ICP and the Dockers
Following my last report [Dockers 9] and in particular my reference to the dockers decision to bar the ICP from any more of their mass meetings, I have received several requests for further information and background. My first reaction was one of resentment at being 'sidetracked' into what for me was an entirely understandable and perhaps overdue decision on the dockers part.
So far as the ICP are concerned they have now gained their role as 'rejected prophets' - so they can sit on the sidelines and like Cassandra forecast doom and gloom, without really having to take any responsibility for what they have said and done. Some reflection and the realisation that this issue raises other questions has persuaded me to write this piece. In my view it highlights the relationship of communists, revolutionaries or whatever we call ourselves to workers in struggle.
The ICP have been barred from the meetings for an almost ceaseless campaign of vilification and gratuitous insults to the dockers and to named stewards in particular - most especially to self proclaimed 'Stalinist' and Chair of the Dispute Committee - Jimmy Nolan. The ICP and its supporters will be re-admitted to the meetings when the dockers receive an apology and some promise of better behaviour in future. In short the dockers are doing no more than what many of their delegates have found themselves doing round the country and 'knocking [leftist] heads together so that people can actually get on with the business in hand.
Now as I have pointed out in my previous reports, the ICP criticises the dockers and the stewards in particular, from a perspective of Trotskyism. And their rather idiosyncratic version at that. That is they believe that the trade unions today are now organs of the capitalist class in the 'workers movement'. So far one would have to agree with them. But from this conclusion they jump back to 'orthodox' Trotskyism, to continually warn of the 'bureaucracy' [among whom they include the entire docks committee] inevitably scheming to prepare a 'sell-out' or 'betrayal' of the dispute.Their conception is of a trade union movement 'in crisis' - being forced to manoeuvre constantly under pressure from an active and restless 'rank and file' straining at the leash and just waiting to respond to [their] 'revolutionary leadership'. I have in the past tried to show how this is an utterly unrealistic and misleading understanding, but the ICP, blessed with the superior insight of the elect, nevertheless insist on it.
Hence in their view the existing shop stewards and their supporters who form the dockers leadership must be removed as soon as possible and as part of that campaign their every move and public announcement must be discredited. Of course it helps enormously if the favourite 'bete noire ' of Trotskyists - their alter ego - Stalinists, and especially those like Jimmy Nolan, who makes no secret of his politics, can be held personally responsible for 'treachery', 'double dealing' and so on.
I do not think I am being unfair to the ICP since I have attempted on numerous occasions to probe their reasoning and I am satisfied that I am reporting it correctly. The point is of course that it is utterly wrong headed and a completely ideological reading of the dynamics of the situation. What distinguishes the ICP from other 'Left' groups such as the SWP for instance who still believe that trade unions can be pressurised into a 'Left turn', is the ICPs 'principled' refusal to back down, whereas the SWP lacks the courage even to argue for its own understanding.
Which brings me to the point of this piece. If communists [and I do not find anything remotely communist about any of the Trotkyists views on the state, working class organisation or a whole number of questions,] are to be of any USE in a situation such as the dockers find themselves in, if what they say and do is to earn any respect, then it must reflect the reality that the dockers find themselves in. I have in previous reports tried to argue that the world has changed around them and I am not at all sure that what I produce is having any influence at all.
Nevertheless, insulting the dockers leadership who are quite obviously at the limits of their own understanding and trying to grasp this fundamentally changed reality is hardly likely to endear you to them. If in addition what the ICP proposes makes no sense to them, since going all out against the union would only further isolate them. Remember its the dockers who have gone all over this country and addressed over 5000 meetings - if anyone is qualified to judge the mood of the working class in this country, it is the dockers and not the ICP. If in addition you present your argument in such a manner as to brook no opposition and in the process aggravate and insult them - you fail on 3 counts.
1. You have not aided the dockers to come to a better understanding of their own position - but then workers are only capable of a trade union consciousness anyway, aren't they ? But they are the ones with houses being repossessed, and contemplating an old age with no pension which some have paid into for nearly 40 years in some cases
2. Your intervention throws them back on to the 'certainties' of the old movement. Certainties we have been trying to argue which no longer hold.
3. In order to sustain your analysis and make it fit the facts, you are obliged to distort and misrepresent what is actually going on.
I should like to illustrate this last with a concrete example - in the latest leaflet the ICP have put out [and which is also reprinted in their newspaper, The International Worker no 219 ] the ICP gives a detailed summary of the events which led up to the second international congress which the dockers have just held in Liverpool [which in my opinion was not a success]. The ICP is as ever concerned to paint a picture of a 'bureaucracy in crisis' but they actually manage to slander the dockers as well, saying,
'they have portrayed themselves as 'rank and filers', with the best interests of the dockers at heart, but who are also loyal to the union. In fact their loyalty is solely to the union bureaucracy of which they themselves are a part.'
Their proof for this assertion [for that is all it is] is a direct quote from Mike Carden,
'Look at this patform. Jimmy Davies is on the National Executive of the TGWU Docks and Waterways Committee. Bobby Moreton is responsible for 130 000 TGWU members in the North West. Jimmy Nolan is the Chair of the TGWU National Port Shop Stewards Committee. Terry Teague is an elected shop steward for more than 20 years. I sit on the union's General Council. I'm a big cheese. '
The ICP comment,
'the stewards will do nothing that will endanger their own career in the union .'
Now I was not present when Mike Carden spoke the above words - but I am assured by those who were there, and it fits the character of the man that I know, that this speech was intended to be wholly ironic. The TGWU leadership [and by that I mean the real bureaucracy - full time paid officials, not the lay jobs mentioned above] have made it clear that it intends to strip Nolan, Moreton, Carden and all the others of any and every position they hold in the union.
Since in any deal that the TGWU stitches up with MDHC, there is no way that these workers and the 100 or so who make up the 'hard core' will ever work on the dock again, I am at a total loss to see how the 'bureaucracy' is 'looking after its own.'
There is no crisis of the union bureaucracy - it is alive and well and functioning as normally as it always has. It should be obvious from the ironic and even anguished tone of Mike Carden's speech that the only crisis is in the old 'workers organisation' which so many of these militants have given their lives to and in the dockers own view of themselves and their struggle. When I first started reporting on this dispute in November 1995, I commented on how dockers had a history of strong, sectional organisation, born out of the old kind of struggle, a struggle conditioned by the Keynesian state. I tried to show how this state was undergoing a transformation and that we needed to see how this would affect struggles such as the dockers. It is very easy to talk of 'objective circumstances' and 'tendencies' in the economy and state, but ultimately we make our own history - people like Jimmy Nolan and Mike Carden. People struggling to come to terms with what is going on around them, not central committees with a ideology that is today 70 or even more years out of date.
I hope this finally disposes of the question of the ICP