Charlie Kimber from the central committee introduced a session on politics after Jeremy Corbyn’s victory as Labour leader.
He said this was a “sea change in British politics” and a “breath of fresh air” that has boosted everyone on the left and given new confidence to activists.
It is part of a wider trend of support for left reformists —such as Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and the Economic Freedom Fighters in South Africa. And it has made it much easier to talk about socialism and resistance to austerity.
Charlie said, “We are unequivocally on the side of Corbyn against the Tories, the media and the Labour right.”
He said revolutionaries must seek out united front joint work with Corbyn supporters. Building strong movements would help generate more support for Corbyn too.
“We are the strongest opponents of the Labour right, which is seeking to remove Corbyn,” he said. “We defend Corbyn by strengthening workers’ struggles and the mobilisations against austerity war, racism and other issues that helped to propel him to victory in the first place.” He added that it isn’t enough simply to back Corbyn and called for “the united front and politcal clarity”.
Charlie argued that reformist parties centred on parliament don’t stress resistance enough. Labour’s focus on parliament means that MPs have incomparably more weight than their numbers deserve.
Pressure from the parliamentary Labour Party has already seen Corbyn make concessions. Charlie said, “We need independent revolutionary organisation”.
Many comrades in the discussion reported big changes in local Labour Parties after Corbyn’s victory. People stressed the widespread support for Corbyn.
Manchester student Bethan said much of the existing left on her campus had joined Labour.
Sam from Cambridge pointed out that “Corbynistas” were not necessarily Labour Party members and said we needed to locate them too.
Delegates argued that in Scotland Corbyn’s election has had less impact than in England as many see Labour as the party that sided with the Tories to save the British Union. But the mood is not wholly different.
There was debate over standing election candidates to the left of Labour. Some said socialists should not stand against Labour as Corbyn is under attack.
Others said that Labour councils are making cuts and said we couldn’t rule out standing in some places.
Conference agreed to further discussion over elections and that “we should not entirely rule out standing”.
Refugee solidarity is at the heart of resisting racism
Anti-racism was an important part of the conference. Weyman Bennett from the SWP central committee opened the discussion.
He pointed to the racist offensive but said anti-racists had successes during 2015. He called for building a mass movement, including going all-out to build anti-racist demonstrations planned for 19 March.
Weyman hailed the Refugees Welcome Here protest in London organised by Stand Up to Racism (SUTR) and others on 12 September as “a watershed”.
And he talked about the visits to the “jungle” refugee camp in Calais. “The experience of raising money for Calais, and the political debates that have followed, have pulled together a unique combination of people into a united front,” he said.
Many comrades said refugee solidarity had helped launch broad and active local SUTR groups—and politicised people.
Geoff from Birmingham said bringing people to Calais had been “transformative—they couldn’t help but be changed by it.”
Rob from east London hailed the resistance to the government’s Prevent strategy.
Sharon from Birmingham said one Prevent instructor had told her to use “instinct” to identify “radicalisation”. Rob said, “I want to make the Prevent witch hunt so discredited it becomes inoperable,” he said.
Comrades from Kent, York and Rotherham talked about organising against fascist groups. Weyman warned that the rise of racism and the Front National in France shows what can happen if there isn’t a strong anti-racist movement.
He said, “You cannot have the scale of racist offensive that the Tories are talking about without some kind of reaction.”
Weyman said activists should “seize the time” and build a big, broad-based united front to combat Islamophobia and defend refugees.
Ameen from Manchester spoke about fighting for anti-racism in the trade union movement. He argued, “Austerity and racism go hand in hand—to justify what they’re doing they try to divide us.”
Zak from Essex underlined that “all roads lead to 19 March”. “There is a potential, but it won’t be around forever,” he said.
Margaret from Glasgow concluded a report of massive pro-refugee activity in the city saying, “We need to get people to 19 March—it has to be bigger than anything before.”
Defend and reenergise campaign to stop war
The conference opened with a session on war and imperialism.
Central committee member Alex Callinicos argued, “Imperialism has seen shifts in the relative power between states, including a relative decline in the power of the US.”
Alex said disastrous wars in the Middle East and the Arab revolutions had “exposed the US’s weaknesses”.
The war in Syria has led to a revival of anti-war protests in Britain. Alex said the establishment has tried to attack Jeremy Corbyn by attacking the Stop the War Coalition.
The SWP utterly rejects such assaults and stands with Corbyn and Stop the War against such slurs.
Alex said, “Centrally we are part of Stop the War and we want to re-energise it as a mass movement.”
Delegates said the political radicalisation of young people has transformed anti?war demonstrations and groups.
Phil from Bristol said, “We had a 1,000-strong demonstration organised by school students. We filled the coach to the demonstration in London and had one of the 14 year old organisers on it.”
Mike from Brighton added, “We had nothing organised before, but on Thursday we had a Stop the War meeting with 200 people.”
Delegates argued the SWP must be at the heart of the anti-war movement.
Conference debated how to build a united front against war amid disagreements in the movement about the Arab revolutions and the Syrian dictatorship.
The SWP opposes all the bombing in Syria, and the Syrian regime. But such issues should not prevent the anti-war movement uniting against British warmongering.
Judith Orr from the SWP central committee is a Stop the War officer. She said, “Stop the War is still the vehicle for anti-war sentiment. Over 1,000 joined in the last six weeks.”
Judith argued that political differences shouldn’t stand in the way of building opposition to war. Delegates agreed to build on the anti-war mood and for a protest against Trident on 27 February.
Frustration and anger in the unions
Mark L Thomas from the central committee introduced a session on the fightback at work and Unite the Resistance (UTR). He said the scale of workplace struggle doesn’t match the onslaught from the Tories and the bosses.
But he warned against being “fatalistic”. Union leaders have “repeatedly” squandered opportunities to build struggles, most significantly after the pensions strikes on 30 November 2011.
Mark said, “Workers haven’t been confident on the whole to act independently of the union leaders.” But he argued there is a mood of “frustration and anger” among many workers.
That frustration was reflected in the debate. Unison union members slammed their leader Dave Prentis, who was recently re-elected amid allegations of malpractice.
Health worker Karen said the result also showed the need for united left candidates in union elections. But she added that it also showed the need to focus on rebuilding a fightback.
Mark noted that some “significant, protracted local struggles” had won gains or outright victories. Candy from the National Gallery said their result “showed strikes and solidarity work”.
Pub worker Steve said building the Bfawu union in his workplace helped win “four out of seven” of their demands on bosses.
It also gave them the confidence to shut the pub down after hearing that the racist English Defence League planned to visit.
Steve said, “We walked in together to speak to our boss. We said, we’re not taking this.”
Mark said that Unite the Resistance, which aims to drive struggles forward and deliver solidarity with workers taking action, plays a “vital role”.
And Corbyn’s victory can boost workers’ confidence. Mark said the call for a trade union Momentum could be a “fantastic opportunity”.
Conference got a sense of the potential for resistance as health workers came to speak straight from the student nurses’ demo (see pages 4&5).
Junior doctor Megan said their dispute had politicised a layer of doctors. The conference called for full support for the junior doctors’ strike and the nurses’ campaign.
Mark said that the bitterness in society means we have to be ready for sharp shifts and eruptions.
Call for left exit in EU referendum
Conference debated what position to take in the coming referendum on the European Union (EU).
Joseph Choonara from the central committee argued that the SWP should campaign for Britain to leave the EU. He said, “The basis of our argument is a question of political principle.”
Joseph outlined how the EU is “driving through neoliberal politics in the most brutal way” from the TTIP trade deal to the blackmail of Greece.
“It’s a sign of solidarity with Greek comrades to argue for the break-up of the EU,” he said.
But Barry from Bradford argued that the situation was different from Greece. “This is a ruling class faction fight,” he said.
Dave from Bristol said the main beneficiaries of a vote to leave would be “David Cameron and Ukip”. He argued for a campaign of active abstention. Some argued for a campaign of spoiling ballots, but other delegates said that this would mean not taking a clear position.
Sally Campbell from the central committee said that it was more than just a than a fight at the top. “This will shape the debates in the workers’ movement,” she said.
Left wing defenders of the EU point to the free movement of labour inside it. Andy from Coventry argued that “this is a referendum on immigration”. But Joseph said, “There is no freedom of movement if you’re a Syrian or an Afghan or an Eritrean fleeing persecution”.
Claire from east London told conference it had taken her a long time to see the left wing case for leaving the EU. “But now I think there’s a big a difference between international institutions and internationalism,” she said.
Joseph called for “genuine internationalism” against the “racist exclusionary project” of the EU’s “Fortress Europe”.
Others raised concerns about how to put the argument to migrant workers. Geoff from Manchester asked, “What do we put on the leaflet to Poles?”
One delegate read out a statement from a Polish migrant worker, who’d been called into work. It said, “I live and work in this country because of the free movement.
“But I cannot support the EU after what it’s done to Greece, Spain, Portugal or after seeing how it brings death and misery to refugees. The EU is connected to the neoliberal capitalist order.”
Conference voted overwhelmingly to support a left-wing, internationalist, anti-racist vote to leave in the EU referendum.
Revolutionaries should organise through struggle
A key discussion was how revolutionaries should relate to others involved in protests and build the SWP.
“How we organise in the SWP stems from the needs of the class struggle,” argued Amy Leather from the central committee.
Amy added that it is not enough to be very good individual activists with no overall collective organisation to debate experience and strategy. For this, she said, “the branch is the crucial unit of the party”.
Many comrades discussed how best to organise.
Julie from York said members there had “vibrant” meetings and had benefited from working alongside comrades in nearby Scarborough.
Some delegates stressed the importance of using social media to promote activity and meetings.
Jan from Brixton, south London, said branch meetings are central to recruiting and retaining new members. She said people didn’t join simply after listening to a high-profile speaker but through “discussions with ordinary members”.
Many speakers spoke of the importance of following up contacts. Comrades also discussed the importance of making the party accessible. Rob from Birmingham said, “The SWP should be the party of disabled people.”
Others spoke about education in the party. Joseph from the central committee said Marxist ideas are “heavily contested on the left” and said we had to take education of members seriously.
Lorna from Glasgow spoke about holding successful cultural events and meetings, and said a “less formal environment” can provide another way of discussing politics and pulling in new people.
Student work must be central to all SWP branches. Lewis, who led off a session on the SWP’s student work, said, “The political events of the summer have led to politicisation on campuses. Students are more open to socialist politics.”
Noor from Manchester said she joined the Socialist Worker Student Society (SWSS) after being part of campaigns and then attending a SWSS meeting.
She said, “I looked around and saw all the posters and went, these are all the issues I care about.”
A focus for a radical mood in LGBT+ politics
Central committee member Sue opened up the discussion on LGBT+ liberation. She pointed out that LGBT+ politics had been a big part of mainstream and radical politics in 2015.
Michael, a teacher from north London, said, “I became an out gay teacher when Thatcher introduced Section 28 in 1988. The situation between then and now has changed.” Sue argued that LGBT+ activists are open to campaigning with other oppressed groups. But she added that it was important to raise class politics.
Sami from London South Bank University said, “The role of class in LGBT oppression isn’t something you get in the mainstream, but once you hear it, it’s appealing.”
Sue said, “The London Pride demo was much more political and radical because of the trade union bloc led by Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. It provided a focus for the radical mood beneath the surface.”
Delegates argued that issues around trans and non-binary politics had become a big issue and the SWP needed to develop its theory on it.
Pat from Manchester said, “The SWP has written on trans and non-binary issues. But we need to go further, such as a trans 101 pamphlet, because this is going to be very topical.”
Delegates talked about initiatives the SWP had helped to take, such as LGBT Against Islamophobia and LGBT Support the Migrants.
Sue said, “We have something quite unique to say about LGBT+ oppression. Every comrade should feel they can intervene in these issues confidently.”
Climate change movement is moving left
An important discussion on climate change took place. SWP members described a movement that has grown in confidence in recent years.
It produced Britain’s biggest ever protest over the issue last year when 70,000 took to the streets of London.
Martin from Manchester introduced the discussion. He said anti-capitalism was increasingly popular in the movement and argued for a “focus on the Tories as the enemy of the environment”.
Chris from York argued that the scale of the climate crisis meant, “We have to link class issues to the movement.
“The floods, for example, hit poorer people more.”
Paul from Chesterfield reported on how his branch had organised in the run-up to the recent Paris climate change talks.
Suzanne from Islington in north London said, “The trajectory of the movement is leftward moving and more radical.
“We can’t underestimate the scale of the movement.”
- Sat 6 Feb - UAF conference, London. Details, leaflets and book now at tinyurl.com/juxsmfj
- 8-14 FEB - TUC week of action against new anti-union laws. For details go to tinyurl.com/h8kwdvc The Scottish TUC has called a day of action on 22 February.
- Sat 27 Feb - CND demo against Trident, London.
- Sat 19 Mar - Anti-racism demos, London, Glasgow and Cardiff
The conference elected the leadership bodies of the SWP. The central committee, which leads the organisation on a daily basis, was elected unopposed. Its members are Alex Callinicos, Amy Leather, Brian R, Charlie Kimber, Jo C, Joseph Choonara, Judith Orr, Julie Sherry, Mark L Thomas, Michael Bradley, Paul McG, Sally Campbell, Sue C and Weyman Bennett. The conference voted for a national committee of 52 members that helps guide the party’s work. Comrades made almost 200 contributions from the floor. Each session saw a number of comrades chosen to prepare a commission to reflect the discussion and to propose activities.