Challenge to London unity

The fight for principled left unity in London to present an electoral challenge to Blair’s Labour has received a setback. The determination of the CATP to press ahead regardless of the plans of others is wrong

It seems that previous reports carried in this paper of unity breaking out amongst the London left in advance of next year’s Greater London Assembly elections may have been a little premature. As it stands today, there is a possibility of three left slates competing for votes in the capital - the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation, the London Socialist Alliance and Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party (see report p3). Readers will not be surprised at the news that Scargill’s rump organisation has announced its intention to stand regardless of what the rest of the left - let alone Livingstone - is doing. This degenerate little sect has no goal in the workers’ movement than servicing the meglomania of its leader, regardless of the wider harm this may cause.

Militants should treat it with contempt and use the publicity around the election to discredit it.

But what of the CATP? On December 2, we reported that “the CATP is prepared to offer four positions to the LSA” on its slate. Judging from subsequent meetings, this now seems less likely.

The CATP met on December 14 to discuss its plans for next May’s elections. This gathering of the campaign was an important stage in the struggle for a united left electoral bloc in the capital. The LSA - composed of the main revolutionary and socialist organisations in London, the SWP, CPGB, Socialist Party, Socialist Outlook, etc - is already well advanced in its preparations to stand. Obviously cooperation between the two is needed. Yet it now seems that this is not possible.

Fundamentally, this sad situation is fallout from the equivocation and lack of self-belief shown by most sections of the alliance in June’s European elections. Back in the summer, the LSA collapsed in the face of the SLP decision to stand in the London Euro constituency. The CPGB was left to fight alone, despite being hampered by our lack of preparation and by the legislation which bans us from even standing under our own name. If the LSA had had the courage of its convictions then, it would have laid down an important marker for future contests. The pressure would have been on initiatives such as the CATP to gravitate towards cooperation with it, rather than simply striking out on its own.

This June debacle and the LSA’s fitful and unenthusiastic preparations for the GLA elections have opened the door for others to take a lead. A thin layer of militants in and around the RMT union decided on November 9 to stand - under banner of the CATP - against the Blair-Prescott plans for the partial privatisation of London underground.

Although the situation before the December 14 CATP meeting was still unclear, there still seemed some room for optimism. Oliver New, chair of the CATP had attended an LSA meeting on November 24. The CATP was standing the full 11 candidates for the proportional representation party list slate. Support from the LSA would be welcome and, as mentioned above, there was also talk of behind the scenes negotiations producing four LSA candidates on a joint slate.

LSA organisations were invited to attend the December 14 CATP meeting to discuss the matter further. However the clear message LSAers took away from that fraught gathering was that the CATP intends to press ahead alone. Despite calls for principled unity from LSA secretary Greg Tucker and others, the general mood of the CATP meeting indicated that there is little spirit of cooperation and compromise towards the LSA amongst its dominant figures.

Leading off the meeting, Oliver New, made it clear that the thrust of the whole evening’s agenda would be biased towards organising practical activity around the agreed perspective of standing a full CATP slate of 11 candidates. He reported that he had attended the LSA meeting on November 24 - pointedly describing the LSA several times as an alliance of “small groups” - and suggested that the issue could be further aired. Yet time for discussion of cooperation between the LSA and CATP was given very low priority on the agenda. This was no accident, but underlined a simmering resentment from a number of prominent CATP activists against the presence of the left, a hostility that bubbled over into occasional uproar. (Comrade Pat Sikorski - former Scargill sidekick and witch hunter - seemed particular irked by the arguments of the left - “Sabotage! Sabotage” he shouted at one stage.)

An indication of the generally uncooperative mood is given by a discussion on the order of agenda items. It was proposed that relations with the LSA be taken before the 30-strong meeting was divided into four workshops to discuss organising the campaign in north, east, west and south London. The obvious point was made that clarifying relations with the LSA would have a direct bearing on the content of these workshops - if LSA representatives were included on the CATP slate, then the component elements of the alliance would be active participants in the campaign. If not, our relationship to the CATP slate would be very different. This logical proposal to re-order the agenda was rejected. This placed LSA supporters in a difficult position in the various workshops - how could they take a full part in the planning the campaign when they did not yet know whether the alliance was to be allowed places on the slate?

If effect, the CATP displayed a contemptuous attitude to the LSA.

The determination of the majority of the meeting to press ahead confirms that the mood is against cooperation with other socialists. This was underlined in the north London workshop by Pat Sikorski of the Fourth International Supporters Caucus.

Comrade Sikorski assured the group that funding for the project was more or less dependent on the exclusion of the organised left from the slate. Amongst some in the CATP this attitude may reflect an honest semi-syndicalism, a sincere but wrong impatience with the revolutionary left. For the likes of comrade Sikorski and his Fiscite co-thinkers, it represents the expression of a worked out sectarian project they have been pursuing at least since the mid-1980s. In furthering this narrow schema, the comrades have committed some disgraceful actions - including wrecking mass delegate conferences organised in solidarity with the striking miners rather than give the floor democracy and most recently, being instrumental in the anti-CPGB witch hunt in the SLP which was eventually to leave it a wizened, semi-Stalinite husk. (And which also ended up claiming their scalps also, of course.) The sites of these disgraceful Fisc interventions change over the years, but the themes are consistent - most notably a haughty sectarian disdain for the left and an absolute contempt for the democracy of the workers’ movement.

Having made concrete plans for the CATP campaign in the various workshops, the meeting was hardly in the mood for a full discussion of cooperation with the LSA when it reconvened for its last ten minutes. Some desultory debate took place, with the assurance given that officials from CATP and LSA would meet to explore matters further. There is however little optimism amongst leading LSAers that this will produce anything positive.

The position of the CATP is not strong. It must guard against the impression that may form in some people’s minds that what motivates its intervention is not genuine concern about the issue of privatisation, but more narrow ambitions. After all, it is at pains to emphasise that it is a single issue campaign. It currently has no other agreed policies. Yet there are at least two left organisations standing in the GLA contest who are committed to their demand of opposition to Prescott’s tube privatisation - the LSA and the SLP. Similarly, if Livingstone is an independent candidate for mayor, his associated slate is bound to take a similar stand on this issue. He has made clear that this is the central plank of his campaign. What will the CATP do then?

The fight for principled left unity in London to present an electoral challenge to Blair’s Labour has received a setback. The determination of the CATP to press ahead regardless of the plans of others is wrong. Whatever motivates it - the impatience of trade union militants with the schismatic left, or the more cynical machinations of the Fisc - such an approach does not aid the fight for independent working class politics and we urge the comrades to re-consider.

The LSA on the other hand must not surrender. The very fact of its existence is a powerful blow against the sectarianism that has plagued our movement. Whatever our differences with its agreed platform, it represents an attempt by important sections of the left to present a range of politics to masses of working people. This is an important move in the fight to break the hold of Labourism not only over wide swathes of society, but also over much of the British left itself.

The LSA must take a lead. Thankfully the December 15 LSA meeting decided to do just that. The SWP in particular needs to be singled out - it donated £1,000 and has put forward leading members for important positions in alliance. The door remains open to co-operation, but the LSA has work to get on with.

Mark Fischer