Simon Harvey of the SLP

Crow, Sikorski, and the CATP

I do not envy Bob Crow, assistant general secretary of the RMT transport union.

Comrade Crow is of course also a member of both the national executive and the London regional committee of the Socialist Labour Party, which late last year confirmed it was to stand a full slate of candidates in the Greater London Authority elections. However, as readers will doubtless be aware, two other left slates are also committed to standing - the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation and the London Socialist Alliance.

Bob can safely ignore the LSA bloc of socialist groups, which includes the SWP, CPGB, AWL, ISG and Workers Power - that is perfectly in accord with the well established sectarian policy of SLP general secretary Arthur Scargill. But what about the CATP? Not only will its platform be identical to the main plank of the SLP's London intervention - keeping the underground in "public ownership" - but the CATP was set up and funded by the RMT regional committee, and its candidates will include RMT members in London, comrade Crow's base.

So far he has maintained a discreet silence, not to mention a considerable distance from the CATP, whose meetings he has never attended, even when it was officially under the wing of the London region and operating exclusively as a safe, pro-union, public relations campaigning body. When it was agreed that the CATP would extend its campaigning into the electoral field, comrade Crow was mooted as a figurehead. At the same time he was approached to stand as mayor by Scargill - he had the good sense to turn it down. Nevertheless Crow will be expected to play a leading role in the SLP's GLA campaign against his own union officials - there is hardly anyone else who could fill the role, especially when you consider the dwindling band of Stalinites and eccentrics that constitute our London membership.

(By the way, I see from the latest SLP Information Bulletin, sent out to all members, that "London comrades are engaged in a number of campaigns, including ... Keeping London Underground Public ..." (December-January). Keeping London Underground Public? Nobody I have spoken to has even heard of this mysterious body - not even London SLP members who are supposedly backing it.)

Of course, there is a widespread view that there should be a single left bloc, not only for the GLA elections, but as a general principle - it is also held by a minority of SLP comrades, including myself. It was a view that Patrick Sikorski seemed to be tentatively putting forward in his last year as an SLP member. In his final speech as party vice-president he told the special congress of November 1998 that it was "perfectly reasonable" to consider electoral alliances while the SLP was "still small" (now it is even smaller).

Interestingly, the original motion to the RMT London regional council which proposed that the CATP contest the elections specifically called for talks with "other trade unions, socialists and the left" with a view to standing candidates. Typically, Sikorski, along with the likes of Davy Lyons (ex-Socialist Party and ex-Socialist Democracy Group) and Oliver New (ex-Socialist Outlook), won the CATP majority to the long-standing position of Sikorski's Fourth International Supporters Caucus: this motley crew of disillusioned leftists posing as naive syndicalists were determined to ignore "the groups" despite the unanimously agreed resolution for broad cooperation.

Comrade Sikorski was actually rather late both in activating the CATP and giving it his own special sectarian twist after a motion to set it up had successfully been proposed to the London region of the RMT by supporters of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty. Eventually he decided to act, declaring himself secretary of the new body. Subsequently fellow Fisc supporters were pulled on board, including names that SLP members will be more than familiar with - eg, Brian Heron and more recently Colin Meade, who has suddenly appeared from nowhere as a CATP official in north London.

I cannot emphasise too strongly that this venture into electoral politics by London RMT members is a positive move, as was the formation of Socialist Labour. But why is it that once the Fiscites get involved the early promise is so quickly dissipated? In the SLP they were instrumental in setting up the anti-democratic, witch-hunting regime and ended up hoist by their own petard.

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The SLP's Information Bulletin announces the composition of five standing committees, as agreed by the December 11 NEC meeting. They are made up of elected NEC members and coopted lay members. Comrade Crow chairs the industrial committee, where no doubt he will be explaining to Dave Rix, general secretary of Aslef, why the CATP must or must not be opposed.

Amongst those coopted are three comrades who showed a degree of independence at November's final annual congress: Nathan Parkin, who spoke against the successful proposal to change to three-yearly congresses and stood for the NEC as part of a left-liberal opposition bloc; Graham Hellawell, who proposed a motion calling for socialists "not to stand against each other" in elections; and Alan Brooke, who spoke in favour of "avoiding sectarian ideas and methods in our dealings with fellow socialists and democratic and progressive forces both inside and outside the party".

The ideas of all three comrades were heavily defeated. Clearly Scargill has decided that it is best to incorporate such ineffective individuals to ensure they remain part of the loyal opposition.

Only two NEC members are missing from the list. Nell Myers is presumably too tied up with the burdens editing the bi-monthly Socialist News to be spared. But Sohan Singh's name is also absent. Comrade Singh is the sole surviving supporter of the Economic and Philosophic Science Review to retain a position of any prominence in our party. He was accidentally re-elected after the Scargill grapevine got its wires crossed and failed to convey to enough delegates that he was persona non grata despite being on the recommended list. Apparently comrade Singh has been sent to Coventry - or more accurately left isolated in Coventry South Constituency SLP.

In fact Sohan only just scraped home last November, beating peacenik Katrina Howse by just five votes. Our general secretary has decided that it is now safe to inform members of the full results of the constituency section NEC elections. At the congress itself the unsuccessful candidates were told they were not allowed to know their own support, since the release of the full figures would enable us to get a more accurate picture of the size of the party membership.

Sorry, Arthur, but in the interests of openness I feel I must share my calculations: there was a total of 1,724 votes cast by delegates representing individual members in 1999, compared to 2,705 in 1998 - ie, a decline in membership of well over a third. As each delegate was entitled to vote for seven candidates on behalf of each of his or her paid-up members, the above figures can be divided by seven, giving a total membership representation at the 1999 congress of 246. If we assume that some CSLPs voted for fewer than seven candidates, we can adjust this total upwards to around 290. Even allowing for CSLPs that did not send delegates, and individuals who are not organised in a constituency, this contrasts remarkably with the official membership figures announced by Scargill in the NEC report: "2,514 individual members, with 921 fully financial".

Whatever happened to Britain's "fourth largest party"?