RESPECTS’S FIRST national conference saw some 300 delegates and 100 observers gather in London last weekend.
“It was an enormously successful conference”, said John Rees, Respect national secretary.
“It was very well attended, and people remained very attentive throughout the 70 or so resolutions that were debated.
“Delegates went away with a clear idea that Respect needs to take advantage of the next general election.
“We need to concentrate our forces where we are strongest, at a time when the major parties will have to disperse their forces across the country.
“This will give us the kind of advantage that the major parties have in by-elections.
“We will be in a position to make a breakthrough, and if we do it will transform British politics in the way that success for the Scottish Socialist Party and Rifondazione Comunista in Italy did in their countries.”
A series of well informed debates saw policy passed on issues such as war and imperialism, defending asylum seekers and civil liberties, combatting homophobia, defending the 1967 Abortion Act and fighting for public housing and pensions.
Oliur Rahman, Respect councillor in Tower Hamlets, east London, told the conference, “We have the poorest pensioners in the world. We have no decent minimum wage. We demand the government stop spending money on killing people in Iraq and spend it on this country.
“Tony Blair and George Bush should be in the dock. They have the blood of innocent Iraqis on their hands.”
Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition told the conference, “The war remains the most important issue in British politics.
“Now we know some 100,000 have died in Iraq, excluding the deaths in Fallujah and all military deaths. This is aerial bombardment on the scale of what the fascists did to Guernica, or the British did to Dresden, or what the US did to Vietnam.
“We want the troops home now, and we say those who are resisting the occupation have the absolute right to resist.”
Cheryl Garvey from Birmingham led off the discussion on fighting racism. She said, “There is a long tradition of racism towards asylum seekers in this country. We are always being told about how many asylum seekers and refugees are coming to this country.
“But no one talks about people who come from Australia or from New Zealand, or from other European countries.
“And you can’t even get the statistics that tell how many people are leaving every year.
“In the 1970s Afro-Caribbean men were twice as likely as their white counterparts to suffer from unemployment.
“Today they are three times more likely to be unemployed.
“There are three groups of children who end school in a worse position to other groups than when they start—Afro-Caribbean boys and girls and white working class boys. So we have to stress our commonality.
“There are huge numbers of people who are not participating in the formal political process from all disenfranchised communities.
“This is where Respect can play a key role, but we have to start by understanding why people aren’t there.
“There are traditions around left wing political culture that can be a barrier to new people.
“It’s not good enough to say, ‘Lets get this group of people involved.’
“The key is not to ask what is wrong with the people you want to reach—its to start by asking what you could do differently to reach them.”
In a debate about housing, a delegate from Watford told the conference, “All my family lived in council houses. Now all the housing is being sold off.
“When my kids grow up where will they live?
“We want decent public housing, not rabbit hutches you have to be mortgaged up to the hilt to buy and then get landed with negative equity.”
For details of all the resolutions passed at the conference go to www.respectcoalition.org