Still going strong after the election
SOCIALIST Alliances across England and Wales have been holding forums, meetings and debates on the way forward for the alliance after the election. They have been a great success. Many of the meetings have drawn in new people who came across the alliance during the election campaign.
The overwhelming feeling has been that the general election was an important first step, and the Socialist Alliance should continue to build support through campaigns and participating in future council and other elections. Liz Davies, an ex-member of the Labour Party NEC, last week summed up the feelings of many former Labour members who have joined the Socialist Alliance. Speaking at a Socialist Alliance fringe meeting at the UNISON conference, she said, "Not for one moment in the campaign, on election night or afterwards, have I regretted my decision to leave the Labour Party.
"Had I still been in the Labour Party I would have had to campaign on everything which is opposed to what I believe in. Instead I was proud to campaign on the Socialist Alliance manifesto."
A similar feeling was expressed at a forum in Hackney in east London last week which attracted 120 people. Neil Thompson, who stood against ex-Tory Shaun Woodward in St Helens, spoke of how positive he felt after leaving the Labour Party to campaign for the Socialist Alliance.
He compared the vibrant and passionate Socialist Alliance meetings to meetings in today's Labour Party, where the top-down approach means little or no debate. And at a 40-strong forum in Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire last Saturday Raoul Perry, a Labour councillor who joined the Socialist Alliance at the start of the election campaign, was also full of enthusiasm.
He said, "We made a significant impact in the election campaign." "The Socialist Alliance can become an alternative to the Labour Party if we get out on the streets to convince people," said Alan Walsh, branch secretary of the Watford branch of the CWU postal workers' union.
There have been similarly successful forums in north and east London, Leeds, Sheffield and elsewhere. At all of the meetings so far people have agreed that the Socialist Alliance needs to sink deeper roots in local working class communities, and also to push out into new geographical areas.
An alliance meeting in Gloucester last week agreed to approach the Green Party to hold a joint anti-capitalist forum in July. An enthusiastic Socialist Alliance meeting in Bolton last week launched a campaign under the banner "Stop privatisation, defend public services." The alliance agreed to affiliate to the Defend Council Housing campaign, and to campaign against the Nazis in the nearby towns of Burnley and Oldham.
And on Saturday people formed queues to sign a Socialist Alliance petition against the local council's privatisation plans.
Debating the future
THERE HAS been discussion at the forums about the future structures of the Socialist Alliance. A national structure for the alliance began to be forged during the election campaign.
Socialist Alliances were set up in towns and cities, such as Lowestoft and Gloucester, where there has not been a significant left wing presence for years. The general feeling of the forums has been that the Socialist Alliance should now consolidate this national organisation and structure. Many groups have now agreed to organise monthly constituency meetings and have set up steering committees to organise intervention in campaigns and elections.
A minority of people at the forums have argued that the Socialist Alliance should concentrate on standing as single issue candidates even if it means dropping talk of socialism.
They pointed to the electoral success of Dr Richard Taylor, campaigning against the running down of Kidderminster Hospital in Wyre Forest. But many are convinced we need to build a socialist alternative to New Labour. Hospital worker Diana Swingler argued at the Hackney forum, "We need more than just single issue campaigning. We need to send out a socialist message against privatisation, racism and other issues."
And rail worker Greg Tucker said at the Socialist Alliance fringe meeting at UNISON conference, "To be effective the Socialist Alliance has to deal with the big issues."
- The national executive of the Socialist Alliance has agreed to back protests against George Bush when he visits Britain next month, and anti-privatisation protests at this year's Labour Party conference.
- There will be a liaison meeting of the National Network of Socialist Alliances on 14 July, with a delegate from each local alliance. A conference is planned for 3 November.