CWO Public Meeting in Manchester

On January 23 2009 the CWO held its first public meeting in Manchester for some years as a result of requests from local readers. The text which follows was given as the introduction to the meeting. Its basic framework was broadly accepted by the meeting, despite the apparent attendance of sympathisers and members of a number of different currents (including the Anarchist Federation, the International Communist Current (ICC), the Commune, and members of the Midlands Discussion Forum (MDF), as well as individual libertarian and left communists).

Given this measure of agreement most of the subsequent discussion focussed on the significant features of the recent struggles at Visteon, in Royal Mail (where a former postman who is a member of the ICC gave some interesting insights into previous union manoeuvres against the development of a real struggle) and the Lindsay Oil refinery dispute. Indeed there was such close agreement on this theme that we did the “summing up” long before the end in order that the discussion could move on to focus on the prospects for the coming period of struggle.

Here none of us had a crystal ball but there seemed to be general agreement that the biggest problem currently is that the class as a whole has not yet responded to the austerity measures so far enacted against us following the collapse of the speculative bubble of the last few years. Speakers from the MDF reported how many workers they were in contact with thought that if they accepted sacrifices capitalism would stabilise and their living conditions would improve, while workers who had made redundant tended to look for individual solutions. In this context though there was a general agreement that it will be easy for unions to once again present themselves as “militant” in order to contain the struggle within lines acceptable to capital.

The idea that most workers were no longer in unions and that therefore would be able to mount a more tenacious resistance was not generally accepted since what we are also faced with is a much more fragmented working class than in the past. Helped by an unprecedented control of the media which today enters everyone’s homes the ruling class have been hugely successful in getting workers to think of themselves as individual citizens rather than the collective exploited class. The one certainty is that the capitalists have survived this period of crisis largely because workers have taken the brunt of the pain without a widespread collective fight. This remains the most important and essential condition for any transformation in consciousness.

The meeting was very heartening for us mainly because it was dominated by a sense of seriousness in confronting the real problems of the working class today and idle polemical exchanges were absent. All the participants were looking for class solidarity and concrete action. On this we proposed once again the need to establish groups of workers to maintain the gains of one struggle into the next. These would not be exclusively made of communists but would include those who saw that any advance for the working class in its fight against the cuts and austerity of the immediate future would have to also take on the union attempts to maintain the struggle on grounds acceptable to capital. These groups would not necessarily be found only in workplaces (factory groups as we used to call them) but also in communities (territorial groups) which are also under attack. Whatever the precise nature of these groups they would be linked to the political organisation which would have to work to maintain them and to try to unite workers not only within nations but more critically across nations since the capitalist attacks are international and affect all workers.

Support for this was voiced from the floor with and some speakers welcoming the idea as proposing something positive; whereas a criticism of the unions, which was easy to make, was simply negative and did not offer a way forward. We were asked if we would accept those who belonged to different political tendencies in ICT factory groups. We said that we would if the individuals concerned unequivocally recognised the nature of the unions today and had no reformist illusions. Since we had worked with others in other groups before, as in the Sheffield “No War but the Class War” it was not a problem but at the moment we were the only ones advocating them as an essential link between the political organisation of the class and the class as a whole.

We had begun the meeting by thanking the ICC for generously postponing their own meeting set for the same day and gave them space at the end to advertise their next meetings. It was also announced at the end of the meeting that a Manchester discussion group was also being set up (details to be found at ).

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