Socialist Alliance reports

Socialist Party booed

Wednesday February 9 saw the launch of City and East London Socialist Alliance, which covers the City, Barking and Dagenham, Tower Hamlets and Newham. Around 100 people were present at the meeting which was positive and constructive.

Speakers from the platform - Kate Ford (WP), Janine Booth (AWL), Mark Steel (SWP) and Kambiz Boomla (a GP from Tower Hamlets) - spoke enthusiastically about the LSA. Although none of the speakers mentioned their own organisation by name, all stressed the significance of the unity gained amongst the left groups. Importance was placed on challenging Blair's cuts in the NHS, the lack of adequate financial support for students and to campaign for a decent London transport system. Kate Ford also spoke of the need to fight back over political issues such as the removal of the infamous homophobic section 28.

Various issues were raised from the floor, ranging from the rights of pensioners to the need to fight for a healthier London. Bob Paul (CPGB) emphasised that the LSA now had a real opportunity to provide genuine alternative politics to New Labour. While it was correct and very necessary to take up the issue of cuts within the NHS and privatisation of the London underground, he stressed that the elections also gave the LSA the opportunity to campaign over wider issues - for example, to combat the dangerous feelings of English nationalism which is increasing amongst certain sections of society following Blair's claim to have delivered self-determination via the sop democratic Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly.

Peter Dickinson, at the time chair of LSA and a leading SP member, was forced to stop speaking by a majority of those present after calling on the meeting not to overlook the CATP for the GLA elections. The SP's policy on this is certainly divisive, but the best way to expose its sectarianism and localism is through allowing its comrades to argue their case. At least they had the courage to turn up.

The rally finished with individuals from each borough arranging to organise and set up local campaigning bodies involving, where possible, representatives from participating organisations.

Bob Paul

Open unity

Just under 50 people attended the first public meeting of Enfield and Haringey SA on Tuesday February 15 in Wood Green.

Well known Haringey activist Delroy Lindo spoke first, delivering a cogent and impassioned plea for support for the various campaigns active in the borough against police harassment and deaths in custody and gave his full backing to the local LSA candidate, Weyman Bennett.

Anne Murphy, CPGB member and LSA London-wide candidate, drew attention to the important step forward represented by the united electoral challenge: up to now a clear working class voice had been lacking. Comrade Murphy saw it as essential to link up the discontent from below that the Livingstone campaign represented with the work of the LSA in fielding its candidates for the assembly.

She underlined the importance of "open unity" to cement the LSA, contrasting the culture we need with Blairism, which was unable to countenance debate. Working class people should not be mere voting fodder. That is what Blair wants. For communists the working class must through its own self-activity become the ruling class - a small first step towards this is the LSA. Comrade Murphy drew attention to the hypocrisy of a British government which condemns Jörg Haider while stirring up resentment against those seeking asylum. In her view the LSA challenge was potentially of great significance, not just in London, but nationally, in helping to forge a viable working class alternative.

Comrade Bennett criticised the Millennium Dome as "a waste of money" and suggested this showed that London's problems such as the tube system were solvable: it was one of the richest cities in the world. At present, he said, 50% of London's population had access to only seven percent of its wealth. The Blairites' increase of the minimum wage by 10p was an insult.

Comrade Bennett was outraged at the more than 1,000 people killed over the last 10 years in London in incidents associated in some way with the police; he denounced privatisation and selling off schools and homes and reiterated the fact that the LSA provides a chance for people to be active. He reminded the audience that whoever Blair supports at the moment loses, pointing to the case of Alun Michael in Wales. Comrade Bennett promised that this would not be a "respectable campaign": "People can make things better by their own activity."

Those present included the president and other officials of Haringey trades council, and supporters and members of the SWP, AWL, CPGB and the Labour Party. After the speeches, the meeting split into three groups which dealt with practical tasks in the Haringey areas of Hornsey, Tottenham, and Wood Green.

Jim Gilbert

Have to think

Some 20 plus activists and supporters of the Camden and Barnet Socialist Alliance met on February 15. In the main the SWP was responsible for the mobilisation, though there was a small presence from the AWL and the CPGB. Nobody from the Socialist Party in England and Wales. Barry Walden of the SWP chaired the meeting and took great pains in his introductory remarks to list all the organisations participating in the LSA.

The first speaker was an SWPer, Lizi Prior. She is a student militant at the School of African and Oriental Studies, parts of which are presently under occupation. Understandably her contribution centred on student grants and spreading anti-fees occupations.

Candy Udwin, our GLA candidate, also concentrated on her own struggles. The comrade is a leading fighter against cuts and closures in the NHS and is presently threatened with expulsion by the Unison bureaucracy.

Nevertheless she did touch upon a whole range of political issues, albeit in a purely agitational way. Comrade Udwin denounced New Labour's programme of privatisation and fat cat parasites, she branded J"rg Haider a Nazi and criticised Blair's softness, praised the Seattle WTO protests and tore into the hypocrisy of Straw over those who arrived in Britain on board the hijacked Afghan airliner.

From a Weekly Worker angle the most interesting platform speaker was Janine Booth of the AWL. She began her remarks with a routine and rather unconvincing tale of how tubeworkers in London voted Labour in May 1997 in order to stop Tory plans for privatisation. There was also a purely reformist call for police accountability. However, to her great credit she did go on to actually address her real, as opposed to imaginary, audience. A powerful plea was made for the left to develop a culture of openness and debate: "Socialists," she said, "don't all have to think the same." But "we have to think". So read each other's press, argue with each other passionately. Far from being a weakness, that will help us to act together in building an independent working class political voice.

Time was allowed for contributions from the floor. They proved to be a mixture of the high political and organisational minutiae. Because the SWP comrades were in a clear majority some were not quite sure whether to robustly exchange political views or get down to the nitty gritty of leaflets and posters for the forthcoming all-London rally in the Camden centre. Most positive, however, was the generally non-sectarian atmosphere and the common commitment to the LSA's unity project.

John Bridge


About 85 people attended the February 15 meeting in Camberwell. Speakers included Mark Steel, Kate Ford and a representative from Southwark housing campaign. The comrade was a Labour Party member who stated he would resign if Ken Livingstone was not nominated.

After some discussion from the floor, those attending divided into four groups, to cover different areas of the constituency with over a dozen comrades in each. Local groups, in other words, seem to be springing up like mushrooms, both from among the membership of the SWP, other leftist groups, and non-aligned people. There will be a rolling programme of stalls, leafleting, flyposting, etc throughout the two boroughs, along with projected monthly meetings of the localised groups.

The potential is enormous and palpable. It is certainly qualitatively different from the previous faltering attempts made by myself and others to get the Socialist Alliance off the ground in Southwark. This time around the SA could actually be viable in a way that the Socialist Labour Party, for instance, never was.

The Socialist Party, which has previously had a fairly rooted local branch centred in Bermondsey, was notable by its absence.

Ian Donovan