Welsh Socialist Alliance conference

Changed balance of balances

About 60 members attended the third annual conference of the Welsh Socialist Alliance on January 20 in mid-Wales. The following organisations were represented: Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party of England and Wales, Cymru Goch, Workers Power and the CPGB. The largest contingent was from the SWP, which had about 20 members present, SPEW slightly fewer.

The fact that no single group possessed a majority meant the outcome of the debates could not be predetermined. The SWP had things mostly its own way. But it had to rely upon the support of those outside its ranks to tip the balance. Not that it always got its way.

Bizarrely, the SWP tried to amend a resolution on pensions, so that the WSA would campaign for a minimum pension of £100 rather than £175, as demanded in the original motion. Its spurious argument was that the figure of £100 was in line with that demanded by pensioner groups. Thankfully, the rest of the conference rejected this amendment which would, if passed, have had the WSA campaign for pensioners to continue living in poverty.

The most heated debate took place on whether the WSA should field candidates in constituencies where it had no branches. The SWP tabled a constitutional amendment which put in place so many hurdles that it would have made it near impossible for anyone to stand. The amendment was clearly directed at preventing SPEW campaigning in the Rhondda, a seat that it had already announced it intended to contest.

Comrade Dave Warren of SPEW warned that if the amendment was passed then the conference might well be the last his party attended. He continued by denouncing the SWP's role in the WSA since joining last summer - although much of this smacked of sectarian frustration that his organisation is no longer able to call the tune.

Nevertheless comrade Warren's point about not placing implausible barriers in the way of fighting in such seats was a correct one. The CPGB opposed the amendment and asked for the SWP to withdraw it. Fortunately, at the last moment the SWP obliged, thus depriving SPEW of the opportunity to walk out.

SPEW is clearly upset that it has lost its dominant position. At previous conferences, without the SWP in attendance, it always enjoyed the majority of votes. No longer is this the case. This was highlighted by the passing of a CPGB amendment to a SPEW motion on asylum-seekers.

The amendment sought to commit the WSA to campaign to end all immigration laws, not simply 'racist' ones. Comrade Warren argued against the amendment. He claimed that if it was passed there would be no means of preventing the likes of general Pinochet from entering the country. This brought howls of laughter. SWP members, who at the beginning of the day were unsure how they would vote on this amendment (claiming that they did not want to split the conference), in the event voted in favour, and the bloc of SPEW and Cymru Goch opposing it was roundly defeated.

However, the response of the conference to other CPGB amendments was less than enthusiastic. The CPGB amendments on the steel industry and public transport called on the WSA to demand the nationalisation of these industries throughout the UK and not simply in Wales. It was pointed out that in the case of public transport it would be ludicrous to simply call for nationalisation in Wales (unless, of course, one wanted to seal off Wales from the rest of the UK). However, with the exception of Workers Power and a few non-aligned members, the conference opposed these amendments.

The SWP, SPEW and Cymru Goch contended that the WSA was only able to make demands relating to Wales. Clearly a stupid position which, if taken to its logical extreme, means that the motion passed on immigration controls ought only to apply to the borders of Wales.

Also controversial was the CPGB's amendment to the Merthyr branch motion on turning the WSA in the foreseeable future into a Welsh Socialist Party. Instead the CPGB called for the alliance project to reach a higher level of political organisation through the creation of an all-UK revolutionary socialist party, which, as one of its key slogans, would call for a federal republic, thus giving Wales and Scotland the constitutionally enshrined right of self-determination.

This caused outrage. Members of Cymru Goch demanded that our amendment be ruled out of order. One of its comrades insisted that the CPGB should leave the WSA if it wanted to create an all-UK organisation. To their credit, supporters of Workers Power backed the amendment, despite having reservations about the exact formulation.

On the main motion, the SWP and SPEW opposed the call for a Welsh Socialist Party. Neither attacked its overt nationalism. Instead they argued that such a move was "premature". Only Cymru Goch supported the motion.

Some acrimony surrounded the election of officers. Previously two had come from SPEW and one from Cymru Goch. Now the balance has shifted. The two officers from SPEW (treasurer and secretary) were re-elected, but Alun Roberts of Cymru Goch was defeated by Martin Chapman of the SWP by just one vote for the position of chair. This vote is illustrative of the fact that SPEW (which supported comrade Roberts) is now unable to exclude the SWP from key votes within the alliance; curiously, after these results were announced, comrade Roberts declined the new position of vice-chair. Cymru Goch also refused the invitation to take up another new officer post. Instead, by consensus, these positions were taken by a non-aligned member and another SWPer.

One wonders whether Cymru Goch is having second thoughts about the WSA. After failing to have a motion passed on workers' control (which it counterposed to nationalisation) and finding hostility to the idea that the WSA should campaign for an 'independent democratic socialist Wales', its members disappeared to the pub during the second half of the conference. Apparently this was not to drown their sorrows, but to hold an emergency meeting about the groups' continued role within the WSA.

A regrettable aspect of the conference was that no time was spent discussing the WSA's preparations for the general election. At present we have no strategy. Hopefully, this will change now that the SWP has become the most influential component.

The SWP and CPGB had tabled similar amendments for election preparations to be made. However, no time was left at conference to discuss them. They have been remitted to the next national council meeting, where, hopefully, the SWP will continue to back the CPGB's calls for a conference to take place in Cardiff in late February or early March to democratically decide our election manifesto.

Cameron Richards