Greenwich and Woolwich

New beginning

The last week of the election campaign in Greenwich and Woolwich SA united all elements of the alliance in a frenzy of street activity on stalls and a double dose of leafleting - a few even got in a little canvassing.

On June 4 a final pre-election rally attracted about 55 people - most were comrades from SA constituent organisations, plus three christian socialists and a couple of independents. The secretary of Greenwich Labour Party also appeared and spoke up for poor old Nick Raynsford, convincing absolutely no one. On the platform were Matt Wrack (Fire Brigades Union), Lindsey German and Paul Richardson (Socialist Workers Party) and our election candidate, Kirstie Paton (Workers Power).

Comrade Wrack recounted 10 years of fighting against job cuts imposed by Labour councils, private finance initiatives that resulted in fire engines being privately owned and leased to the fire service, privatisation disguised as ?best value?, a ?20,000 pay increase for London?s chief fire officer alongside the threat to make 18 van drivers redundant - all this had raised the question in the minds of firefighters, ?Why give money to Labour?? At the recent FBU conference the union leadership had been confident of defeating the move towards funding non-Labour candidates. However, three firefighters standing against Labour under the Socialist Alliance banner had helped sway conference, as it took the historic decision over the political fund. For comrade Wrack the SA is about ?independent working class candidates?.

Comrade German began by attacking the lack of discussion on important issues by the mainstream parties and the consequent concentration by the media on the mechanics and technicalities of the election. No wonder all the talk is of apathy. We have to take up the ?big issues?, said comrade German, but confined herself to an economistic list, covering housing, transport and privatisation schemes in hospitals and schools, etc.

Moving on to what was again to dominate discussion - what next for the SA? - comrade German described the alliance as ?a new beginning for the left?. Now we had to ?build a movement?. She argued that a section of the working class has become highly politicised. But she clearly failed to distinguish between trade union consciousness and political consciousness, placing recent unofficial and semi-official postal and tube strikes in the latter category.

Paul Richardson backed up the view of comrade German by reference to his own experience of campaigning locally. We could be witnessing a historic break from Labour, he said, adding that, although the Labour vote was still strong, ?at the edges people are open to our arguments?. This constituted the basis for a ?significant movement to the left of Labour?.

Kirstie Paton described her experience of an upsurge in the momentum of our campaign in the last four to five days and spoke of events not anticipated by New Labour: the unofficial postal workers? strike and the events in Oldham, where Asian youth fought back against police and racist attacks. Referring to the SA?s unique character in standing up on the issue of asylum-seekers, comrade Paton laid the blame for society?s ills where it belongs: at the door of capitalism. Promising not to disappear for four years like Nick Raynsford, she argued that there was a possibility to really build the SA.

From the floor Marcus Larsen (CPGB) argued that the next step we must take is to form a political party. Expressing a disagreement with comrade German, comrade Larsen said we should not limit ourselves to the tax-services seesaw, but provide answers on the real ?big issues?: ie, real politics for every section of society, not just narrow trade union questions. He specified the monarchy, self-determination, the legalisation of drugs, and so on. We have to carve out a new political space, concluded comrade Larsen.

Ian Crosson (SWP) argued that we were starting a historic movement and that debates between reformists and revolutionaries could take place within the SA. Another SWP member referred to a party as a rigid structure that would put non-revolutionaries off, and argued that such talk was premature.

Alan Stevens (CPGB) stated that New Labour?s second term could see a rise in spontaneous sectional and defensive actions by workers. Drawing on his experiences of militant unofficial actions by dockers in the 70s and 80s and pointing out that dockers were the only workers to come out nationally in support of the miners, comrade Stevens argued that even then consciousness did not rise above mere trade unionism. What we lacked then we lack now - a fighting working class party to coordinate and lead struggles. A party does not have to be ?rigid?, argued comrade Stevens - if what was meant by that was the type of monolithic, closed organisation that has passed for democratic centralism in the past.

In reply to discussion comrade Paton spoke of the immense advantage of having a party to organise struggles, to organise self-defence (perhaps in Oldham, for example) and to develop ?tribunes of the people?. Arguing against Labourism and reformism, comrade Paton also declared for a revolutionary party - the debate goes on.

Alan Stevens