Left of Labour

"In 1916, writing in Switzerland before the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, Lenin wrote that there are decades where nothing happens, but there are weeks where decades happen." Thus began George Galloway, maverick MP for Glasgow Kelvin, at the Socialist Alliance-initiated meeting, 'Where is New Labour going?' "Our task," he urged, "is to seize those weeks now." Galloway top-billed a line-up that also featured John Rees, speaking for the Socialist Alliance; Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union; Lynda Smith, London regional treasurer of the Fire Brigades Union; and James Croy, political officer for the RMT rail union, standing in for Bob Crow, who sent apologies. This meeting, held in London's Friends Meeting House on Monday March 3, laid down a marker for the future. The anti-war movement, along with ongoing union battles with New Labour, is creating the raw material the left must engage with in order to campaign for a new workers' party. This was the undeniable subtext of the meeting. Although the SA executive has liquidated the organisation for this immediate period, the needs of the movement are forcing the left - Socialist Workers Party included - to think about the future. The SWP too envisages a party somewhere down the track, though not through the direct route of building the SA. This meeting could not have taken place without the formation of the alliance, but in the form it is now, the SA seems to have run itself out. Negotiations for a new pro-party formation involving the Socialist Alliance, its components and forces arising from the anti-war movement appear to be the order of the day. While the event was not ostensibly a Socialist Alliance meeting, it is nevertheless significant that Galloway appeared on the platform. For Galloway, the war is throwing up a debate about the "future of the left, the Labour movement and the future of our country". And he said that the time "to decide" is coming closer. Just what he meant by that was not made clear. Galloway said he was not there to talk about the war, but to talk about the choices we face. The UK had committed a war crime that day, he said. Six Iraqi civilians were killed in bombing raids. For that, we cannot escape responsibility. All our taxes had killed those people. The trade unions of Lynda Smith and Bob Crow had helped pay for the party that ordered those murders. And he, a member of parliament under the Blair whip, had even graver responsibilities. This cannot go on, he said: "There are limits. Enough will eventually be enough." He went on to criticise Tony Blair for his 'great liberalism': "It's come to something when the leader of a political party thinks the foundation of that party was a historical mistake," said Galloway. "No parent would say that of even their most errant child." Laying a claim to the heritage of Labour, he said its formation, allowing the unity of the unions, socialist societies and cooperatives, was a huge step forward. The party conference was once a true parliament of labour. Now, said Galloway, Ceausescu would be embarrassed by New Labour's stage-managed choreography. The executive is a farce, he continued: Mark Seddon's motion against the war on Iraq was simply ruled out of order. He then turned to the impact of the anti-war movement. The Labour rebellion of 122 MPs only happened because of the mass movement. Despite the two million on the street, he said that it was telling that more than 250 Labour MPs still voted with the government. However, Blair had to rely on the Tories to go to war. It is not only the peace camp that is locked out of the Labour Party, he went on, but the trade unions as well. The Labour Party now excluded the interests of the left, the peace movement, the unions, the students and the migrants. Where does that take us? It takes us onto the streets and into the people's parliament. Warming to his theme and the response of the 700-strong audience, Galloway said: "We have created a mass movement of millions." Grinning from ear to ear, he repeated the phrase: "In all my time in politics I've dreamed of saying those words. And it's true. We've created a mass movement of millions." Having created this movement, said the Labour MP, "we aren't about to march two million to the top of the hill just to march them down again". Unfortunately though, he was big on the rhetoric, but small on the detail. Finally, he turned to his colleagues on the left of the Labour Party. He hoped that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell were correct and that Labour could be won for the left. But while it is obvious we need a better choice than between Blair and Duncan Smith, we also deserve a better choice than between Brown and Blair. He warned again that Blair may yet break the Labour Party, so in the weeks and days to come, we must think, and plan, and act. Much of this speech had been backed up by contributions from John Rees, Mark Serwotka and Lynda Smith. Comrade Rees, a member of the Socialist Workers Party, began demagogically, saying that Blair had "fascist" allies in Berlusconi and Aznar. However, he rightly condemned the xenophobia of home secretary David Blunkett, who, by whipping up an anti-asylum furore, played into the hands of the BNP. Yet Rees's contribution was typically economistic. "We" elected this government, he said, to put an end to Tory rule, not to see it continue. We need jobs, homes, decent transport, education. Nevertheless, comrade Rees was explicit where Galloway was obtuse. He said that people do not vote because there is no establishment party to speak for them: "We must demand the creation of an organisation to represent them." Such an organisation, he said, needs a socialist programme cleared of all the muck of the past. He said that at present there was "no party that as a whole working class people can trust and vote for". A telling home truth from one of the leaders of the "smallest mass party in the world". He pointed to the modest achievements of the Socialist Alliance, but said it was only part of the story. Finally he said that the unity of the socialists is better than unity with the Blairites. The formation of the Labour Party is now being frittered away by the Blairite leaders: "If it is time to start again, it is time to start again. We must give the working class the organisation they deserve." Mark Serwotka presented some damning evidence of how anti-union this Labour government was, and then went on to say how optimistic he was in this period. These are exciting and inspiring times, but we must aspire to more. We need a radical socialist alternative. "This is not a pipe dream. If it can happen in Scotland, it can happen in England and Wales." Comrade Serwotka said we ought not to split over the question of the Labour Party. We must find a way to support the Galloways, the McDonnells and the Abbotts and oppose Straw, Blunkett and Blair. What was once viewed as CPGB 'madness' now seems to be leftwing common sense, at least in some quarters. Lynda Smith gave a rousing speech. I had not heard her before and was impressed by her humanity and militancy. She warned that the Labour Party was flirting with the idea of banning strikes. "We will not be slaves," she said. She agreed that the union movement must find a way of opposing Blairites such as Raynsford and Fitzpatrick. Choking Blair of his funding without disaffiliating was a way to stand against the warmongers and the union-bashers, she said. James Croy outlined RMT policy, explaining to applause how the union had removed funding for MPs who would not support union policy. He added: "And we will support Ken Livingstone" - which was greeted by near silence, followed by embarrassed laughter. Chaired by Christine Blower, former NUT president, this was an important meeting. The recognition that the left must unite to fight for a party able to take the working class to power is starting to gain more ground. It is criminal that the organisation whose logic could have led us towards such a party, the Socialist Alliance, has been downplayed, sidelined and now effectively liquidated. Martin Blum