Socialist Worker

SWP annual conference - anti-racism frames the wider issues in politics

Revolutionaries debated the political situation and how to shape it at the 2017 Socialist Workers Party conference

Issue No. 2536

The Stand Up To Racism convoy to Calais last year

The Stand Up To Racism convoy to Calais last year (Pic: Guy Smallman)

The themes of anti-racism and the Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) campaign ran through the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) annual conference last weekend.

Weyman Bennett from the SWP central committee said, “The fight against racism has become central.”

He added that racism can be beaten. “The way the ruling class is using racism comes out of its own weakness,” he argued.

He said the crisis of neoliberalism meant people’s living standards had been attacked—and our rulers have to find others to blame.

Weyman said, “We have SUTR but not as a mass organisation.

“It has to be on the same scale as the Anti Nazi League in the 1970s.”

Protests against Donald Trump on 20 January, a trade union conference on 4 February and mass demonstrations on 18 March can help build it.

Kate from Milton Keynes and Shanaz from north east London described organising vigils following racist attacks. “We brought people together who wouldn’t have come together otherwise,” Kate said. SUTR has jointly produced a pamphlet with the Muslim charity Mend against the Tories’ Prevent strategy.

Several Muslim comrades said fighting Islamophobia gave confidence to Muslims.


Trade unionists described building SUTR at work in councils, schools, the NHS and London Underground. Liz said her Unison union branch had held SUTR stalls in Camden council’s largest workplace.

“People are really glad we’re doing it,” she said. “And it’s meant we’ve spent more time talking to union members about other issues too.”

Phil from South Yorkshire reported on the court victory of the Rotherham 12 anti-fascist protesters. He argued that the exoneration of Asian men by a mostly white, working class jury showed it was wrong to write off white workers as racist.

Gary from north London spoke about debates in the Black Lives Matter movement, such as the idea that people benefit from white privilege.

Student Antony added, “Identity politics come from a progressive place, but it can be very isolationist. We need to build a movement that can pull away from that.”

Delegates spoke about the specific role of socialists.

Carlo from Dundee said his UCU union had backed free movement of Labour. He said the presence of SWP members on the NEC helped push that through.

Jacek from north London said, “Labour and trade unions are divided on free movement. Therefore they are unable to provide leadership for anti-racist campaigners. The SWP is crucial.”

Weyman agreed. “We have to seize the time,” he said. “And offer a revolutionary alternative as well as fighting racism.”

We need strategic centres for socialist activity

Amy Leather, joint national secretary of the SWP, introduced a session on building the party. She said, “What we do matters.

“The deep bitterness that exists at the elites can go to the right or the left. We have to intervene to pull that mood to the left.”

Amy pointed out that much of the liberal left was “in despair” last year because they thought society was moving to the right.

But she described how the SWP had held successful rallies on “Is socialism possible?” and said many people are looking for an alternative.

Amy argued that local branches are the “strategic unit” of the SWP. Speakers in the session said SWP branches had worked to strengthen campaigns.

Alexandra, a student from Queen Mary University in east London said, “Every Friday our branch does a campaigning stall.

“Recently we did a petition against passport checks in the NHS.

“Everyone we meet is given a leaflet for Stand Up To Racism and is offered a copy of Socialist Worker. So we raise other issues as well.”

Jenny from north London called for turning “stalls into street meetings”. Jon from Portsmouth argued that we need “a burning hunger to grow the party”.

He said, “We have to maximise the interactions we have with people and take Socialist Worker wherever you go.”

Chris from York described how newly established branches in Scarborough and Hull have helped build trade union support for an anti-fracking camp at Kirby Misperton.

Claire from north London said, “We need to be thinking about new members’ education and re-examining our own ideas.”

Joseph Choonara from the central committee announced that the SWP will hold a series of events across Britain to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Russian Revolution this year.

Key events in the coming months

  • 20 January—protests against Donald Trump
  • 4 February—SUTR trade union conference
  • 4 March—national protest in London to defend the NHS
  • 18 March—SUTR anti-racism protests in London and Glasgow

Turn bitterness at the Tories into hard-hitting action

Mark L Thomas from the central committee introduced a discussion of politics in the workplaces. He said, “The level of strikes is low—this scandal has to be laid at the door at the union leaders.”

But he added that workers are angry. And disputes such as the EIS union’s pay strike in Scottish colleges showed the potential to fight and win.

Teacher Jess said socialists should call for national strikes. “If we don’t at least raise the argument that strikes are the best way to fight then we are misleading people,” she said.

Mark added, “We should not accept the Trade Union Act. We should defy it.

“We also have to argue it is possible to drive up strike ballot turnouts.”

Bfawu union activist Steve said Socialist Worker’s exposure of the use of zero hours contracts by a KFC contractor had enabled them to end it.

GMB union rep Bea from Sheffield stressed the role of regular union meetings.

She said, “They’ve taken us from a place where bosses ignored the union to where they are scared to do anything without us.”

Pete, a PCS union member in Cardiff, said, “When it came to organise for strikes against privatisation, who were the first people I could turn to? People who I’d won to anti-racism.”


Mark agreed that anti-racism can help “breathe life into union branches”.

Delegates voted down a motion arguing that the SWP’s analysis of the economy was too pessimistic.

They also voted to support Ian Allinson in the Unite union’s general secretary election (see page 16).

Julie Sherry from the central committee led off a discussion on fighting austerity and cuts, and defending the NHS.

She argued that SWP members have to be “alive to the opportunities for serious struggles to break out”.

Julie added widespread opposition to attacks on the health service “is a major crisis area for the Tories, a very weak link—and the 4 March demonstration is a key date.”

Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) will slash NHS departments and services across England.

Amy from north east London said, “The attacks on the NHS have been scattered, but now everywhere in England you’ll have the STPs.”

She argued this was an opportunity to unite the fight to defend the NHS.

Other delegates described organising against the Tories’ Housing and Planning Act, against council cuts and against library closures.

Build the resistance to defend Jeremy Corbyn

Socialist Worker editor Charlie Kimber introduced a session on Corbyn, Labour and reformism.

He located mass support for Jeremy Corbyn within “a global pattern that has seen the rejection of austerity and unaccountable political elites”.

Charlie argued that Corbyn supporters “need to be mobilised into activity now. It’s not enough to wait for the next set of elections.”

He said SWP members should work jointly with Corbyn supporters over issues such as fighting council cuts and defending the NHS.

Some delegates pointed to the failure of the Labour left in Durham and Derby, where teaching assistants are resisting pay cuts from the Labour-run councils.

Yunus from Newcastle said, “Momentum in the north east is split over whether to support the Durham TAs. The SWP was more centrally involved in delivering solidarity than the Labour Party.”

And James from Chesterfield added, “Momentum had a three-month discussion over whether to back the Derby TAs.”

Delegates from Scotland pointed out that support for Corbyn there is much less powerful than in the rest of Britain.

Talat from Edinburgh said, “The Corbyn factor in Scotland doesn’t have the same dynamic as in England.”

Angela from Glasgow said, “People are punishing Labour for its role in the independence referendum. In Glasgow they’re privatising services. The Labour council is despicable.”

Charlie warned that for Corbyn supporters to focus mainly on the internal warfare and manoeuvre in Labour was a “dead end”.

Participating in campaigns around wider issues will be the best way to support the Labour leader against the right.

He added that fighting racism was key to defending Corbyn. “If the Labour right beat Corbyn over freedom of movement it will be one of the big victories of the right over the left,” he warned.

Students - potential for more growth

Lewis Nielsen from the central committee led off the discussion on students.

Students described how their Socialist Worker Student Society (SWSS) groups helped to organise SUTR groups on campus.

Stephanie from Queen Mary University in east London said, “A couple of us grabbed a bucket, some SUTR badges and a petition and went around the common room speaking to people.

“SUTR is a brilliant way to reach a wider demographic of people.”

Many told of how they worked with other groups.

Bethan from Manchester University said, “The student union decided they were going to comply with the Prevent strategy.

“So we called a meeting and 35 people showed up—loads of them from the Islamic Society. We’re now launching a campaign against Prevent.”

Matteo, a student from central London, said, “Marxism hasn’t been part of the intellectual vocabulary of students for years.

“There can be some hostility to Marxism. But a lot of the time we can win these arguments.”

Responding to new challenges over LGBT+ liberation

Sue from the central committee led off a discussion on the fight for LGBT+ liberation. “The party responded very well to the Orlando night club massacre last June,” she said.

“Through LGBT+ Against Islamophobia, which we helped launch a few years ago, we put out a statement.

“It argued that Muslims or Islam were not responsible for homophobia or transphobia and we had a good reception at the vigil in Soho.”

A part of the discussion was how socialists should respond to arguments around trans issues.

Some argue to no platform feminists such as Julie Bindel, who make transphobic arguments. Pat from Manchester said, “It’s not the case that most people want to ‘no platform’ Julie Bindel, but it’s the only option that’s been presented.

“That’s why we’re organising our own meeting when she comes to Manchester to thrash out the issues.

Nicola from south London said, “A lot of people who are looking for answers are pulled by arguments around privilege theory and intersectionality.

“But when we argue our politics—in a way that understands where people are coming from—we can get a hearing.”

2017 - a crucial year to stop fracking

Climate activist Martin from Manchester led off a session on climate change, fracking and the environment.

He said there was “enormous potential for protests and events around environmental questions”.

These include plans to build a nuclear power station at Hinkley Point or add a new runway to Heathrow airport.

Kim from Scarborough said SWP members had to put class politics at the heart of the climate movement. She described how an official local anti-fracking campaign had spent “thousands of pounds on a judicial review”.

“We were continuing to build the mass campaign,” she said. “That meant we were instrumental in building a 1,500 strong demonstration in York.”

She added, “2017 is going to be crucial. We either win or they’re going to frack.”

Democracy and decisions

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, Joseph Choonara, Judith O, Julie Sherry, Lewis Nielsen, Mark L Thomas, Michael Bradley, Sally Campbell, Sue C and Weyman Bennett.

Conference voted for a national committee of 53 members to guide the party’s work. Comrades made over 200 contributions from the floor.

Each session saw a number of comrades chosen to prepare a commission to reflect the discussion. These were open to amendment and then voted on.

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Article information

Tue 10 Jan 2017, 21:02 GMT
Issue No. 2536
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