commitment to peace, equality and justice.

This will be impossible if Respect is perceived as the property of a single organisation. To build a coalition of like-minded individuals and organisations we must go the extra mile in our efforts to include different voices and experiences. We have to consciously and proactively demonstrate to all those outside Respect that they have a place in our coalition, and that by joining us they are signing up to a genuine coalition in which no single component of it is in a position to impose its views.

If our coalition is currently insufficiently broad, it is all the more important that we act, and are seen to act, in such a way as to reflect the coalition we want to be.

The challenge for Respect is to be able to work with, and be a voice for, this growing broad progressive constituency. This constituency includes people who remain tied to Labour or other parties such as the Greens. We have to work patiently to build up our vote at a local level. But we also have to be part (and almost certainly a minority part) of a much wider network of alliances.

George has pointed to the urgency of initiatives in the aftermath of Blair’s resignation to capitalise on the space for a discussion on left realignment. This discussion is also taking place outside Respect. For example the recent Morning Star Conference and articles. And, in a different way, they are taking place in and around the Labour Party.

We have not been bold enough in taking initiatives to further this potential dialogue.

Respect needs a more democratic and inclusive internal political culture

Having taken the first steps towards bringing together a new party to the left of Labour we need to encourage an internal culture that is far more inclusive and participative.

If it is not seen that we operate in a genuinely collaborative manner, if we cannot manage our differences in a non-factional manner, we have no hope of being the pole of attraction to those disaffected with Labour and looking for an alternative. George’s proposals about strengthening the role of the national office with a new national organiser to work alongside the national secretary and a revamped officers committee are changes that need to be introduced. In the run up to conference we should also conduct a thorough examination of our current practice.

Why is it that Respect has such an uneven profile not just across the country, but also even within areas where we have made headway like London and Birmingham? How do we make ourselves more attractive to those disaffected with the current political system but nervous about Respect?

How can we improve our public events? How do we strengthen the political depth of our activists and better shape the political culture within the organisation? Is the slate system the most democratic method of electing delegates to our national bodies? Is it the case that we convey the impression that Respect is dominated by a single organisation? If so, what can we do about it?

Many members have expressed dismay that while their organisation is in the midst of this debate, no reference to it is made on our website and they have to scour the net to glean a greater understanding as to what the debate is actually about. There should there be space on our national website for internal discussion and the posting of internal documents.

Damaging allegations

Unfortunately, the manner in which this current debate is being conducted is a bad advertisement.

Misrepresentation of views is perhaps a feature of these kinds of rows, but that does not make them any more excusable.

It is, unfortunately, necessary to deal with two rather unpleasant allegations that have been introduced into this debate.

Firstly, it is not the case that I oppose the diversity of Respect candidates in favour of Muslim men as claimed by the SWP.

As one of the few Muslim women in a prominent political position, I am more aware than most of the obstacles that are in our way, and the importance of bringing more woman (in particular) into leading political positions.

In Birmingham, four out of five candidates in the 2006 local elections were women. But in 2007, only one woman sought a nomination. All the other nominations were from Asian male candidates. In the only contested election the one woman prospective candidate was defeated but I wrote to Socialist Worker (10 February) specifically urging SWP members to come forward as
candidates for any of the other 33 wards that we could have contested. No other nominations were made, leaving us with 7 male candidates.

Even more upsetting have been accusations around “communalist politics” in Birmingham as reflected in the SWP Party Notes of 7 March 2007.

The allegation of communalism has been thrown at Respect from our enemies, and it is disturbing to see echoes of it inside Respect. Only those ignorant of my record, or hostile to my work, could make such a charge.
The fault line of ‘communalist politics’ in Birmingham has most recently been between African-Caribbean and Asian communities who often feel in competition with each other over council funding. These tensions tragically ignited in Lozells where two young people lost their lives. There is no political figure in Birmingham more closely associated with trying to address these tensions than myself.

That is why I initiated the women and children’s Peace March in the aftermath of the Lozells riots which received very high local news coverage. That is why Respect supporters took great risks, behind the scenes, to ensure there was no retaliation from Pakistani gangs in the aftermath of the desecration of Muslim graves in Handsworth cemetery. When I spoke from the platform of the recent Jesse Jackson rally to a 600 strong (and overwhelmingly African-Caribbean) audience, I used my time to call for black and Asian unity. It is not accidental that I was the only politician to speak at the recent march in Lozells against Gangs and Guns organised by the Council of Black Led Churches.

Furthermore, both in my newsletters and within the council chamber I have specifically championed the issue of poor educational attainment of white working class boys from disadvantaged backgrounds.

If I wanted to pander to conservative pressure inside the Muslim community, appearing on Question Time and opposing the imposition of Islamic dress on women, opposing the criminalisation of women in the sex industry, or opposing homophobia in the local media, would not exactly be the best way to go about it!

It is hard to think of a more damaging allegation than that of communalism. It can only sour relations between us and give ammunition to our enemies.

False divisions

Differences have to be discussed with restraint, and communication and dialogue is the key. Unfortunately, since I disagreed with John Rees over an issue of tactics in July 2005, I don’t think I have received more than 2 phone calls from him. Personal feelings are not the issue. The National Secretary should be able to maintain working relationships and act as a link to all parts of Respect. He should consult widely to learn from everyone’s experience.

It is disingenuous also to make references to my inability to attend National Officers meetings when no effort was made to act on my request to hold meetings on web cam to facilitate those of us who don’t live in London and have childcare and family commitments. A leadership striving to be as inclusive as possible would be imaginative and proactive about encouraging participation, especially of those with childcare and family responsibilities.

It is also disingenuous to misrepresent the issues at heart as being about whether John Rees should or should not resign. Neither George nor myself have called for John Rees’s resignation. In our meeting I commented to John that had I been in his shoes I would have stepped down, but I also made it explicit that I was not making this a formal demand in any way and was advocating only those demands outlined in George’s document. For the SWP to report this as a formal call for his resignation is a deliberate distortion, designed perhaps to distract from the real issues raised.

What I find most insidious about these allegations is not only that they are false, but that they have been deliberately circulated to foster divisions and exacerbate differences within Respect.

If the SWP leadership had issues of concerns about the political direction in Birmingham, particularly if they felt something as serious as a ‘pandering to communalism’ was taking place, the very least I would expect is that these concerns would be communicated directly to myself or raised openly inside Respect. Neither has happened.

Instead, it appears these claims, and others, are designed entirely to marshall SWP members with pseudo ideological cover in what is really a drive for control. Overall it has hindered not helped Respect and no doubt has been counter productive for the SWP itself. The interests of one factional bloc have been put above the broader interests of the Respect itself. This method has caused confusion and poisoned relations between people who otherwise had got on well up to that point.

This highlights an important issue of principle for Respect if we are to be seen as a genuine coalition and not a front for one component part - whether that is the SWP today or a ‘independents bloc’ tomorrow. We have to build into the culture, and maybe also the constitution of Respect, safeguards that compel us to work in a collaborative and not a competitive manner. In our internal dealings we have to enact the values of openness, transparency, pluralism and democracy that we espouse in broader society. In this way there will be consistency between our goals and our process, which will only strengthen us. It involves short-term compromise for long term gain.

My experience with ordinary SWP members had overwhelmingly been a positive one. They are committed, sincere and hard working activists. I value their contribution to Respect and other campaigns. I do not want to see the SWP outside Respect, and I continue to hope that they will play an important role in building Respect. I have been saddened by the unnecessary deterioration in relations.

Conflating legitimate criticisms of the National Secretary with allegations of plots to ‘subordinate’ socialist elements in Respect, also only compounds our problems. The notion that ‘the socialist left’ is in danger of being subordinated inside Respect can only be read as patronising. The inference is that, without a guiding hand, the rest of us (especially Muslims) would quickly gallop to the right and pander to all manner of prejudices. I do not accept that the SWP is the sole guarantor of the progressive values around which we have united.

While the well from which I draw my commitment to social justice may be a different one, it is every bit as deep. It was out of this very commitment to genuine progressive values that I helped initiate Respect.

Respect needs to build on its electoral strengths

On a national scale, our electoral successes are modest. But, in particular areas, we have really made an impact.

In East London, Birmingham and Preston we have developed a real base, with much of our support coming from Muslims. This is a strength, which we should celebrate. Opposition to the war on Iraq ran deepest among Muslims. Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, in particular, are among the most disadvantaged in our society. The constant attacks on the views and way of life of Muslims have produced deep anger. All of these factors serve to highlight the inadequacy of political representation at a local level, and the very limited representation for Muslim communities at a national level.

The fact that Respect has won a serious base in some Muslim communities is a tremendous achievement for all of us. For the first time, a part of the genuine left has sunk deep roots in some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country. In a period where racism is on the rise, and multiculturalism is under attack, the importance of this is hard to overestimate.

We have been much weaker in areas where this combination of factors is not as strong. But this is not, as has been unhelpfully suggested by the SWP, evidence of a lack of commitment to ‘widen and diversify Respect’s working class support’.

George’s letter specifically highlighted the contributions of Michael Lavelette in Preston, Jerry Hicks in Bristol and Maxine Blower in Sheffield - all white, socialist candidates. No one in Respect thinks that we are, or should be, a ‘Muslim party’. On the contrary, what we have tried to achieve is the coming together of people from very different traditions and backgrounds by stressing the common ground between us. This vision, which was at the heart of the discussions which led to the formation of Respect, remains as strong today as it was then.

There are whole swathes of white working class areas that feel abandoned. We need an honest discussion inside Respect about what we have committed to these areas, apart from rhetoric.

It is not true, either, that this argument is about whether Respect should withdraw ‘into the electoral common sense that only particular ‘community leaders’ can win in certain areas.’

But the reality is that the strongest candidates will invariably be those who are the most locally rooted. This is electoral common sense. The Respect brand is simply not strong enough that we can parachute candidates into areas where they have no local roots and hope to do well.

Wherever this method has been applied the outcome has been poor and damaging to us.

Sustained local community activity is the key to ensuring strong local candidates and every potential Respect candidate should aim to be a ‘community leader’ if they are serious about trying to win. Part of our role is to be able to bring the respected and rooted local activist (or ‘community leader’) into the wider progressive alliance that we have created, and for us all to be strengthened by this common ground.

We need an open and frank discussion about the state of many Respect branches.

Too often we just do not undertake the hard slog of embedding ourselves in local communities by consistently addressing their local issues and concerns.

Building coaches for anti-war demos, or working in your trade union is important. If you want to get be elected as a councillor the electorate will also want to see the same passion and commitment about the local issues that are impacting on their lives.

Too often our organising skills are not focused enough on consistent local campaigns, advice surgeries and following-up on casework. Similarly attending resident associations or neighbourhood forums is rarely a priority, although these are often the arenas where local people gather to express their concerns.

We need to combine in our local work both a commitment to campaigning around the big political issues and addressing ways these link to specific local issues that impact on people’s day-to-day lives.

We need to work consciously and patiently to consolidate and extend our vote in our existing strongholds. And, where we are weaker, we need to begin to act as if we were already local councillors. The crisis of political representation extends right down to ward level. We have to be willing and able to offer an alternative now.


There are many people outside Respect who should be in Respect. By accepting George’s proposals we have an opportunity to strengthen a culture of participation and pluralism that clearly signals our willingness to be a genuine coalition. We have an opportunity to show, in practice, that
we are a home for those seeking an alternative to the right wing consensus.
There are many more people outside Respect, who share many of our principles but who, for a variety of reasons and party loyalties, may not join us at the moment. Our willingness to be open and flexible in co-operating and sharing ideas and experiences is vital for the future of us all.

My vision for Respect is of a coalition which acts to support all those who share a commitment to peace, equality and justice. In building Respect we have to act in a way that strengthens this broad progressive constituency and does not divide it.

Thursday 20 September 2007

RESPECT: Debate between Galloway and SWP leadership

The Respect coalition in Britain has gained a lot of attention from socialists and leftists worldwide since it was launched in 2004. It's an example of a broad left strategy that's been pursued by socialists in a number of countries.

The driving force in the formation of Respect was the British Socialist Worker Party (SWP). They've described the Respect model as a "united front of a new type".

Any new initiative that seeks to relate to the broad movement is going to come up against a range of organisational and tactical challenges in the real world of practical politics. After some early successes it appears that Respect has run into some difficulties. This has led to a public disagreement between George Galloway, former New Labour MP and now Respect MP for Bethnal Green & Bow, and leaders of the SWP.

Included below is the recent statement by George Galloway, followed by a reply from the SWP's central committee.

We're publishing both on our UNITYblog because of the important issues that Socialist Worker-New Zealand sees contained within both these statements.

After the upcoming local body elections in New Zealand, we will work on a statement on the broad left strategy, which will generalise from our initiatives and experiences, as well as looking at other organisations and strategies internationally.

Statement on Respect by George Galloway

The Shadwell by-election victory has stunned the New Labour establishment, turned the tide in Tower Hamlets and opened up the real possibility of winning two parliamentary seats in East London which, together with the potential gain in Birmingham, would make us the most successful left-wing party in British history.

New Labour’s decision to try to rehabilitate Michael Keith – the former leader of Tower Hamlets council who we first defeated last year – raised the stakes in this election enormously. A victory for him in a ward where we had all three councillors would have thrown us into a grave crisis. Instead, it is Labour that is suffering shattering demoralisation and we are enjoying a post-Shadwell bounce.

Ealing Southall, on the other hand, just a few weeks before, marked the lowest point in Respect’s three-year history. The failure to harvest even the vote we had secured in just one ward of the constituency in the local elections 12 months earlier was a sharp reminder that what goes up can come down and should shatter any complacency about the London elections next May.

It is clear to everyone, if we are honest, that Respect is not punching its weight in British politics and has not fulfilled its potential either in terms of votes consistently gained, members recruited or fighting funds raised. The primary reasons for this are not objective circumstances, but internal problems of our own making.

The conditions for Respect to grow strongly obtain in just the same way as they did when we first launched the organisation and had our historic breakthrough in 2005. Anyone who was at the 1000-strong street celebration after the victory in Shadwell will attest that the idea of Respect remains very much alive and, as Jim Fitzpatrick MP said in Tribune, it’s clear that ‘the Iraq war hasn’t gone away’.

Michael Lavalette’s advancing position in Preston shows what can be done with imaginative and dedicated work. In Bristol, around Jerry Hicks, and in Sheffield around Maxine Bowler, we have placed ourselves in pole position to enter the council chamber. But to achieve that we must recognise our serious internal weaknesses which are becoming more apparent and which threaten to derail the whole project.


Despite being a rather well known political brand our membership has not grown. And in some areas it has gone into a steep decline. Whole areas of the country are effectively moribund as far as Respect activity is concerned. In some weeks there is not a single Respect activity anywhere in the country advertised in our media. No systematic effort has been able to be mounted - in fact, a major effort had to be launched to get back to the levels of membership we had, despite electoral successes, widespread publicity and the continuing absence of any serious rival on the left. This has left a small core of activists to shoulder burden after burden without much in the way of support from the centre, leading to exhaustion and enervation.


This is all but non-existent. We have stumbled from one financial crisis to another. And with the prospect of an early general election we are simply unable to challenge the major parties in our key constituencies. None of the Respect staff appears to have been tasked with either membership or fundraising responsibilities. Or if they have it isn’t working. There is a deep-seated culture of amateurism and irresponsibility on the question of money. Activities are not properly budgeted and even where budgets are set they are not adhered to. Take, for example, the Fighting Unions Conference which was full to the rafters but still managed to lose £5000. The intervention at Pride, where we gave away merchandise rather than sold it, lost £2000.

It is a moot point whether the turn to building Fighting Unions which occupied the National Office for four months was the correct prioritisation of slender resources, following our breakthroughs at the local elections last year. What is not moot is that mismanagement turned an event which ought to have been a money-spinner into a money-loser.

Equally the Pride intervention, which occupied a great deal of the organisation’s time (I personally was telephoned three times to be asked if I would make it, and others report similar pressure) can be compared to the total lack of a presence at the Barking Mela last weekend - the biggest in Europe - or the minimal campaigning presence at the recent London Latin American festival. Again, while it is arguable that Pride was the priority, what is not arguable is that fundraising at it should have been included in the plan.

Further, what ought to have been the unalloyed success of the Pride intervention was seriously marred. Instead of a simple encouragement for members to attend – with a logical emphasis on LGBT members and young people – several members in elected office were subjected to a high-handed “instruction” from the national office to take part. It appeared to them to be some kind of misplaced test of their commitment to the equality programme of the organisation. This is frankly absurd. There are LGBT people who don’t feel comfortable being on a float on a parade. It would be a serious mistake to read off someone’s commitment to equality from their willingness to be dancing on the back of a truck on the Pride parade.

Having done that and spent £2,000 there was no effort to publicise our intervention externally by ensuring that all the relevant media and organisations were made aware that we were the only political party to have a float on the parade.


This is a mystery to me and others. People pop up as staff members in jobs which have not been advertised, for which there have been no interviews and whose job descriptions are unclear and certainly unpublished. One staff member was appointed at a meeting at which that same staff member was present, making it obviously embarrassing for anyone to query whether they were the right person for the job, whether they could be afforded or why the job should go to them rather than someone else. This unnecessarily poor management leads to tensions, even animosity and the suspicion that staff are recruited for their political opinions on internal matters rather than on a proper basis. Sometimes the conduct of some staff buttresses this suspicion. For example, at the selection meeting for our Shadwell candidate two members of staff were openly proselytising for one candidate and against another - including heckling - and even after the decision had been taken. This undoubtedly contributed to the exceedingly poor involvement of the wider membership in the subsequent election. No paid member of staff attended the Shadwell victory celebrations and when I asked one of them if they would be attending I was told ‘no, I will be watching the football’. This was noticed widely by the activists who were present at the celebration and commented upon. It is again bad management to allow such culture and practices to proliferate.

Internal relations

There is a custom of anathematisation in the organisation which is deeply unhealthy and has been the ruin of many a left-wing group before us. This began with Salma Yaqoob, once one of our star turns, promoted on virtually every platform, and who is responsible for some of the greatest election victories (and near misses) during our era. Now she has been airbrushed from our history at just the time when she is becoming a regular feature on the national media and her impact on the politics of Britain’s second city has never been higher.

There appears to be no plan to rescue her from this perdition, indeed every sign that her internal exile is a fixture. This is intolerable and must end now. Whatever personal differences may exist between leading members the rest of us cannot allow Respect to be hobbled in this way. We are not over-endowed with national figures.

Decision making and implementation

There is a marked tendency for decisions made at the national council or avenues signposted for exploration to be left to wither on the vine if they are not deemed to meet priorities (which themselves are not agreed). For example, there was a very useful discussion at the last national council on what initiatives we should explore following Brown’s succession and the then anticipated failure of the McDonnell campaign to get out of the starting gate. Among the varied suggestions were seeking to cohere wider progressive opinion around a minimal five point programme; approaching McDonnell to organise an open meeting in Parliament; seeking a joint conference with the RMT, CPB, Labour left and others; and organising a people’s march to London as an agitational vehicle for rallying forces and struggles against the Brown government. None of these have been seriously followed up. The overall emphasis – that the departure of Blair and the failure of the Labour left’s strategy opened up possibilities for us both to build Respect directly and to place it at the centre of a progressive realignment – was allowed to run into the ground.

Building the organisation

We must be much more systematic in building Respect’s profile in the wider arenas our members are active in. There is no question that struggles such as Stop the War, Defend Council Housing, anti-racist campaigns, activity around trade union disputes and so on are the lifeblood of a progressive political force such as ourselves. But the great lesson of the Stop the War movement in 2003 was that these movements do not automatically give rise to a force that can punch through on the political scene. That requires – as it did when we founded Respect – patient, detailed work and single-mindedness about ensuring that Respect grows out of the wider radical milieu.

Two of our outstanding members are at the helm of Defend Council Housing; many of our members are active in it in their localities. Yet as an organisation we have done far too little to raise the Respect banner inside the campaign and, to put it bluntly, cash in on the work our activists have put in and the turmoil the campaign has caused among disaffected Labour councillors and Labour-supporting tenants and trade unionists.

At the successful Stop the War demonstration outside the Labour Party conference in Manchester in September last year the nationally produced propaganda was for the Fighting Unions conference. It was thanks only to the Manchester comrades that we had a tabloid promoting Respect as a political formation. It was again thanks to the Manchester comrades that we had such a publication for the protest outside Brown’s coronation.

In every area of activity we need to encourage in our members a focus on recruitment, fundraising, establishing the profile of our candidates and unashamedly promoting Respect as the critical force in the wider reconstitution of the progressive and socialist movement.

Internal selections

Then there is the practice of the creation of false dichotomies between candidates for internal elections. Neither Oliur Rahman nor Abjul Miah nor Haroon Miah is Karl Liebknecht. And Sultana Begum is not Rosa Luxemburg. Yet in internal election contests these four contested in Tower Hamlets the divisions between them were deliberately and artificially exaggerated and members mobilised about “principles” which never were. This has led to deep and lasting divisions which show no signs of healing in the current atmosphere. So we must make a new atmosphere. If we are to rally to win the prize of a seat on the GLA, and three members of parliament, we must start right now.

Relations between leading figures in Respect are at an all-time low and this must be addressed. I have proposals to make which are not aimed at a change of political line, still less an attack on any organisation or section within Respect. They are aimed at placing us on an election war-footing, closing the chasm which has been caused to develop between leading members, together with an emergency fundraising and membership drive to facilitate our forthcoming electoral challenges. Business as usual will not do and everyone in their heart knows this.

The crossroads at which we now stand can take us either down the Shadwell route or the road to Southall. Instead of three MPs and a presence on the GLA we could have no MPs and no one on the GLA by this time next year. A few honest moments thoughts should suffice to calibrate where that would leave us. Oblivion.

I cannot imagine that any member of the National Council wants to see us arrive at the destination where now lies the wreck of left-wing politics in Scotland and so I hope that these proposals will be considered with the best interests of the Respect project uppermost in our minds.

A way forward

It is abundantly clear for a variety of reasons that the leadership team must be strengthened and all talents mustered. I therefore propose the creation of a new high-powered elections committee whose task would be to rapidly evaluate our election strengths and weaknesses, proposed target seats, supervise the selection of candidates - national and local - and to spearhead a national membership and fundraising drive. This committee must comprise the leading members of Respect, including Salma, Linda Smith, Yvonne Ridley, Abjol Miah (as the leader of our 11 councillors in the central election battleground of Tower Hamlets), me, Lindsey German, Alan Thornett, Nick Wrack as well as the National Secretary.

I also propose a crucial new post of National Organiser, preferably full-time, whose task would be the aforementioned re-organisation and re-energising of the key clusters of Respect support and the encouragement of members everywhere. This position would sit alongside the position of National Secretary. It must be advertised and subject to competitive interview overseen by the elections committee.

While this document may seem stark in black and white it reflects a widespread feeling which has surfaced in various ways - including at the National Council - and it is clear that the status quo, or minor tinkering, are not options. Time is short, renovation is urgently required and we must start the process now.

George Galloway MP

The Debate in Respect: The SWP Response

The SWP is deeply committed to the Respect project. If a snap general election was called next month we would throw our all into campaigning to secure the election of every and all Respect candidates. We will be working to build up our campaigns for next years GLA and local elections.

We share a sense of pride, along with all those in Respect's ranks, to have one of the youngest councillors in Britain, a Bengali woman, and a pensioner representing a Derbyshire council seat whose name resonates with a history of working class struggle.

So it is with a deep sense of regret that we have to address differences which have emerged between the way George Galloway sees Respect developing and the way we see it, following the sending of a document by George to members of Respect's National Council.

The enemies of Respect have, unfortunately seized on this, with the 'East London Advertiser' reporting this as an attack on the SWP claiming: 'He [George Galloway] is believed to want to move Respect away from the Socialist Workers Party groupings that have been upsetting Muslim supporters who he needs in order to maintain his Westminster career.' George has since then issued a rebuttal saying his document is not "an attack on any organisation or section within Respect".

Regarding the three points with which George concludes his document – the strengthening of the Respect national office by the appointment of a national organiser, the creation of an elections committee and an end to the supposed 'anathematisation' of Salma Yaqoob - we hope that it will be possible to come to agreement around the three proposals raised by George and have made it clear we are happy to discuss these. But, tragically, the argument has been pushed beyond that and beyond this simply being a discussion of how to improve and strengthen Respect.

A Record of Success

The success that followed the launch of Respect was staggering. In the June 2004 GLA and European elections George Galloway got 91,175 votes for the European Parliament in London while the Respect list polled 87,533 in the Greater London Assembly (which meant Lindsey German came just short of the 5% needed to win a seat) while Respect got 20% of the vote in East London in the GLA elections. In Birmingham Respect averaged 7.4% and in Leicester 10% in the Euro elections.

In the June 2004 Leicester South and Birmingham Hodge Hill parliamentary by-elections Respect candidates Yvonne Ridley and John Rees polled 12.4% and 6.4% respectively.

In Tower Hamlets Oliur Rahman won our first council seat in August 2004 and a month later Paul McGarr polled 635 votes in Tower Hamlets Millwall ward, coming second behind the Tory winner who gained 828 votes, and pushing New Labour into third place.

Then in the 2005 general election not only did George Galloway secure a truly historic victory in Bethnal Green and Bow but it was accompanied by strong votes in Birmingham Sparkbrook, both Newham seats and in Canning Town and Poplar.

In May last year success followed with councillors elected in Tower Hamlets, where we are the second biggest party, Newham and Birmingham. That was followed this year with Michael Lavalette storming home to win an overall majority in his ward, another councillor elected in Birmingham to join Salma Yaqoob and Ray Holmes winning Shirebrook North West on Bolsover council. Significant advances were made elsewhere, from Bristol to Cambridge to Sheffield.

Then in August a tremendous effort ensured we held the Shadwell council seat in a by-election caused by the defection of one our councillors to New Labour. That made up for much of the disappointment of the Southall parliamentary by-election where the established parties squeezed us in a snap poll following Gordon Brown's anointment as Labour leader.

The Nature of Respect

Respect was conceived as a pluralistic coalition and therefore has always been based on compromises among its main constituent parts. The SWP has made plenty of compromises and is ready to make more in the future. But we fear that what is being demanded of us now would amount to the subordination of socialist left within Respect and would therefore drastically undermine Respect's nature as a genuine coalition.

Respect grew from the coalition of forces at the centre of the great anti-war movement, which organised Britain's biggest ever demonstration against the invasion of Iraq - and so much more. Naturally not everyone in the Stop the War Coalition was prepared to take the step of joining the new coalition but many of the leading figures in the movement did take that step.

Unfortunately Labour has not suffered the kind of mass defection which took place in Germany with trade union leaders and prominent members of the SPD breaking away to create the new Left Party. Rather New Labour has seen a haemorrhaging of its membership and support with people leaving individually.

Respect was thrown out of balance from the start by the failure of other leading figures on the Labour left to take the kind of principled stand that George did and break with New Labour. This made Respect disproportionately dependent on the excellent support it won from Muslims, as became particularly clear in last year's London elections. It is the effort of the SWP, in response to this weakness, to widen and diversify Respect's working-class support that George and his allies have been attacking.

Respect and the Remaking of the Left & the Working Class

For the SWP it was vital Respect broke the pattern of left wing candidates securing one or two percent of the vote. That meant concentrating forces in our strongest areas to guarantee success. After this year's elections we argued at the Respect National Council we now had to move beyond that to ensure we developed into a truly national force.

Yet Respect was for us something else: “We have always understood the deep Labourist tradition within the British working class will not just be swept away with one blow. Respect has the potential to become a long term home for traditional Labour supporters who are in revolt against their leadership's pro-war and neo-liberal policies.

For is the coalition was premised on it bringing together the dynamic forces at the heart of the anti-war movement, forces which also represented a potential new tide of class fighters. These forces were caricatured from the start by the B-52 left as being a Muslim-Trotskyist alliance. Yet the lists which contested the 2004 Euro and GLA elections brought together much more - experienced trade union activists, African-Caribbean figures, candidates from the Turkish & Kurdish community, women and LGBT activists, pensions fighters and student campaigners.

A Fight Not of Our Choice

This is a fight the SWP did not choose. We chose not to rush into print with a reply to George and approached George on a number of occasions to secure a meeting with him to try to discuss the issues raised.

Eventually a meeting was held on 4 September between SWP representatives (John Rees, Lindsey German, Alex Callinicos & Chris Bambery), George Galloway, Salma Yaqoob, Ger Francis, Abjol Miah, Linda Smith and Glyn Robbins.

It is important to say that at this meeting we made it clear we were happy to discuss and come to consensus on the three proposals George concludes his letter with - and that remains the case.

That, however, was not what the meeting centred on. This was not an argument or discussion about how best to build Respect. In a 30 minute introduction George discussed his proposals for five minutes and then the rest on attacking John Rees.

The main plank of this was an attack on us for 'endangering the whole project' by our actions in Shadwell, in particular by our support at the selection meeting for a young woman Bengali candidate rather than the eventual winner, Harun Miah. This was true but it should of course be added that it did not stop us throwing everything we could into support for Councillor Miah, a fact demonstrated by the thanks we received afterwardsfrom both him and Abjol Miah.

In the discussion that followed George's introduction both Salma and Abjol called for John Rees to resign with Abjol calling for 'a complete change of leadership.' The SWP representatives made clear they were happy to discuss George's three proposals but were not prepared to swallow demands for John Rees's resignation. This is not just a question of loyalty to a comrade who has pursued a strategy on which the SWP is in agreement. The attack is not on John but on the SWP - as the emphasis on Shadwell indicates. If, say, we were prepared to accept this demand any replacement National Secretary could face a similar ultimatum in event of future disagreements.
So what is at stake here?

In Preston and Newham in particular Respect has built itself into a force representing that original vision of Respect. Michael Lavalette has acted as a real 'tribune of the oppressed' organising locally in defence of the NHS, in opposition to the invasion of Lebanon and over a host of local issues. Recently he helped organise an OFFU social which drew 70 local trade union representatives. That model is in the process of being repeated in areas where Respect has a strong possibility of getting councillors elected following advances in this year's local elections - Bristol, Cambridge and Sheffield are among them.

We all shared a vision of Respect as being a broad coalition. It is our enemies who are so intent as portraying it as an 'Islamo-Trot' marriage of convenience. What we fear is a withdrawal into the electoral common sense that only particular 'community leaders' can win in certain areas.

In Tower Hamlets it was important Respect had councillors elected from the Muslim community - representatives of the most oppressed community in Britain - but it would have been good to have returned other candidates too, who reflected the totality of the working class in the East End.

In Birmingham in the seven target seats in May's local elections, those with the greatest chance of achieving election, the candidates selected were all men from the Pakistani community. Helen Salmon was voted out of being the candidate for Moseley & Kings Heath ward. (See Socialist Worker 3 February 2007,

That is something we opposed but when we lost we accepted the result and continued to strive to build Respect locally.

At the recent meeting with George and others we were told by Abjol that a white candidate would not be able to win a seat in Whitechapel for ten years. We were put under pressure to support Abjol's nomination for the Bethnal Green & Bow seat being vacated by George. At least two other challengers are in the ring, one the young Bengali woman councilor previously mentioned and the other a long time Bengali Labour activist. It is perfectly acceptable for us or anyone else in Respect to vote for one candidate and if they are unsuccessful to then campaign loyally, whoever wins the nomination.

What's Changed, What's not Changed

In his document George argues: 'The conditions for Respect to grow strongly obtain in just the same way as they did when we first launched the organisation and had our historic breakthrough in 2005.'

Well the answer is yes and no. The war remains central but other issues have gained in importance. Blair has gone to be replaced by Brown and while we dismiss the hype about the 'Brown bounce,' the replacement of Blair has had a certain impact, in particular rallying dissident union leaders.

We face the strong possibility of there being a general election between now and next spring but that was not at the centre of the 4 September meeting.

In the Muslim community the battery of security laws has helped intimidate people while Brown and Livingstone have consciously attempted to co-opt Muslim leaders in a way Blair never could.

On the plus side there is growing unrest over pay, with Brown trying to police his public sector pay limit. On the post and Metronet picket lines we saw the wider politicisation filtering down as activists were open to the need to mount a radical challenge to New Labour in a way that wasn't true two or three years ago.

George's document makes considerable criticism of the Organising for Fighting Unions initiative, although this was decided upon by Respect's highest bodies. Yet the whole initiative was premised on the need to expand Respect's base of support within the organised working class and to re-connect with a layer of trade unionists who are not yet ready to embrace Respect.

Similarly the criticism of Respect's intervention on this year's Pride seems strange given that since the SWP started going on Pride two decades and more ago Labour, the Lib-Dems and major trade union have been consistently represented on it. The criticism is even stranger given the slander constantly thrown at Respect by our enemies that because of Respect's support in the Muslim community it is somehow soft on homophobia.

That need to extend Respect's base of support is something SWP members believe is vital. That's why we encouraged the local meetings on gun crime, which drew a good response from the African-Caribbean community and beyond.

The original vision of Respect lay behind the whole selection procedure for the GLA that has seen a list of candidates that reflect fully the London working class. A retreat into a party whose elected representatives are overwhelmingly male and Muslim would be to retreat into the caricature of us drawn by our opponents. It would be also unacceptable not just for socialists but for so many who come from the trade unions, from Labour backgrounds and from the anti-war, women's and so many other movements.

We want to fight for Respect, Equality, Socialism, Peace, Environment, Community, Trade Unionism.

The Central Committee, Socialist Worker Party (Britain)

Tuesday 18 September 2007

Bolivia needs our solidarity

Bolivia needs our solidarity


from Green Left Weekly, 14 September 2007

For Bolivia’s indigenous majority there is no going back. The election in 2005 of Bolivia’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, marked a watershed — a before and after in Bolivia’s history — after more than 500 years of struggle against imperialism and colonialism. It marked a conscious step forward by Bolivia’s indigenous majority in its struggle for justice and equality.

As Morales pointed out in an August 22 interview with the BBC, right from the start Bolivia’s right wing “said this little Indian is only going to be president for three or four months. That day passed and now they say this little Indian is going to be here for a long time, we have to do something about it; and that means encouraging confusion or destabilisation.”

That is why today a resurgent right wing is determined to destabilise the country and government — even if it means plunging the country into civil war or provoking a violent military coup — to bring down Morales, and with him the hopes and dreams of millions of indigenous and non-indigenous people, not just in Bolivia, but throughout Latin America and the world.

Distribution of racist material inciting people to “bring down this Indian shit”, provoking violent confrontations, holding civic “stoppages” enforced by fascist youth groups, and smuggling arms into the country — these, and more, are ingredients in a conspiracy to overthrow Morales. The public faces of the right wing, centred in the wealthy departments (states) of the east, are the opposition governors and the unelected, business-controlled civic committees — in Santa Cruz, Pando, Beni and Tarija — now openly joined by the civic committee of Cochabamba and Chuquisaca. Behind them stand the gas transnationals, large agribusiness and the US empire, all of whom benefited from ransacking Bolivia’s enormous natural wealth while pushing the country to the position of the poorest in South America.

But their task will be far from easy. The election of “this little Indian” came on the back of a wave of social rebellion, fuelled by an increasing rejection of neoliberalism and the emergence and growth of national and indigenous pride, based on the celebration of the country’s indigenous peoples and recuperation of its natural resources. It was also the result of a conscious decision more than 10 years ago by the indigenous, campesino and coca-growers’ movements to move “from resistance to power” and construct their own “Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the People” — more commonly know by its electorally registered name, Movement Towards Socialism (MAS).

Gaining the support from an important section of the country’s middle class and intellectuals for its project, MAS was able to win the 2005 national elections, crushing the traditional politicians whose subservience to the US empire had almost led to the total suffocation of the country.

Today, the Bolivians who due to their skin colour were previously excluded from the plaza in front of the presidential palace, and who protested outside it to overthrow other governments, have begun to take over the positions of power. This act has been a powerful catalyst in rebuilding the self-esteem of the people, who now proclaim with pride their indigenous roots.

The central task entrusted to the MAS government was to convoke a constituent assembly in order to “refound” Bolivia, ending injustice and recognising the rights of the previously excluded indigenous majority.

However, more than a year since the assembly’s inauguration in Sucre in August 2006, it is yet to vote on a single article for the new constitution. The same political minority that ruled over the demise of the country today cries out in defence of “democracy” and “autonomy”, with the objective of protecting its political enclaves and economic power and mobilising sectors of the white and mestizo middle classes of the east and west against the government.

The stalling tactics and latest round of violent protests by the right wing, this time in Sucre, threatened the security of the assembly, forcing some indigenous delegates into hiding in order to avoid racist attacks. On September 7 the assembly directorate voted to suspend sessions for a month as it was unable to guarantee security.

On September 10, more than 10,000 campesinos and indigenous people marched through Sucre in a show of force to defend the constituent assembly and national unity. Unlike the scenes of violence over the previous weeks, the streets of Sucre were filled with a festive tone.

Later in the day, during the 10,000-15,000 strong Social Summit, the social organisations resolved to “defend, including with our lives, the constituent assembly and this process of irreversible profound change being driven forward by the historic forces of our peoples and the indigenous, originario and campesino nations, together with the popular organisations”.

Furthermore, the social movements declared themselves to be in a “state of emergency” and committed themselves to organising Committees in Defence of the Constituent Assembly, adding that, if necessary, they would undertake “other more radical measures”.

In its manifesto, the summit outlined 18 strategic points behind which the participants would mobilise to ensure they are enshrined in the new constitution. Among them are the creation of unitary, plurinational, communitarian and democratic state; nationalisation of natural resources; taxes on large fortunes; the expropriation without compensation of latifundios (large land-holdings) and the immediate distribution of their land; re-election and revoking of mandates of any elected authority; and the confiscation of all goods implicated in acts of corruption.

For now the situation in Sucre has calmed down; the opposition’s threats of further actions starting on September 10 were called off. A new round of dialogue has been convoked to see if it is possible to overcome the impasse.

But the tension remains, and one can only speculate how long the calm will last. The directorate of the assembly has signalled it will reject a court ruling overturning the assembly decision to remove the issue of the location of Bolivia’s capital from debate (the right-wing fuelled conflict over whether to locate it in La Paz, the current political capital, or Sucre, the current constitutional capital, helping trigger the latest confrontation). The future of the constituent assembly and Bolivia hang in the balance.

The indigenous and campesino mobilisation was an important step taken by the social and indigenous movements in defence of the constituent assembly. However, as Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera pointed out in the lead-up to the protest, “To wear down the old powers will cost a lot, it will be conflictive, the population needs to be conscious of this, and the best way to defend the continuity of the process of change is through democratic mobilisation to back this transformation and to put an end to the history of these old elites”.

Mass democratic mobilisations and the organisation of the people will be central to maintaining unity amongst the movements and avoiding provocations by the right wing. The right wing’s strategy depends on stirring up anger among the exploited and oppressed who refuse to ever go back to the old Bolivia, with the aims of triggering violent reactions and creating chaos.

The government and social movements need to demonstrate that they are the only ones able to provide real stability and change for all Bolivians. This is necessary in order to appeal to the middle classes sectors that, due to mistakes by MAS, now feel alienated from the government — something the government itself has acknowledged and that it has begun to remedy. It is also critical to maintaining support among the armed forces.

Internationally, it is vital for the governments and peoples of the world to voice their solidarity and make clear that they will reject any attempts to trigger a civil war, or an ensuing US/UN military occupation or illegitimate government.

Undoubtedly the US elite sees Bolivia as the weak link in the emerging Bolivia-Cuba-Venezuela “axis of hope” in Latin America. Moreover, Bolivia’s government and the indigenous revolution is helping stimulate indigenous struggles in the region — something Washington fears and will not tolerate.

On September 9, Venezuela’s socialist president Hugo Chavez, sitting next to Morales, warned on his Alo Preisdente TV program: “If US imperialism attacks our peoples, using their lackeys in Venezuela and Bolivia, they can be sure that we’re not going to wait with our arms crossed. If that occurs, we will shout with Che Guevara, and then one, two, three, four, five, or 10 Vietnams will have to be created in Latin America.”

To date, neither the governments of Argentina or Brazil have spoken out about the growing threat to Bolivia. A clear statement by these two and other South American countries rejecting a civil war, military coup or invasion of Bolivia, would be a strong blow against the US empire’s designs.

Now is the time for all intellectuals, union militants, solidarity activists, political parties and progressive minded individuals who believe in real justice and equality to raise their voices in defence of Bolivia and its government, which is leading an important process of change providing hope and inspiration to millions of indigenous and oppressed people around the world, to ensure that the US and its lackeys cannot get away with crushing this movement for social liberation.

Monday 17 September 2007

Venezuela: Unions sign up to United Socialist Party

Venezuela: Workers to Join Chávez’s PSUV Written by Paul Haste Wednesday, 12 September 2007
Venezuela’s Unión Nacional de Trabajadores (UNT or National Workers’ Union) has called on its 2 million workers to unite in the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV or United Socialist Party of Venezuela), despite the bitter infighting and conflicts over tactics, strategy and politics that had threatened the union confederation’s participation in the Bolivarian revolution.
UNT organiser Stalin Pérez called on all workers to organise ‘battalions’ (local party branches) in barrios and workplaces and join the PSUV with ‘our sindicalist and socialist proposals… and our ideas about how to construct a democratic organisation.’
That this call is considered news at all is a reflection on just how antagonistic relations have been between the political factions in the UNT since the confederation was founded in 2003. As Pérez relates, workers ‘are conscious that the UNT is not passing through a good moment… political division and failure to work together affects the workers.’
The UNT has had a conflictive and often combative history since dissident workers split from Venezuela’s traditional union confederation, the CTV (Congreso de Trabajadores Venezolanos or Venezuelan Workers’ Congress), after CTV president Carlos Ortega participated in the attempted coup d’etat against President Chávez in 2002.
This clientilist, corporatist union close to the discredited elitist party Acción Democrática, has since been eclipsed by the UNT and the new union confederation’s support for Chávez and the Bolivarian revolution. However, the debate between workers organised in different factions in the UNT over the extent to which the union should support the President, has created divisions that have diverted workers into political infighting.
Five political ‘currents’ are fighting for control in the UNT, and the two most important factions - CCURA (Corriente Clasista, Unitaria, Revolucionaria, Autónoma or Autonomous, Revolutionary, United Class Current) and FSBT (Fuerza Socialista Bolivariano de Trabajadores or Workers’ Socialist Bolivarian Force) - have been in an often bitter fight to make the UNT an unconditional Chávista union, as the FSBT desires, or to make it more independent, as CCURA wants.
These sincere disagreements, and a democratic debate over the union’s tactics and strategy, could have increased the UNT’s influence as a central force in Venezuelan politics and strengthened organised workers’ participation in the Bolivarian revolution, but the political descended into the personal to the point that the union, dispersed and fractured, almost split.
The last UNT Congress, in 2006, ended in fights, walkouts and the split into the five political factions, but Orlando Chirino, CCURA faction leader, believes it is wrong to describe the divisions as personal. ‘A battle has been fought between two conceptions - on the one hand those who want to tie the union to Chávez, and on the other those who are fighting for sovereignty and an autonomous and independent union movement.’
But UNT organisers in the FSBT faction, such as Jacobo Torres de León, claim the divisions have meant the union has failed to concentrate on organising workers. The FSBT points out that workers’ unionisation rate in Venezuela is still less than 20 per cent, and argues that the union should concentrate on sindicalist demands in workplaces and be close to the President politically to have influence.
Even President Chávez has criticised the UNT’s failure to organise workers in a united union, and he has even called into question ‘the idea that workers and unions are central to the revolution’, choosing instead to emphasise the PSUV’s and the barrio consejos comunales centrality to the revolution.
UNT organiser Pérez, a CCURA faction member but also an activist in the PSUV, questions Chávez’s criticisms, arguing that workers continue to be decisive - ‘workers are the true revolutionary protagonists’ - and should be central to the party and the revolution.
But Chávez’s impatience with the UNT’s infighting took him further earlier this year when he declared to a PSUV political meeting in Caracas that ‘unions should not be autonomous - one must put a stop to that.’ This prompted Orlando Chirino to respond to the President declaring that workers have the right to politicise their unions and be independent of the state.
‘Lenin wrote that unions should be independent… when Stalin took power in Russia and led the state and the party, one of the first things he eliminated was the independence of the unions, precisely against the opinion of Lenin,’ Chirino wrote, and, insisting on the unions’ right to be sovereign and autonomous, he recalled President Chávez’s statement that ‘the PSUV will not be a Stalinist political party.’
That the UNT has finally called on all workers to join the PSUV does not mean that the dispute between the union’s factions has been resolved. The FSBT believes that this call will move the UNT closer to Chávez, while the CCURA has recognised that the union cannot stand apart from the 5.7million Venezuelans that have registered an interest in participating in the party.
Pérez realises that massive worker participation in the new party is the best insurance against what he calls ‘bureaucratisation’ and the threat that a clientilist relationship between the PSUV and the union, similar to the relationship between the rightist Acción Democrática and the discredited CTV union in the Nineties, could develop.
‘CCURA will join the PSUV, we will fight for workers’ control, and we want to maintain union autonomy - not for its own sake, but because independence is a revolutionary necessity,’ Pérez says. ‘There is no contradiction between organising in the PSUV to support the revolution, and also having independent unions. Both are part of the same fight towards socialism in Venezuela.’
1. Sindicalistas revolucionarios responden al Presidente Chávez, Carta de dirigentes de CCURA, report on, Caracas, 28 de marzo de 2007 2. Stalin Pérez Borges interview in MST, Buenos Aires, 15 de agosto de 2007 3. Orlando Chirino interview in ISR, Chicago, July 2007 4. Sr. Presidente: sin Marx, Lenin y la clase obrera, no hay socialismo posible, Miguel Ángel Hernández,, Caracas, 31 de julio de 2007 5. La Unión Nacional de Trabajadores: ¿Central Sindical o Frente Revolucionario? Jacobo Torres de Leon, Nuestra América, 19 de marzo de 2006 6. Compromiso por la unidad, el fortalecimiento y las elecciones de la UNT, CTR/CCURA/TPP/CCUT statement on, Caracas, 31 de julio de 2007 7. Corrientes sindicales CCURA/CTR se reúnen para adelantar plan para las elecciones, report on, Caracas, 5 de julio de 2007 8. Vamos al PSUV con nuestras propuestas clasistas y socialistas, Stalin Pérez Borges interview, Prensa CCURA/UNT report on, Caracas, 9 de mayo de 2007

Friday 14 September 2007

World economy heading for meltdown?

The financial panic that never was by CHRIS HARMAN For Socialist Review [September 2007] As we go to press the financial panic that made the headlines across the world in August seems to have subsided. The message now from many of those who panicked is that nothing was or is amiss. After all, they say, the panic was only in the financial sector, not "the real economy". But it was not so simple. It resulted from old fashioned financial chicanery. Banks, hedge funds and wealthy individuals (you had to invest a minimum of $5 million to take part) set out to make easy profits by providing mortgages at high interest rates to Americans too poor to borrow from the usual sources. As this "subprime mortgage market" boomed, financial interests across the world clamoured to take part, borrowing billions from each other to get a share of the action. There was hardly a respectable bank in the world not involved. Then a slide in house prices and a slowdown in the US economy suddenly combined to make the poor too poor to keep up with their mortgage repayments. Bankers, hedge funds and rich parasites could not extract from them the money they needed to pay back other bankers, hedge funds and rich parasites. Two hedge funds connected to a major US bank came close to going bust, as did two state banks in Germany. For a day or two it looked as if the whole process of borrowing and lending which keeps businesses going might grind to a halt, since no financier was certain whether any other had the funds to repay any debts. This was the "credit crunch". Then on 18 August an emergency meeting of the US Federal Reserve Bank agreed to provide extra support to those in most trouble (those financiers, or course, not the poor mortgage borrowers), and everything suddenly seemed all right. Except what happened was not some accident. It was a rerun in slightly different conditions of the stock exchange panic of 1987 and the collapse of the hedge fund Long Term Capital Management in 1998. On those occasions the actions of the US Fed were enough to prevent a more immediate general crisis - only for it to return with a vengeance on both occasions within two and half years. This was because the financial chicanery was a reflection of more fundamental imbalances within the world system which could not be ignored for ever. The imbalances this time are much more serious than a decade or two ago. The world economy was only able to recover from the recession of 2001-2002 because of US consumers and the US government borrowing massively to spend well beyond their incomes, by a total of around $400 billion a year. But a point was bound to arise when such a balancing act could not work any more. The fear on 17 August was that this point had already been reached. The action of the US Fed the next day postponed the day of reckoning, but no one knows for how long. Meanwhile, more than a million working class Americans face the loss of their homes this year. Market turmoil & US-China rivalries by VAUGHAN GUNSON Alex Callinicos in an article for the British Socialist Worker (4 August, 2007 asked whether the world economy was on precipice. Recent economic growth has been stimulated by a “sea of credit”, argues Callinicos, created by the central banks of the world’s leading capitalist countries, in particular the US Federal Reserve, who’ve kept interest rates historically low. This has created a boom in speculative investment which is now showing signs of coming unstuck. In his article, Callinicos refers to the $1.2 trillion dollars of foreign currency reserves that China has built up over the last decade. Trade between China and the US has been heavily weighted in China’s favour, with 70% of goods sold at WalMart made in China. With their massive stocks of US currency China has then being buying up US government bonds issued by the US Federal Reserve, the chief mechanism by which the interest rates in the US have been kept low. China is now in a position to put economic pressure on the US. China could collapse the US economy if it stopped buying up US debt and flooded the market with its reserves of US bonds. This is not a position the US ruling class want to be in. We don’t often feature articles by people who’ve served in the Reagan administration or who’ve worked for the Wall Street Journal , but the one included below by Paul Roberts, writing for Counterpunch, shows quite clearly the economic threat that China poses to the US. China has long been identified by Washington as the country which would emerge as the US’s main economic and military rival. The US invaded Iraq to control the oil and gas reserves of the Middle East, and therefore gain leverage over China, whose economy is heavily reliant on imported oil and gas. Thanks to the heroic Iraqi resistance and global grassroots opposition to the war, that strategy is turning into a disaster for the US ruling class. This has increased the confidence of rival imperialist powers, like China, Russia and the European Union. The willingness of the China to assert its growing economic power will be only increase the anxiety of the US ruling class. If the world economy does collapse then this will further heighten tensions between the US and China. This increases the possibility of a much bigger Middle East war, if the US ruling class decides it must achieve its original intentions, or it could lead to another conflict in a different part of the world where the interests of these two capitalist powers collide. One Big Reason Markets are Plunging: China's Threat to the Dollar is Real by PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS From Counterpunch [10 August 2007] – shortened Twenty-four hours after I reported China’s announcement that China, not the Federal Reserve, controls US interest rates by its decision to purchase, hold, or dump US Treasury bonds, the news of the announcement appeared in sanitized and unthreatening form in a few US news sources. The Washington Post found an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin to provide reassurances that it was “not really a credible threat” that China would intervene in currency or bond markets in any way that could hurt the dollar’s value or raise US interest rates, because China would hurt its own pocketbook by such actions. US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, just back from Beijing, where he gave China orders to raise the value of the Chinese yuan ‘without delay,” dismissed the Chinese announcement as “frankly absurd.” Both the professor and the Treasury Secretary are greatly mistaken. First, understand that the announcement was not made by a minister or vice minister of the government. The Chinese government is inclined to have important announcements come from research organizations that work closely with the government. This announcement came from two such organizations. A high official of the Development Research Center, an organization with cabinet rank, let it be known that US financial stability was too dependent on China’s financing of US red ink for the US to be giving China orders. An official at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences pointed out that the reserve currency status of the US dollar was dependent on China’s good will as America’s lender. What the two officials said is completely true. It is something that some of us have known for a long time. What is different is that China publicly called attention to Washington’s dependence on China’s good will. By doing so, China signaled that it was not going to be bullied or pushed around. The Chinese made no threats. To the contrary, one of the officials said, “China doesn’t want any undesirable phenomenon in the global financial order.” The Chinese message is different. The message is that Washington does not have hegemony over Chinese policy, and if matters go from push to shove, Washington can expect financial turmoil. Paulson can talk tough, but the Treasury has no foreign currencies with which to redeem its debt. The way the Treasury pays off the bonds that come due is by selling new bonds, a hard sell in a falling market deserted by the largest buyer. Now let’s examine the University of Wisconsin economist’s opinion that China cannot exercise its power because it would result in losses on its dollar holdings. It is true that if China were to bring any significant percentage of its holdings to market, or even cease to purchase new Treasury issues, the prices of bonds would decline, and China’s remaining holdings would be worth less. The question, however, is whether this is of any consequence to China, and, if it is, whether this cost is greater or lesser than avoiding the cost that Washington is seeking to impose on China. American economists make a mistake in their reasoning when they assume that China needs large reserves of foreign exchange. China does not need foreign exchange reserves for the usual reasons of supporting its currency’s value and paying its trade bills. China does not allow its currency to be traded in currency markets. The other reason is that China does not have foreign trade deficits, and does not need reserves in other currencies with which to pay its bills. Indeed, if China had creditors, the creditors would be pleased to be paid in yuan as the currency is thought to be undervalued. Despite China ’s support of the Treasury bond market, China’s large holdings of dollar-denominated financial instruments have been depreciating for some time as the US dollar declines against other traded currencies, because people and central banks in other countries are either reducing their US dollar holdings or ceasing to add to them. China’s dollar holdings reflect the creditor status China acquired when US corporations offshored their production to China. Reportedly, 70 per cent of the goods on Wal-Mart’s shelves are made in China. China has gained technology and business knowhow from the US firms that have moved their plants to China. China has large coastal cities, choked with economic activity and traffic, that make America’s large cities look like country towns. China has raised about 300 million of its population into higher living standards, and is now focusing on developing a massive internal market some 4 to 5 times more populous than America’s. The notion that China cannot exercise its power without losing its US markets is wrong. American consumers are as dependent on imports of manufactured goods from China as they are on imported oil. In addition, the profits of US brand name companies are dependent on the sale to Americans of the products that they make in China. The US cannot, in retaliation, block the import of goods and services from China without delivering a knock-out punch to US companies and US consumers. China has many markets and can afford to lose the US market easier than the US can afford to lose the American brand names on Wal-Mart’s shelves that are made in China. Indeed, the US is even dependent on China for advanced technology products. Now let’s consider the cost to China of dumping dollars or Treasuries compared to the cost that the US is trying to impose on China. If the latter is higher than the former, it pays China to exercise the “nuclear option” and dump the dollar. The US wants China to revalue the yuan, that is, to make the US dollar value of the yuan higher. Instead of a dollar being worth 8 yuan, for example Washington wants the US dollar to be worth only 5.5 yuan. Washington thinks that this would cause US exports to China to increase, as they would be cheaper for the Chinese, and for Chinese exports to the US to decline, as they would be more expensive. This would end, Washington thinks, the large trade deficit that the US has with China. This way of thinking dates from pre-offshoring days. In former times, domestic and foreign-owned companies would compete for one another’s markets, and a country with a lower valued currency might gain an advantage. Today, however, about half of the so-called US imports from China are the offshored production of US companies for their American markets. The US companies produce in China, not because of the exchange rate, but because labor, regulatory, and harassment costs are so much lower in China. Moreover, many US firms have simply moved to China, and the cost of abandoning their new Chinese facilities and moving production back to the US would be very high. When all these costs are considered, it is unclear how much China would have to revalue its currency in order to cancel its cost advantages and cause US firms to move enough of their production back to America to close the trade gap. To understand the shortcomings of the statements by the Wisconsin professor and Treasury Secretary Paulson, consider that if China were to increase the value of the yuan by 30 percent, the value of China’s dollar holdings would decline by 30 percent. It would have the same effect on China’s pocketbook as dumping dollars and Treasuries in the markets. Consider also, that as revaluation causes the yuan to move up in relation to the dollar (the reserve currency), it also causes the yuan to move up against every other traded currency. Thus, the Chinese cannot revalue as Paulson has ordered without making Chinese goods more expensive not merely to Americans but everywhere. Compare this result with China dumping dollars. With the yuan pegged to the US dollar, China can dump dollars without altering the exchange rate between the yuan and the dollar. As the dollar falls, the yuan falls with it. Goods and services produced in China do not become more expensive to Americans, and they become cheaper elsewhere. By dumping dollars, China expands its entry into other markets and accumulates more foreign currencies from trade surpluses. Now consider the non-financial costs to China’s self-image and rising prestige of permitting the US government to set the value of its currency. America’s problems are of its own making, not China’s. A rising power such as China is likely to prove a reluctant scapegoat for America’s decades of abuse of its reserve currency status.