SA fights SP wrecking

Events in Hackney came to a head last weekend at the national executive of the Socialist Alliance. A motion was put forward by leading Socialist Party members Clive Heemskerk and Dave Nellist, calling on the executive to ask the Hackney SA to stand down in one of the forthcoming council by-elections and instead back the SP anti-cuts candidate. A letter supporting the motion was sent in from Brian Debus, SP member and chair of Hackney Unison. In addition the executive received a letter criticising the SP?s proposal from Will McMahon and Mike Marqusee, two of Hackney SA?s officers.

The Heemskerk-Nellist motion was defeated with only the proposers voting for it. The rest of the executive was of the view that the Hackney SA had behaved perfectly properly in refusing to accede to SP demands. Dave Nellist appeared distinctly uncomfortable about the whole business.

So the saga rolls on. The Weekly Worker has carried regular reports over eight months of the increasingly negative role played by the SP in Hackney. Its comrades have hardly ever attended meetings and never taken part in SA activities since the by-election in Wick ward last October. After several requests for proper participation in the SA, an SP full-timer, Mick Cotter, accepted the role of vice-chair, but subsequently resigned, having only attended one meeting. He cited no political reasons for his resignation. It was due to ?personal commitments?. However, no replacement was put forward despite the SP being asked on several occasions to do so.

The SP have their own separate Saturday stalls, produce their own separate SP Hackney literature, have declined to contribute financially and even refuse to hand out SA leaflets. Their members are embarrassed and defensive when asked about their relationship to the SA. You would never think they were part of the same national organisation.

The hostility towards Hackney SA has became progressively worse over the months, as the militancy of the workforce and indignation amongst the community grew - strikes, occupations. The SP used its influence to call a conference in December to organise a slate of anti-cuts candidates - the SA had by this time publicly committed itself to stand throughout the borough. The conference was a farce and, while I have been critical in previous reports of how badly the SWP handled the day, there is no doubt that the SP were the real anti-democrats. They were out to use the workforce and community campaigners for their own sectarian ends.

The latest episode has seen them sinking to even lower depths. SP comrades asked the April 19 Hackney-wide stewards? committee meeting to back their member, Brian Debus, as an anti-cuts candidate. The same meeting - about which the SA had not been consulted or invited - also supported shop steward Mitch Dublin, who informed them he was going to put himself up for selection as an SA candidate. SP members admit that if Brian had been proposed as an SA candidate he would have had the backing of the stewards.

But the SP did not want to propose him as an SA candidate. The idea of an anti-cuts candidate did not arise organically from the struggle, but was purely a device to undermine the SA and allow the SP to control any election campaign. The SP leadership fears being in a minority in an area with a largish Socialist Workers Party membership. If the SP views the standing of candidates representing broad, anti-cuts or similar campaigns as the main way to build the movement, as it claims, then why have Dave Nellist, Ian Page and other SP members not stood as anti-cuts candidates themselves? It is not as though there are no cuts or anti-cuts campaigners in Coventry and Lewisham.

In recent weeks there has been a campaign of lies and smears coming from the SP camp. There have been attempts to create divisions between the SWP and CPGB, as well as non-aligned members, by misrepresenting what people have said in conversations with leading SP members. The SP appears to have initiated a whispering campaign aimed at creating distrust towards the SA among trade union members. All of this is designed to damage the standing of the SA. That is why we must be open in our criticisms of what the SP has been doing. We should not have the attitude that militants must be protected from such nasty infighting.

Some comrades have criticised the CPGB for raising this whole thorny issue in SA branch meetings. I have been told that it will demoralise ordinary workers. But it is even more demoralising to know that everything is being discussed behind one?s back. The working class must learn to deal with sectarianism. They should not be treated like children. The SWP?s traditional reluctance to have political problems aired openly and honestly plays into the hands of the SP. Having the debate out and making sure that trade union members and community activists are aware of what is going on strengthens our fight and exposes the SP for the sectarians they are.

I am pleased therefore that Will McMahon and Mike Marqusee have set the record straight. It is also good to hear that the selection meeting to decide the SA on May 9 was a forum for frank  discussion (I was unfortunately absent). The SP turned up to put its proposal. However, it had become clear that Brian Debus could not stand - what a surprise - as he is a council worker employed by Hackney. Instead Glenn Kelly, Unison branch secretary in Bromley and a Hackney resident, was put forward, although he had not been endorsed by the stewards committee.

The meeting voted to stand an SA candidate in the Northwold by-election and refused to support Glenn Kelly as an anti-cuts candidate. He had been asked to stand as part of the SA. But this proposal was rejected out of hand by the SP. Then, having turned up to take part in the voting process and been defeated, SP comrades once again disowned the SA and claimed that the whole thing was a fix! They were, as in the Coventry conference, willing to take part in a vote, but refused to accept decisions.

The meeting went on to select three candidates: Mitch Dublin for the Queensbridge ward, Annetta Gluckstein (Chanie Rosenburg) for Springfield and Diana Swingler for the controversial Northwold ward. The campaigns are now underway and have been going very well. All three wards have been completely leafleted and canvassing has begun.

The SP has no doubt caused a great deal of confusion and acrimony. Some who attended the SA selection meeting found themselves voting for both the SP anti-cuts candidate and the SA. I have met at least one Unison member out canvassing who is supporting both Glenn Kelly and the SA. Yet the fact that the replacement for Brian Debus is an SP member who has not been active in the area shows the degree to which this is an SP-controlled wrecking campaign.

Anne Mc Shane
chair, Hackney Socialist Alliance (personal capacity)

To get involved in the Hackney SA campaign e-mail info@hackneysa.org.uk, phone 020 8986 8160