Resolutions passed at Counterfire Conference 2021

Resolution 1: The Tories, the crisis and the pandemic

Conference notes:

1That the government has followed a herd immunity strategy, creating an emergency situation, one of the worst Covid-19 performances anywhere and both deepening and exposing the crisis in society.

2That the pandemic has revealed class, racial and gender inequalities, the corruption and incompetence of the government, the weakness of the welfare system, and pushed the NHS close to the edge. It has deepened the economic crisis and generated anger at the government’s neoliberal agenda and its class basis.

2That the Brexit deal has created a series of problems for business and little bounce for the Tories. 

Conference believes:

1That these crises reflect the long-term problems of British capitalism including rock-bottom levels of investment and profitability, a weakening global position, polarisation in society and deep divisions in the ruling class about how to respond. 

2That in this context, the worst economic crisis in history, while creating big challenges for the movement, is likely to increase the anger against the government and the ruling class more generally.

3That Starmer has supported catastrophic government policy while creating turmoil in Labour by focussing energy on attacking the left in the Labour Party. With some exceptions, the union leaderships have not risen to the moment.

4That as a result, trade unionists and others have at various times taken collective action to impose different policies on the government. Unions have grown and there is widespread support for workers.

Conference resolves:

1To continue to agitate for an emergency programme to deal with the pandemic on the basis of a zero-Covid strategy.

2To step up our efforts to build rank and file organisation amongst workers and to organise solidarity with every struggle.

3To strengthen and build the People’s Assembly around the country.

4To develop our analysis of the interlocking crises facing society.

5To continue to relate as closely as possible to the thousands of Corbyn supporters angry and disorientated by Starmer’s attacks to and put the arguments for strengthening the revolutionary Left.

Resolution 2: The People’s Assembly

Conference notes:

1That the People’s Assembly is an influential movement nationally and is held in great respect across the labour movement. It led with the Making Sense of the Crisis weekly broadcasts when Covid-19 lockdowns began. These broadcasts attracted many 1000s of viewers.

2That as the Covid-19 crisis becomes even more horrific, with cases and deaths escalating, our NHS is at the point of collapse in some areas. The lethal cocktail of Government incompetence and political ideology has resulted in immense wealth for a few key Tory friends and donors, and inhumane poverty, unemployment and hardship for vast numbers of workers.

Conference believes:

1That the digital environment is noisy and the People’s Assembly is competing for a hearing. It will be necessary for local People’s Assembly groups to think creatively about digital events/local postering stunts until physical events become safe. Groups will need to keep supporters, both individuals and supporting organisations and unions, engaged, for example in supporting strikes and working with food banks, homeless organisations and campaigns fighting the impact of Covid-19.

2That Counterfire members will play a vital role in maintaining the visibility of the People’s Assembly and contributing to its support of campaigns and initiatives.

Conference resolves:

1To encourage all members to engage actively with the People’s Assembly at some level, whether as leading organisers, supporting organisers, affiliating their union branches or campaigns, promoting events in their networks or raising support for the People’s Assembly’s work with its supporters and affiliates.

2To encourage local groups to share initiatives, ways of working and responses to national direction. This will be vital in overcoming the practical problems of lockdown and movement restrictions.

Resolution 3: The three Cs: climate crisis, Covid-19 and COP26

Conference notes:

1That 2020 equalled 2016 globally as the warmest year on record.

2That the Covid-19 pandemic is both a public health catastrophe and a demonstration of the consequences of ecological destruction.

3That contrary to some predictions, lockdown measures have proved to have a minimal impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

4That the Tory Government’s 2020 proposals for a 68% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050 would be too little too late even if they were achieved (which looks unlikely).

5That recent predictions by climate scientists that the climate would be likely to stabilise if emissions were reduced show that it is nevertheless not too late. We still have a chance to avert the worst effects of global heating if we reduce emissions significantly and urgently.

Conference believes:

1That the Covid-19 pandemic has underlined the systemic nature of the environmental crisis under capitalism. It also provides an opportunity to envisage changes to improve the environment and the lives of working people. These changes are not however automatic and there is also a danger that short-term measures that make sense in a pandemic, like limiting public transport use, will be allowed to become a more long-term reality.

2That as the pandemic has underlined our reliance on often low-paid essential workers, building a working-class movement to demand a green transformation of infrastructure, green jobs and a just transition becomes even more important.

3That the delayed Conference of Parties Climate Summit (COP26), to be held in Glasgow in November 2021, is unlikely to deliver any concrete advances in terms of governmental action but will nevertheless be an important focus for climate protest and organising.

Conference resolves:

1To ensure our members are as involved as possible in protests and other events around the COP26 summit.

2To revisit the work proposed in 2020 to build alliances everywhere we can with trade unions, trades councils and others to call for a green new deal and for just transition measures.

3To continue to produce content on different aspects of the climate crisis and raise members’ confidence on climate issues.

Resolution 4: Race and class

Conference notes:

1That the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated race and class inequalities with a disproportionate number of BAME people dying from the virus.

2That the Tory government continues to demonise refugees, deport Windrush citizens and has attacked Black Lives Matter and anti-racism as part of an attempt to criminalise dissent.

3That the BLM movement, which saw protests take place in over 260 towns and cities in the UK and over 20 million people participate in the US, has put a spotlight on state racism.

4That Trump’s defeat is a victory for anti-racists, but society is further polarising and Trumpism, organised around racist and reactionary ideas, remains a significant political force.

Conference believes:

1That the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME people shows the nature of racism in Britain and the centrality of class. BAME people are more likely to be key workers on the frontline and to live in overcrowded and substandard housing.

2That this is another example of institutional racism driven by the state which produced Grenfell, the ongoing Windrush scandal, and is endemic in the police.

3That Biden’s administration will not solve the inequalities in the US that gave rise to Trumpism, and Starmer’s Labour Party will do nothing to challenge institutional racism in the UK.

4That the Left must be central to building the extra-parliamentary movements that can confront state racism and the threat of the far right building out of the economic crisis.

Conference resolves:

1To support campaigns for justice for victims of racist police violence, build anti-racist movements locally and nationally, and continue to oppose Prevent and the Spy Cops bill.

2To build a Marxist analysis of race and class within the movement and intervene in debates on ideological and strategic questions.

3To support and encourage trade union and rank and file initiatives against racism which help solidify the class basis of anti-racism.

4To continue to provide analysis on the website and make the case for extra-parliamentary organisation.

Resolution 5: Workplace organising and the website

Conference notes:

1That trade union membership levels declined after their peak in 1979/80 (13.2 million), being halved by 2018.

2That trade union membership levels have now risen modestly for three years.

3The surge in NEU membership during the pandemic, including a reported 21,000 new members during the first ten days of 2021, and the astonishing numbers of union members that took part in the Zoom mass meeting of 3rd January 2021.

Conference believes:

1That trade union activity has a huge role to play in the fight for both better working conditions and a better society.

2That workplace organising is crucial to the effectiveness of trade unions, as demonstrated by recent NEU activity.

3That socialists should belong to a union and,wherever possible, become workplace reps.

4That there is an urgent need to develop and train a new layer of union activists and representatives in the essentials of workplace organisation.

Conference resolves:

1To set up a ‘workplace organising’ section on the Counterfire website.

2To produce new resources, aimed at our members and those in our networks, geared towards effective union and workplace organisation.

Resolution 6: Socialists and the Labour Party

Conference notes:

1That the Labour Party was formed to express the working class’s desire for change within the limits of the existing political and economic system. As such it expresses a deeper contradiction inherent in the wage labour relationship, one of coexistence and conflict with capitalism.

2That reformist consciousness can be expressed in a wide variety of organisational forms: trade unions, social democratic parties, liberal parties, and so on.

3That reformist consciousness and Labour Party organisation will continue to be a central fact of political life despite the defeat of Corbynism.

4That the trade union bureaucracy is a critical supporting mechanism of Labour Party reformism.

Conference believes:

1That the resurgence of the right in the Labour Party, with or without Starmer as leader, will not be reversed in the short term.

2That any defeats for the Left in trade union leadership elections will reinforce the isolation of the Labour Party Left.

3That any increase in rank-and-file militancy will exacerbate tensions between the Labour Party leadership and the Left trade union leaders, and between those leaders and the rank and file.

4That although many Corbynites will remain in Labour, considerable numbers have and will leave.

5That whether socialists stay or leave the Labour Party they will increasingly look to other forums for both activity and ideological frameworks.

Conference resolves:

1To relentlessly expose the failure of the Starmer leadership to provide effective opposition to the Tory government.

2To patiently explain that the road to Left advance in the Labour Party is closed for the foreseeable future.

3To continue to work with socialists in the Labour Party both in formal united fronts and informally in the expectation that we can provide alternative practical and ideological leadership to that available in the Labour Party.

4To increase our orientation on rank-and-file activity in the unions as a crucial part of this perspective.

Resolution 7: The Left and the trade unions

Conference notes:

1The enormous risks to health and safety, jobs and livelihoods posed by the pandemic, its disastrous handling by the Tory government and the recession that arises from it.

2The significant victories won by the NEU over school safety issues.

3The emergence of a series of trade union disputes – from Rolls Royce to British Gas to Heathrow – that suggest a tentative revival of confidence and combativity in the context of three decades of low levels of strike action.

4The rise in trade union membership over the last three years.

Conference believes:

1That the pandemic poses major challenges to trade unions but also opportunities for renewed relevance, activity and growth.

2That there is a crisis of leadership in the unions. With a few exceptions, the trade union leaderships have not responded adequately to the situation.

3That an urgent priority across the trade union movement is the strengthening of rank-and-file workplace organisation with a political perspective using rank and file bulletins where possible.

4That trade unions can recruit, win victories and develop new layers of workplace reps and activists by linking specific workplace grievances with the big picture of needing to bring the pandemic under control.

Conference resolves:

1To sustain and strengthen the work of our trade union caucuses focussed on building rank-and-file organisation and to seek to involve more members in their meetings and activities.

2To develop the use of rank-and-file bulletins (digital or print) in our key areas of trade union work.

3To foreground reporting and analysis of trade union resistance on the website.

4To produce resources that assist members, and those in our networks, in being effective trade union activists.

5To promote solidarity with workers taking collective action and ensure that trade union issues and experiences are a regular discussion item in branch meetings.

Resolution 8: Trade union support

Conference notes:

1That after almost a decade of declining numbers, trade union membership has increased in the UK for three consecutive years.

2That 2020 saw several high-profile strikes, notably Rolls-Royce Barnoldswick and Heathrow Airport. The NEU played an integral role in pressurising the government into closing schools.

3That Counterfire publishes regular articles covering industrial action, along with a fortnightly bulletin, ‘News from the frontline’.

4That Counterfire members are active in a wide range of trade unions.

Conference believes:

1That the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic is likely to lead to an extraordinary assault on workers’ pay and conditions.

2That raising the profile of industrial struggles can play a key part in emboldening other workers to take action, fight back against the coming assault and build working-class confidence.

Conference resolves:

1To encourage all Counterfire members to support industrial action locally, co-ordinated through Counterfire’s local groups.

2To build on Counterfire’s existing work covering trade union activity by creating an additional mailing list to communicate ‘News from the frontline’ on a fortnightly basis.

3To encourage Counterfire members to submit any information concerning trade union strikes, ballots or significant news, including by submitting 150-word articles to be included in the bulletin.

Resolution 9: Building Counterfire

Conference notes:

1That the Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a deep crisis in society and created a sense that the government and the wider establishment has failed the population.

2The significant role played by extra-parliamentary actions of various sorts during the crisis.

3The increasing importance of trade-union and workplace struggle.

4The turmoil in the Labour Party caused by the witch hunt of the Left.

5The re-emergence of student struggle in the form mainly of rent strikes but also of sporadic protests and demonstrations.

6Increased interest in revolutionary socialist ideas and organisation. Counterfire has grown 50% in the last year, and our Marxist Forums in particular have attracted hundreds of people.

Conference believes:

1That these conditions are likely to continue, deepening the politicisation and the need for extra-parliamentary action.

2That the logic of the situation is that the workplaces and the unions are likely to become more important as centres of struggle. In the absence of a lead from much of the union bureaucracy, socialists have a crucial role in trying to strengthen rank-and-file organisation and combativity.

3That there is a growing demand for political analysis and theory that can explain the interlocking crises and provide some direction for the Left. The confused politics of the Labour Left cannot satisfy this need. 

Conference resolves:

1To strengthen branch organisation and intervention in the localities with a special focus on workplace struggles and issues.

2To step up our trade union work with more caucusing between members in particular sectors/unions and the development of rank-and-file work.

3To hold expanded SC meetings with one delegate per branch on a monthly basis.

4To continue to develop our student work with regular student public meetings, special student output on the site and more caucusing.

5To place more emphasis on developing Marxist theory in the organisation through publications, the website and a continuing programme of national events.

Resolution 10: Students

Conference notes:

1That the push to send students back to Universities in September 2020 resulted in a surge in cases of Covid-19 in university towns around the United Kingdom.

2That this rise in case endangered the lives of thousands and resulted in lockdowns in University halls, leaving thousands of students without access to food or crucial mental health support.

3That staff working in administrative or support roles in university accommodation halls were also put at significant risk.

4That nationally, students have been organising rent strikes and other forms of action to fight against university managements and the Conservative government.

5That more than 50 universities around the UK will see students withhold rent payments in the month of January 2021, costing millions of pounds in lost rent.

Conference believes:

1That university students have been let down by the government and individual universities throughout this crisis.

2That the pandemic has only exacerbated problems that already existed in higher education, with education treated as a luxury product rather than a right.

3That this results in the suffering of both staff and students, with students treated as cash cows and university staff exploited by their employers, whether they are working as lecturers or in administrative or support roles.

4That it will only be through protest mass mobilisation that conditions for students improve; we have already seen victories in Manchester, Bristol and the University of London that have come about through rent strikes, protests and direct action.

5That students and staff must unite and fight against the government and university management for progress to be made. Students must support lecturers on strike, and lecturers must support student protests.

6That despite the radical nature of many of the student mobilisations, ideological intervention is needed to prevent the student movement from becoming a liberal experiment in activism rather than a truly radical expression of anger at the current system.

7That there is also an aspect of sectarianism that discourages students from joining already established organisations, such as Counterfire, and a mistaken belief that the Labour Party is best placed to support students.

Conference resolves:

1To continue to demonstrate our support for students mobilising against the for-profit education system and the Conservative government, for example through articles we publish or through social media posts.

2To strengthen the student contingent of Counterfire, through articles we publish, through encouraging student members to become active in organising at their universities, and through meetings aimed at students.

3To encourage Counterfire members in the UCU to support students at their universities, or to join UCU Solidarity meetings and coalitions with student activist groups such as Rent Strike, student-led tenants’ unions or 9K4WHAT?.

4To step up our involvement in student movements in order to intervene at an ideological level, as well as to discourage students away from the sectarianism that prevents them from interacting with radical groups like Counterfire.

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