Executive debates 'political relations'

Martin Thomas of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty reports on last weekend's meeting of the Socialist Alliance executive

The Socialist Alliance executive committee meeting on January 18 was quiet, but with one item possibly carrying drastic implications for the future. Everyone agreed that the alliance should be active and visible in the run-up to, and on, the big anti-war demonstration planned for February 15. On the politics of it, the meeting voted to support both the 'Cairo declaration' (of "solidarity with Iraq", adopted at a conference where Saddam Hussein's ambassador was a keynote speaker) and a declaration ("We oppose both Saddam Hussein and the US war on Iraq") originating from US anti-war activists and signed by Michael Albert, Noam Chomsky, Edward Said and others. These texts had been discussed on the executive's email list before the meeting, but there was no further substantial discussion at the meeting. I was apparently the only one to think that the two texts represented contradictory politics - not just in subsidiary details but in basic orientation. I was against signing the Cairo declaration. The Socialist Alliance's local government manifesto, passed at the February 2002 national council, was referred to a sub-committee of Tony Reid, Margaret Manning and Declan O'Neill for updating and revision. Detailed procedures for the appointment of a new SA office worker were agreed. The new closing date for job applications will be February 7, and a panel of Lesley Mahmood, Steve Godward and Nick Wrack will interview applicants on March 1. Weyman Bennett (Socialist Workers Party) received support for a series of alliance public meetings against racism. Rob Hoveman (SA secretary, SWP) said that the alliance would approach Italy's Rifondazione Comunista to explore the possibilities of a united, European-wide campaign in the EU elections of 2004. There were brief reports on Steve Godward's victimisation (Steve, vice-chair of the SA and a firefighter, is being sacked on trumped-up charges of sabotage); on finance; on arrangements for the Socialist Alliance annual conference on March 15; on the executive's review of the alliance constitution; on preparations for the local government elections in parts of England in May this year; and on resolutions in trade unions on the political fund. The longest discussion was one on "political relations and the development of the Socialist Alliance", in which the unaffiliated members of the executive talked through their grievances with the SWP (I did not speak in the discussion, and the other three organised groups in the alliance besides the SWP and AWL - Workers Power, International Socialist Group and CPGB - were not represented at this executive meeting). Lesley Mahmood, Margaret Manning and others said that they wanted more "negotiation" on policy "rather than vote-outs"; a more active SA press operation; more resources put into helping local alliances develop across England, rather than just London-centred national initiatives; and more "profile" - meaning, I think, that SWP members should do more activity wearing Socialist Alliance 'hats'. Rob Hoveman, John Rees and Weyman Bennett replied that the SWP had to persuade its members to be active in the alliance. SWP members were put off when they saw other alliance members pleased at getting motions through their local alliances against SWP opposition, or by alliance discussions that were "inward-looking". The SA must turn out more to the Stop the War Coalition. The December 2001 alliance conference passed a constitutional amendment from the AWL stating: "All important decisions should be taken through written resolutions of appropriate conferences or committees." No one argued against this obvious restatement of long-standing labour movement norms. However, the drift of the "political relations" discussion, from both the SWP and unaffiliated comrades, was to prefer alliance officials giving word-of-mouth reports ("taking on board" comments from meetings), and not written resolutions. At this executive meeting Lesley Mahmood, in the chair, proposed that all motions should be taken at the end of the day (ie, not discussed at all if we were short of time). I said that motions should be taken under the relevant agenda item, but Lesley's proposal was adopted with only me voting against. It was of no immediate consequence since, as it turned out, there were no written motions to the meeting. Lesley's concern, as I understand it, was chiefly to make sure that the discussions on "political relations" and the office worker were not lost. But the implications of generalising this in future meetings would be huge. A similar proposal is on the agenda for the procedure of SA national councils, from Jim Jepps. It states that all motions should be taken at the end "with zero, one or two speakers" according to the chair's ruling. Every trade unionist has had experience of officials manoeuvring to stop motions getting discussed. It is hard, however, to imagine even the most bureaucratic union making a formal and general rule to ban discussion of critical motions in the same agenda section as the official report they refer to, to push them all to the end of the agenda where the meeting will most easily fail to reach them, or to state that on a routine chair's ruling the motions can be disposed of with "zero speakers": ie, without the mover even having a chance to state his or her case. The only redeeming feature of the proposal is its unworkability. Logically it would mean that no one would have a right to speak in the greater part of executive or national council meetings unless their speech was clearly irrelevant to any written proposal before the meeting. The SA membership should reassert labour movement norms and the alliance constitution, and insist on the right to discuss motions. Note: SA executive member Marcus Ström of the CPGB is on paternity leave