Report on the ICC Public Forum in Manchester, 10/2/07

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The topic for discussion was “The working class is a class of immigrants” and the presentation was along the lines of the lead article from the Dec/Jan 2007 issue of World Revolution.

Present were three members of the ICC, two of our sympathisers and a member of the Anarchist Federation (AF).

The early part of the discussion took up the question of religion and its effects on the working class. The AF member asked how can we get through the religion barrier when discussing with fellow workers who don’t see themselves as working class? To this we replied that millions of workers belong to every religion – but when they participate in class struggles they can begin to find rediscover their class identity. The state encourages religious identities, but class struggles tend to integrate diverse sets of workers. Also, we emphasised the point that workers have different identities, not just racial or religious: in the workplace conditions define identity. When talking with workers it’s not best to start on the topic of religion, because once it gets to stage of ‘well, god said this or that’ the discussion is over. It’s best to focus on the political questions before us.

The AF member said there has been no criticism of Islam in history, unlike Christianity, and that the political organisations of the working class don’t know how to deal with issue. One of our sympathisers said that this is probably because Christianity predominates in west, but we have a whole history of workers’ struggles to refer to. She felt that it’s important to come to forums such as this because issues have to be discussed. We replied that the main issue is how the State is using religion to divide the working. Our comrade had several religious colleagues in previous jobs, but they were also were very militant about defending workers. One result of the current campaign on the threat of terrorism from Islamic fundamentalists is to ‘ghettoise’ Muslims – to push them be separate – and this is reinforced by leftists and Muslims themselves.

We also referred to another aspect of the current debate on religion: the question of faith schools being part of Labour’s official policy. Again, this is another false debate. Also, there are ‘economic benefits’ for British capitalism from many Eastern European workers coming here, and there are racist campaigns to try to divide the working class. However, we can see response of workers with the examples of struggles at Gate Gourmet, the power station in Cottam, Lincolnshire and in the local government sector, where workers showed solidarity with those from different religious and ethnic backgrounds. Another ICC member pointed to how in 19th century the British bourgeoisie had used workers from Ireland to undercut workers in Britain. Today, the workers from East Europeans are mostly employed by agencies, making them cheaper, which leads to resentment from workers in Britain The state knows this and of the need to create divisions.

The discussion then moved on. One of our sympathisers wondered about whole campaign of the ‘war on terrorism’. Previously the main threat was IRA, now it is supposed to be from Muslim extremists. Iraq was supposed to be a secular country, but the war there has sparked a civil war between different religious groups. We replied by referring to the mass strikes in Poland in 1980, which showed the workers’ response to the threat of war. Despite the weight of religion and nationalism on the workers in Poland they carried out the most massive struggle since WW2. This shows that religion itself doesn’t stop workers going on strike.

On the question of imperialist war we replied that the US and Britain are also killing Muslims in middle east. The war propaganda tends to reinforce separate identities, which is an obstacle to the development of workers’ self confidence. Islamophobia is actively connected to Britain’s military involvement in middle east, which makes it a target for terrorism, for example the 7/7 attacks in London. The massive anti-racism campaign is a counterpart to state engaging in imperialist war. The perspective offered by capitalism is generalised chaos and war – and for the time being the working class is unable to put forward its answer – revolution.

One of our sympathisers asked the AF member ‘What’s the anarchist perspective’? What’s the way forward? Does the working class have to come together? What about political organisations?’ He replied that the AF don’t support national liberation, they try to help refugees, campaign against ID cards, try to help the working class with their struggles. He said that some of the AF had joined the IWW and made it clear that they don’t put faith in politicians or trade unions. The working class has to emancipate itself. As for political organisation, they don’t believe in a professional vanguard and there will be debates about how to organise in future. Finally, he asked for our view on unions. We gave a brief explanation of our position and referred to our pamphlet on the unions on our website.

Finally, the discussion moved on to the perspectives for the future. We recalled that the first Gulf War had taken place in the wake of collapse of Eastern bloc in 1989, which made the US keen to reaffirm its world leadership. Now, after the second Gulf War, the US is in an unprecedented situation of crisis, with its leadership in tatters. The US has explicitly said that it wants to maintain its dominant position as the sole superpower and that no one will be allowed to challenge it. However, it needs an ideology to maintain the war effort – hence the ‘war on terror’. The other major powers have to respond to this to defend their interests, and the US is pushed to use its military might to deter it rivals from going too far. So, there is a cycle, a in-built dynamic towards more war and confrontation. Britain is historically an important player in the middle east, but is very much the ‘junior’ partner with the US. Today terrorism is increasingly used as weapon in imperialist war.

The AF member asked if we could see a time when the US abandons Israel and transfers to Iraq. We replied that this was highly unlikely. Israel has strong historic links with the US and is the most powerful country in region: it plays the role of the US’ policeman. We also stressed how financially damaging the current war in Iraq is for the US. Under the pretext of the ‘war on terror’ the US has been able to wage war, but there has been no question of economic gain: the primary aim is strategic, to gain influence on borders of Russia. It was no accident that Iraq and Afghanistan chosen as targets for invasion. The middle east is on the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Some think that the US bourgeoisie operates on behalf of multinationals, but this is not true. Massive costs are being imposed on workers in the US, in physical and economic terms. One of our sympathisers remembered that when she first met the ICC was on a ‘stop the war’ demo and had bought a copy of World Revolution. She hadn’t thought in terms of ‘strategies’ but historically the US has sought to encircle its enemies. Finally, we pointed out hat it was the CIA that had installed Saddam in Iraq during the 1980s. The result of war is spiral of chaos and decomposition. Things are getting so bad that some parts of the US ruling class want to get out of Iraq (Iraq Study Group).

In the conclusion, we said that this had been good meeting. The discussion had taken up several questions – religion, British imperialism, why the USA is in Iraq. The campaigns of the leftists – ‘anti-war’, pro-Hizbollah – aim to increase feelings of anti-Americanism. The perspective today is for the working class to develop its struggles, but in the difficult context of deepening war and chaos. Nevertheless, the working class is everywhere exploited by capitalism – it shares this common feature in all countries. Political debate is lifeblood of the working class.

WR, 18/2/07.

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