Reading the discussion on the campaign for a higher minimum wage in the US makes one want to weep. Sadly, the lack of an effective discussion on what the CWI / Militant did right and wrong in their practical work in 1970s, 80s and early 90s, means that the CWI are in danger of repeating the same old pattern of sectarian mistakes. The lack of a critical evaluation of the CWI’s successes and mistakes in the the trade union Broad Left Organising Campaign (BLOC), the campaign against expulsions in the Labour Party, the Youth Rights Campaign, and the anti-Poll Tax Federation means that the US comrades are going into the struggle blindfolded.
For example, it is crucial that the CWI comrades don’t approach the minimum wage campaign by trying to create it as as an unofficial extension of the Socialist Alternative - with a democratic façade masking tight organisational control from behind. If this campaign is to become anything worthwhile it has to take on a genuinely democratic and independent life of its own. Of course, this doesn’t mean that it becomes a home for a motley gathering of the socialist sectarians but a real organization of working people. Here the CWI comrades need to be creative and find a way to fashion an open and accountable campaign made up representatives of working people’s organizations in Seattle, and a broader one for the US as a whole.
To this end it is not a small mistake to run the campaign from the same offices as the SA. This is highly symbolic of the mentality of the CWI leadership in its approach to the 15 Now campaign. For one thing it implies that the 15 Now campaign will be run by the full-time SA comrades. This was the same mistake made in the BLOC, the YRC, the Poll Tax campaign and so on. An inevitable consequence of running the campaign from the same offices as the SA is that it will feel both to the SA comrades and and to anyone outside the SA that the 15 Now campaign is a front for the SA and not a genuine living breathing organisation in its own right. It will also make it very difficult for the campaign to attract significant independent and worthwhile people into the leadership of the campaign if it is run from the SA offices.
One of the crucial mistakes in the Militant’s big public campaigns in the 1980s was that the leadership of them was overwhelmingly made up of Militant comrades with the odd tame sympathizer thrown in to broaden the image. This fooled nobody and prevented the campaigns reaching out to a broader audience and taking on real momentum. It is very important that the leadership of the 15 Now campaign involves a variety of political views and this will be an acid test of whether it is going to be a repeat of the short-sighted sectarian model of the past or something more promising.
Equally important is that the SA comrades create a democratic internal structure to determine the course of the campaign. It is vital that the campaign is run by the comrades actually doing the work in the mass movement not the full-timers and those political leaders who are not doing mass work. Granted that the US is a big country but the modern methods of online communication make communication and co-ordination relatively easy so there is no reason why the rank and file comrades doing the mass work can’t be fully involved in discussing and deciding on the work. In the better of our trade union caucuses in Britain this is how the work was run but sadly this was not at all how our big public campaigns operated.
Another important question is the issue of propaganda. In the anti-poll tax campaign Militant made the mistake of not publishing an anti-poll tax paper which could have reached the millions of non-payers and brought their consciousness forward from where it was. Indeed, a resolution to publish such a paper was carried at a anti-poll tax conference. But it was not carried out because short-sighted national full-timers argued that we should be selling the Militant instead.
Fortunately we are now in a different era of communications and hopefully the 15 Now web and Facebook pages will provide access to a much broader range of people and allow their consciousness to naturally grow with the development of the campaign. But along with this is the ability of ordinary people to communicate and their democratic participation or lack of it will become apparent in ways that we didn’t see in the past.
Another important issue is that the comrades in the campaign have to be thinking creatively of how to deepen the 15 Now campaign into something broader and more permanent. Otherwise, once the campaign is won or lost there is a danger that it will be just be closed down with nothing much left behind in the classic marching them up the hill and then down again style of the sectarian left. This was another mistake made in the anti-Poll Tax campaign which rather than being shut down could have been turned into a permanent campaign for fair taxation with all the explosive issues that such an issue involves. Instead, into the vacuum came a right-wing taxation pressure group which makes the running in the British media every time there is a budget etc. Meanwhile an independent campaign called UK Uncut developed to fight tax evasion by the rich.
The key problem is that the mindset of the CWI’s international leadership has always been the obsessive need to keep control of movements that they initiate. But you can’t build successful mass movements in this way which is what working people desperately need. Far better to be an important influence in a big and broad movement than the dominant leadership of a narrow front organization. And ironically, it is the best way to win more members and support for the long term.