Another step forward

Last Saturday in Glasgow the Scottish Socialist Alliance (SSA) held its founding conference. 150 members from a variety of political organisations and campaigns came together to start discussing the basics of the Alliance. What was refreshing about this meeting was that it was a working conference. There was time for resolutions, amendments, and discussions from the floor. In the working class movement too many so-called conferences are turned into rallies, with worthy speakers on the platform using most of the time, enabling the organisers to deny the rank and file or minority views the opportunity to influence what should be their organisation. Thankfully this did not happen here.

Tommy Sheridan (Scottish Militant Labour), in opening the conference, made it clear that he saw the SSA as “an organisation out for revolutionary change”. He gave a good account of the revolutionary use of the election tactic, making it clear that he saw its use not as a substitute for supporting the day-to-day struggle of the working class, but as a complement to it.

There were two main areas of controversy. Firstly, the statement on local government included the point that the SSA stands for “No council tax rises above the rate of inflation”. An amendment from communist members of the Socialist Labour Party sought to change that to “No council tax rises”. We put this forward on the basis that working class people already pay enough taxes - VAT, income tax, national insurance, etc. A lot of workers are not even getting inflation rate pay rises, and many are having pay cuts forced on them. We should be fighting to abolish all taxes on the working class.

The arguments against the amendment came mainly from SML members. They thought we would alienate local government workers, who would assume under “no council tax rises” their jobs and pay would be under attack. This is not true.

The argument is the same as that used by Labour councils to justify school closures. It goes: ‘If we don’t close the schools, we will have to make cuts elsewhere’, including sacking teachers. In some cases this is on top of 20% council tax rises.

This is the lesser-of-two-evils approach. We should fight for no council tax rises, no redundancies (voluntary or compulsory) and decent pay rises. The strength of the struggle and movement around these demands at the time will determine the outcome. Although the amendment was lost, a sizeable minority voted for it.

The written report on electoral strategy showed that the Alliance had moved on from its previous position of “maximising the anti-Tory vote ... not standing in any Tory marginals nor against candidates in other parties with a clear socialist record.” Instead the emphasis was less on anti-Toryism and more on what would benefit the working class. However some delegates showed an inability to break completely from their illusions in Labourism, arguing that there were still some candidates in other parties who they would not want to stand against. It must be remembered that when we stand in elections we are not primarily standing against an individual but against capitalist political parties and what they represent and for socialism.

Some of the formulations in the aims and objectives statement appear to be vague and could mean ‘all things to all people’. It is important that the SSA debates these questions in greater detail. Yes, we seek unity in action, but not on the basis of the lowest common denominator.

Nick Clarke