Why communists should be involved in trades councils

by Anton Johnson

CAPITALISM is being exposed for what it is today. For the first time in recent history we now have large numbers of people in the UK going hungry, hence the sudden rise of “food banks” run by churches, which are set to expand their services with support from local authorities in 2013.

Yet the general populace does not seem to have taken on board the scale of calamity hitting ordinary people. A recent work journey required me to walk through the new Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, east London and consumerism appeared alive and well with the centre packed on a Wednesday afternoon with people with shopping bags buying things they probably do not need and cannot afford but all in the name of consumerism to keep the system afloat — but it is not.

The TUC has called a national demonstration against austerity for 20th October and this provides an opportunity to talk to people in our communities, estates and workplaces about what is happening.

This is important as things are now worse than the first TUC demonstration in March 2011. The main thrust of getting the message out in the communities for 20th October will fall on local trades councils. Trades councils are the face of the trade union movement in the local communities and of late there has been a recognition of their importance and with it a revival.

As communists we can go further and present a clear alternative to a system that is causing misery and fear. Capitalism cannot have a more humane nature. It is about competition and people at the top of the food chain surviving at the expense of others.

But there is an alternative and that is communism. In a few weeks many will be marking the anniversary of the Great October Revolution in 1917, which gave a brief glimpse to the world of an alternative to capitalism, not just on economics but on a social front too by challenging bourgeois morality, organised religion and family structures — giving a taste of what real freedom is.

It’s worth remembering there were other revolutions and attempts to set up alternatives in both Bavaria and Hungary in 1919, both destroyed by private armies of the rich and aristocracy along with foreign intervention in the case of Hungary. Though even in the brief existence of the Soviet governments in Bavaria and Hungary, quite radical approaches were adopted in an attempt to solve the immediate problems, for example the Bavarian government confiscated homes of the rich in Munich to house the growing homeless in the capital.

Trades councils are for local union activists to come together and link into their communities, they should be for and operating at the grassroots level, not a talking shop or forum for full-time officers or branch secretaries trying to duplicate the work of higher regional trade union structures.

As communists we should be active in our unions. Supporters of the New Worker and the New Communist Party operate within the labour movement both in trade unions and recognising the importance of the Labour Party at this time as a tool and campaigning for Labour in elections. Many readers and supporters of the New Worker are active members of the Labour Party. Communists, as grassroots activists, should be active in their local trades councils as in other areas of the labour movement in order to be able to communicate and remind people that there is an alternative.

This is obviously a gradual process as many are not open to such radical change and less likely to be in a current air of fear and insecurity. It will be a long job and, unlike some on the left, we believe the British public is not set for revolution tomorrow. Far from it, but just by simple signposting in discussions and debates can get people thinking.

The New Worker is a tool for this as it is a paper within the movement and as part of the Labour Representation Committee, which many trades councils are affiliated to, so it can be available in trades councils meetings and on trades council stalls along with other related materials. Theo Russell speaking at the Harlow trades council’s recent public meeting, on behalf of the New Communist Party, is a good example.

The Morning Star is a vital tool, but as a daily paper of the broad Labour Movement it cannot be so focused on an alternative to capitalism for obvious reasons. The Morning Star and has a different valuable role but the New Worker, as a communist paper within the movement, can be used as an introduction to a radical and bolder alternative that plans for needs and the good of all, as opposed to a system that has no reason and runs at the expense of people and our planet.

Therefore involvement in trades councils is a good opportunity to inject the message of a clear alternative into communities and so for that reason it is important that members of the New Communist Party and other communists are active in trades councils as in other parts of the movement.

Anton Johnson writes in a personal capacity and is the Chair of Lambeth Trades Union Council.