On the front page of our last paper of 1999 we reported the potential threat to left electoral unity in London posed by the blinkered determination of the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation to press ahead with standing its own independent list of candidates in May's Greater London Assembly elections. Despite the sometimes hostile attitude of the CATP, the London Socialist Alliance has continued to emphasise the need for agreement to be reached to avoid a damaging clash at the polls.
With the agreement of the bloc as a whole, officers from the LSA have met leading CATPers privately and, while the negotiations were more fraternal than some recent exchanges, no progress was made. The CATP's meeting of January 11 appears to have settled the question, in the absence of any dramatic new developments. Participants voted by a margin of 20 to eight to accept a CATP officers' report that recommended that, despite the approaches of the LSA, the previous decisions of the CATP stood.
Thus, the campaign will stand its own independent slate. It will not seek agreement with the LSA. While - apparently - there remain four places available to others on the 11-candidate PR slate, these are only held open for individuals, not representatives of a different bloc with its own distinctive political platform.
There are a mixture of motives behind the CATP's narrow-minded intransigence. Certainly, there is the (more or less) honest impatience of a layer of union militants with what they see as a chronically sectarian, fractious and discredited left. Beneath this, there may also be a determination to keep the CATP 'clean' from the contamination by socialist groups in the anticipation of some sort of link up with an independent Livingstone mayoral candidacy. 'Red Ken's recruitment material has already implied that membership of any organisation other than the Labour party is viewed as a problem for his campaign.
More worrying however is the influence of individuals associated with the Fourth International Supporters Caucus, the former chief witch hunters in Scargill's Socialist Labour Party.
Leading Fisc supporters such as Patrick Sikorski, Colin Meade, and Jan Pollock appear to be well ensconced in the CATP. They bring with them a deeply ingrained and theorised anti-left sectarianism that has seen them in the past wreck open conferences in solidarity with striking miners rather than allow democratic rights for the floor. Fisc, much like the viral pest the flu bug, has mutated historically. Its current guise as a component part of the CATP is to be regretted to extent that it undermines principled attempts to bring the left together for electoral work in the capital.
In this context, it is amusing that comrade Oliver New, a leading spokesperson for the CATP, has pointedly dismissed the LSA as a bloc of "small groups" (see Weekly Worker December 16 1999). Consciously or not, in its studied refusal to countenance principled unity, the CATP is implementing the programme of a genuinely "small group", the minuscule Fisc clot.
However, this split may pose more problems to the CATP than to the LSA at the end of the day.
There is no free post delivery for GLA candidates' electoral materials. To 'compensate' for this restriction on democracy, the statutory proposed limits on expenditure have been set at 'generous' levels - nearly one million pounds, for the mayoral candidate, £35,000 per candidate contesting an Assembly constituency and £495,000 per party list. Clearly, for smaller parties and blocs to make an impact, they must rely on activists on the ground. Thus the participation of the a range of left groups, including the SWP in the LSA is a telling advantage. What forces can the CATP rely on?
Furthermore, the very thing that CATP and their Fisc inner-caucus believe imparts the campaign its strength - its narrow focus - also makes it extremely vulnerable to political developments. As things stand today, there will be at least four other slates in the GLA elections that are opposed to tube privatisation - the SLP, the Green Party, the Liberal Democrats and the LSA. Brave attempts by CATP activists influenced by the Alliance for Workers Liberty to broaden the political platform on which the campaign stands appear pretty futile, particularly given the history of its relations with the LSA.
LSA comrades report an impression gained from discussions with leading CATPers that the focus of their fight for votes seems almost to be on tube workers themselves - some 7,000 of them - rather than the six million population of London as a whole. This underlines once again that while the CATP initiative is important, it does not represent some mass political upheaval from below, with masses of the class propelled into politics.
Although the decision to stand independent candidates undoubtedly reflects a passive mood of resentment against new Labour from below, this is not a manifestation of the left's much-vaunted 'crisis of expectations' in the Labour Party. Actually, the mood the CATP is attempting to exploit has more of the character of fairly predictable disillusionment and cynicism that follows the election of any bourgeois government. The deep unease felt by activists and a fraction of the trade union apparatus in the RMT about the plans of the Blairites for the underground is seeking sectional expression in at the polls. There is no attempt by the CATP to articulate the broad democratic and class interests of proletarian London.
Recent meetings of the LSA have estimated a working budget for our campaign of some £40,000. We have drawn up provisional plans for work in the trade union movement and all-London campaigning. A website is under construction and leading artists in the field of music and comedy are being approached for benefit gigs. Local rallies and meetings are planned and candidates approached, including some well-known and respected activists. The door remains open to cooperation and principled unity with the CATP and the Scargill-Brar SLP. Meanwhile the job at hand - building the working class alternative to Blair's New Labour - also needs our attention and work.Mark Fischer