Martin Smith, the SWP national organiser, introduced the Saturday morning session on “Building the Party in an Age of Mass Movements”.
He argued that the Iraq war, and the resistance to it, remains the central issue in British politics. But, he said, “Other issues, such as the fight over council housing, emerge as Tony Blair pushes his neo-liberal agenda.”
“More confrontations are looming and we will need to fight on many fronts in 2006. In order to do this we need a stronger SWP.” He said that it was necessary to start from the movement in deciding what the SWP’s organisational structures should look like.
He set out three key areas that needed strengthening — party branches, sales of Socialist Worker and recruitment to the party.
Steps had been taken in getting local branches of the party working, he said, but more was needed. Branches need to both arm activists with the key political arguments, and discuss day-to-day work in the different movements.
On the sales of Socialist Worker, he said, “The paper’s standing in the movement has never been higher — we need to make sure that is reflected in greater sales.”
He added that every branch should be selling Socialist Worker outside workplaces.
Finally, he said that the respect the SWP had gained through its work inside the movement could be translated into additional members who could transform the branches and make them more effective.
He added that between a half and two thirds of new members of the SWP were coming from the schools, colleges and universities. This was backed up in the discussion, which, like most other sessions at conference, saw several students contribute.
Jess, a student at Manchester Metropolitan University, said, “My university doesn’t have a strong political tradition. But we started the first term with Respect events in black history week, which around 50 people attended.
“These are the biggest meetings at the university for a long time, and now people who want to campaign have started to come looking for us. They know we have ideas and energy.
“We took eight people down to the International Peace Conference in December, and we have had people join the SWP. Building the movement, Respect and the party is all coming together.”
Andy from Leeds said, “In one week we had 1,000 people marching against the BNP, 600 people at a Respect meeting with George Galloway in the university and 500 at a Respect meeting in Bradford.
“We also held an SWP rally — Socialists and the Movement — with 100 attending.
“We recruited several people and they have since become central to selling Socialist Worker on street sales and outside workplaces.”
Stuart from Liverpool said he had joined in November at a Socialists and the Movement rally. He said, “I was born a few days after Margaret Thatcher came to power. The first time I could vote, I voted for Tony Blair, but I soon became disillusioned and started reading material produced by the SWP.
“I met people in Liverpool SWP who were involved in all the different campaigns. What impressed me was that they weren’t just interested in internal affairs, but in the wider movement.”
Respect meetings in colleges have been the biggest political meetings held by students in years.
The tour with George Galloway saw 250 people attend at Imperial College London, 350 at Swansea university, 300 at the London School of Economics, 400 at Exeter university as well as 600 in Leeds.
Other meetings, even without Galloway, have pulled in large audiences.
Now the challenge is to carry on building Respect groups, to ensure that the Stop the War mobilisation for 18 March has as many students as possible on it, and to build Socialist Worker Student Society groups in the colleges.
Later in the conference Michael Bradley, a leading SWP member argued that, “The whole organisation needs to see students as a priority if we want to win a new generation of activists.”
Suzie Wylie, an SWP student organiser and a member of the National Union of Students (NUS) executive, said, “There is still a gap between the radicalism of students and the NUS.”
She and other speakers argued that this could change if activists intervened in student union meetings, and got elected as
delegates to NUS conference.
To read more on the conference decisions go to www.swp.org.uk
SWP members can obtain a full record of the conference resolutions from National office, PO Box 42184, London SW8 2WD or their local branch meeting.