Respect star attraction

The conference of the Public and Commercial Services Union, held in Brighton two weeks ago (see Weekly Worker June 16) saw a number of fringe meetings, the largest being that of Respect. Over 200 delegates and observers, representing nearly a quarter of those at conference, heard Mark Serwotka, Oliur Rahman and George Galloway all give inspiring speeches on the need for a political challenge to New Labour. Despite a long wait for the meeting to start, the audience was not disappointed. Before the arrival of Oliur and George, PCSU general secretary Mark Serwotka addressed the meeting in a personal capacity. He spoke in favour of the Scottish Socialist Party, Respect and the Campaign Group of MPs. The gist of his contribution was that these were the only groups that support workers' struggles against New Labour. He went on to speak on the issue of electoral reform and the importance of proportional representation. Oliur Rahman reinforced the point made by Mark that the New Labour government must be fought both industrially and politically. Having known Oli long before he was elected as a Respect councillor in Tower Hamlets, I could not help noticing how much he has improved as a public speaker over the last six months and how much more confident he has become. Talking after the meeting, he told me he was still waiting to be reinstated into his old post in a job centre (a civil service rule is that in order to stand for parliament you have to resign from your job - so much for freedom of expression!). The fact that Oliur was still waiting to be reinstated is itself a disgrace and an issue that the union needs to take up. The star attraction was left to last. George Galloway spoke of his senate committee hearing and the fact that the Respect offices had 20,000 unopened emails - mostly from the US, from where he had received an invite for a professional speaking tour. With regards to UK politics, George stated that Respect hoped to gain control of not one, but two London boroughs in the council elections next year. Due to the late start and limited time available (the whole meeting was over in two hours) the Socialist Workers Party member in the chair would only take four questions. The first was: is Respect in talks with other left groups? Oliur stated that the organisation had talked to the Greens in order to avoid standing in the same seats. He went on to say that Respect will work with anyone who wants to fight for the same things. George added that, while Respect would continue to try with the Greens, he also wanted the Socialist Party on board alongside "the three other organisations involved". George mentioned the SWP, but struggled to remember the name of the organisation led by Alan Thornett (International Socialist Group) until prompted. He noted that Respect also has "the benefit of the advice of the CPGB and we welcome that". This one contribution managed to upset almost everybody: Socialist Party comrades, who came across as sectarian by standing outside the new organisation; the ISG, which is seemingly so irrelevant that George could not remember the name; and the SWP hacks, who seem to dislike the CPGB more than they do the bosses and New Labour. But none of these groups challenged George publicly - or even, as far as I could tell, privately at the end. The success of the meeting was illustrated by the fact that 17 people joined Respect as a result. Some of these may well be SWP members who had not got round to doing so, but the majority would be non-SWP PCSU members and this demonstrates the potential for growth within the trade union milieu. The figure of 17 new members compares well to the other left groups at the conference: the SP (whose comrades lead the union) signed up only five new members, while the SWP signed up none - why join the SWP when you have Respect? There are very few SWP members in the PCSU, and they seem to back the Socialist Party at every turn, so you may as well join the SP. Socialist Caucus (according to this week's The Socialist an "anti-group group", whatever that is) signed up 12 new members l Lee Rock national secretary, PCSU Socialist Caucus www.pcssocialistcaucus.org.uk