YCL General Secretary Zoe Hennessy’s Speech to the Communist Party’s 53rd Congress
YCL General Secretary Zoe Hennessy warned CP delegates at the 53 Congress of the challenges facing young workers, students and the unemployed; and spoke about the priorities for Britain’s Communist movement.
I would like to begin by thanking you for having me to speak here today. It is a great privilege for the YCL to be represented at the Communist Party congress.
It is vital that we work to reinforce the historic links between the Party and the Young Communist League over the coming period. The existence and growth of the YCL is vital, it is the future of the Party. On behalf of the YCL executive committee, I extend our fraternal and sororal greetings to you, and wish you success with this congress. It is important to have a comradely, yet full and frank debate about the future direction of our party and its ability to influence the labour movement.
Here we will forge a consistent line based on an analysis of the material situation we face. We must leave congress prepared to defend the line taken at congress. Democratic centralism is an important principle for our party to effectively undertake political and industrial work.
This is something the Scottish experience has brought sharply home to us over the last two years. Since our last report to congress, the YCL has changed leadership and is growing and developing in a promising way. We are beginning to make those first steps to re-establishing a young communist base within workplaces and the trade union movement. We are represented on Unite Youth Committee Scotland and Unison Youth Committee Scotland. We have a YCLer on the STUC General Council. In the last year YCLers have attended the STUC youth conference, Unite Policy Conference, Unison Conference and the RMT AGM.
It is vital that we have a generation of YCLers active in their workplace and confident in their class politics.
Young people are working in increasingly low paid, highly exploitative and insecure jobs. We need to develop a strategy for recruiting and organising these workers and we will be looking to the party for support. We need a strategy that empowers young people, rather than merely attempting to shame employers into granting better pay and conditions. We need a strategy to challenge partnership agreements between capital and labour, which seek to bypass the union and negotiate directly with individuals.
These agreements undermine the collective and democratic nature of our labour movement, and our ability to organise and fight back. At our last congress the YCL concluded that the EU’s attack on democratic rights, especially employment and legal rights placed us “on the trajectory to the open dictatorship of finance capitalism, and therefore the resurgence of fascism in Europe”.
The crisis which has engulfed Ukraine over the last twelve months has unfortunately proved this analysis to be correct, and the fascist attack on the Ukrainian trade unions and progressive organisations, the Communist Party of Ukraine, the working class and minorities has been devastating.
The YCL was deeply concerned by these events and wished to offer solidarity. We liased with the RMT, domiciled Communist Parties and Young Communist organisations to call the first demonstration against the EU-US backed fascist coup in Ukraine. This lead to the set up of the group called Solidarity with Anti-fascist Resistance in Ukraine. The YCL and Communist Party are now on the steering committee of this organisation.
The keener eyed among you will have noticed that the YCL has re-established its website, and set up twitter and facebook accounts to reach out to young people, agitate and advertise meetings and events. After a hiatus, we have had a number of issues of Challenge produced this year, aimed at demonstrations, conferences and big events.
The YCL also organised a summer camp in the Peak District. It was attended by YCL members from across Britain. Despite the driving rain all weekend, we were able to have education classes and climb Kinder Scout, and reflect on the YCLs legacy as well as its future. What happens at camp stays at camp, but I would like to extend my apologies to Midlands District for trashing their gazebo.
These developments you will agree are positive. However, we are clearly not at a point of critical mass and much more work needs to be done. Our membership remains small, and our base of active, reliable YCL members is even smaller. Too often the burden of work falls on a few people. We need to increase our membership, and we need to develop a proper base at universities and reach out to students in schools.
We also need to insist on consistency and discipline, a problem which is not limited to the YCL I might add. The ruling class assault on our class has been vicious and overwhelming.
The scale of attack on young people has been unprecedented. University is now prohibitively expensive for many working class families. Those graduating with tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt are discovering that there is little hope of finding a job. Currently ¾ million people aged 16-24 are unemployed across the UK, and are forced to search far and wide for jobs which don’t exist, and face welfare sanctions meted out with little regard for their welfare.
These sanctions mean that claimants cannot buy food, cannot afford to heat their homes, and cannot even afford to travel to the job centre or job interviews. One of the most disgraceful and cruel outcomes of this coalition government’s attempt to destroy the welfare state is the huge number of foodbanks springing up across Britain to cope with the poverty families are facing.
In the last year, a million people across the UK have been given a 3 day emergency supply of food from the Trussell Trust Foodbanks. As the welfare state is rolled back, it is women who are picking up the pieces. It is women who are overwhelmingly paying through pay freezes and benefit cuts, and it is women who suffer when access to domestic violence centres are withdrawn. Despite this, women are underrepresented in our party. This needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
Although unemployment has fallen slightly, we know that the problem of underemployment and the outrageous use of workfare across the UK is a serious factor behind official government reports. Approximately 1.46 million people are working part time because they can’t find full time work. 1.4 million workers are employed on zero hour contracts, therefore denying them any guarantee of work or earnings, and no holiday or sick pay, whilst giving employers a license to use employees as an expendable and cheap, reserve workforce.
No one should have to work for their poverty. It is clear that young people have paid a heavy price for capital’s austerity agenda. I think that in recent years young people have reacted against austerity. However, in the absence of a strong Communist Party highlighting the relevance of class politics, and putting forward an alternative to capitalism, i.e. socialism, these protests have petered out or been side tracked into opportunist movements not rooted in class. It is up to communists to make the case for socialism.
There are now only 6 months to go until the 2015 General Election. If the Tories win another term they will claw back our post war gains and welfare state with renewed vigour. They will further attack our trade unions and our human rights. They will destroy our National Health Service. The only practical step towards a solution in this time frame is the election of a Labour government.
However, it will be a hollow victory if Labour fail to break with austerity politics. There are a number of considerations to make in our fightback. The Communist Party is influential for its size, but it is not big enough, and it is not influential enough. The number of workers organised in trade unions has declined heavily since the 1970s. The number of workers covered by collective bargaining has fallen to 20%. The biggest and most influential unions voted FOR the Collins review.
The Labour Party has never lead us towards progressive policies, and that has never been the party position. The Labour Party has only implemented progressive policies during periods of class struggle. Currently our class forces are weak, the Labour Party reflects this. There is no basis for thinking the Labour Party should be to the left of the trade unions.
Our priority is to build the party, build the trade union movement and the People’s Assembly. Our enemy is strong, and united. But our enemy is not and has never been invincible. The working class, despite all the attacks it has sustained, despite all the battles it has lost, still has the potential to fight back. The Communist Party, despite all the attacks it has sustained, despite the battles it has lost, is still here.
We are still relevant because the Marxist Leninist doctrine is true. Young people joining the YCL have no memory of the Soviet Union, they have no memory of the glory days of the CPGB. Yet they are joining because class politics are still relevant to their experience, relevant to their lives.
I will finish by saying that we must promote class politics and our party. The only credible alternative to the barbarous situation we find ourselves in is socialism. The ruling class know this, but it is time that the working class knows this too. Once again, I wish you the best of luck with congress, onwards to victory comrades.