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Volume 47 Number 3, February 25, 2017 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

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North East Political Forum on the Future of Society

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The North East Political Forum on the Future of Society was held at the Miners Hall, Redhills, Durham, on January 28.

Redhills itself is significant venue for the miners as well as for the working class and people for the whole of the north-east. It was built in 1915 by the Durham Miners Association which was originally set up in 1869. It has played an important role for the miners and their struggles over the years but it continues now to play a very important role in the community, for instance in the recent struggle of the Durham Teaching Assistants. This shows the important role it still plays in the struggles of the working class. Davey Hopper, who was the General Secretary of the Durham Miners Association till his tragic death last year after one of the most successful Durham Miners Galas in history, made sure that Redhills was put in the service of the workers' movement both locally and nationally.

RCPB(ML) considers it timely to be holding this series of Political Forums not only because of the degree of the assault on society and on the people's movements, but also because of the opposition to these assaults, the great resistance struggles of the people. It is very necessary to work for a change in the direction of society and the economy. One of the crucial things about the Forums is that they represent the New, they represent something in opposition to the Old, represent something that is coming out of the independent thinking and development of the working class movement and the people's forces.

There is the necessity for the people themselves to look to a situation where they are the decision-makers in society, and not always having to put pressure on some other force, but to develop the independence from the capitalist status quo. The question of who decides therefore is also on the agenda, who makes the decisions, who is in control, is one of the foremost questions. Looking at things in this way, it can be seen that the struggle is not simply one of reversing this history of the assaults on the people, the anti-social offensive as a whole, but is actually one of fighting to safeguard the future of society, that it is ordinary working people who are going to determine that future. The Political Forums are a form for developing the discussion, developing coherence in the independent people's movements themselves. Our aim is to join together to affirm the necessity for change, change which empowers the people to gain control over their lives and their work, and to establish that kind of future, that kind of society which is fit for human beings, in which their well-being is the highest concern of all.

Four papers were presented at the North East Political Forum in three sessions, each followed by serious discussion.

The first session was devoted to the subject of "Claims on society", and two papers were given. The first was titled The Battle for a New Direction in Health Care.

The speaker pointed out that every aspect of society which is for the public good, or that has generally served the well-being of the people is being systematically wrecked by successive governments. Social programmes are being singled out for sabotage and wrecking in pursuit of denying the claims of people. The health and well-being needs are being attacked in favour of directly serving the demands and interests of the rich and this wrecking activity of what is for public good is most openly reflected in the accelerated drive to privatise the NHS.

The paper reviewed the present neo-liberal direction that the ruling elite are trying to impose, and detailed the arrangements that had developed since the founding of the NHS in 1948. Even in 1948 the conception of the NHS was never fully recognised as a right of all human beings. Society requires modern arrangements empowering the whole population to chart a new direction for society and its economy where health and social care is a right.

Concentrating on questions that are fundamental to this new direction, the speaker said that the first is that health care is a right. The second is how is this right is to be guaranteed by the society and its economy. The speaker went on to detail how these issues had been raised in the Save South Tyneside Hospital Campaign. He described how the campaign had affirmed the right to health care and put that in the forefront of their programmes. The campaign had asserted that the alternative direction for the health service must be based on the right to health care being guaranteed so that the people's claim is satisfied.

A strong economy is only possible if those that live and work in the society and the economy have their needs fully satisfied including health care for themselves and their families. It must be discussed, said the speaker, how a modern health service should be funded and the claims of the people met. The paper elaborated in some detail how the consumers of the value worked up in a healthy workforce - that is, primarily the big companies in the social economy - should pay for this value, rather than the issue being one of either raising taxation or demanding that the health service make savings by various means. At the same time, the completely bogus internal market in health care with its purchaser/provider split should be ended.

Instead, what we are witnessing at this time, the speaker said, is the contraction of the public sector, expansion of the claim of the owners of enterprises in exchange for the use of their social property and other wealth and the reduction of the claim on the added value of the workers available for the NHS and social programmes. The necessity of the times, he concluded, is to deprive the ruling elite of the power to deprive us of power and take the road of democratic renewal and bring the working class and people to political power and a new future for society.

The contribution from the Co-ordinator of the SSTHC is published separately in this Workers' Weekly Internet Edition.

In the discussion which followed, the issue of the necessity to fund the NHS and how to do so was further developed. It is common knowledge that there is a lack of resources in the health service, as well as in social care. What was emphasised in the discussion is that the value in society is created at the work place and that health workers teachers and other public service workers add value.

The issue of the effect and the aims of the STPs were also elaborated. The resistance to these aims and effects is often in terms of the painstaking work locally, as well as nationally, Campaigners and concerned people regularly attend Clinical Commissioning Group board meetings, the major provider acute Trust board meetings, and also the overview and scrutiny committees and the Health and Wellbeing Board which is joint between the council and health. This is putting blocks in the way of the attempt by the government to roll out these disastrous programmes in the face of the myths that are propagated. This influences CCG and council decisions not to sign up to the STP on the basis of quite in-depth work. Among the implications of STPs are the ending of night surgery, the closure and downgrading of A&Es, and other assaults on the provision of health care under the cloak of improving efficiency or concentrating specialist services, thereby obscuring the concrete reality.

The issue of that education is a right was also touched on. Social programmes massively add value to the social economy, but capital-centred ideology is insisting that these services are on the contrary a drain on the economy. The sphere of education is quite similar to that of health and social care, in that the workers and professionals are the ones who are intimately concerned with their direction and care about their future, but are deprived of the crucial participation of being the decision-makers and indeed see the good work they have achieved being ignored and actually undone. In opposition, the people as a whole have to set an aim for society and fight for it, defending the rights of all.

After lunch, a presentation was given For an Anti-War Government.

The speaker pointed out that the anti-war movement in the North East has stood a number of candidates in General Elections on the basis of fighting for an anti-war government in Britain, including in 2005 and 2010 in South Shields against the then Foreign Secretary David Miliband. At the beginning of last year the Stop the War movement in Newcastle rightly concluded at their AGM: "We face an even more dangerous situation in which the only solution coming from the warmongers at the head of the Anglo-US world is to step up their war on terror, and their rivalry with the other big powers in the world. The danger of even greater crimes against the people looms large." They said: "We must redouble our efforts to bring about an anti-war government in Britain."

Not only is that still the case but the dangers have become even more marked and the world more unpredictable at the hands of the warmongers at the head of the so-called western democracies. Any idea that the US post-Trump, or NATO, or the EU of the monopolies, or Britain's ruling elite post-Brexit represent any less of a threat to world peace must be countered.

Firstly, it is the Anglo-US imperialists' efforts to decide the future of countries and their peoples, so as to serve their own empire-building, whether in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Haiti, Cuba, DPRK or any other country, which is precisely what has resulted in the most heinous and gross violations of human rights of the peoples of the world.

Secondly, under Obama we have seen the peoples of the US and the world saddled with a US government of unfettered police powers, the use of military forces in the form of police shootings of citizens in the US, violating the sovereignty of whole countries with extra-judicial killings by drone warfare and military intervention and bombing abroad especially in West Asia and Africa. This shows that the old forms given rise to in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries no longer function to deceive the people that the ruling elite are legitimate. And this enforcing of police powers is taking place internationally.

The task that presents itself for the working class and democratic people in Britain is that the anti-war movement must consciously take up the work and build the movement to bring about an anti-war government in Britain. That is why it is so crucial that the movement aims its blow against the British government, which is a pro-war government. It is vital for the people to bring all their organised forces to bear to settle scores with our own warmongers in Britain.

To end the cycle of the ruling elite moving from one war project to another and to bring about an anti-war government does not simply mean replacing one political party with another in government. Rather it is bringing about a government that stands against the permanent war economy and the war government that serves it. It is one that addresses the problem of how to have the anti-war stand of the majority implemented on a permanent basis so its citizens are not constantly being lined up for one military adventure after another with the government using one excuse after another. It is about bringing about the social forms and electoral process needed for this direction. It is about putting forward the features of a new constitution where government is constituted on an anti-war basis. It is about a society that defends the rights of all and is constituted on that basis recognising the rights of all people and harmonising their interests peacefully instead of the present state that deliberately organises for division and even violent attacks on the people. It is about changing the direction of the economy so that instead of a parasitic economy based on money lending, finance capital and war industries we have a new economy based on meeting the needs of the interests of the people.

The movement must be built on the outlook of settling scores with the warmongering of those in power in Britain. This is a major contribution that the working class and people can make to averting further catastrophes and securing peace and stability in Britain and the world.

In the following discussion on the topic of building the movement for an anti-war government, several important questions were dealt with. The consistency of building the movement was emphasised, with discussion and analysis, deciding on the direction of the movement, empowering participants to make decisions, and discussing crucial conceptions like that of sovereignty. The anti-war movement is not just a pressure group. Rather the crucial work is organising, empowering people to take the initiative in themselves in setting the agenda and making decisions, and take action with the orientation of realising a new form of governance. It is a salient point that we do not have the right to determine the future of other nations, but must defend their right to determine their own futures. The movement must settle scores with our own government, and block them from interfering in the rest of the world. These conclusions are based on our own experience, our own thinking.

The final paper was titled Democratic Renewal and the Question of What Kind of Party?

The speaker pointed out that over the past few years, particularly since the 2010 General Election, the crisis of the party-dominated system of representative democracy has deepened considerably.

In this context, the paper delineated the history of the development of political parties, which has culminated in the cartel-party system, and even an assault on the very conception of a political party. The paper spoke of this cartel-party system, under which a set of big parties monopolise the political process and guard the gates to political power. They have a mutual interest in maintaining the status quo and collude to dominate the political process while viciously competing to come to power themselves. While the mass parties linked the state to the polity, the cartel parties have become divorced from the polity as essential parts of the state itself, the managers of the affairs of state, and have the finance, media backing and privileged status to almost entirely set the political agenda and terms of debate around a consensus from which it is very difficult to break. This consensus is the outlook of neoliberalism, an ideological standpoint that serves the interests of the most powerful monopolies. However, the cartel-party system is now itself in decay. The power of prediction is diminishing; polls have ceased to be reliable predictors and are now used more as another tool to manipulate the electorate.

Within this situation, the questions of democratic renewal and of "What kind of party?" are starting to take centre-stage. There is an emerging consciousness of the people themselves to be masters of the affairs of state in a human-centred society. The question also arises as to what kind of party is needed for the working class and broad masses of people to assist it in actually ending its state of disempowerment and being able to set the agenda in their interests. A new type of party has to be consistent, not with a form of democracy, representative democracy, that is out of step with the times, but with the struggle to bring into being a new form of democracy in which sovereignty lies with the people.

After this presentation, there followed a lengthy discussion in which the conceptions raised were questioned and examined. It was emphasised that we need to develop the forms which meet the needs of our times, not seeing the old forms as written in stone. One could speak about winning the battle of democracy. How can the mechanism be organised, the arrangements so that the people are the decision makers. It could be considered that the discussions which were taking place at the Political Forum with everyone's participation could be considered a form of mass democracy. Our optimism comes from the fact that the sentiment of the people is for democracy, for the people to be the decision makers, for the people themselves to be in control of society. The issue is a modern way of running society so that it favours the peoples' interests.

There was a feeling, it was said, that we are on the brink of something really exciting: a future society where people are liberated to be articulate about what they know and to contribute, therefore, to the forming of a new society based on rights for all, based on a common conception of the way forward and the type of society we want, the birth of the New.

It was assessed that the big victory of this and other Political Forums is the potential which they are exhibiting in developing a social consciousness which activates us as human beings to change the world, to change the direction of society.


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