DRAFT REPORT FROM THE LEFT UNITY LIAISON COMMITTEE MEETING JUNE 13th 2009
INTRODUCTIONS AND ELECTION OF CHAIR
Present: Steve Ballard (tUSP); Clive Heemskirk (SP); Martin Thomas (AWL); Pete McLaren (SA); Gerry Byrne (SA); Andy Hewett (Green Left); Simon Hardy (WP); Toby Abse (SA observer)
Pete McLaren took the chair as Gerry Byrne arrived late
APOLOGIES – CPWP; LRC; Explo Nani Kofi
REPORT OF THE MARCH 29th LEFT UNITY LIAISON COMMITTEE MEETING, AND
ANY MATTERS ARISING NOT ON THE AGENDA – report was agreed as correct
THE EUROPEAN AND COUNTY COUNCIL ELECTIONS, including the gains by the Far
Right, the campaigns of No2EU-yestodemocracy and any other left candidates/parties
Pete McLaren reported from the No2EU campaign, which had averaged 1%, not dissimilar from the SA in 2001 (1.62%) and only just behind the SLP who had the name and had been in existence for 12 years. It was the same % as SSP got in Scotland despite an absence of media coverage and only being in existence for 9 weeks. It had been a very active campaign with 150 Public Meetings/Rallies, 15 in West Midlands, a Freepost to 50% of the electorate plus hundreds of thousands of leaflets with organisation’s own politics. There had been a successful TV broadcast, especially against the BNP. No2EU did provide a working class alternative to BNP by taking them on – better than just “Don’t vote BNP”. He felt the No2 EU campaign had been significant – trade union support was clearly there, specifically from the RMT, but the FBU had made a donation, and the PCS President had spoken at the London Rally. Increasing numbers of left groups had come on board – SP, CPB, AGS, Solidarity, SA, ISG, Resepect local branches. He concluded by speaking briefly about the gains made by the Far Right, suggesting the
Left was wrong to ignore UKIP who had gained an MEP (now 13), and had pushed Labour into 3rd place. The BNP gained first three County Councillors (Herts, Burnley, Coalville) and their first two MEPs (NW; Yorks). Overall the performance was mixed – the BNP only increased its vote by 1%, but Labour’s vote fell. In his area, the BNP did well in Nuneaton, coming 2nd in 3 wards, but its vote fell in Rugby from 14.6% to 12%. He concluded by suggesting we needed to differentiate between the BNP fascist/racist leadership and newer ex-Labour working class supporters.
Organisations made comments in the discussion as follows:
AWL – The No2EU result was not very good, especially as a socialist profile was shelved in order to gather broader support with a narrower anti-EU appeal. The BNP will now get European funds. The election results suggest a likely Tory government with strong forces to its right.
SP – The No2EU initiative was significant, primarily because of RMT support. Leaders of recent disputes were amongst the candidates. There were not enough roots to make an immediate impact. Success in elections needs a persistent and consistent record and a movement of support. No2EU’s vote was similar to that of Respect in 2004, but was not helped by the weakness of the trade union movement at present – No2EU results reflect that reality.
SA (GB) – The election was a real low point – the BNP tapped into discontent with MPs, and along with UKIP’s success, promotes anti immigrant sentiments. Establishment parties will be pushed further to the right. The BNP said they hated politicians and bankers – the left should organise around that. The electorate has not moved to the right, it is the established parties who have.
WP – There were similar political trends in Europe. The BNP used the recession and the expenses scandal, and the absence of a working class party made it easier for them. The BNP were likely to continue behaving in a more acceptable and electoral way. No2EU and the SLP should have been more critical of nationalism. However, votes of 1 or 2% shows there is a left constituency.
MAIN DISCUSSION ITEM: THE WAY FORWARD AFTER THE EUROPEAN ELECTIONS
including individual calls made by trade union and left leaders (ie Bob Crow, Mark Serwotka, Dave Nellist) for a broad coalition to contest the General Election; the SWP Open Letter for a left conference to discuss a "single, united left alternative to Labour", and reactions to that (ie Workers Power ‘Its time to create a new working class party’), the AWL call for a new Socialist Alliance, Gerry Byrne’s Appeal for Socialists to Stand Together, and any other proposals!
Pete McLaren introduced the discussion. He explained how he felt No2 EU had pushed forward developments towards a new left party, or at least a left list of candidates for the General Election.
He described how Jane Godrich (PCS Pres), Rob Griffiths CPB Gen Sec, Dave Nellist, and Bob Crow had all outlined that position at the London No2EU Rally on June 1st, which he had followed up with a media release. Since then, a letter from Dave Nellist had been published in a number of newspapers suggesting that Labour’s decline + BNP success showed need for a political alternative to give working people a genuine alternative they can believe in –one that fights unemployment etc. The liaison of trade unions and socialist parties in No2EU showed the possibility of a wider working class coalition for future elections. He felt a good start had been made in 9 weeks – think what we could build in 9 months for a General Election he suggested, asking anyone reading the letter to contact him if they wanted to help build a new workers’ party (email address given)
Bob Crow on the BBC news Blog had called for urgent talks between socialist organizations and trade unions to build a concerted political and industrial response to the election results, especially the BNP’s success and, in a No2EU Supporters Bulletin on June 8, he had called for urgent discussions following the election of two fascists, adding that the 150,000 votes gave us a solid platform to build on. We need urgent discussions with political parties, campaigns and trade union colleagues (eg CWU), he concluded, to develop a political and industrial response to the crisis
Mark Serwotka (Gen Sec PCS) was quoted in the SWP Open Letter stating that working people can no longer vote Labour – we need trade unions to stand candidates.
Pete McLaren concluded by referring to the various responses from socialist organisations. He welcomed the SWP call for a left conference, but he was concerned they were not responding to responses, and that they had not come to this meeting to motivate their Open letter despite being specifically invited. He then read out a personal statement from Andrew Fisher of the LRC that any left platform should also consider endorsing socialist Green candidates and socialist Labour Party candidates, and a statement from the CNWP suggesting it was important we build on the gains made by the No2EU campaign, and that any follow up initiative was widely based, democratic and inclusive.
Martin Thomas (AWL) motivated their call for a new Socialist Alliance. The AWL had written supporting the SWP Open Letter. The original SA had been a step forward, its dissolution a step back. We need to move forward again. We should also build on the electoral co-ordinating work of the SGUC, but trade union support was also needed although he argued socialists should take the lead as trade unions were not organised as a political party and their support did not always materialise. In Scotland some TU officials were discussing using the Peoples Charter to measure candidates against – this could include SSP, solidarity, the SNP, Greens and Labour depending on their answers. Clash avoidance, though important, was not enough, and the Peoples Charter was no substitute for a class-struggle workers plan, he argued. He hoped organisations would support a revamped SA, as long as its constitution was acceptable. This would enable organisations to work together without yet forming a new party.
Organisations made comments in the discussion as follows:
WP – The SWP Open letter should be welcomed. We may be looking at a SA as in 2001. The working class needs its own party. This should be promoted by local as well as national activity
tUSP – The working class needs political representation. We should co-ordinate groups opposed to capitalism, a meaningful alliance against capitalism, not just for electoral work. The SP could lead us to a new party through their experience and size – they should want the SWP on board. The SWP letter shows no political assessment – they don’t know what to do.
In terms of the way ahead, if No2EU proposed it, all left groups should get behind a re-named No2EU.
SA (GB) – Concerned the SWP is not responding. We must build bases, not around personalities. There must be no stitch ups. Crow and Serwotaka had made positive statements, but trade union members must also be involved. Democracy is crucial. We need to overcome our disunity and build a base. A majority of workers are no longer represented by trade unions, including the unemployed and asylum seekers. The question of capitalism is now being discussed widely, which gives us opportunities. Our problem is that we remain divided on the left. We should agree to push locally and nationally to bring together a united response that can lead to a General Election list.
SP – No2EU arose at very short notice, hence some lack of democracy. It did have a federal approach in its campaigning, and the RMT did not have a problem with organisations using their own materials. No2EU was the only political platform to attack the BNP. We do need to build at the base, but our organisations are weak at present. The SWP letter was not a serious approach to unity – it was more of a political stunt. The SP has been trying to talk to the SWP, but to no avail – then suddenly this open letter is sent to individuals. We should see what develops from the letter. The SP will reply to the letter. He was concerned that the SWP would dominate any conference and it could be just another SWP front. We need to address the question of the Green party and whether they will support clash avoidance, he added. Regarding the post No2EU discussion, the core No2EU groups (RMT, SP, CPB and AGS) will meet before the RMT conference at the end of June. Other trade unions may subsequently be involved. The SP was considering standing 20 GE candidates, but this could increase if part of a broader coalition. He agreed we needed a workers’ party, providing an arena for socialists and left trade unionists, but he felt we were some way from that. The Peoples Charter was likely to be the core of a new movement to take the working class forward. If No2EU could be broadened out, that would be more important than a new SA. The SP hoped the word ‘socialist’ or ‘workers’ would be in any new title.
Green Left – A bottom up approach is crucial. We need to work together on local campaigns. The GL was attempting to persuade the Green party to discuss clash avoidance, and they may stand down in Tower Hamlets. The Green party gained 1,000 new members during the Euro election campaign. The BNP are building bases – we need to do the same. It was New labour’s racist policies that had helped the BNP increase its support. Support for the left is low at present – we need to educate, agitate and organise.
Toby Abse – We have a major economic crisis and success by the Far right – we need to do something quickly. We need an alliance or party to fight the General Election, and support the conference proposed in the SWP's Open Letter, and WP’s call for local activity
WHAT ARE THE AIMS OF THE LEFT UNITY LIAISON COMMITTEE?
The Discussion Paper on Building the LULC circulated by the SA at the last meeting was motivated. The following points were made;
WP – Aim (i) was very limited to exchange of views and general co-operation. WP would support Aim (ii), amended from socialist party to a new working class party. Local left co-ordination was essential. No2EU should be broadened out.
AWL - The LULC is a liaison committee – it can not decide what No2EU or the SWP should do
SP – We should agree the aim of the LULC was as outlined in (i)
There was general agreement to support Aim (i) in the SA Discussion Paper:
(i) Given the fragmented nature of the left we need mechanisms for an exchange of views, co-operation, co-ordination, education, promotion of each other’s events, and unity in action. The aim is to build a more effective socialist movement as a movement.
7. DATE OF NEXT MEETING – it was agreed to meet again in September/October unless circumstances required an earlier meeting
Pete McLaren 17/06/09
LULC Report june 2009