SWP national secretary Martin Smith opened the session by explaining the need for strong local branches of the party.
“Our ability to relate to the political crisis generated by the war, or to intervene in industrial disputes like the post strike, or to be able to deal with the impact of the crisis in Respect, is dependent on us having good branches that meet regularly,” he said.
“Branch meetings must be places where we organise the party’s interventions, but they must also be where we take on big ideological questions – like those raised by the crisis in Pakistan and Kenya, or the danger of an economic recession, or the need to defend abortion rights.
“As such there should be a positive tension in the meetings, one where we attempt to seek out debate around particular questions where we know there is a difference of views.”
There were reports from a number of delegates who are in the process of setting up new branches.
Martin also talked about the need for special fraction meetings to bring together those involved in work in the unions, or particular campaigns – especially those members who are harder to involve because of shift working, or other problems.
There was also an emphasis in the discussion on building large district public meetings that can act as a flagship for the party.
The session discussed the need to build on the existing sales of party publications, including Socialist Worker. Martin argued that every branch and member needs to work to extend the network of Socialist Worker readers across campaigns and workplaces.
“Our paper played a crucial role in the post dispute,” said Martin. “We sold between 350 and 450 on every day of the strike – which is unprecedented – and we built a network of activists through it.”
Simon, a postal worker from Leicester, talked about how he regularly sold between 25 and 30 papers on his picket line during the dispute.
Another postal worker from Mount Pleasant in London described how 80 papers were sold on a strike day to his workmates.
Recruitment to the party was another theme of the session, and many delegates talked the success that the SWP has had in the colleges.
Jonathan from Strathclyde university in Glasgow said, “We have gone from isolation to eight SWP members in a year and a half because of our work through Stop the War.
“Stop the War is a central part of everything we do and an avenue into a whole set of politics. We sent a delegation to the October protest over the war at parliament.
“People came away radicalised as it was a confrontation with the state. Afterwards, 19 people came to a Socialist Worker Student Society meeting to plan future activities.”
Delegates agreed that the party should initiate a recruitment and sales drive in 2008.