National committee endorses anti-intervention line
The Labour Representation Committee's national committee met in Preston on Saturday April 2, its first out-of-London meeting since the January AGM enlarged the NC to include delegates from local LRC groups. Greater London deputy delegate Stan Keable reports
In a two-hour agenda tightly managed by LRC chair John McDonnell MP, with attendance boosted to 21 by five delegates representing local groups, the April 2 LRC NC meeting backed the executive committee’s opposition to the imperialist intervention in Libya and overwhelmingly endorsed its March 15 statement, ‘Libya, north Africa and the Middle East: we need less western intervention, not more’ (www.l-r-c.org.uk).
It surprisingly rejected on technical grounds (by 10 votes to eight) a motion on ‘national committee reporting’; and carried overwhelmingly with no votes against (or, perhaps, unanimously) a motion on ‘The Irish election and the Irish Labour left’, after amendment to include the United Left Alliance; and it decided to affiliate to the Health Emergency and Keep the NHS Public campaigns.
Reports on the various liaison units and sub-committees tasked with implementing AGM resolutions and building the organisation showed that they were struggling to get underway, the successful formula for small committees with national spread seeming to be the conference call. The Labour Party Liaison Unit, for example, is making plans for the proposed Labour left anti-cuts conference, probably on Saturday September 10, and drafting an LRC flyer/pamphlet, ‘Getting involved in the Labour Party’. The LRC fringe meeting at the Labour conference is planned for the evening of Monday September 26.
Darrell Goodliffe (Leeds LRC) supported the ‘no-fly zone’ “with qualifications”, arguing that “colonial imperialism” no longer exists, and bizarrely that “the Saudi tail sometimes wags the US/UK dog”. West Yorkshire deputy delegate Mike Catterall “reluctantly” supported the NFZ on the basis that the working class was unable to deliver the necessary solidarity. Almost all other comrades spoke in support of the EC statement.
Comrade Terry McPartlan (representing Unison Labour Left) noted that the Middle East upsurge had been sparked by the worldwide economic downturn. I spoke of the necessity of opposing the military adventures of our own ruling class, if we are to defeat them at home. Comrade Steve Brown (Northern region LRC delegate) responded that the Libyan rebels “have the right to call for help from anywhere”.
Comrades Andrew Fisher and Pete Firmin highlighted the hypocrisy of the so-called humanitarian and pro-democracy arguments for western intervention - arguments which were applied selectively, only where it suited western imperialist interests. Imperialism did nothing about the millions of deaths in the civil war in the Congo, the Saudi intervention in Bahrain or the killing of democracy protestors in Yemen, among other examples. Comrade Gary Heather (Islington North CLP) said he had been uncertain, but had been convinced by the ‘hypocrisy’ argument. Comrade Graham Bash said that the western intervention “had destroyed the Libyan revolution”. Its purpose was to install western-friendly regimes. Pointing to imperialist hypocrisy did not mean we call for intervention in Bahrain, he said - “the double standards are with the west”. However, asking “Do we always oppose western intervention?”, he was uncertain, although he believed, “That is our default position”.
Comrade Ted Knight (representing Croydon trades union council) said that the western powers “must control the oil”. He was “disturbed” by the role of the Labour leadership, behaving “like Michael Foot in the Falklands war” and “subordinating itself to the market” - which showed once more that the Labour Party “is finished and needs to be replaced”, he said. However, comrade Knight was alone in expressing the view that the party was beyond redemption. Personally, while I agree the pro-capitalism, anti-working class, rightwing leadership should be junked, I believe that the road to transforming the party is not blocked. So long as the trade union link with the party has not been definitively broken by the right, everything is possible.
The motion proposed by comrade Darrell Goodliffe (Leeds LRC delegate) affirmed “the right of its delegates to report on its meetings in any forum they deem fit, both internally and externally in the public domain”. It included caveats about recognising “legitimate concerns ... around confidentiality” and the need for a “responsible attitude to reporting”, “accuracy” and the need to distinguish between facts and the author’s opinions.
The executive committee had discussed the motion and supported it, adding its own amendment, that “NC minutes will be published in full on the LRC website, subject to any omission agreed by the NC”. However, comrade Susan Press objected (a) that the EC had believed the motion came from Leeds LRC, but in fact it came from comrade Goodliffe individually, and (b) it cut across her mandate from the EC to draft a ‘code of conduct’ following a complaint from comrade Knight concerning the NC email discussion list. When comrade Goodliffe declined to remit his motion to the EC, it was narrowly voted down.
I was unable to speak in the brief discussion, but I sincerely hope that organisation rejects the ‘code of conduct’ method, which can only lead to damaging bureaucratic restrictions in place of healthy open debate.
The motion tabled by comrade Terry McPartlan noted Labour’s “large gains” in the Irish general election (37 TDs) and that a special conference had endorsed the party’s entry into coalition with Fine Gael. It supported the Labour left’s “principled position of opposition to the coalition”, which would compromise Labour’s ability to defend working people, and resolved to offer “solidarity and support” to three named left Labour comrades and to “further develop our links with the Irish Labour left and with the Irish community in Britain”.
Having read Anne Mc Shane’s Weekly Worker report, ‘Now the left has TDs’ (March 24), I moved an amendment to include support for the non-Labour left: to “welcome the election of five United Left Alliance TDs on an explicitly anti-cuts platform”; to note that the coalition government “pledges savage cuts in services and massive public service job losses”; and to develop links with the ULA too.
Comrade McPartlan said we should be “cautious” about developing links with the ULA, which was an unstable unity, and asked if I would withdraw that part of my amendment. I believe he was reflecting the hostility of the Socialist Appeal tendency towards the non-Labour left - which is, no doubt, fed by the hostility of the ULA’s main components, the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party, towards the Labour left, not to speak of their hostility towards each other.
Standing by the LRC’s strategy of seeking to unite the left within and without Labour, I argued that omitting the ULA would be “Labour-sectarian”. Comrade McDonnell commented that leaving the ULA out of the equation would be “failing to recognise reality” - and the amended motion was carried with no votes against.
Holding some of its national committee meetings outside London, in conjunction with a local campaigning event - this time a well attended Lancashire Against the Cuts meeting - is part of the Labour Representation Committee’s effort to grow into a truly national organisation, striving to build local groups in all parts of Britain.
In 2010 NC meetings held outside London were inquorate (an attendance of 25% of committee members is needed), but this time numbers travelling from London and other regions were up, certainly reflecting the enthusiasm generated by the TUC’s massive anti-cuts demo on March 26 and the continuing growth in LRC membership. But the key difference is the January AGM decision to expand the NC to include a delegate from each local LRC group. To ensure representation, local groups are encouraged to elect a deputy delegate - which is how I came to represent Greater London, when our secretary, Norette Moore, was unable to attend.
This time five out of nine local LRCs were represented, alongside five out of seven delegates from “general affiliates”. But there was only one affiliated trade union delegate (Pete Keenlyside of the CWU) out of a potential 12 (two each for six unions). All six officers were present, but only four of the 16 individual NC members elected at the AGM - bringing the total to 21.
Reflecting the commendable open character and democratic propensity of the LRC, NC meetings are open to all LRC members (without voting rights, of course). The same openness was reflected in the December NC decision to publish minutes of NC meetings on the website; a decision not yet implemented due to an oversight, but I am assured it will be.
Any new local group with 10 or more members, once it has been established and recognised by the NC, has an automatic seat on the NC. Whereas the officers and individual NC members will retain their seats for a full year, delegates from recognised local groups can be replaced at any time, as can those representing “general affiliates”, trade unions and the two “sister organisations” (Campaign for Socialism and Welsh Labour Grassroots). This gives an incentive to recruitment and the establishment of new local groups, and opens up the prospect of an expanding NC, reflecting and responsive to a growing individual membership and nationwide organisation.
As a left unity organisation which brings together organisations and individuals inside and outside the Labour Party, the LRC has the potential to become a key component in the struggle both for the organisational unity of Marxists and for the transformation of Labour from a bourgeois workers’ party into a real party of working class struggle - which must, of course, include the organised left in its ranks.