SECRETARY’S REPORT TO THE 2009 SA AGM
INTRODUCTION – A POSITIVE YEAR
Given what we faced at the last AGM in December 2008, and the size of our active membership, our political progress since then has been quite remarkable. Last December, we were faced with a motion which, by calling for merger, would have effectively closed us down. At the same time, our ambitions for the Euro Elections in June 2009 were to try and persuade the rest of the left to help raise enough finances to stand a ‘left list’ in one of the thirteen English regions.
The merger motion was heavily defeated, and within months we were part of the first ever serious trade union/left co-coordinated challenge to New Labour, a coalition sponsored by the RMT which stood in every Euro region in England, Scotland and Wales, and had the only national TV broadcast to concentrate on undermining the BNP. Two members of the SA, including the National Secretary, were candidates for ‘No2EU-Yestodemocracy’ as the coalition came to be called. Others became part of the campaign. The Socialist Alliance was mentioned in publicity to an audience we could only have dreamt to reach. We have since agreed to engage with post No2EU developments which are likely to lead, at the very least, to a trade union/left coalition contesting the General Election next year. Whilst all this was taking place, we have continued to co-ordinate what has come to be called the Left Unity Liaison Committee (LULC), and there have now been 5 meetings in 15 months involving up to 15 different socialist/green socialist organisations in an attempt to encourage and enable the left to work more effectively together. At the same time, we have continued our active involvement in the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party (CNWP) which has been encouraging supporters to become members to implement the policy we suggested at the last CNWP national conference. The CNWP has put most of its energies into No2EU and post No2EU developments, and there has therefore been limited independent activity, but campaigning for a new workers’ party has been to the fore of the No2EU and subsequent developments, and calls for such a party were made at many Public Meetings and included in publicity. All this has advanced our main aim of bringing all socialist unity projects together as part of One Party of the Left based solidly within the working class.
The NEC met 3 times, the minimum laid out in the Constitution. As well as the AGM, there was a Members Meeting in April to formulate our policy on No2EU. Much of the discussion at NEC meetings was on socialist unity. In January, we heard reports of our involvement in the Convention of the Left, where we had argued, by resolution, for discussions about how a new left party could be formed. We also tried to get support for our Euro Election Appeal for funds. Both were rejected, and we had to put real pressure on the organisers just to allow these suggestions to be debated. The Convention did however agree to send a delegate to the LULC, which could prevent further splits. At the NEC meeting itself in January, we gave critical support to the Peoples’ Charter, agreed to collate the various charters which were emerging, decided to continue with the European Election Financial Appeal, and agreed to try and persuade the AGS to re-join the LULC. The members meeting, which followed the April NEC, agreed to critically support No2EU, and to raise the issue of Democracy. In June, the NEC, after hearing a report from the post No2EU core group, decided to engage in any post-No2EU developments which broadly fit within our agreed policies. It heard that the main players within No2EU – the SP, RMT, CPB and AGS – were meeting in July to discuss their positions, and that further developments were likely after the summer holiday period. It was agreed to write to the RMT asking if we could send an SA representative to subsequent post-No2EU meetings. Attendance at NEC Meetings was as follows:
Toby Abse: NEC Meetings attended (maximum 3) 2; Apologies 1
Gerry Byrne: NEC Meetings attended 3; Apologies –
Jean Kysow: NEC Meetings attended 3; Apologies –
Dave Landau: NEC Meetings attended 3; Apologies –
Pete McLaren: NEC Meetings attended 3; Apologies –
Liz Peck: NEC Meetings attended 1; Apologies 2
Alliance for Green Socialism: NEC Meetings attended 0; Apologies 0
Coventry And Warwickshire SA: NEC Meetings attended 0; Apologies 1
Revolutionary Democratic Group: NEC Meetings attended 3; Apologies –
Rugby Red Green Alliance: NEC Meetings attended 0; Apologies 0
Walsall Democratic Labour Party: NEC Meetings attended 1; Apologies 1
There has been regular communication with members, both by email and, on a number of occasions, by post to those members not on email. Members were kept informed of developments as they took place. Dave Trussler has continued to maintain and develop the web site. Unfortunately, through no fault of our own we lost our domain name at the end of July, and the site was down for two months. This was because our former web person did not send on the domain renewal notices he received. We have now bought the domain “www.socialistalliance.org.uk” from the Socialist Party, and the Site is back up and running with the same information as before. Membership remains much the same as last year, nationally and locally. No new local Alliances have emerged, but those already in existence have continued to meet and promote activity in their locality.
PRIORITIES FOR THE SA AGREED AT THE 2008 AGM
Only one resolution was passed at the 2008 AGM, and this was our main guide for activity since then. The main points were:
- A recognition of the progress made in terms of promoting socialist unity and turning the CNWP into a more effective campaign.
- Welcoming developments which had led to the formation of a Left Unity Liaison Committee
- Agreement that the main priority in the year ahead was to build on these two developments, and to take forward as far as possible a campaign for One Party for the Left (ie the socialist movement) based solidly within the working class
Specifically, the AGM agreed to:
- Actively seek greater positive co-operation within the left and the green left; and take forward a campaign for One Party for the Left based solidly within the working class – with the intention that such a party would have support from trade unions, tenants groups, women, youth, black groups, anti-war protesters and environmentalists – within the LULC, the CNWP and the socialist movement generally
- Attempt to gain the involvement of left organisations not at this stage participating in the LULC
- Intervene in the CNWP to build a more effective campaign, transforming the CNWP into a real organization, and to campaign for:
- The CNWP to adopt a federal structure which encourages affiliation and automatic representation and representation for independents
- The CNWP to establish working groups to develop the policy points in the CNWP Charter
- The CNWP to establish a timescale for turning the campaign for a new workers’ party into that actual party
- The CNWP to launch a national debate designed to galvanize opinion around such matters as the party name, aims, constitution, culture, and programme.
- Through the LULC, and in the CNWP, seek to produce a report on “The problems of forming one party for the socialist movement” as an authoritative and representative report.
IMPLEMENTING THE POLICY AGREED AT THE AGM
In the nine months since then, the following progress has been made:
LEFT UNITY LIAISON COMMITTEE (LULC)
The LULC has now had five meetings, three of them since the 2008 AGM. Reports from these meetings can be found on our web site. In terms of specifics:
- The LULC has discussed the Peoples’ Charter, and agreed to collate the various Charters from different left organisations into one document.
- It was unanimously agreed to support a proposal from the AGS that “The issue of the environment should be a pillar of any new joint organisation”
- It was agreed to continue pursuing the objective of clash avoidance at elections
- It was agreed that a Discussion Paper on possible aims of this Liaison Committee be circulated, and subsequently it was agreed that the LULC would provide mechanisms for an exchange of views, co-operation, co-ordination, education, promotion of each other’s events, and unity in action. The aim would be to build a more effective socialist movement as a movement.
In March, the LULC had a lengthy discussion on the “No2EU-YestoDemocracy” RMT Euro Election initiative, and in June there was an open and frank appraisal of the No2EU Election Campaign, followed by a discussion about the way forward after the European Elections, which included an analysis of the growing calls for left unity from, amongst others, Bob Crow, Mark Serwotka, Dave Nellist, the SWP and the AWL.
All the main socialist and green socialist organisations have attended LULC Meetings, apart from the SWP, and in total 15 left groups have sent representatives to discuss and promote left unity. These are the Socialist Party, Respect, the Labour Representation Committee, the Campaign for a New Workers Party, CPGB, Workers Power, the Democratic Labour Party, Workers Liberty, the Communist Party (CPB), RDG, Socialist alliance, Green Left, Alliance for Green Socialism, the United Socialist Party, Left Alternative. The SWP have been invited, and they have acknowledged our support for their proposed left conference.
* CAMPAIGN for a NEW WORKERS’ PARTY (CNWP)
The Steering Committee and Officers have each only met once this year because the CNWP gave immediate and full support to No2EU, concentrating its efforts on building it. In the meantime, CNWP supporters have been encouraged to become members, and 229 had done so by July. A Steering Committee has been called for the end of October, and there will be a Members Conference early in the New Year
* NO2EU-YESTO DEMOCRACY
”No2EU-YestoDemocracy” - the coalition initiated by the RMT for the European Elections on June 4th – took up most of the left’s energy from March, and continues now with post No2EU developments. The coalition was initially set up by the RMT, CPB, AGS and SP. The CNWP soon gave its support. and, after a lengthy discussion at a meeting of members, the Socialist alliance agreed in late April to give critical support. This initially proved to be too late to become part of the Core Group which has continued to meet post No2EU to put together a coalition for the General election.
Those wanting the SA to engage with No2EU argued that the initiative should be supported as a historic trade union based challenge to New Labour - if the left could not get its act together at a time of severe economic crisis and potential rise of the far right, then when could it? The main reason for engagement was the project’s potential. Links would be formed which would not necessarily disappear after June 4. The left was increasingly coming onboard and Left groups were already able to use the programme to promote their own slant. It would be an active campaign with many public meetings, leaflets and stalls, and these could help lay the basis for a new left party which would clearly have trade union support. There would be a National TV broadcast.
The main policies of No2EU-yestodemocracy were to challenge the undemocratic nature of the EU, and to counter the BNP. It did not call for withdrawal from the EU, despite the impression which may have been given in the registered electoral title. Full details of the manifesto policies can be found at www.no2eu.com. There was some criticism within the SA about the policies being too much of a concentration on the EU as the cause of all our problems, and what could be described as nationalistic solutions. However, two resolutions of critical support were passed at the Members Meeting
THE NO2EU-YESTODEMOCRACY EURO ELECTION CAMPAIGN – AN ANALYSIS
In the Euro election itself, the No2EU campaign averaged 1%, which was 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 the SSP got in Scotland on June 4, and this was despite an absence of media coverage and only being in existence for 9 weeks.
However, the result, along with those for others on the left, pales into insignificance compared to the results of the far right. UKIP gained 17%, pushing Labour into 3rd place, and the BNP gained two MEPs, both hard line fascists and racists. The left needs to address this quickly. Divisions within the left made it easier for the far right to pose as the ‘acceptable’ alternative to the political corruption and reactionary policies of the establishment parties. Much of the BNP’s more recent support comes from working class traditional Labour voters, many of whom only move to the BNP as a protest. In my view, and my experience, where I have had to actively campaign against BNP candidates in my own ward 3 times recently, most could be won over by a new left party which offered a radical alternative without the extreme nationalism and racism of the BNP.
The No2EU campaign itself was a very active one with 150 Public Meetings/Rallies, 15 in the West Midlands where SA National Secretary Pete McLaren had been a candidate on the list headed by Dave Nellist. This meant the SA got mentioned in West Midlands leaflets, and also in some of the eighteen press releases in the West Midlands where Pete McLaren was also Press Officer.
There was a Freepost to 50% of the entire electorate, plus hundreds of thousands of local leaflets with an organisation’s own uncensored politics. There was a successful TV broadcast, especially against the BNP. No2EU did provide a working class alternative to BNP by taking them on – it gave a better option than just “Don’t vote BNP”. Most SA members felt the No2 EU campaign had been significant – trade union support was clearly there, specifically from the RMT, but the FBU made a donation, and the PCS President spoke at the London Rally. Increasing numbers of left groups had come on board – SP, CPB, AGS, Solidarity, SA, ISG, Respect local branches. But it was the developments that could well come out of it that provided the most compelling reason to have got involved in the No2EU-Yestodemocracy campaign
DEVELOPMENTS POST NO2EU
As noted in the resolutions agreed for engagement with the No2EU-Yestodemocracy European Election challenge, the SA was hopeful that something more permanent on the left would emerge from it.
There had already been a number of developments by the time the SA NEC next met on June 21st, and I was able to report the following information I had received from Dave Nellist to the meeting:
The SP executive had confirmed their wish to build on the work of NO2EU for a joint list under a common name for the GE, starting as soon as possible; the CPB and RMT were both meeting on July 11 to decide their view; there would be a meeting of the core groups involved with No2EU in the 3rd week of July to assess the way forward and this group was likely to subsequently meet monthly; there would be campaigning amongst the Irish community in Britain on the Lisbon Treaty referendum vote, including a fringe meeting at the TUC with Joe Higgins; there would be a National Convention after the TUC Conference to decide details, structures etc for the GE
I went on to report that Jane Godrich (PCS Pres), Rob Griffiths (CPB Gen Sec), Dave Nellist, and Bob Crow had all outlined the need for a unified left electoral challenge as a step towards a new left party at the London No2EU Rally on June 1st. Since then, a letter from Dave Nellist had been published in a number of newspapers suggesting that Labour’s decline and the BNP success showed the need for a left political alternative. 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, adding that the 150,000 votes (obtained by No2EU) provided a solid platform to build on. Mark Serwotka (Gen Sec PCS) was quoted in a SWP Open Letter stating that working people can no longer vote Labour – we need trade unions to stand candidates, he suggested.
In addition, a number of left organisations were showing an increased willingness to work together. The SWP had circulated an Open Letter calling for a left conference to discuss a ”single, united left alternative to Labour”, and there had already been positive reactions to that, including one from the SA itself. In addition, the AWL was calling for a new Socialist Alliance, and the Socialist Party had produced a Paper outlining how they felt the left should move forward, entitled ‘No2EU: A step towards a workers’ political voice’
After a lengthy discussion at the NEC about all these developments, much of which was about whether or not there should be pre-conditions before the SA agreed to engage with post No2EU political developments, it was decided pre-conditions were not necessary and it was agreed to engage in any post No2EU Left developments which broadly fit within our agreed policies as in our Constitution. We welcomed the calls, by the SWP in their Open Letter, the AWL call for a new Socialist Alliance, leading trade union figures such as Bob Crow and Mark Serwotka, for unity in the upcoming General Election, adding that we believed such moves, if they are to have any reality, must be democratic and involve the widest possible working class forces, without bans and proscriptions. We agreed to campaign within any unity moves for the following conditions
- They are explicitly socialist, with a title and programme that reflects this;
- Their political programme is broadly in line with People Before Profit, the SA’s election manifesto;
- That they explicitly reject nationalism and xenophobia and stand for equal rights for all;
- That they stand for full equality for all, and make no concessions to national, communal or religious interests
- That they recognise that this crisis is an environmental as well as economic and any solutions must be sustainable for the planet as a whole.
We agreed to fight within any unity project for our SA programme, and the NEC also recognized a “crisis of democracy” in the UK and agreed to promote the development of a democratic programme within the CNWP, Convention of the Left, No2EU and the LULC.
The No2EU Core Group has been informed of the SA’s decision to engage in any post No2EU political developments, and we await their response. The Core Group met on July 20, and CNWP Officers heard later that day that:
- There would be meetings in support of an Irish No Vote on the Lisbon treaty
- A Left Electoral Coalition was now being discussed for the General Election with a “class based electoral title” – an electoral block with support from trade unions and left organizations.
- It was hoped there would be agreement on a number of key demands, but supporting organisations would also have to the freedom to promote their own programme – a federal arrangement similar to how the SA operated in 2001.
- The steering group may be widened to include other supportative organisations, like the SA, after the next core meeting on September 1
- There will be a national convention on the crisis in the lack of working class political representation in the autumn
The Core Group met again in September and agreed, (subject to ratification by organisations), to form a coalition for the general election. The next meeting would decide on a name and some core policy points (covering socialist, democratic, environmental and trade union issues). The Core Group would then look at the involvement of other groups, and the general practicalities involved.
Overall 2009 has so far been a year of steady progress in terms of our agreed priorities, and gradual progress towards the formation of a new workers’ party. However, we remain very small in terms of membership, and we only have two officers when we should have at least five. I cannot continue forever to cover membership, finances and communications as well as being Secretary. Our resources are severely stretched. Yet, because of our background and tradition, we continue to have an influence. We have avoided splits, despite some quite major differences of opinion, particularly around No2EU.
In terms of the specifics of the resolution passed at the last AGM, we have
- Helped to develop work to encourage the left to cooperate and work more closely and effectively together
- Assisted the CNWP to turn supporters into members
- Taken forward our campaign for One Party of the Left, within the LULC, No2EU and throughout the left wherever possible
- Worked to gain the involvement of organistions not previously involved in the LULC, including the CPB, and we have re-opened contact with the SWP
- Continued to intervene in the CNWP whenever possible
What we have not been able to do has been to move the CNWP further forward. This has been largely because the CNWP was effectively put on the back burner from March until October in preference to work building the Euro Election coalition No2EU, and in the subsequent Post-No2EU developments towards a coalition for the General Election. With only one Steering Committee meeting, one Officers meeting and no annual conference, it has not been possible to push it into being a more effective campaign with automatic representation for affiliates, policy working groups, a report on the problems of forming one left party or the need for a time table for the campaign for a new workers’ party to become that party. With a further Steering Committee called for the end of October, agreement to hold a Conference early in the New Year, and the move to a membership structure, the SA can now seek to promote these policies within the CNWP with renewed vigor.
More to the point, it is what has objectively happened since last December, rather than the specifics of a particular resolution, which should make us optimistic about the future. There have clearly been a number of positive moves towards greater left unity in the ten months since our last AGM.
The RMT initiated Euro Election challenge has, at the same time, moved forward the campaign for a new left party and, with our support, stood in all eleven regions of England, Wales and Scotland. Although it was set up as an electoral coalition for just one election, ‘No2EU’, for all its programmitical weaknesses, could well be the catalyst for building a more permanent left party. In the 3 months since the Euro Elections, the main ‘No2EU’ partners have laid the ground for a coordinated left challenge at the General Election next year. That would be a start.
It was disappointing that internal division delayed SA support for, and involvement in, ‘No2EU’, with the result that we are not part of the main ‘Core’ Post ‘No2EU’ planning group, but we have now agreed to engage with these post ’No2EU’ developments, and hopefully we will soon be an active component. This may well entail standing SA candidate(s) in the General Election as part of this coalition, a decision which will have financial and administrative implications we will need to address.
If we remain realistic about our role and our priorities, there is no reason why we cannot continue to play a part in left wing politics as a separate body. Our determination to bring unity across the socialist and green socialist left is unique. We can continue to act as a sort of pressure group for the unity of the left, arguing for it wherever we have an audience, and promoting it through those wider projects within which we have already demonstrated we have a role to play, including the LULC, CNWP, ‘Post-No2EU developments and the Convention of the Left. In many ways we are marking time, waiting for wider forces to agree the need for a new left formation or party, whilst at the same time ‘doing our bit’ to speed up that process.
There has never been a more urgent time for the left to get its act together. With the establishment parties all vying to see which of them can best make the working class pay for the Recession, through pay cuts, unemployment and massive cuts in public services, and with the continuing moves forward of the far right and the increased racism this promotes, there is a desperate need for a socialist alternative. Die Linke in Germany has shown what is possible in just two short years. In many ways, it is a Left Party of compromise – but it is a Left Party. We could do worse than follow its example. This may well mean accepting that some of our agreed policies do not feature in the new Party’s core programme, as we found with ‘No2EU-YestoDemocracy’. But it should not prevent our engagement, and once inside, we can argue for all that we hold dear, and, if appropriate, become a faction within the new organization to do so. There is no point in the 6 or 7 of us on the NEC preventing engagement because our own individual political crusade has not been immediately recognized by whatever does emerge.
The main point is that we must accept that none of us on the left have a monopoly of the truth; none of us know all the answers. What we do know is that we get nowhere as long as we remain divided. As we discovered in the early days of the original Socialist Alliance, we have more in common than not. We united then around the 80%, or at times 90%, we could agree upon. A federal structure then allows organizations, including ourselves, to promote that other 10 or 20% as long as it is not counter productive to the project as a whole. This has to be the way forward. We must continue promoting it at every level, whilst being realistic about the amount of influence we can have. Our commitment to socialist unity is more than just unique – it is a vital component of the new workers’ party we are committed to build.
We live in interesting times. There is a renewed interest in unity, a new desire to provide a unified left alternative. There will be setbacks. Old sectarianisms will die hard. But the important thing is for us to be in there, as the Socialist Alliance, representing all the traditions and achievements of the original SA, arguing for unity, openness, bottom-upwards democracy, honesty and inclusivity. That way we very much still have an important role to play, both as an independent organization and, in the future, as some sort of faction, for want of a better word, within something much larger, much more exciting, and with real potential.
Pete McLaren, SA National Secretary 07/10/09
Secretary’s Report to the 2009 SA AGM