Build on housing win

The Socialist Alliance is standing five candidates in the forthcoming local elections in Birmingham, which currently contains two branches. Four wards are being contested by South Birmingham SA and we have one candidate in the Erdington branch: namely Steve Godward, national vice-chair of the SA, who also contested the Erdington constituency in the 2001 election and the Kingsbury by-election in autumn 2002. As for the rest of the left, the Socialist Party is contesting Frankley ward and the Marxist Party is also standing in the Erdington area. The Socialist Labour Party to the best of my knowledge has no candidates at all, even in its traditional Indian Workers Association stronghold of Handsworth. The SA has been engaged in a short but efficient campaign on both sides of the city, with large leafleting sessions and participation in neighbourhood forums. The response from the public has often been positive, with many people utterly disillusioned with the Labour Party's Thatcherite agenda at a local and national level. Whether this translates into actual electoral success for an alliance still in its infancy remains to be seen. It will take time for the organisation to gain credibility, but some positive groundwork is being put in. A great possibility exists for the Socialist Alliance in Birmingham to make gains at the expense of a discredited Labour Party The biggest issue facing the working class in Birmingham recently was (and arguably is still) the proposed transfer of 88,000 council houses to private landlords. This of course is in contradiction to the position of many leading Socialist Workers Party members in Birmingham, who regard the Stop the War Coalition to be central to all political activity. The petty bourgeois composition of the SWP has been reflected in some (certainly not all, I hasten to add) members' attitudes to this and other campaigns. For instance, their willingness to countenance alliances with the class enemy is ample testimony to this. Several things must be noted first, however. The result, with two thirds of tenants rejecting stock transfer, is truly magnificent. It was a huge victory for the Birmingham working class, and the magnitude of the victory was surprising, given recent events in Glasgow. The victory is in no small part due the work done on the ground by Defend Council Housing activists, especially Pat Morrin and Luke Henderson of the SWP and Geoff Smith, a non-aligned socialist. They must be commended for their graft and tireless effort in the two years of this campaign. The Labour Party was pretty inept, but the result could have been far more unpleasant were it not for the efforts of the foot-soldiers of DCH. However, one must distinguish between those on the ground and some sections of the leadership of Birmingham DCH. The campaign, instead of being tenant/working class-based, was in rapture to various bourgeois forces. The left was sidelined as the campaign progressed, and the disgracefully undemocratic internal structure, with the concerns of non-SWP lefts regarding procedure and basic democracy dismissed. Even the steering committee was at times bypassed. The SWP, true to form, was completely acquiescent to the right on these questions. Frank Chance, chair of Birmingham DCH, and John Hemming, leader of the Liberal Democrat group of councillors in Birmingham, were virtually deified, and the left were either unwilling or unable to prevent the campaign being hijacked by a bourgeois electoralist agenda. The involvement of the many Lib Dems and Tories was completely unprincipled and based purely on the desire for votes. The Lib Dems are forcing through stock transfer in a number of councils. And yet, when pressed, Hemming refused to comment and was defended by much of the leadership. The SWP proclaim this party as our 'united front allies' for the purposes of the campaign. Indeed, some SWP members argue that the Liberal Democrats are not a straight bourgeois party, and vacillate vis-à -vis relations to the working class. The Lib Dems are predicted to make gains in the forthcoming local elections, such is the contempt for the Birmingham Labour Party. Whether this is in any way attributable to involvement in DCH is doubtful, however. What is clear though is that the Socialist Alliance will not benefit from this success. The SA had no foothold or profile in a campaign that the alliance should be at the forefront of, and should electorally capitalise on. The comparative weakness of Birmingham SA, and therefore its failure to influence the political direction of such campaigns as DCH and Stop the War, is, in my analysis, due to the SWP - which, as comrades will doubtless know, is exceptionally dire here. In South Birmingham SA, which has the misfortune of containing all of the leading SWP hacks, relations can be a little strained. Erdington SA has less difficulty because of the weakness of the SWP and the presence of Steve Godward. An example. The recent candidate selection/endorsement meeting for South Birmingham SA was truly outrageous. The SWP wished to force upon the branch candidates who were not members of the SA and had no intention of joining, who many of us had never met, who had never been to a single alliance meeting ever, and in the case of Frank Chance (who turned down the SWP's approach) presided over a DCH campaign, some of whose members were engaged in serious and systematic persecution of the left. These practices are even beneath those of New Labour. It also highlighted the need for the adoption and codification of procedures for election campaigns. The SWP wish the Birmingham local election campaign to be mostly based on the 'war on terrorism'. It is not parochial to argue that the war is simply not the biggest issue for most of the downtrodden masses in Birmingham. One of course must not ignore the British implications and context of the war, but to base an entire supposedly socialist election campaign around it is electoral suicide. Such juvenile games will not be taken seriously by the working class. One must never apologise for taking an explicitly anti-war stance, but it must be part of a wider message and programme. Serious difficulties remain in the Stop the War Coalition in Birmingham. Two groups purport to be the legitimate coalition and represent the muslim community. The split is unlikely to be remedied in the short term. A rally and march which took place on April 20 saw at least three arrests, and the 'revolutionaries' in the SWP at the time skulked off and ushered concerned people away while (coincidentally overtly muslim) comrades were victimised. Then, in a mad turn of events, when the march congregated near the Council House, SWP members egged on and whipped up justifiably militant muslim youth to march again and effectively attack the police. The police unsurprisingly responded with a baton charge, the balance of forces being by this time heavily in their favour. The actions of the SWP could have led to casualties, with the baton charge directed at a defenceless crowd containing passers-by with prams and young children. Serious, long-time activists in the Palestinian struggle were horrified by the appalling conduct of the SWP. The notion of joint activity between the various groupings on the Palestinian struggle is thus left in some doubt. A Birmingham Joint Committee on Palestine now exists to coordinate the struggle, but many leading Palestine Solidarity Campaign activists have grave doubts regarding joint activity with an SWP-dominated Birmingham Stop the War 'Coalition'. James Cunningham