Birmingham Moving forward
Birmingham Socialist Alliance's good start at its recent launch meeting was followed up with a successful public meeting a week later. Present were five members of the Socialist Party, nine from the Socialist Workers Party, one from Workers Power, around 10 unaligned comrades and two from the International Socialist Group, with the SWP's Lyn Hubbard in the chair.
First contributor was an SWPer, saying we should build upon the previous week's success by "providing a home for disaffected Labour Party voters". Comrade SC added that the home we provide should be a better one than Labour ever was.
Comrade Stuart Richardson (ISG) pointed to the Green Party's lack of a base in Birmingham and suggested the BSA should relate to environmental issues in a "class-based way". Also that we should get involved in the local campaign against the sell-off of council housing. Sue Thomas from WP argued that all SAs should coordinate activity on the Unison day of action on December 20.
Sean (SP) agreed with campaigning against council housing sell-offs and for asylum-seekers, and that we should do so under the banner of the BSA. An SWP comrade added that we should not simply counterpose the existing 'crap' council stock to the sell-offs. We should also argue for the renationalisation of the railways, they said. Comrade SD agreed, adding that we should call for the railways to be put under some sort of workers' control. It was then collectively agreed the BSA would put out a statement against the sell-off of council housing. Details have yet to be fleshed out.
A comrade from the still active S26 collective asked for support for a demonstration against the voucher system for asylum-seekers on January 27. Comrade SD argued that we should get national SA material to use in our activity.
Lyn Hubbard suggested a mail-out to contacts with (i) where the SA stands - pulled from the London Socialist Alliance website, (ii) a summary of the previous week's public launch meeting, and (iii) details of what we will be getting involved in. This was agreed by all present - as was the idea that some technically skilled comrades would look into constructing a website for the BSA.
The issue of standing in elections was then raised. Lyn Hubbard suggested we stand two people in Birmingham but it must not be in a marginal, with the chance a Tory would then get in.
An SP comrade countered, arguing we should be "inspired" by the example of Nader. It will not be our fault if Labour fails to stand up for working class voters. The comrade then announced that the SP would be standing in Northfield in the general election. They intend to stand as Socialist Alliance, but wanted to know if any other group was "expressing an interest in standing in Northfield".
This caused some strong debate, albeit in a totally comradely manner. The local SWP full-timer argued that we should not make decisions about standing now, as this meeting was too small. An independent comrade suggested the meeting could give a "direction, but not a lead". A special meeting should decide possible candidates. Bob Whitehead from the ISG supported this. Sue Thomas from WP argued that we must build support amongst contacts in preparation for a candidate selection meeting.
Comrade SD asked what platform a candidate who is also in a group would stand on. Comrade Hubbard stated that the Coventry conference had decided that SA candidates must stand on SA platforms.
The meeting then elected provisional officers - provisional until the selection meeting on January 16, which will also elect a steering committee.
Lyn Hubbard was unanimously agreed as acting secretary and another SWP comrade was elected as press officer. SP comrades are provisional treasurer and campaigns officer, while a non-aligned comrade is temporary chair. These decisions were supported by all present.
For further information about BSA, ring 0121 680 4259.Steve Davis
Cambridgeshire Socialist Alliance steering group met on Monday December 4. It was clear that a degree of clarification was needed regarding a number of issues.
The steering group was composed mainly of Socialist Workers Party comrades, along with the Communist Party of Great Britain and a couple with no political affiliation. The Socialist Party continued its boycott, in line with its general shift away from the alliances nationally. Despite being approached, the SP comrades had not participated in the effort to build the launch rally.
Several issues were discussed, including the constitution of the steering group. The present body is made up of those who volunteered at the end of the launch meeting.
We also considered how to implement the decision of the previous meeting to stand a candidate in the general election. The steering group should allocate specific tasks, cohere its membership and then call a selection meeting to democratically adopt a candidate.
Comrades have shown a willingness to get down to business. The next meeting must make concrete decisions.
Information about the alliance can now be obtained on our new website: email@example.comDarrell Goodliffe
SP splitting tactics
A community conference called by Hackney Unison took place on Sunday December 4, to organise the fightback against the bankrupt council's plans to impose draconian cuts and sack up to 1,000 workers.
The event began in an atmosphere of confusion. It had been advertised as delegate-based, but few were present as delegates. The majority of the 100 or so in attendance were individual members of leftwing organisations and there were very few unaligned community activists or trade union members. It was essentially a conference of the left in Hackney - supplemented by a significant number of Socialist Party members from outside the borough.
The agenda consisted of platform speakers, workshops and report-backs in the afternoon. After the speeches from John Paige, branch secretary of Hackney Unison, and Diane Swingler, Socialist Workers Party member and recent Socialist Alliance candidate in Wick ward, we were all sent off to workshops and told to come back with "practical proposals, not resolutions". There was no indication as to which body the conference organisers had in mind to implement those proposals - it all appeared to be left up in the air.
Of course behind the apparent vagueness there was a real battle going on. There had been an argument in the lead-up to the Sunday event on organisation. The supporters of Hackney Fightback - the campaign set up on the initiative of the SWP and supported by the SA and comrade Paige - had been opposing attempts by the SP to use the conference to set up an alternative organisation. This would have seriously weakened the unity of working class opposition to the council assault and undermined the London Socialist Alliance as a side-effect.
The SP had wanted to put a resolution calling for the conference to set up a steering committee for a new body and commit itself to stand anti-cuts candidates across Hackney in the event of a successful campaign for the council to resign. But we had already decided that such a situation would warrant an overtly political intervention in the shape of SA candidates representing the whole left. The SWP was out to thwart the SP's wrecking plans, but unfortunately through the use of bureaucratic means.
The wrangling had gone on in the conference organising meetings in the weeks leading up to it. The SP and the Communist Party of Britain had argued for a decision-making conference that took resolutions, while the SWP and its allies argued against that and won. The latter believed by not having debate on the conference floor they could defeat the SP and avoid a split.
There is of course a history to all this. The SWP initiated Hackney Fightback as a broad-based campaign in late October with the announcement of the cuts package by Hackney council. SP members complain that it was never an inclusive organisation and that the SP was not treated fairly. Other members of Hackney Fightback take a different view. They say that the campaign involved community groups from the very beginning and that the SP was invited to sit on the steering committee.
The tensions came to a head at the Fightback rally on November 6 at the Hackney Empire. According to the SWP and their supporters the SP turned up with a load of speakers and demanded that they all be allowed to speak from the platform. According to the SP they were denied their democratic rights. Even if this were true, it would be no reason to jeopardise united working class resistance to council plans. Yet the SP left the rally in a huff.
After the event they distanced themselves from Fightback and concentrated on building for last Sunday's conference. Jim Horton, a leading member of the SP, assured me at a demo at the town hall last week that he was confident that there would be hundreds of community activists at the conference. They must have been disappointed that the 'new forces' which they constantly assure us are coming into struggle did not attend. In fact they had a lucky escape from the cynical clutches of the SP, who intended to use them to split the anti-cuts campaign.
The SP in Hackney has also had a very ambiguous relationship with the LSA over recent weeks. This reflects experiences elsewhere - like a public meeting in Waltham Forest a couple of weeks ago when Simon Donovan of the SP announced from the platform his candidature for the general election for that constituency. This announcement was dropped on the LSA in Waltham Forest without any previous discussion and the SP refused to back down. Clearly this is all leadership policy, as is the hostility towards other LSA components in Hackney.
Some SP members on the ground are embarrassed and uncomfortable with their leadership's sectarian attitude. One long-time member told me that, contrary to what their leadership had been alleging, they had not been excluded from the LSA in Hackney. The same person also said he is not hostile to the LSA, but could not speak for all his comrades. SP member Mick Cotter has accepted the position of vice-chair of Hackney SA.
But while many ordinary members are quite positive, their leadership is trying to keep them away from the alliance. The SP refused to distribute LSA leaflets calling for the council to resign. It then turned up on the next demo with its own leaflet - calling for the council to resign. The SP had also made an appearance at the last Hackney LSA members meeting with a resolution similar to the one it wanted to put to last Sunday's conference. Predictably it was defeated. By backing such a call the LSA would in effect be promoting an anti-cuts replacement to itself. The LSA after all is meant to involve all militant workers, not just the left. Therefore why encourage anti-cuts candidates instead of promoting the LSA, especially when the LSA has publicly committed itself to standing in every ward?
The answer of course lies in the present psychology of the leadership of the SP. It has more to do with its own decline as an organisation and the unwillingness of Taaffe and co to overcome their sectarianism. For 'broadening the movement', read 'We do not want to be in a minority vis-à -vis the SWP'.
However, despite my criticisms of the SP I believe that the SWP attempt to circumvent the argument by not allowing resolutions on the conference floor was profoundly undemocratic. Rather than a proper debate on the need for unity we had confusion and hostility. Rather than a straight fight there was manoeuvre. The 'democratic accountability' workshop was, for obvious reasons, the most well attended with the leaderships of all organisations present. Predictably the - very acrimonious - debate centred on whether we should stand anti-cuts or LSA candidates. The CPGB made a call for unity in the LSA and invited the CPB to join. In reply Monty Goldman from the CPB said that it would not join the LSA. It was willing to discuss with us and thought we should not stand against each other. As the CPB is planning to stand Ivan Beavis against the LSA in Hackney South in the general election, that might be a little difficult.
The SP insisted that, after forcing the resignation of the Labour-Tory council, it should be spontaneous anti-cuts candidates, presumably materialising out of thin air, who must replace them. Some SWP members stressed the LSA's commitment to standing community organisations wherever possible. Others, however, adopted a philistine approach: forget about these petty differences - let's just all go back to our locality and fly-post.
This attempt to avoid debate was unfortunately repeated later in discussion on the conference floor. Trying to stifle the SP by arguing that we should not discuss the structure of the anti-cuts campaign was again profoundly undemocratic and, to say the least, disingenuous. Far better was the approach of Indro Sen, non-aligned community activist, who challenged all those who wanted to form a new anti-cuts campaign to come out in the open with their criticisms of Hackney Fightback. He said the SP and their supporters should come along and raise issues at Fightback meetings if they did not like how it worked. They should not split the campaign deliberately, especially as the unity that has been built is so necessary to winning.
Having said all that, it was fortunate that despite the lack of proper debate the conference was not a complete disaster. It avoided a split, and some SP members did express the view afterwards that, in view of their failure to win support for a rival campaigning body, they ought to attend Fightback meetings from now on and attempt to democratise the campaign. Also there was positive discussion after the feedback from the other workshops about drawing in the working class community in Hackney for the first day of strike action on December 18.
In the view of many SWP members, the conference should have all been about 'how we build on the 18th'. But life is not like that. The SP was out to both split the campaign against the cuts and sabotage the LSA. No matter how sectarian or demoralising that may be for aligned and non-aligned alike, the fight against it must be open. Only in this way will they be truly exposed.
The working class has a right to see how the organisations that claim to lead it operate. Let us have our differences out in the open - that is the way to achieve lasting unity.Anne Murphy
Birmingham Candidate selection meeting and election of steering committee, Tuesday January 16, 7.30pm, United Services Club, Gough Street
Hackney Candidate selection meeting for the Hackney South and Shoreditch seat, Wednesday December 13, 7.30pm - 9.30pm, Queensbridge Community Centre, 30 Holly Street, Dalston
Southwark Public meeting, 'People before profit', Thursday December 14, 7.30pm, Walworth Methodist hall, Camberwell Road, London SE5. Speakers include John Mulrenan and Hackney Fightback