Manchester: New SA model?

The meeting of South Manchester Socialist Alliance held on May 14 gave an indication of the direction that the 'relaunched' SA might be pushed in by its Socialist Workers Party leadership, writes John Pearson

In the wake of the local elections and the victory of the SA in Preston, where SWP member Michael Lavalette won the alliance’s first elected council seat, a large SWP contingent - some 20 of 30 present - turned up.

Proceedings commenced with a useful discussion of the Iraq war, which had come and gone since the previous SMSA meeting. SWP comrades insisted that subsuming the SA within the Stop the War Coalition - broad in membership and narrow in political focus - had been the correct approach. The enormous demonstration on February 15 and the subsequent large national and regional demonstrations and meetings were proof enough for our SWP comrades. I argued that the SA had failed the challenge of the war badly. Not only had we thrown away the opportunity to develop a campaign to push to the fore the socialist politics and methods that alone could have stopped the war, but, by the absence of an SA newspaper and through the SWP’s refusal to allow SA speakers on STWC platforms, we had even failed to make effective propaganda for socialism.

The next item was a discussion of the election results in Manchester. The SA had contested six seats. In a demonstration of the irrelevance and unnecessary nature of the gender representation statutes adopted, with so little discussion at the SA conference supposedly because administrative rather than political methods are the way to tackle female underrepresentation, all six candidates had been women. The results were largely in line with those achieved in the council elections a year ago. With two exceptions at either end - a very poor 0.5% of the votes cast in Cheetham, and 8% in Chorlton - around four percent had been scored.

Comrade Ewa Barker of the SWP was not prepared to accept triumphalist talk about these results, calling them “disappointing”. Observing that the Green Party and Liberal Democrats had reaped the anti-war votes that we should have expected to gain, she nevertheless appeared unable or unwilling to make a link with the incorrect politics pursued by the SWP and its followers in the anti-war movement.

An upbeat SA conference report, delivered by SWP fellow-traveller Clive Searle, was corrected by contributions from CPGB and Alliance for Workers’ Liberty comrades, who pointed out the monumental failure to adopt the aim of forming a workers’ party. The comrades also warned of the dangers of the squeezing out of any socialist perspective at all, if the SWP leadership are allowed to get away with the ‘no preconditions’ coalition-building with ‘other forces’ from the STWC campaign, that was presaged in the successful conference resolution moved by Alan Thornett.

Only in the last 15 minutes of the meeting did the real reason for the SWP turnout become clear. Socialist Resistance supporter Margaret Manning, the SMSA convenor, proposed a motion to disband the SMSA in favour of yet to be defined smaller branches. She stated that she had encountered a demand for this to be done wherever she had gone during the council election campaigning, although she distinctly failed to give the names or localities of any groups of members, supporters or potential supporters who had complained of difficulties associated with having a centralised South Manchester branch.

The true reason for the move is, of course, the classical bureaucratic manoeuvre of ‘scattering the opposition’. This became apparent from remarks made during the discussion by John Baxter, the SWP’s SA leader in Manchester, by Chorlton candidate Heather Rose and by comrade Manning herself. All slammed the dissent and discussion that took up so much time at SMSA meetings. This dissent and discussion has of course been reflected in the last year by notable victories for the left in resolutions supporting the active boycott tactic in relation to a referendum on British membership of the European single currency and calling for the establishment of an SA newspaper. This rebellious branch was a thorn in the SWP’s side and a major embarrassment to comrade Baxter. It had to be taken out.

The comrades of the left did not oppose the principle of ‘growing’ new, more localised branches, provided that this was done in a planned manner that did not leave any comrades cut out of a viable branch and that the aggregated level of organisation was not lost. A motion by myself, that the matter be referred to the branch committee for a report and recommendations, was quashed from the chair by Carole Haines of the SWP, who insisted that I must accept a two-minute time limit before being allowed to move this allegedly “procedural” motion. This I refused to do. Time limits had not been applied to any other contributor to the debate.

Finally, an amendment from Beth Aze of the AWL, to retain a South Manchester - or perhaps all-Manchester - level of organisation, was passed without dissent, but only after comrade Baxter had stated that support for this proposition was on the clear understanding that the aggregate body would have “no decision-making powers”.

Comrades in other SA branches where the SWP might have a whippable majority, should beware of and prepare for similar moves.