TALK TO ALGIERS CONFERENCE OF POI
This brief presentation was given to the Algiers Conference of the Parti Ouvrier Independent in November 2010. I did not post it earlier on account of the rash predictions it contained. However now with time past and political changes in process, some of its contents I believe to still have value; in particular I draw attention to the two final comments on future socialism. Hence I now add it to my site. (The photo above shows the platform at the conference; the photo below conference members between sessions.)
Peter Collier from London, England.
For the past 20 years active in the Co-operative sector.
There was just this week a student demonstration in London and 3 weeks ago, another. I am not up to date on this week’s having already arrived in Algeria. But the first numbered 50,000 gathered to protest against the cuts in education and the escalating fees, that result from the free market ideology. (The word ideology is correctly used.)
It was a major disturbance and many university teachers supported the students. Even the police, also the victims of cuts, scarcely seemed willing to defend the tory party headquarters.
These demonstrations are the first such events for some time, though on the industrial front trade unions have maintained a level of strike activity. But at the core the trade unions and the TUC are in the control of the Labour Party and in this way they are an obstacle to progress. As a result in general the UK has been much quieter than France in recent years.
I do not think this quiet will last. There will be more demonstrations with more serious consequences. The savagery of the Thatcher government is returning with this tory-led coalition, and it will meet with a response from a severely distressed population.
I am 68 and cannot speak for today’s students. But what I know is that systematic flaws in university education first appeared more than 40 years ago when I graduated in 1964. These flaws have never been resolved, and, with a much larger student population, unrest was inevitable.
Today in the UK cuts are everywhere. Redundancies and sackings. Salary and wage reductions. Benefit reductions. My pension has been cut by £30 per week, say 25%. Unemployment is much higher than official figures say. All these cuts will cause widespread unrest.
I believe now the time has come at last when the power of the right – of the right-wing elite, of the financial elite, of the tiny financial elite – can be challenged and then broken.
For the financial crisis is throwing governments into chaos. This was their intention. But it will backfire. Look at what has happened. The constitution of the USA is widely considered to be obsolete. The British government is on the point of breakdown. The Lib Dems in the coalition have betrayed explicit election pledges on student fees.
With a split in the coalition, the tories will split. Then Labour will split. I believe this is now inevitable; and desirable. Labour is no use now to unions or anyone else. These changes create opportunities. How can we take advantage of them?
My central proposal is to keep campaigns wide open; to build movements that are open; to build and consolidate networks. In the UK we have got to change the closed elite world of the established political parties.
We can generate pressure through movements and networks. But to do so one thing is essential: high quality information.
In the UK the right control the press. They do so because they know that information is power. So if we can use our movements and networks to gather, analyse and publish information, we can build up a position of strength.
And on this basis one can have a campaign of criticism – criticism of every aspect of the British elite:
Universities structured by free market fees.
The wreckage, no not wreckage just extreme distortion, of a legal system.
Parliament producing laws that are rubbish.
A wreckage of a national health service.
The extensive secrecy of the banking system and the multi-nationals.
And with this last point I reach my conclusion. With information you can break down secrecy and that is the key to change.
But I should like to add a quick postscript. Campaigns are the first stage. Further stages are necessary to create a new socialism. Two points. The socialism of the future will be pluralist. We know all about Marx and the dictatorship of the proletariat. That is finished. In future socialism must be pluralist.
Secondly policy – we need workers directors. This is something that has been mooted on occasion in the past. We need to look into this policy again.