Socialist Worker

Launching a challenge to corporate power

JOHN REES introduced a session on the Socialist Alliance and building an alternative to New Labour following George Galloway's endorsement of a new, broader and more credible electoral alternative to New Labour.

Issue No. 1876

John said, 'The anti-war movement has transformed the political landscape in this country. We can gather the forces to challenge New Labour from the movement.

'We are now intervening in the beginnings of the construction of a new political project standing against New Labour next June.

'We are launching an organisation to challenge corporate power.' In the discussion that followed, members explained how they were launching similar initiatives locally. Kay Phillips said, 'We are organising a convention of the left in our area.

'Between us we are involved in many different campaigns. So we are launching a local press statement to build the convention which will be signed by local activists and trade unionists.'

Another delegate stressed, 'In Haringey we have stood in lots of elections and done well. Since the war, everyone who comes to the Stop the War Coalition meetings has wanted to talk about a political alternative to New Labour.

'Four people from my workplace came to the meeting with George Galloway. There was a real excitement. At a local level we have to get hold of Labour Party members, Green Party members and trade unionists.'

Anger behind the post strike is everywhere

THE POSTAL strike was at the forefront of delegates' minds as they debated work in industry and the unions for three hours on Sunday.

Providing solidarity for the postal workers was part of a general discussion on the growing bitterness at the base of the unions.

Dave Hayes, a national industrial organiser for the SWP, introduced a session on the rise of the 'awkward squad' of left union leaders:

'The rank and file postal workers have provided a lesson for every trade unionist.

'That does not mean we can simply ignore the national trade union leaderships.

'The success of left candidates in union elections over the last few years stems from the same feeling among rank and file union members that produced the post strike.

'The rise of the awkward squad was a breath of fresh air.

'It has opened up a big space for socialists to win a far wider hearing over political issues and to continue the recovery of confidence to take industrial action.

'The support from left union leaders for the stop the war movement greatly strengthened the mobilisations for demos. But the last year has shown the limitations and contradictions of the awkward squad.

'One of the clearest examples was at the Labour Party conference. The big four unions, all led by the left, agreed to keep a vote on the war on Iraq off the agenda.' Speakers in the debate referred to other key setbacks-the awful settlement of the firefighters' dispute, the defeat of Mick Rix in the election for general secretary of the Aslef union, and the narrow loss of the postal workers' national strike ballot.

'The central issue is the relationship between the union leaderships and the Labour Party,' said Martin Smith, another SWP industrial organiser.

'Look at the firefighters. Tony Blair put pressure on John Prescott to end the dispute. Prescott put pressure on the TUC. The TUC put pressure on firefighters' leader Andy Gilchrist. And Gilchrist buckled.'

All but two of the awkward squad union general secretaries-Bob Crow of the RMT and Mark Serwotka of the PCS-stick with the idea of trying to 'reclaim the Labour Party' rather than build a left alternative.

'The convention of the trade union left is central to widening the debate about a left alternative,' said Dave Hayes. 'It has already got support way beyond traditionally left wing union branches and regions.'

Speakers in the debate included members from the CWU, RMT, Unison, NUT, TGWU, GMB, NUJ, Amicus, PCS and Natfhe unions and five striking postal workers.

Contributors stressed the importance of working with the left union leaders.

'But at the same time we cannot rely on even the best left union leaders,' said a tube worker.

'They come under pressure. We've got to work in the rank and file to create a counterpressure.'

'The right wing inside Natfhe are arguing to dismantle the regional structures the left runs,' said a London lecturer.

'The only way to resist that is to build in the colleges among rank and file members. It's no good staying trapped in those structures.'

The bitterness that has burst out so spectacularly in the post office exists among working class people in every workplace in the country.

A London bus worker described how workers at his garage got far more militantly angry over parking charges and job transfers than the local union reps did.

A Heathrow worker said, 'British Airways thought its check-in staff would not do anything when it imposed flexible working.

'The next day a one-hour walkout by 400 mainly women workers turned into a two-day unofficial strike that brought a huge multinational to its knees.

'Then the Heathrow Express workers won after two days of official action. It has boosted the confidence of different sections at Heathrow.

'Check-in staff union reps now wear T-shirts when they meet management with the letters TAFOP. It stands for Take A Fuck Off Pill.'

Postal workers and others described how the consistent sale of Socialist Worker had created a crucial network of socialist union activists.

In the post that network has been working to build rank and file organisation around the Post Worker paper-which sold out of its 15,000 print run within a few days last week. The conference passed a document highlighting the success of unofficial action. It identified the sale of Socialist Worker as a key mechanism for drawing together activists and creating rank and file networks.

Democracy must mean organising united action

ALEX CALLINICOS introduced a session on what type of party the SWP is and on the party's constitution.

He said there was hostility to the idea of party organisation in the broader anti-capitalist and anti-war movement. This flows from the negative role of mainstream parties which are increasingly indistinguishable. However, said Alex, the SWP stands in a different tradition. We seek to overcome the way that capitalism tries to make us act as individual participants in the market. We try to see society as a totality and to bring together the concentrated experience of struggle.

'The party is the politically organised section of socialists in the movement, not a group separate from the movement,' said Alex.

He added that democracy and effective organisation are absolutely linked and that the party takes democracy very seriously.

There was a thorough discussion of the party's proposed new constitution. Several speakers noted that without proper branch structures it was impossible for democracy to operate.

Several amendments to the constitution-on questions such as the role of SWP district organisers-were accepted, while others were rejected after a debate.

The new constitution was then passed unanimously.

Party delegates then elected a new Central Committee, National Committee and Disputes Committee. The Central Committee is made up of 12 SWP members who give day to day leadership of the party. The National Committee has 100 members drawn from all areas of the party.

Members of the SWP can obtain a full record of conference decisions from the National Office. Phone 020 7538 5821.

'This academic year we sell around 30 or 40 copies of Socialist Worker a week. Just as important have been the Marxist forums. This year we had 90 people at a forum on Che Guevara. And we have taken students to visit postal workers' picket lines.'
VIREN SWAMI - University College London

'Socialists can play a central role in fighting for justice and rights, not just in the post office, but everywhere they work.'
Ken Penfold - CWU member, Waltham Forest

'The paper has had a large input into our success. It's been a real focal point. Someone said 'I've seen you selling Socialist Worker-can you tell me a bit more about it?' We also have meetings each week. It meant we got 250 students to the fees demo.'
ZOE BARTLETT - Essex University

'The strike over London weighting among the council workers in East Ham showed a brilliant spirit. On one demonstration people were chanting, 'Bush, Blair, no way, what we want is decent pay'.'
Donna Guthrie - East London

'The size of your demonstrations in London showed people in the Middle East that the war was not a crusade of Christianity against Islam. Please support the Cairo conference against US aggression in December.'
Ashraf el-Bayoumi, guest speaker

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Sat 8 Nov 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1876
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