It's a sign of growing confidence that Britain's Communist Party is embarking on its most ambitious speaking tour to date.

 

Over 30 events have been planned for England, Scotland and Wales, bringing together major speakers from the party, local labour movement activists and trade union and community campaigners.

Three public meetings have already taken place with many more to follow between now and November.

"At a time of economic and political crisis, when cuts in pay, benefits and public services are blighting the lives of millions of people, we want to help build mass opposition to the Tory-Lib Dem austerity and privatisation programme," says party general secretary Robert Griffiths.

The goal of the tour is to counter Tory arguments that there is no alternative to working people paying for the crisis of capitalism - and set out what the alternative is, winning new audiences to socialist policies.

"Communists want to contribute to changing the terms of political debate," Griffiths says.

"We're also challenging the labour movement to raise its game in words and deeds."

The meetings - held under the banner Capitalist Crisis, Socialist Solution - aim to help mobilise support for the People's Assembly Against Austerity on June 22.

But they'll continue into the autumn, building on the actions agreed by the assembly and forming part of a broad-based, militant people's movement that can help defeat the coalition.

The Communist Party sees fresh possibilities opening up for co-ordinated, generalised strike action alongside intensified local campaigning against the closures of hospitals, libraries and other public-service providers.

Trade unions are fighting back. Teaching unions the NUT and NASUWT will hold regional strikes in October and November and a national stoppage is planned for December.

The NUT is already a firm supporter of the People's Assembly.

There's also the likelihood that the CWU will strike against privatisation of Royal Mail, while PCS, which is another union backing the People's Assembly, is continuing its industrial action against pay, jobs and pension cuts.

But Griffiths says the fightback must move beyond opposition to Tory attacks. "The mass movement will be all the stronger if it can unite around left and progressive policies."

He emphasises the need for the labour movement to unite around an alternative economic and political strategy as set out in the People's Charter.

The meetings will not just be an opportunity to hear national and local speakers, but give people the chance to connect with other progressives in their communities and find out how they can be part of the fightback.

Local branches are being encouraged to be creative about how they run the meetings, with all key decisions taken locally.

And meetings are being linked with a series of more in-depth classes on the ideas of Marxism.

The aim is to develop the local arguments for socialism while building robust links and networks in the labour movement.

Phil Katz, a member of Unite's print sector who is one of the co-ordinators of the tour, points to the breadth of speakers at various meetings as evidence of the Communist Party's essential role as a non-sectarian force bringing political clarity to labour movement debates.

"This brings together different socialist and progressive forces on a broad platorm for discussion, even where there may be disagreement on policy," he says.

And Cambridge Communist Party branch secretary Leo Impett says the meeting in the city proved able to unite opposition from different types of organisation.

Cambridge is a local success story - the branch has gone from three members to 25 in just two years.

But Impett says it's still a struggle to counteract widespread disengagement from public life.

"We were realistic about the numbers we could reach, but that only spurred us on to use every possible means to contact trade unionists, the unemployed, students and the users of threatened public services.

"Pessimism and defeatism play into the hands of the ruling elite.

"We had a cracking discussion led by Labour parliamentary candidate Daniel Zeichner and Institute of Employment Rights director Carolyn Jones."

And in Coventry a high proportion of those attending were not members of any political party, illustrating the ability of the speaking tour to mobilise local opinion.

Two years ago, when trade unions launched a campaign of strikes and demonstrations against austerity and attacks on pensions, the Communist Party raised the question "where next?"

Several thousand copies of the pamphlet Broadening the Battle Lines, by party chairman Bill Greenshields, were sold and discussed at every level of the labour movement.

Greenshields pointed out then that the struggle needed to be widened beyond defences of pay and pensions as well as intensified and politicised, to move towards generalised strike action and mass activity including civil disobedience.

Without a clear strategy, he warned, there was a danger of taking refuge in "empty phrase-mongering."

It's a point emphasised in the party's pamphlet tied to the speaking tour, Capitalist Crisis, Socialist Solution - On to the People's Assembly.

"The case for socialism, as the only alternative to a system that breeds crises, needs to be explained to a new generation of young people who want a job, a home, decent public services, a sustainable environment and peace," Greenshields argues.

"At the same time people want to know how we can go forward from where we are now."

But he has no illusions about the scale of the challenge.

"This is the most vicious, self-serving ruling class Britain has experienced since the 1930s and we face the fight of our lives to defend the post-war social gains which created a fairer and more civilised society."

Chris Guiton is a co-ordinator of the national speaking tour