Friday 30 March 2007

Global Women's Strike

Last night I spoke at a packed meeting in Camden organised by the Global Women's Strike, details here:

It was great to see a number of friends and comrades who I have worked with over the last twenty years on a variety of different campaigns, and discuss common ideas and strategies together.

The John4Leader campaign is built up on a coalition of different interests reaching out in a completely non-sectarian way to all manner of different campaigns and political groups who share our values. Meetings like this are classic example of this leadership contest's ability to foster cutting edge discussions and debates about a whole range of wide-ranging and often challenging issues. I am delighted to have the support of the many women and men who attended the meeting tonight from a variety of autonomous organisations and campaigns attached to Global Women's Strike.

We discussed the effects of inequality in our society on health, crime and anti-social behaviour; the culture of long hours and low pay and its effect on families and community networks - encouraged by a government that believes the only route out of poverty is work and pushes people into badly paid work with poor terms and conditions, threatening the removal of benefits if they won't comply; the necessity of challenging institutional sexism by holding officials accountable; ways of finding flexibility in local service provision where democratic representatives, service users and frontline staff make decisions together instead of decisions being imposed from above; the forced destitution of asylum seekers, the unwillingness of government to accept rape as torture and cowardly refusal to challenge the hard-right's stance on immigration.

I am repeatedly struck by the difference between these types of meetings and the way government policy is often formed. Last night there was a wealth of well-informed, intelligent comment from representatives of self-organised groups with direct experience of the effects of government policy. Contrast this with policy advisory groups dominated by private sector interests, shaping government policy in the interests of the rich without any understanding or concern about their impact on vulnerable groups. It's small wonder New Labour can seem bogged down in a one-track mindset of privatisation and managerialism, out of touch with the priorities and values of ordinary people. Last night we saw how through self-organisation, working class communities can come up with creative and new ways of adapting socialism to the twenty-first century that the government would do well to listen to.