Make unity real

Steve Freeman has announced his intention to stand for chair of the Bedfordshire Socialist Alliance on behalf of the Democratic and Republican Platform. A fellow comrade from the RDG spoke to him

Why have you decided to stand? The Socialist Alliance project, that filled so many with optimism, has ground to a halt. The exit of the Socialist Party and the resignations of Dave Church and Liz Davies show the difficulties we have in uniting the left. The Socialist Workers Party is the most important organisation to the left of the Labour Party. It seems we can't live without the SWP, but we can't live with them either. In Bedfordshire all the problems of working with the SWP are exaggerated to the nth degree. So if you support the SA project, you cannot sit on the sidelines simply waiting for it to implode. I am standing as a supporter of the DR Platform because we must make the united front work. If I am elected, then the minority platform, which is presently excluded, will be represented with one seat on the organising committee. What state is the BSA actually in? The BSA had over 60 members in 2001. Forty-nine attended the last 'AGM' in January 2002. This number has withered on the vine, with average attendance down to about a dozen, mainly SWP members. We are supposed to hold monthly meetings, but since April three have been cancelled. We have had no educationals, except one debate on the euro. Since the SWP takeover there has been no public meetings nor any public activity organised by the officers, except the ill-fated local election campaign in June. The SWP intervene in campaigns on their own account as they did during the firefighters' dispute and anti-war activity. The BSA is like a train shunted into the sidings. Of the four officers elected on the SWP slate in April, two have already resigned without seeing out their year of office. The project is going downhill rapidly. If comrades Danny and Jane are expelled, the credibility of the SA in Luton will be destroyed. Do you blame the SWP? That would be the simple answer. But it is too easy to blame them because they are in control. We could make them the scapegoat for our own weakness. Rather than that, we should spell out what must be done to change the situation around. We need practical policies to improve morale, end sectarianism and build the SA. Where the SWP do deserve criticism is by trying to witch-hunt and scapegoat Danny, Jane and any political opposition. It shows that they have no political answers. Is the BSA a united front? No, it's a divided front. There are two platforms. Socialist Worker is in effect a platform and the Democratic and Republican Platform is the other one. We do not agree on how we can work together. Both platforms must be represented in the organising group (ie, elected officers). That would indicate a commitment to work together in a united front. In fact we are not represented in the organising group. Consequently the various negotiations and compromises that oil the wheels of united action don't take place. I am standing for chair to represent the idea of the BSA as a united front that includes minorities, rather than excludes them for sectarian reasons. I am for a fully inclusive and democratic SA, which includes all the forces of the left. I am opposed to splits and expulsions, which have done so much to damage the credibility of the left. In particular I am opposed to the expulsion of comrades Danny and Jane. I am standing so that SA members up and down the country can be clear about the real policy of the SWP. If the BSA is to be a united front, then as the sole nominee of the DR Platform, I should be elected with the support of SWP members. Iraq and the firefighters are currently the two most important issues facing the working class movement. The BSA must act as a united front if we are to intervene in these struggles. We must seek to raise the profile of the SA. If we are to work as a united front there must be political debate and discussion. What future direction does the DR platform have? We want the SA to become a united republican socialist party: that is, a workers' party that fights seriously for republicanism and socialism. People before profit is a republican and socialist manifesto. We need to act on it. The Scottish Socialist Party shows the direction we must take. We need a campaigning newspaper to spread our message. The exact time for launching a new party will depend on concrete circumstances. The first thing we must do is begin campaigning in the workers' movement for a new party. We need to win the argument throughout the trade union movement. The firefighters and the war provide us with opportunities for this, but we are failing both locally and nationally to campaign for a party. Do you have any experience as chair? I have been chair of my Natfhe branch, with 350 members, for the last four years. Natfhe was derecognised by the college three years ago and I was involved in a successful struggle to win back trade unions rights. For the last two years we took strike action against compulsory redundancies. We are currently involved in industrial action over the London allowance. Do you think you can work with SWP members? The answer is 'yes'. Despite what some people might think I am not anti-SWP. The current secretary of my Natfhe branch is an SWP member and we work together very well. I moved the motion at the London SA opposing the exclusion of the SWP from the Leeds Left Alliance. I opposed those in the old 'indie' BSA who wanted to expel the SWP for disruptive behaviour in 2001. I proposed Viv Smith, the SWP organiser, as the BSA Stop the War coordinator. I was one of the proposers of the new BSA constitution, which guaranteed representation for all supporting organisations on the officers group. Whether they can work with me is another matter. Still, they will have an opportunity to express that by using their votes in the forthcoming AGM.