As regular readers should know, while this blog maintains a pro-community, pro-independence and internationalist outlook, we hold no monopoly on the truth and are happy to give credit elsewhere for ideas that would advance Scotland and its myriad of communities. For that reason, we have quoted many sources, including the staunchly unionist Hootsmon and Torygraph. But looking back over the year, it is obvious that, while the occasional mention has been made of the Record, one glaring omission has been of the far left and its mouthpieces like the Socialist Worker. But no more.
The title of this piece is the headline from the December 10th edition that celebrates the November 30th strike during which “public sector workers fought back to stop a vicious assault on their pensions”. Fair enough. Seen from a worker’s perspective, working longer and paying more to receive less in pension is hardly a sweet deal. The enforced austerity that the UK government claim makes it necessary is hardly eased by Chancellor Osborne realising he needs to borrow an extra £60bn, nor by Cameron “going nuclear” in Europe and wielding his veto in an “us-against-the-world” showdown.
Socialism is a great idea. If it didn’t have to rely on human beings to operate it, it might be seen as the highest of civilising ideals. Having seen its actual operation in Russia, Cuba, Italy, Greece, (I discount the Stalinist betrayal throughout Comecon countries) Mozambique, Vietnam and now China, its qualifications as an ideal look decidedly tarnished. So, how does the Socialist Worker see it working in Scotland/UK? How will the lot of the downtrodden masses be bettered? I have no quibble with there being downtrodden masses when social disparities are as wide as they are and Fred the Shred and his ilk stuff their pockets before being chauffeured away unbowed and unpunished.
Examining the SW’s 16 pages you are struck by a tone of belligerence as an answer to each and every problem. If the paper were renamed the Striker’s Weekly, it would be a more accurate description of its content. There is nothing wrong with ‘streetfighting’ journalism and this blog has long been a fan of Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘gonzo’ variant. But when every page is stuffed with inflammatory prose (“riots”, “scam”, “bias” “chaos” and “sleaze” are in the article heads on a single page) and the solution for every industrial wrong is a strike—”Shut the Sites to Beat the Bosses” takes up one whole page and threatens many of the remaining construction jobs that have not already been lost to the recession—then you wonder where we would all be if everyone followed their lead.
Words like “lackey” and “scab” are emotive and should be used with care so that their (important) meanings are not diluted. A few decades ago “Capitalist lackeys and all their running dogs” was used by China so frequently that it became joke shorthand for blinkered communism. Unions have a proud history; they brought humane conditions and fair rewards to the great majority of workers that once had no-one speaking for them. But, with the laudable exception of page 10’s article Challenging Racism, the rest of the rag would lead us all back into the blind alley of class war and decline that was the 1970’s. Can’t speak for others, but I’m not up for another Thatcher Mark II cold bath to wake us from the economic dwam we got ourselves into then.
It would be simplistic to blame SW and its attitudes for three decades of decline in union membership. And the ‘fat cat’ scandals may, through the ‘Occupy’ movements and unions’ participation in them, motivate a revival in memberships. But the relative prosperity of the nineties and noughties was driven by workers, bosses and even the public sector acting as if they were on the same team, finding ways to get things done, rather than ways to stop things.
Everyone benefitted, even those with no job because there was more money available to provide them with support. It may not be possible everywhere but in East Lothian, the council has borrowed heavily, kept up major infrastructure investment in badly needed affordable housing and achieved staff reductions entirely by natural wastage. This was achieved by unions working in harmony with officials and administration. While not perfect, relations with unions are better than when Labour ran the council in much easier times.
If this issue of the SW’s date was changed to Dec 10th 1977 (i.e. the Winter of Discontent) its stories and attitudes would fit right in. It’s a free country and they can bang the ghost of the class war drum if they like. But, in Scotland, the comprehensive collapse of once-ebullient socialism in the shape of a fractious and unsuccessful SSP vs a one-man-(in-jail)-band and equally unsuccessful Solidarity (Truth in Advertising—where are you when we need you?) should be warning enough to them. However tough the going now, no-one in their right mind who lived through the seventies wants to re-live them.
Reading this issue, I can’t get out of my mind the image of Stan (John Cleese), convening a meeting of the PFJ (People’s Front of Judea) in The Life of Brian: “Bruvvers, let us not be down-‘earted. One total disaster is just the beginning!”