Organise in the regions

Socialist Alliance activists from the North West met on February 22 to discuss two issues upon which coordination between the region's branches is essential: the European parliament elections in June 2004 and fighting the fascists of the British National Party. Lesley Mahmood of Merseyside SA and the national executive committee introduced the discussion on the European elections. The attendance at this session was a little disappointing - just eight comrades from three branches (South Manchester, Oldham and Merseyside), plus our invited speaker, Weyman Bennett of the Socialist Workers Party, the executive committee's race officer. Nevertheless, four of the political organisations that are prominent in the SA in the North West were represented - CPGB, SWP, Alliance for Workers' Liberty and International Socialist League - and what was lacking in numbers was made up for in the breadth and thoroughness of the discussion. Comrade Mahmood reported that there are nine regional constituencies in England for these elections, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each forming further regions. Ten seats are returnable in each, with voting being on the 'party list' proportional representation system. She reminded us that the Green Party won two seats in the 1999 elections - in London and the South East - having achieved 7.5% of the total votes cast. Although the deposit per constituency is high - £5,000 - the proportion of votes required to secure its refunding is fairly low: just 2.5%. Although the decision as to whether we should contest the election in our region must be politically driven, we should bear in mind the resources we have available - is our members and supporters base big enough to get our message out across the North West? Should we consider trying to negotiate with the Green Party for a joint list? After referring approvingly to the discussions taking place with a number of European socialist parties on the possibility of a joint European manifesto, Lesley concluded by asserting the importance of securing a balanced list of candidates, both by gender and by inclusion of representatives drawn from current working class struggles, such as the firefighters' strike. I commented that it was important that a decision be taken by the SA as a whole to contest all nine regions and to dismiss any thought of a red-green list. In view of the crisis of the Labour Party and the continuing political disfranchisement of the working class, as well as the encouraging developments in the last year with respect to cooperation between socialist organisations across Europe, it is crucial that there is a generalised contest on an undiluted socialist manifesto. The question of resources is one that we should look at from entirely the opposite point of view to that suggested by comrade Mahmood. We should see the act of standing in the election as an opportunity to massively build our membership and influence. I concluded by arguing that, in view of our success in raising the question of democratisation of the union political funds, we should test the arrangements we had fought for by giving union branches the fighting working class candidates to support. Mark Catterall of the AWL and South Manchester SA agreed with my objection to the idea of a red-green list and pointed out that the Green Party would not agree to this anyway, as they think they can win seats on their own account. We should be equally ambitious, although we need to be aware that the PR system will work for the fascists also and we may see the BNP winning seats. John Baxter of the SWP and South Manchester SA stressed the centrality of the Labour Party's crisis, which is unlikely to be resolved in the 15 months up until these elections. Turning to the question of the slate, he argued for an emphasis on standing workers involved in industrial and other struggles. I came back in to question this emphasis. We should be looking to develop organic working class leaders, of the stature of the Scottish Socialist Party's Tommy Sheridan. We need candidates with socialist consciousness, not just trade union militants. There was no voice opposing our fighting these elections in the North West and it was agreed to convene a regional election committee, with representatives from each SA branch plus each of the principal supporting political groups, to get the campaign underway. Five more comrades attended the afternoon session on fighting the BNP threat, with the Pendle and Wigan branches now being represented. Weyman Bennett opened the discussion. The previous Saturday's massive anti-war demonstration in London had been a clearly multi-racial event, he pointed out. It showed that the potential was there to mobilise a similar mass of people to fight the fascists. We need to think in terms of a united front against racism and fascism. Yes, the Socialist Alliance contesting elections where there is a BNP candidate is important, but we are neither big enough nor yet have the political reach to defeat the fascists alone, he insisted. He stressed the importance of drawing trade unions into the fight and reported with approval that Unison and the RMT unions had recently decided to launch campaigns against the BNP. Comrade Bennett concluded by referring to the importance of tackling the government attacks and gutter-press lies against asylum-seekers, to cut out the fascists' main mobilising issue. I argued that it was important for the SA to explain just what fascism is and how it was able, in the 20th century, to defeat, in Germany and Italy, two of the most powerful and best organised working classes in the world. Against the ideologues of capital who are striving to pretend that fascism is not related to capitalism but to totalitarianism in general, we need to show how fascism springs from capitalism in crisis. Comrade Helen Christie of Pendle SA defended the tactic of our standing down in order to avoid splitting the working class vote. She was nicely answered though by Ameen Hadi of the SWP and Oldham SA. It is not us, but New Labour, through its anti-working class attacks that has split the vote, has driven workers into the arms of the Nazis, he pointed out. We must therefore step up our opposition to New Labour, by contesting more council seats. Lesley Mahmood made a useful contribution on this matter, by suggesting that we need to identify those Labour candidates who are worthy of our support, not to regard them all as potential targets. The discussion concluded with a consensus that we all need to work to ensure that fighting the BNP, racism and the attacks on asylum-seekers becomes a priority issue in all of our SA branches. John Pearson