Clear red water and the CNWP

The first steering committee meeting of the Campaign for a New Workers' Party took place on Saturday May 20, writes Anne Mc Shane. The meeting showed that, much to its dismay, the Socialist Party has only the left groups for company

The CNWP is, of course, an attempt to recreate a Labour Party. So, while the SP waits stoically for the union battalions to come on board, it refuses to countenance any political platform that goes beyond calls to defend the NHS, oppose privatisation, etc. It will not fight for anything that might put off Bob Crow and other union bureaucrats, and tries to persuade them that this is not just another collection of left groups - if you can call the SP, together with the CPGB and Workers Power, a collection.

So, while the SP gees up its young recruits with revolutionary posturing, the reality of the CNWP paints a different picture. The SP submitted one main motion outlining the basis of the campaign, which emphasised the promising climate for the creation of a new workers' - ie, Labour - party that would stand up to privatisation, the anti-union laws and cuts in services.

This motion was not distributed to affiliated organisations (ie, the CPGB, WP and the SP itself) until the day before and the Socialist Party was extremely resistant to any attempts to change it.

What really rankled was criticism from the left. Coventry SP councillor Dave Nellist, chairing, was frustrated and annoyed when Workers Power and the CPGB tried to amend the text. Pushing through the agenda, he did not want too much time spent on these "attempts to put clear red water between us".

Countering, Jeremy Dewar of Workers Power argued that even Hugo Chávez calls himself a revolutionary these days. Hannah Sell responded: "The difference is, while Chávez calls himself a revolutionary, we are socialist revolutionaries." It is just that we prefer not to mention such things where it really counts.

I attempted to include a call to campaign for defence of all migrants and their unionisation as part of the bullet points for action. However, despite support from at least half of the meeting, comrade Nellist argued that it was too "specific". Instead we should limit our campaigning points to cuts and privatisation. Wrongly, I agreed that defence of migrants could be mentioned in the preamble of the text instead of featuring as a campaigning call. While this makes the resolution sound more leftwing, it of course allows the SP off the hook when it comes to what the CNWP actually does.

SP member Glen Kelly insisted that the CNWP was actively campaigning for unions to disaffiliate from the Labour Party, but this did not appear in the motion and Workers Power moved that this inept policy should be included. For some reason the SP leadership decided to vote this down, with Dave Nellist having to remind everybody to "put their hands up" in one of the narrowest votes against. It seems like even its own cadre does not know what is going on.

So what does the CNWP plan to do? All trade union NEC members are to be contacted, as well as friendly union leaders. The RMT is to be asked to set up a second conference on political representation that would include the national leadership of unions in addition to ordinary members. Fringe meetings have been or will be organised at the current round of union conferences. Public meetings will be held to set up ad-hoc local campaigns - nothing too formal as yet. We are just meant to get together in local campaigns and wait for the RMT to come on board.

The steering committee will not meet again until September - hardly surprising, given the SP wants no discussion or real involvement from the other affiliates. It wants to reassure the 'awkward squad' that there will be no trouble from the organised left.