Build the alliance

SA exec plans busy schedule

The July executive committee meeting of the Socialist Alliance focused on our work in the unions, our forthcoming conference on Europe and our broader international work, as well as hearing reports on finance and membership. The key theme of the meeting was the growing divide over our position on the forthcoming euro referendum. Comrade John Rees of the Socialist Workers Party said during the meeting that the 'no' and active boycott positions shared the same aim, but sought to employ different tactics to express opposition to the neoliberal agenda of the European ruling classes. This is wishful thinking on comrade Rees's part - or perhaps betrays his own sympathies for a boycott. The impact of a successful 'no' campaign will be to shift Britain to the right and will in no way aid the development of independent working class politics. With Liz Davies away, vice-chair Lesley Mahmood ably steered us through a tight agenda. We finished our business on time. Our meetings are becoming noticeably more professional as the comrades become more used to acting and thinking as a collective body. Mark Hoskisson (Workers Power), SA trade union officer, gave a verbal report outlining SA activity during the union conference season. He reported successful fringe meetings at the conferences of the NUT, RMT grades, Natfhe, PCSU, Unison and Amicus. Further well attended meetings were also held at the gatherings of the FBU, CWU, Unison healthworkers and Unison London region. Hundreds of union delegates have heard our message of democratising the political funds and building a working class alternative to New Labour. Our position of active engagement with the crisis of Labourism through the trade union link is causing a headache for the Labour-loyal bureaucrats, as well as the suits and spivs in Millbank Tower. Comrade Hoskisson pointed to steps forward as well as setbacks, such as at the FBU conference on the political fund. However in Unison, Britain's largest union, the executive had been censured by conference for not investigating the issue of the political fund, as instructed by the 2001 conference. While the SA did not support disaffiliation from Labour at this time, the executive noted the 20% of delegates voting in favour of disaffiliation at the CWU conference. Comrade Hoskisson said it was imperative that the Socialist Alliance union networks were established quickly to help organise this sentiment. The comrade recommended we establish a public sector bulletin board on the internet to help activists across the unions share information and ideas for the slowly growing militancy in the public sector. I felt that most comrades on the executive suffered from a touch of 'official optimism' regarding our trade union activists' conference, held on June 29. With only 94 attending, it was little more than a case of going through the motions. We were not able to organise anything and our SA networks remain good ideas awaiting implementation. Comrade John Rees of the Socialist Workers Party provided some balance. He pointed to the widespread debate about the fund and a mood of growing disillusionment for what the unions got out of the Labour link, but he also said that we do not as yet play any significant part in organising this mood. I agreed that there was a substantial gap between the apparent impact of the Socialist Alliance on this debate and our ability to organise. The fact that the main charge against Mark Serwotka is his support for the Socialist Alliance is not unimportant. However, sect mentality and a fear of upsetting the bureaucratic 'broad lefts' are hampering our organisation in the unions. It was generally agreed that it was important to establish the SA union networks, launch a public sector workers e-bulletin board, prepare a tabloid newssheet for union work with draft motions for 2003 conference season and intervene in the PCSU regional rallies in support of Mark Serwotka. I proposed that we seek to build a political campaign against privatisation. Given the growing militancy in the public sector, the SA needed to provide a lead. Concretely I proposed a national push to pressurise local government authorities into holding referenda on privatisation. It is all well and good to support this or that strike, but if that is all we do we play the role of mere cheerleaders. We should seek to use the Local Government Act, as Socialist Party activists and others in Wakefield had done, to force councils to organise ballots on whether or not to privatise services. Supported by the local paper, 83% of Wakefield voters opposed any privatisation of the NHS services in the area. Given the wholesale privatisation proposals in Westminster and the strike action proposed in response, the SA can seek to generalise and politicise resistance to these attacks on the working class. A campaign against privatisation alongside the political demand for central government to provide funds for what we need could be a useful way to generalise the sentiment among workers into a national campaign. It would also be a way to help galvanise local SA branches - many of which have become moribund. This tactic was proposed by the GMB in 2001 and may help the SA forge links with the broader movement. It was agreed to seek clarity on the legal situation and explore the possibility of campaigning in one area as a test case. The meeting emphasised that any such campaign should not be seen as a universal panacea or the sole priority for local branches. The executive moved on to discuss our international links and activity. Will McMahon reported on the meeting of the self-proclaimed 'European Anti-Capitalist Left'. An initiative of the Fourth International, this body shadows the EU summits and brings together left organisations that the FI considers are broadly involved in processes of left recomposition. For this reason, the FI organisers did not invite the Socialist Party, which split from the SA last year. It was made clear that the decision to exclude the SP was not that of the SA, but of the meeting's organisers. We noted the active involvement of Rifondazione Comunista in this forum and welcomed the possibilities this spelled out for a common electoral intervention for the left across Europe in 2004. I expressed some ambivalence about its nature, particularly as it bills itself as the meeting of the anti-capitalist left, but is in fact fairly narrow in its remit. The executive heard a report on a meeting of some of its members with representatives of Rifondazione during Marxism. We agreed to support an initiative to oppose the neoliberal offensive of Blair, Berlusconi and Aznar. The proposal is to include the SA, Rifondazione and Izquierda Unida in a common response with the additional aim of moving the agenda of the European Social Forum to the left. Details of the proposal will be forthcoming from Rifondazione. The SA is scheduled to hold our conference on Europe on October 12 at the South Camden Community School. The executive confirmed that the first half of the meeting will decide our position in any euro referendum. The afternoon will debate key themes on Europe in general and concentrate on building for the European Social Forum. SA members and trends will be invited to speak to discussion papers, but no votes will be taken on these. Instead this session will be seen as starting the debate on various issues for possible voting at our AGM in February. We provisionally agreed to endorse the proposal for a cultural/political festival in spring or summer next year. Comrade John Rees mapped out an ambitious vision for the festival with the likes of Noam Chomsky and other key cultural figures of the left attending. John Rees and myself will draw up concrete proposals to be presented to the next national council, to be held in Birmingham on September 7. Comrade Rees's ambition is most welcome. Depending on debates at the AGM, such a festival would provide an excellent backdrop to the launch of a Socialist Alliance paper - official or unofficial. We need to combine this vision with a real commitment to build the Socialist Alliance. It is noticeable that the SA membership remains below what is publicly claimed for the SWP - only 70 people joined the alliance at this year's Marxism event. The executive discussed Liz Davies's paper The next two years and agreed to issue it to the membership for discussion and comment. This document is seen as comrade Davies's contribution to a debate leading up to our February AGM, where many of the issues she raises will need firm decisions. The document does not express the position of the executive as a whole. Finally we considered the agenda for the next national council. Provisionally, the NC will discuss the Liz Davies document and hear short contributions from SA comrades active in campaigns to defend council housing and for pensioners' rights. We will decide upon our collective priorities at the European Social Forum and discuss ways to build our mobilisation for Florence in November. Council will consider my proposal for a union-based campaign for referenda against privatisation. The executive agreed to ask Mark Serwotka to speak to the council, which will discuss concrete ways for the alliance to build our union networks. Finally, council will decide whether to go ahead with the proposed SA cultural/political festival for spring/summer 2003. Marcus Ström SA executive member