Organise against imperialist war

T he long-awaited first meeting of the Socialist Alliance rail caucus was finally held on Sunday February 23 in London. At a time when - as demonstrated by Scottish Aslef members who refused to transport military supplies in Scotland, railworkers could play a key role in the current period - attendance was extremely disappointing. Ten comrades were present - almost all being RMT members, with just one from Aslef. Before dealing with rail business, the meeting heard Fire Brigades Union official Lynda Smith give a report on the ongoing firefighters' dispute. She said that things where not looking good, and there was a danger that the conditions enjoyed in the fire service would be severely undermined. Lynda went on to pose the necessity of an alternative to New Labour - something that the FBU dispute threw up all too clearly. The Socialist Alliance, however, was not at this time a viable alternative, she said. Judging by its rail caucus, it would be difficult to argue with her. Chair Mac McKenna (Socialist Workers Party) opened up the discussion by saying that it was on his initiative that the meeting was taking place - it had been almost a year since the SA trade union conference had taken the decision to set up the rail caucus and many had found it frustrating that it had not met. This pointed to the need for a convener prepared to take us forward (Greg Tucker of the International Socialist Group had been elected in that capacity at the March 2002 conference). Janine Booth of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty welcomed the meeting, but commented that the SA's only real function seemed to be fighting elections: we came across as simply wanting to get our hands on trade union money. She was in favour of a further debate on the political funds, but there was also the question of building a rank and file movement inside the three main rail unions. We need to try and revive the SA, and maybe an active rail caucus could act as a spur. She suggested that the SA rail caucus should set up its own website. I pointed out that the SWP itself should accept principal responsibility for holding back our rail work, along with the Socialist Alliance itself. It goes without saying, however, that the meeting was a step in the right direction, if long overdue. If SWP comrades had had a change of heart about the usefulness of SA union fractions, that was all to the good. Finn Brennan (SWP), the lone Aslef member present, highlighted the key task of organising amongst rail and tube workers against the war on Iraq. The comrades are particularly keen to target the London Underground in this campaign. Comrade Brennan called for a further meeting to be held within the next four weeks. It was the consensus of all that a meeting with the specific purpose of organising railworkers in opposition to the war was very much needed - this was just the sort of role the SA could usefully play. But it seems that the rail caucus is to be used solely for anti-war work, since SWP comrades were adamant in their rejection of comrade Booth's proposal for a commitment to hold further meetings where the whole range of tasks facing socialist railworkers could be discussed. There followed a lively, and at times heated, debate on the need for general organising meetings. Peter Morton of the Revolutionary Democratic Group made the point that we need to take a stand on all manner of issues, and not view the war as our sole theatre of operation. I pointed to the possibility of national strikes, the need for a single rail union, as well as more general questions such as the scapegoating of asylum-seekers. It is true that the war against Iraq is today the central and most pressing issue, but our job was to link up all the struggles as part of a political strategy. However, SWP comrades insisted on taking an 'either-or' attitude. Either a meeting to mobilise against the war or a general organising meeting, despite the fact that comrade Booth made it clear that she was suggesting both. While comrade Brennan's motion was unanimously agreed, Janine's proposal fell by four votes to three, with two abstentions. The meeting went on to elect two convenors: comrade Brennan and Geoff Palmer, who was unfortunately unable to attend. The convenors would call an evening meeting for rail and tube workers in London, 'War on Iraq - how do we organise?', within four weeks, the date and venue to be arranged. Derek Goodliffe