Socialist Alliance agrees manifesto

Use elections to mobilise class

The first national council of the Socialist Alliance since the adoption of our new constitution was held on February 16. More than 50 comrades met in Birmingham to decide on our manifesto for the May 2 local government elections. With delegates not receiving all amendments and motions until the morning of the meeting, the proceedings were somewhat disorganised, leading to the emergence of a very eclectic document. On the one hand we have a 'policy commitment' "to make all public housing damp-free by 2010" and on the other we will campaign to "cut the entire local budget subsidy to the police". A mixed bag indeed, though in the end we achieved a result. The manner in which the manifesto was amended means that redrafting the final version will be quite a task and it is unlikely to be ready before the end of next week at the earliest. Despite these problems, and despite some very weak sections, there are also positive formulations that represent an advance. What was evident from the gathering is that localism is rife among Socialist Alliance activists. Suggestions from me that our political priorities for the local government elections should be on broad international and national principles were ridiculed as "abstract". Instead, comrades felt that we needed a document that had a policy for every detail of council business, as if we were about to sweep to power in dozens of local authorities and start running local services in a due and proper business like manner. This, of course, is not only impossible at our current stage of development, but an incorrect approach for socialists to take. Geoff Barr of Exeter SA said that we need to be able to tell people how we will collect their rubbish and how we will provide more books for children in schools. It seems that local elections bring out the worst politics in some people. Our deliberations on the manifesto began with comrade Liz Davies, national chair, moving her draft and with me moving an alternative list of political priorities (see Weekly Worker February 14). Comrade Davies said that her document was a list of policies to be implemented in local government. I agreed that this is so and explained why her approach was mistaken. It is all well and good to put forward demands, but it is wrong to present policies to the electorate as if these are tasks we will solve for them, on their behalf, above their heads. We stand for working class self-liberation: what we present to the electorate should be political priorities the working class needs to campaign for. Our candidates should be tribunes for these principled politics, and when elected, should use the council chamber as a platform to agitate for them. Comrade Davies's document is riddled with phrases promising what the Socialist Alliance will do for the working class. For example, she undertakes: "We will provide public grants to make all homes energy-efficient." Comrades seem to have lost sight of why we are contesting elections. We do not intend to 'introduce socialism' on behalf of the working class - not in parliament and certainly not through the council chamber. Councils, like any other arm of the capitalist state, may be contested but cannot simply be used ready-made in order to meet the revolution-making needs of the working class. Our main task is to promote the Socialist Alliance and use elections as a platform to organise and mobilise our class. My draft list of political priorities only received the support of four comrades (two from the CPGB, Eryk Karas of Bedfordshire SA and Mark Hoskisson of Workers Power). We then moved on to amending comrade Davie's document. Many of the agreed changes strengthened it markedly, particularly amendments from Martin Thomas of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty and comrade Hoskisson. Our 'Key slogans' section now reads: "The Socialist Alliance is standing so that you can elect councillors who will be advocates and representatives for the working class. At present, councillors, even Labour councillors, are representatives and administrators of policies set by central government and the council's unelected officials, much more than they are representatives of the people. "The Socialist Alliance is standing so that trade unionists, tenants and working class people can have an outspoken representative in the council chamber. "We will use the council chamber as a platform to speak up: * for affordable, good-quality housing, high-quality education and good public services for all. No cuts! * to stop privatisation and bring privatised local services back into the public domain, with democratic control by workers and residents. * for a campaign to win resources from the rich, big business and central government." Added to this are "key demands", as moved by the Socialist Workers Party: "Tax the rich to fund public services; stop privatisation; renationalise the rail; keep the tube public; defend council housing; defend comprehensive education; stop attacks on asylum-seekers and fight racism; stop Bush and Blair's war." While not ideal, the resulting document was greatly improved. In moving the SWP's "key demands", comrade John Rees in fact echoed some of my arguments against comrade Davies's document. He said that we needed not only demands around specifically local issues, but those touching upon key national issues such as racism, war and the record of the Blair government. While handicapped by its economism, this corrective to pure localism was welcome. True to form, however, the SWP attempted to move our demands on local democracy from the second section of the policy document to near the bottom. Thankfully, they were defeated, 26 votes to 19. Other positive amendments were proposed by Workers Power. On democracy we have added: "We believe workers need to take control of local democracy themselves "¦ We need an entirely new system of local democracy. * All councillors subject to immediate recall by their electors; expenses/salaries to be monitored by an audit commission elected from the council's workforce and community organisations. * For all services to be democratically controlled by elected representatives of those who work in them and those who use them. * Open up council facilities to all workers and communities engaged in struggle. * Build solidarity between councils and council workforces fighting cuts or privatisation." A further positive addition from comrade Hoskisson concerns budgets: "The Socialist Alliance fights: * For budgets drawn up on the basis of an audit of working class needs. For genuine forums of tenants, employees and service-users to determine the amount of money needed to produce decent services; for the elected council to implement the budget decided by such forums regardless of central government spending restrictions. * For the mobilisation of the entire community to campaign for such budgets even if this means direct conflict with either central government or the privateers who now run many of the services. * No rent or council tax increases. * Cut the entire local budget subsidy to the police." These additions greatly strengthen our document and give us the basis for principled campaigning, as opposed to a shopping list of promises. National council also passed a set of guidelines for fighting the elections. These too were improved, thanks mainly to a shift in position by the SWP. Previously, on the ground, it had supported standing only in a few 'targeted' wards and was overly concerned with the likely size of the vote. Now it has shifted to a more balanced and correct position: "We want to maximise our vote and maximise our credibility. In achieving the latter we have to recognise that we may not be able to devote the same resources to every campaign. Whereas we have to ensure that in some target wards we will canvas thoroughly as well as leaflet, in others we may only be able to put out one leaflet and do very little canvassing." This support for paper candidates - ie, candidates who are there to serve the overall effort rather than first-rankers who we seriously expect to have a chance of being elected - it is a welcome move. Another improvement came in the section on fascism, with the following sentence removed: "We should not under any circumstances support a split in the anti-BNP vote if that would lead to a serious threat of the BNP winning." National council went on to pass a motion seeking to initiate a militant republican campaign against the monarchy in this, the golden jubilee year, despite opposition from John Rees, who led the SWP in a vote against taking up this democratic issue. A committee will be established and we will encourage local alliances to sponsor republican activities and seek to hold a central republican social event on the weekend of the jubilee. Council also supported the CPGB motion for solidarity with the International Socialist Organisation in Zimbabwe. Comrade Hoskisson attempted to amend the motion so that local alliances were only encouraged to send funds to the "Zimbabwean trade union movement" and not the ISO. In the end, the resolution calls for financial support to both the ISO and the unions. Asked by Nick Wrack what the SWP position was, comrade John Rees unenthusiastically supported the resolution saying that, although the SWP and ISO had had their differences, he supported solidarity and fundraising for his International Socialist Tendency comrades in Zimbabwe. He emphasised that this was not a case of sectarian support, since similar motions in favour of organisations such as the PRD in Indonesia or the PTS in Argentina would also gain his backing. Marcus Larsen executive committee member