Socialist Alliance Cementing unity

Executive maps way ahead

The executive committee of the Socialist Alliance, meeting in Manchester on September 1, has recommended the organisation stand under a united, all-England manifesto for the local government elections in May 2002. This represents a further step towards consistent democratic unity for the Socialist Alliance.

There was no dissent from the 11 comrades present over this proposal - not even from the Socialist Party?s Clive Heemskerk, Peter Taaffe?s man on the executive. The committee suggests that the local election platform is based on policies taken from our general election manifesto, to be amended and endorsed by a Liaison Committee-type conference next year (pending the outcome of the structure conference on December 1).

Hopefully we will be able to build on the good start made at the general election by standing candidates as widely as possible next year. While we do not at this time anticipate a breakthrough, comrades demonstrated their ambitious expectations for the future by raising the issue of accountability. When we begin to have councillors elected, the SA will need to be able to influence their actions and remove the SA ?whip? should they fail to live up to the standards expected of SA members while in office.

In addition to the local elections, a major question that dominated our considerations was the December 1 conference, which will determine the future structure of the alliance. This presents a small difficulty. The SA already has a constitution, passed in the days when the Socialist Alliance was rather different from the organisation which exists today. Formally then, according to one particular line of thinking, any changes to the constitution must be introduced by way of amendment. However, as the existing constitution will require a complete overhaul, no matter what course the conference decides to take, the only realistic way forward would have to be in the form of ?delete all and insert?. Those fixated by the procedures adopted by most trade union and labour movement bodies inform us that such amendments cannot themselves be amended. So conference would be faced with a choice of new constitutions to be accepted or rejected in their entirety.

This is unsatisfactory. In effect there are two roads for the alliance: one of continued federalism, or one that moves towards a deeper unity through the adoption of a one-member-one-vote structure. It is this substantive matter which must be resolved on December 1. Therefore, in my opinion the conference arrangements committee (charged by the executive with coming up with recommendations for December 1) should put forward two draft constitutions reflecting those alternatives, either of which can be amended by conference.

As a first step towards the debate on structure, the executive will produce a discussion bulletin containing the current constitution and those proposals and suggestions already submitted. Such a bulletin is not intended as a final word, but rather as the catalyst for discussion throughout the alliance.

The bulletin will contain a preamble from our chair, Dave Nellist, outlining the process leading up to the conference. In line with the decision of the Liaison Committee that discussions in local alliances on our future structure should include ?speakers from each strand of opinion?, the preamble will include contact details of all SA components submitting proposals.

Turning to our trade union activity, the executive commended the work done by the small committee organised by Mark Hoskisson (Workers Power). Thanks also to the efforts of Matt Wrack, the SA has begun effective fraction work in the Fire Brigades Union.

Having commented on the formalisation of this committee at the Liaison Committee, I was pulled up by comrade Heemskerk. He contested the trade union committee?s character. He claimed it had no official status and that, if it had, the Socialist Party would have wanted representation on it. I pointed out that comrade Wrack - a Socialist Party member - was on the committee alongside Alan Thornett of the International Socialist Group. The SP did have representation. Comrade Heemskerk mumbled something about comrade Wrack being more focused on trade union work.

That disagreement aside, members of the executive committee formally recognised the committee?s work and looked forward to its report at the October 6 Liaison Committee meeting.

It seems likely that the left caucuses of the PCSU (civil service union) and Unison will hold a conference against privatisation in November. The SA executive supports such a move and we will seek to endorse it. Further, the executive backed the initiative of the GMB union to utilise the Local Government Act to campaign for referenda on the privatisation of local services.

It was agreed that we should push ahead with organising a conference specifically for Socialist Alliance trade union activists. Such a conference needs to discuss general principles of our work in the unions: broad lefts versus rank and file organisation, our attitude to the Labour Party and affiliation, and so on. It also needs to deal with the tactical issues of organising in specific unions: open SA fractions or SA work within existing left structures. The trade union committee was also charged with drafting a resolution for branches on democratising trade union political funds. It will be broadly based on the successful motion at the FBU conference.

I raised the matter of elections for general secretary in the National Union of Journalists and the RMT union. There was no objection to the Socialist Alliance endorsing Jeremy Dear for NUJ general secretary. Developments after the death of RMT general secretary Jimmy Knapp were also briefly touched upon. Further, the executive discussed the possibility of a meeting of Socialist Alliance RMT activists to consider how to combat the witch hunt against Greg Tucker and Mick Skiggs on South West Trains.

The executive moved on to current campaigning around anti-racism and anti-fascism. Comrade John Rees from the SWP said that, while the Anti-Nazi League was able to pursue ?broad campaigning objectives?, the political tasks of providing an alternative to the nazis fell to the Socialist Alliance. While this puts the emphasis in the wrong place - surely we need to primarily provide an alternative to the mainstream parties, above all Labour - comrade Rees?s recognition of the need to combat fascism as part of our SA programme (politically as well as on the street) was very welcome.

To this end, the executive endorsed moves in Burnley to stand in a local by-election in the constituency where the BNP gained 16% of the vote. Comrade Rees said that we must prepare activists for the possibility of polling lower than the fascists. Previously, the SWP has tended to either back Labour against fascist candidates or, worse, merely campaign on the slogan ?Don?t vote nazi?. The CPGB welcomes this change in perspective.

It was also welcome that the executive recognised that in these areas, most people are not hardened fascists and racists, who were in fact organised in ?tiny bands?. This means that we need to open a genuine dialogue with such communities drawn to vote BNP as a protest - a cry of despair - against New Labour.

Given that the ANL carnival, planned for September 1 in Burnley, was banned, I argued that the Liaison Committee had made a mistake deleting the section of the Workers Power motion which argued against calls for state banning of fascists. The section deleted by the SWP specifically argued that such powers to clamp down upon fascist activity were invariably used against the left and anti-fascist forces. Burnley proves the point.

Vauxhall Socialist Alliance in south London has passed a motion calling on the Liaison Committee to discuss this issue at its next meeting on October 6. Comrade Rob Hoveman of the SWP grudgingly accepted that we would need to agenda this matter. Let us hope that in the light of experience our position is changed.

The final campaigning matter concerned the anti-privatisation demonstration at the Labour Party conference on September 30 in Brighton. The executive decided that the Socialist Alliance should march as a single contingent, behind a single banner. One thousand red flags are being ordered for the march. This is an historic decision and will be the first time the Socialist Alliance marches as one on a major national demonstration.

The meeting also dealt with administrative matters - mainly finance. Treasurer Declan O?Neill expressed concern at our small current deficit. While of course this matter weighs more heavily on him as the drawer of cheques (sometimes out of his own pocket), the Socialist Alliance is not badly off considering what has been achieved. However, nobody would dispute that cash must be raised.

Four areas of revenue were identified (listed in decreasing order of reliability and immediacy): the supporting organisations, local alliance ?levies?, standing orders from members and general fundraising. Unfortunately, the Socialist Party through comrade Heemskerk declared it was unable to help fund the office (previously it had been agreed that all six principle organisations would share an equal burden till the December 1 conference). This stance underlines the SP leadership?s continuing semi-detached position from the concerns of the alliance. Dave Nellist - an SP member himself, of course - did not say a word on the matter.

A former SP member, Nick Wrack, is to convene a working group to try to gain pledges from local SAs and he suggested that alliances be given specific targets to cover specific costs. He said that local alliances need to be encouraged to push for national membership, especially given the importance of the forthcoming structure conference.

Finally, we agreed that Mike Marqusee shall oversee weekly updates of the website with a priority placed on information on the Brighton demonstration.

The executive was conducted in a constructive atmosphere, with a businesslike attitude to our tasks. Martin Thomas of the Alliance for Workers? Liberty correctly called for more transparency in minute-taking in order to make clear exactly what decisions are taken and who is to carry them out.

The most positive outcome for those of us fighting for a pro-party bloc and a partyist culture were the decisions to stand united in the local elections and to organise a joint contingent for the Brighton demonstration. Forward to a Socialist Alliance party.

Marcus Larsen
Socialist Alliance executive committee