AROUND 70 trade unionists, activists and campaigners gathered in Wrexham, north Wales, last Saturday to discuss building a left alternative to Labour. John Marek, the independent member of the Welsh Assembly, was central to organising the meeting.
He was a Labour Party assembly member until the elections this year when he stood against the party after its leadership had turned against him. Introducing the event, John Marek said, 'Tony Blair has vacated the left of centre. We need to give Welsh people the chance to vote for left of centre politics. The Welsh Labour Party hierarchy didn't want me to stand. My choice was either to roll over or fight. Under New Labour the rich have got richer. Britain has fought an imperialist war in Iraq. Locally we see terrible examples of what New Labour is capable of. Wrexham council is doing its best to evict a gypsy family that bought some land. The council has taken its appeals right to the House of Lords, spending £500,000 to £1 million on what is in essence a racist campaign. Some people believe the Labour Party is redeemable. I am clear it is not. There is a great need for a credible left of centre force. It is important that it is ready for the European elections next year, and that the various left organisations do not stand against each other.'
There was serious discussion throughout the day about what form such a left alternative should take. Should it be an electoral pact between various groups, or should there be some new Welsh Socialist Party to play a similar role to the Scottish Socialist Party?
If there is to be a new party, should it require individual members to give up their previous allegiances? Or should it have 'platforms', so that while members join a new organisation they can also organise openly around a particular set of socialist politics?
Tommy Sheridan, one of the Scottish Socialist Party's MSPs, told the meeting he believed it was 'essential to bring together those who believe in the policies that none of the main parties will touch. We need to open the doors and welcome in as many as possible who share the socialist philosophy. The principle should be that if our views are 80 percent the same and 20 percent a bit different, that should be no bar to being together.'
Bob Crow, leader of the RMT union, sent a message of support to the meeting with the hope that it could push forward the search for progressive politics. The union backed John Marek at the assembly elections. Throughout the day there were thoughtful contributions from many of those present.
Steve Ryan, a PCS union activist, said, 'John Marek has provided a focus for us to organise around. We need an amalgam of groups that will be greater than the sum of the parts.'
A Labour Party member spoke of how she had very grudgingly remained in the party because there didn't seem to be much of an alternative, but that if there was a coherent organisation then she would be eager to join it.
Another Labour member from nearby Clwyd South said the party was withering. Ian Titherington, a Plaid Cymru activist, spoke about his work with Welsh Friends of Searchlight and the need to campaign against the BNP.
Members of the Socialist Workers Party, the Welsh Socialist Alliance and the Socialist Party were at the meeting, as well as Nick Wrack and Rob Hoveman from the Socialist Alliance in England. It was very positive to have such a full discussion. But there are many issues that still need to be debated.
Any new organisation or alliance would have to draw on the positive experience of the anti-war movement.