Reply to Allan Green

Dear Allan Your letter of December 1 is a serious complaint about the conduct of the SW platform. The SW platform has been accused of activities in relation to the firefighters' strike, which supposedly result from our implementing the strategy of the SWP in England and Wales rather than that of the SSP. In particular, SW platform members are said to have promoted the rank and file paper Red Watch rather than SSP publications, to have built united front local support groups and meetings rather than SSP city-wide ones, and to have abstained from delivering the SSP election bulletin. You claim that, "The SW platform basically is organising and coordinating activity as if it is a separate party and one in competition with the SSP." You also claim that "these actions breed confusion and are unnecessarily divisive". None of this is true. The SW platform is entirely committed to building the SSP and to securing maximum representation in the Scottish parliament. We have not done anything that contradicts SSP policy. We have not done anything that contravenes SSP membership guidelines. We have not done anything that breaches the agreement that the SWP and SSP reached when SWP members joined the SSP in Scotland. We have not sold SW platform literature in public, nor have we used SSP public meetings to promote either our platform or the International Socialist Tendency. We are therefore concerned that your letter is part of an attempt to portray SW platform members as not playing a full part in the build-up to the elections, and more seriously of undermining the unity of socialists in the SSP. SW platform members' activities, along with other SSP comrades, over the period of the firefighters' strike have been focussed on building both solidarity for the firefighters and support for the SSP. It would have been more in keeping with the dictates of natural justice had we been asked to provide evidence that this is not the case before you wrote your letter and presented it to the EC, or issued it to the email list. However, instead of inviting us to respond and then considering the evidence on both sides, you have taken it upon yourself to play the role of judge and jury in simply deciding that the accusations are true. When we hear of such practices in our trade unions or the Labour Party, socialists have rightly been the first to complain. Our attitude to the SSP is not, as you claim, to treat it as a kind of united front (even if one of a 'special type'); it is to build the party as a political alternative to Labour in Scotland and as a space for socialist discussion and organisation. But we should be very clear at the same time that the alternative we seek to build is not only electoral. We do not counterpose strike solidarity work to the election campaign. They all strengthen each other. The four-page SSP election broadsheet is good precisely because it addresses wider issues. It is the firefighters' strike, however, which has brought a number of extremely important political issues - such as the difference between rank and file and broad left strategies and the proper relationship between socialists and the trade union bureaucracy - into sharp focus. But rather than open up debate on these issues, your paper, which you purport to have the backing of the EC, appears to be attempting to block off discussion by bureaucratic fiat. In other words, any positions which are contrary to the views of the 'majority' will simply be dismissed as manifestations of SW platform activity, and so discussion and debate can be avoided. But national conference is the sovereign policy-making body of the SSP, not the executive committee or the national council, whose role, as the constitution states, is to 'implement' conference policy. We do not feel our actions have contradicted in any way the spirit of building a new type of 'inclusive, pluralist party'. However, unfortunately, the behaviour and attitude of some SSP members have led to some of our platform comrades feeling alienated within the party. We would prefer differences of opinion to be solved by political discussion and debate, not hectoring, which some of our, in particular, younger comrades have experienced. The SSP's sovereign body, the national conference, supports the building of rank and file organisations in our unions. The motion passed at conference 2002 noted the "growth of left organisations within the unions, which offer a strategy based on rank and file militancy and a challenge to the bureaucracy". It further called for "the SSP to have an orientation on the unions and play a leading role in the development of rank and file organisations", including many of those explicitly referred to in your letter. The platform upholds this policy - does the EC? As far as the leadership of the FBU is concerned, our attitude should not be to oppose (or support) the FBU leadership for the sake of it, but rather (in the words of the Clyde Workers Committee in 1915) that, "We will support the officials just so long as they rightly represent the workers, but we will act independently immediately they misrepresent them "¦ We can act immediately according to the merits of the case and the desire of the rank and file." This is a central part of the socialist tradition, and one Scottish precedent which should be much more widely known about and acted on in the SSP. SW platform members have worked with the leadership of the FBU in Scotland for many years - both before we joined the SSP and since, as SSP members. At the same time it is unfortunate that the FBU EC voted to suspend the strikes and previously backed Andy Gilchrist at FBU conference in opposing a motion from Socialist Alliance supporters (Matt Wrack, etc) on democratising the political fund, which is also SSP policy. Are you saying that these decisions are above criticism? This is the context in which Red Watch has been produced. Red Watch is a rank and file paper set up by FBU stewards from Clerkenwell and Dowgate London fire stations in the early summer (well before the dispute), although the calling off of the strike by the FBU executive has only underlined the need for the rank and file to organise independently. Red Watch continues to be written by and for firefighters and control staff. It is not an SWP paper or indeed that of any particular party. Labour Party, SWP, SSP and no-party firefighters contribute. Andy Gilchrist has contributed twice, as have Ronnie Robertson, who is the ex-chair of Strathclyde FBU and other Scottish firefighters. Both George Galloway and Tony Benn have contributed, as have Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, and RMT leader Bob Crow. It is of course a UK-wide publication because the union organises across the UK, and the dispute is with the government in Westminster. We believe it would be a serious mistake not to embrace Red Watch. The FBU is a UK-wide trade union and Red Watch reflects this in a way which Scottish Socialist Voice cannot, by including articles written by firefighters from different political backgrounds the length and breadth of the UK "¦. As noted above, it is SSP conference policy to support rank and file papers. Are you saying, in disregard of this policy, that SSP members are not allowed to take part in rank and file organisations within the trade unions? Would you tell SSP members in Amicus not to contribute or promote the Engineers Gazette or our CWU members to dissociate themselves from the network of rank and file activists based around Post Worker? We believe not to participate in these forums is tantamount to operating in a sectarian manner. Unbelievably, SW platform members have been condemned for helping to establish local firefighters support groups. Whilst welcoming and participating in the Glasgow city-wide SSP meeting, we also helped, along with other SSP members, to set up local united front support groups. The two types of meetings should not be counterposed, but should be perceived as both contributing towards supporting the firefighters and indeed raising the profile of the SSP. We are shocked that our involvement in local support groups is being perceived by your paper as detrimental to the firefighters and to the SSP "¦. Finally two other issues you raise. Firstly on the distribution of the election bulletin. Our comrades take great offence at the suggestion that we have not been involved in its distribution. We have not only welcomed it, but have also played a full part in its distribution in all regions of the country .We will continue to do so. Your comment that there only are a "few honourable exceptions" is inaccurate and insulting to all those in our platform who have worked hard to get them out. Secondly on your criticisms of the Socialist Alliance and the International Socialist Tendency, we suggest you take these matters up with them directly. We fail to understand what this has got to do with us. Conclusion The criticisms of the SW platform therefore amount to two 'crimes'. We built united front local support groups for the firefighters and we promoted the rank and file paper Red Watch. These two activities hardly merit the harsh condemnations and accusations that we are presently experiencing. We joined the SSP on the basis that it was a "democratic, pluralist socialist party", in which different points of view could be expressed. That is the party we joined and which we seek to build. We further recognise that political debate is crucial to developing a clear strategy. We therefore believe that issues as important as the correctness, or otherwise, of a rank and file approach should be debated openly and fraternally in the pages of Scottish Socialist Voice and not the subject of discussions behind closed doors "¦