SA executive: Focus on workers' movement

Marcus Strom reports back from last weekend's meeting of the Socialist Alliance executive committee

The August 15 meeting of the Socialist Alliance national executive in Leeds was dominated by the seemingly aborted ‘Peace and Justice’ electoral alliance (see back page). But a number of important proposals were also tabled.

August in Britain is beginning to resemble the slow pace of Parisian life in this holiday month - only without the good food. Unfortunately, this seems to have affected the SA executive - only 13 members attended and there were 12 apologies. Due to holidays and illness, there were no leading members of the Socialist Workers Party present. Only three of the 13 SWPers on the executive were there.

A proposal by Nick Wrack to organise a convention of the trade union left on political representation received unanimous support. Comrade Wrack argued that the alliance could repeat the success of the trade union conference on the political fund 18 months ago. Crucially, the proposal focuses once more on the workers’ movement - a welcome development after the Peace and Justice sideshow.

In his proposal, comrade Wrack says: “The Socialist Alliance has committed itself to building the socialist alternative to New Labour. This has two aspects. Firstly it means building the Socialist Alliance itself … Secondly it means trying to forge alliances with others on the left …While it is essential that we try to build links with the radicalised anti-war activists, the key element in building the broader alliance is the trade unions.”

As well as debating developments around the Socialist Alliance’s ‘new initiative for left unity’, the meeting heard reports on the Brent East by-election, the Stop the War Coalition (we are to request an SA speaker at the rally following the September 27 demonstration) and the forthcoming People’s Assembly (we will send five delegates). It also dealt with regional reports and the European Social Forum (the SA is to affiliate). There was a discussion about options for affiliation to the Socialist Alliance, methods of electing the executive committee and a debate about when to hold the next annual conference. There was one motion from Martin Thomas (moved by me in his absence) noting recent problems in the alliance and calling on ways to address them. The executive received and noted correspondence from the CPGB to the SWP regarding the attack upon our members at Marxism 2003.

Alan Thornett gave a report from the ‘task group’ assigned to carry out the negotiations and day-to-day work on our initiative for left unity. He said emphasis had shifted to the trade union left - comrade Wrack has met Bob Crow in this context. The alliance has received correspondence from Malcolm Christie on behalf of the Socialist Party and the Alliance for Green Socialism (incorporating the Leeds Left Alliance). Their joint letter says: “The two parties have been able to reach agreement in principle on joint slates in the next European elections.” It further seeks a meeting with the SA to build “wide electoral cooperation” in the European elections. The executive agreed to meet the Socialist Party and Left Alliance to pursue electoral cooperation.

I asked about developments for an all-European slate for the socialist left in next year’s EU elections. Prospects for this are not looking too positive, as it seems Rifondazione Comunista will maintain its traditional alliance with the ‘official’ communist parties, for this election at least. I noted that for an all-Europe alliance to work, the Scottish Socialist Party would need to be considered part of an all-UK electoral challenge. This would be a positive side-effect. EU-wide ‘parties’ are officially recognised if they have MPs, MEPs or representation in ‘regional parliaments’ in at least seven constituent countries. Tommy Sheridan et al would therefore have to be counted as members of a UK regional parliament and as part of an all-UK campaign. No bad thing.

Matthew Caygill (non-aligned) from Leeds said there had been some good regional initial planning meetings for the European elections. This was echoed by Jeannie Robinson (SWP) from the East Midlands. However, both called for more direction from national office on building the election campaign. The office secretariat will issue a briefing paper for regions to develop our campaigns.

Will McMahon, SA office worker, reported on the Brent East by-election preparations. Brian Butterworth (SWP) is the SA candidate. Comrade McMahon said that in this election we will find out the core socialist vote in the constituency, as he believed our peripheral vote would be squeezed by the Liberal Democrats. The SA nationally will support the campaign pending a budget from the local alliance. Sunday August 31 is a ‘day of action’ for mobilising activists nationally into the constituency. London branches of the SA will be twinned with Brent East wards.

The executive discussed at some length the timing and format for the next annual conference. Associated with this was a discussion about new methods for electing the executive and ways for organisations to affiliate to the Socialist Alliance.

There was disagreement over when the 2004 annual conference should be held: February/March or October. Arguments for October centred on the need to place our annual gathering in the ‘conference season’ and to keep the build-up to the important elections in June clear. I argued for the event to be organised over two days in February or March. The first day would deal with annual conference matters proper: policy, constitution and electing an executive. The second day would debate our strategy for the European elections and provide a platform for the public launch of our campaign. I pointed out that to have another 17-month break between conferences would be both unconstitutional and unwise.

The executive will issue options to branches for consideration and we will finalise our decision at the next national council in October. The three options are: two-day conference in March combining the annual conference and launch of our European election campaign; a one-day European election launch and an October annual conference; a one-day truncated annual conference with a full conference in October.

Discussions around options for elections to the executive opened a can of worms. With the new 50-50 gender rule on representation alongside constitutional demands for political, ethnic and geographical balance, some proposals look to me like a bureaucratic nightmare. Alan Thornett favours the existing slate system, albeit with a more transparent nominations process. Others are for regional colleges and there are also proposals for a single transferable vote system. I favour first-past-the-post individual voting with a nominations commission drawing up a recommended list to ensure balance. This would not preclude other comrades recommending alternative lists.

The consideration of the various methods of affiliation also threaten to spiral into a convoluted debate. The main area of difference concerns whether or not affiliating organisations should have voting representation on national, regional and local bodies. This would reopen the debate over a federal versus membership-based structure. A simple method of allowing working class, socialist and progressive organisations to express political support with no organisational imperatives would be preferable.

The Martin Thomas motion (as I said above, moved by me in his absence and motivated by Cathy Nugent of the AWL, who was there as an observer), called for the SA to affirm the basic ideas of the alliance manifesto on independent working class representation, workers’ MPs on a workers’ wage, women’s liberation and equal rights for lesbians and gays. The motion called for representation from all significant strands of opinion on SA committees, saying that these are needed to check the recent trend of resignations, scaling back of activity and dissatisfaction from elements of the membership. It was lost with only my vote in favour, seven against and three abstentions.

Nevertheless, the executive meeting showed that, while the SA has been damaged by the SWP’s opportunist Peace and Justice turn, it is not finished as a site of struggle for a new workers’ party.