Socialist Alliances roundup
Leeds Rigged plebiscite
Leeds Left Alliance is set to push ahead with the attempt to effectively expel the Socialist Workers Party. On October 11, its executive decided that a meeting with representatives of the SWP the day before had not convinced them to end their witch-hunt.
Mike Davies was himself hounded out of the Labour Party for his role in supporting the Liz Davies pre-selection campaign in Leeds North East constituency. Now it seems he is using what he learnt in the Labour Party against revolutionaries in the Socialist Alliance (Leeds Left Alliance is an affiliate of the Socialist Alliance and comrade Davies is a vice-chair of the national network).
A postal plebiscite has been organised of members of the Leeds Left Alliance - 93 in all. Disturbingly, the question being asked leaves little doubt as to what outcome is intended. Basically it asks: 'Do you support the executive in its attempts to prevent the Socialist Workers Party taking over the Leeds Left Alliance?' It is backed up by additional 'information' papers, including further misrepresentations of the SWP's non-existent "stacking" of the September 30 Coventry conference.
The 'no' alternative question for Leeds LA members is along the crude lines of: 'Do you oppose the executive preventing the SWP taking over the Leeds Left Alliance?' Such a travesty of democracy has no place in the new party we are trying to build through the Socialist Alliance. This shows the problems we have with electing officers on the nod, direct from occasional conferences, instead of having them instantly recallable. Given his outrageous behaviour, comrade Davies should be removed from the position of SA vice-chair. Unfortunately, the constitution we are currently lumbered with does not allow this to happen.
The very least that the other current officers should do is issue a forthright statement condemning the witch-hunting by the Labourite clique around comrade Davies. An opportunity to push for this comes this Saturday, October 21, as the Yorkshire Left Alliance meets. Comrades attending should move to oppose the activities of the Leeds executive.
Given the effective abandonment of the Socialist Alliance project by the Davies clique, comrades in Leeds should begin to make immediate preparations to establish a Leeds Socialist Alliance.
Eastern Region Socialist Alliance steering committee held its final pre-conference meeting on October 15. After hearing report-backs on several events, comrades got down to the business of deciding the final arrangements for the upcoming conference on October 28. Proposals included a vague resolution from comrade Steve of the Socialist Party, which continued the all too familiar agenda of a "democratic federal structure". This was however backed up more positively by a call for the maximum possible challenge to Blairism at the ballot box. It was noticeable that the SP comrade took a full part in the discussions, while still maintaining the previous cautious approach - not really committing either way but maintaining at least a foothold in the Alliance project.
The CPGB is proposing an ERSA constitution that recognises the stage the alliance is at: one of rapprochement between revolutionary groups. It calls for the steering committee to be made up of one delegate from each affiliated political organisation, county alliance and working class/campaigning/trade union organisation.
The SWP has proposed some amendments to this - that half the steering committee be elected from the conference floor. This is the same as the structure the SWP pushed through for the London Socialist Alliance steering committee. Though there will still be representation for political organisations, this is not really the point. The nature of the region makes the criticisms of this articulated at the time doubly valid. Firstly it is highly unlikely, given the stage of development of ERSA, that these 'unaffiliated' individuals will be present in any sort of number. Secondly even more than in London these people will be mainly unknown and certainly unaccountable.
The practical implications of this line are clear. Instead of democracy based on recallability, conference will be presented with a list of individuals who feel like sticking their hand up, and we will be asked to nod it through. Such democracy is formal and more than a little superficial.
The other amendment proposed by the SWP calls for the deletion of our point two which opens up the option of a "supporting organisation". Comrades expressed the fear of a two-tier membership.
With regard to our electoral intervention, the CPGB proposes that ERSA selects candidates in at least five constituencies. At the Socialist Alliance launch meeting in Cambridge there were positive indications that comrades may wish to stand. Ipswich is already committed to doing so. It is crucial that the intervention of ERSA is geared towards the maximum number of seats: there are in addition Stevenage, Norwich, Colchester and Peterborough to consider.
Proceedings were conducted in a comradely manner with real progress being made. All eyes are now turned towards the October 28 conference to determine in which direction ERSA will develop.
SA to contest Withington
A members' meeting of the relaunched Greater Manchester Socialist Alliance took place on October 10. Under the structure adopted at September's annual general meeting, monthly full membership meetings receive and discuss reports from the steering committee elected at the AGM. Weekly Worker readers will recall that the Socialist Workers Party had an overwhelming majority at the AGM and used this to defeat the principle of automatic representation of affiliated organisations and local Socialist Alliances on the Greater Manchester regional committee.
Forty members attended the October meeting, with the SWP once again forming a large majority. The convenor, John Nicholson, opened proceedings with a somewhat strange report on the September 30 special conference in Coventry of the Socialist Alliance network. Whilst enthusing at its large attendance and its clear unity of purpose in desiring to present an alternative to New Labour at the next general election, he made no reference to the content of the protocol for the Socialist Alliance general election campaign, which was the product of the conference (see p7). That the Coventry protocol is not to the liking of comrade Nicholson and his SWP masters in Manchester became patent as he moved on to give the report of the GMSA steering committee.
In recommending that the Manchester Withington constituency be contested, comrade Nicholson explained how the committee had paid regard to factors such as the number of activists in the area, the pre-existence of campaigns, the sitting MP, etc. Withington is a socially mixed area, with some big council housing estates, but also a large student, white-collar and professional population. It was the last formerly Tory-held seat in the city to fall to the Labour Party, a decade ago. There are undoubtedly significant numbers of members and supporters of the SWP and other left groups in the area and there is an active campaign to prevent closure of the Withington Hospital. The Labour MP, Keith Bradley, has refused to support this campaign. Before decisions are made to stand SA candidates in any other constituencies, comrade Nicholson continued, a test should be applied that similar factors to those taken into consideration with respect to Withington are satisfied.
The checklist approach to selecting seats, authored by Nicholson himself, had been a cornerstone of the initial majority recommendation of the SA officers to the Coventry conference, but had been absent from the reconciled final officers' report, which emerged from 11th hour pre-conference negotiations. It is, of course, an approach which is entirely unambitious and 'wrong ended'. As Coventry implicitly acknowledged, a maximised national general election campaign will build itself. It is quite feasible and indeed necessary that, through genuine and fully inclusive united work, significant gains can be made in areas where almost no left-of-Labour activity might pre-exist.
Comrade Hugh Caffrey of the Socialist Party, whilst not opposing a contest in Withington, reported the SP's view that the Oldham constituency should be contested. I am pleased to report that he did not do this in any kind of ultimatumist fashion. Then came the moment the SWP must have been dreading. One of their comrades, Claire, made a forthright attack on the recommendation to fight in 'middle class' Withington. A contest in Oldham, a solid working class area, which had suffered sorely from the pro-capitalist policies of both Tories and New Labour and where fascist groups have a presence, would be a far better arena, she suggested, winning echoes of support from a number of SWP members and others.
John Pearson of the CPGB called for maximisation of the number of seats to be fought by the SA in Greater Manchester. This was necessary both to stress the serious nature of the challenge to Blair and to deliver a contribution from Manchester to the national SA effort that is commensurate with GMSA's position as the largest Socialist Alliance outside London.
The steering committee's recommendation to contest Withington should be endorsed, he proposed, but the GMSA should also agree forthwith that a candidate stand in Oldham also. Disappointingly, comrades from both the Alliance for Workers' Liberty and Workers Power backed the steering committee. These same comrades appeared also to have accepted the 'Manchester culture' of the submersion of organisational identities. None of their speakers, when identifying themselves, referred to their political organisations.
Although a lively discussion ensued, it was clear that the steering committee proposal would carry if a vote were to be forced. The dissenting comrades therefore all accepted John Nicholson's summary of the 'consensus'.
The Withington contest is confirmed and the steering committee will bring forward to November's general meeting its recommendations on a procedure for selecting a candidate. The committee will also organise meetings in Oldham and also the adjacent North Manchester constituency of Blackley in order to assess the prospects for further contests.
Much of the remainder of the meeting was devoted to a discussion of building for the Greater Manchester general election launch rally, to be held on October 23 with the SP's Roger Bannister, the SWP's John Rees and Theresa Bennett, and comrade Nicholson set to speak.
Decisions to issue membership cards and to devote 45 minutes at all future general meetings to manifesto discussions were also made. The latter process will commence with a discussion on Europe at the November meeting.
Brent and Harrow
Consensus for democracy
Brent and Harrow Socialist Alliance's membership drive got underway at an organising meeting on Monday evening. About a dozen comrades from the SWP, CPGB, International Socialist Group, along with ex-Labour Party members and others, divided up the work of personally contacting every individual on our mailing list. The nominal annual membership fee of £2 waged, £1 unwaged, will simultaneously make them members of the London Socialist Alliance. A bankers order form has been circulated to obtain the more realistic sums needed to run the organisation, not to speak of the general election campaign.
Systematic contacting of trade union representatives in key local workplaces was organised as part of the push to maximise involvement in our planned public meeting at Willesden Green Library Centre on Thursday November 9. On the platform alongside our Greater London Authority candidates Weyman Bennett (SWP) and Anne Murphy (CPGB) will be Brent pensioners' campaigner Eileen Francis and Ford Dagenham worker Rod Finlayson. Saturday street stalls begin with Kilburn Square this week, and we will be mobilising for the pensioners' demonstration on November 4.
Discussion was somewhat marred by a complaint from one ex-Labour comrade (whom I shall call 'Leon') backed by another independent Trotskyite, that reporting of our September meeting in the Weekly Worker (September 14) was too open for an "internal" meeting, and that "direct reference to individuals" was impermissible. While quoting what comrades say in a public meeting is to be expected, for internal meetings only the positive outcome should be reported, it seems. In the ensuing discussion, various opinions and fears were expressed. Naming comrades might endanger their employment; quoting what they say might inhibit discussion; the views attributed were not entirely accurate; revealing our discussions about general election tactics might inform our political enemies of our strengths and weaknesses, etc.
For the CPGB, Stan Kelsey defended the necessity of reporting publicly, as accurately as possible, the various contending political trends as they come into play during our development, in the tradition of Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks. Chairperson Brian Butterworth (SWP) noted "the consensus of the meeting" and suggested that if comrades were unhappy with future reports, they should write to the Weekly Worker saying so.
A telling intervention came from independent socialist, comrade Mike. He described how he had signed up to the London Socialist Alliance during the Greater London Assembly election campaign, while others had been reluctant to give their names and addresses, fearing they would be harassed by all the left groups to join. After the election, however ... nothing. The LSA seemed to be dead. Is the Socialist Alliance only a temporary electoral alliance, he asked, or are we building a new, continuous, organisation for more than elections? Although comrade Butterworth's reply was ambiguous - "We are primarily an electoral alliance at the moment" - the real answer was given when the meeting elected comrade Butterworth (against comrade John York, who argued that the delegate should be chosen from among those who do not belong to one of the political groups) as our recallable delegate to the Socialist Alliance network's Liaison Committee. This is the body which is running the Socialist Alliance general election campaign and all its affairs nationally. We are in fact in the process of creating a single new organisation to which we all belong. Comrade York will act as deputy.
The news that Brent East Constituency Labour Party last weekend adopted Blairite leader of Brent council Paul Daisley as its parliamentary candidate removed any doubt that we will field a Socialist Alliance candidate in the seat Livingstone is vacating. The CPGB has put forward GLA candidate comrade Anne Murphy, who contested the Brent East seat in 1992, and fought Kilburn ward in the local elections subsequently.
New advance in London
Campaigning was hard. Every vote counted. Comrades worked tirelessly to get our supporters out. In the end Diana Swingler won 134 votes for the London Socialist Alliance in the Hackney Wick by-election, finishing third. The return of 11.4% represents a further advance in electoral support for the LSA.
The fact that the Socialist Alliance split the vote and the Liberal Democrats lost the seat to Labour by just 73 votes shows the impact we can have. It shows that socialism must be taken seriously once more. Another very positive aspect was the fact that Turkish and Kurdish people went out and voted Socialist Alliance. This support needs to be converted into active involvement. Revolutionary-minded workers - whatever their nationality - need to organise together against the state they live under.
Hackney Socialist Alliance will be having a meeting in the next few weeks to decide where to stand in the general election. Although members are buoyed up by the vote in Hackney Wick, there is opposition from the leadership of the SWP to standing against Diane Abbott. However, everyone will be invited to put forward resolutions and a full discussion will be had.
The position of the CPGB remains that Diane Abbott should not be given a blank cheque. We should demand that she endorse a minimum platform of working class defence - abolish the anti-union laws, £400 per week basic income, self-determination for Scotland and Wales, etc. Comrades from the SWP tell me that she supports such ideas anyway. If so, why not ask her to do so openly? Too often those who claim to be leftwingers are let off the hook when it comes to elections. Abbott needs to be consistent about where she stands on issues which affect the working class.
We should not underestimate our ability to make her take a stand and thus increase the chances of a split in and from New Labour. And if she refuses to openly support basic economic and democratic principles then we would be perfectly justified in standing against her in the eyes of the electorate.
There are certainly a tremendous number of issues in Hackney. The council has just been declared bankrupt and has been presented with the alternative of being surcharged or sacking workers. No prizes for guessing which one they have chosen - plans are being formulated to dismiss 1,000 workers.
Hackney Socialist Alliance is organising opposition. We are calling for all councillors to fight the cuts or resign. We will be presenting a workers' budget as an alternative to the Labour/Tory cuts. A demonstration is set for outside the next council meeting - October 25, 6pm, Mare Street.
Ring Becky on 0797 982 3597 for further details of how to get involved.
Hackney Wick results
|Total Turnout: 18.37% (1,182 votes)|