Some 350 delegates and observers gathered to discuss the way forward at Respect’s fourth annual conference, held at the University of Westminster in central London.
Respect National Secretary John Rees introduced the conference arguing that the potential is there to build Respect. He celebrated the fact that despite recent problems, up and down the country Respect groups had elected delegates to come to debate today.
The morning session on our vision for Respect heard contributions from around the country.
Nahella Ashraf from Manchester said, “Respect is about us having a voice and speaking up and fight for what we believe in. We are fighting for the vision we started off with. The vision of what we wanted to achieve is still there.”
Paddy O’Keefe from Brighton said, “It has been a testing time. But in testing times you find out who your friends are. You also get to see the consistency between what people say and what they do.”
He praised the restraint and integrity shown by national officers John Rees, Lindsey German and Elaine Graham-Leigh in recent arguments, saying, “Some of my best friends are in the SWP, I’m not. Our presence together today is a reflection of that restraint and integrity. We have prevailed and we will succeed.”
A number of speakers – including Kumar Murshid, Tower Hamlets Respect councillor Lutfa Begum and Salvinder Dhillon – spoke about how electoral success had created new problems and challenges for the organisation but this was no reason why a campaigning, vibrant, diverse organisation could not continue to grow.
Preston Respect councillor Michael Lavalette spoke about his work in the council. He said, “There is no issue too small to take up in case work. No matter what the issue is we will take it up and fight to make sure you get representation. We also have to relate to national and international issues.”
Guest speaker Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS civil service workers union, said, “We need industrial unity to face the attacks on workers, we need political unity to offer hope.”
He called for public sector unity against the neoliberalism of Gordon Brown's government, saying, “If we believe in policies for the millions not the millionaires, we have to dedicate ourselves to build unity.”
He pointed out that he had declined to speak at a rally organised today by George Galloway. He said, “The happiest man over splits in the left is Gordon Brown. But unity has to be based on open tolerance and accepting difference.
“You cannot have unity in a party to the left of Labour based on those who attack and witch-hunt other socialists.
“We can see today as opportunity to get some things clearer and move on stronger. We stand as Respect but we want unity of those to the left of Labour to give Gordon Brown nightmares to ensure that we can give our children something better.”
Shirebrook Respect councillor Ray Holmes said, “I take great pleasure in standing up in council and saying, ‘I oppose that’. The reason I joined Respect was to fight along with people on the same side. The attacks on the working class are coming so thick and fast, we need to be broad as we can. And to win we need to be principled.”
The conference also heard from Jane Loftus the president of the Communication Workers Union, Francois Duval from the French socialist organisation the LCR and Sami Ramadani from Iraqi Democrats Against The Occupation.
During session the 270 delegates present elected 45 people to a new national council. They also elected Elaine Graham-Leigh as national organiser, Councillor Oliur Rahman as national chair, and John Rees as national secretary.
For the afternoon session see » Part 2.