There were important debates at the conference.
One was over the prospects for capitalism. John Molyneux argued, “In Britain we’ve had 14 years of economic growth. British capitalism has been doing rather better than we had expected.
“Overall the world economy is also doing relatively well — with some important exceptions. There must be a relationship between all this and the level of workers’ struggle.”
Chris Harman replied, saying that 20 years ago the SWP argued that the economy was facing neither a slump like in the 1930s, nor a boom like in the 1950s.
“We said that there would be a period of uneven growth interspersed with crises,” he said. “For instance, the US economy grew from 1992 to 2000, but Japan went from being the second biggest economy to stagnation. In Europe there was slow growth, but the Russian economy halved in size.”
Charlie Hore added, “China’s growth has been huge, but it makes capitalism more unstable rather than less. The world economy is very dependent on imports from China. That creates massive economic imbalances.
“And, alongside the economic growth, China’s military has grown significantly, destabilising to US imperialism.”
Another debate was over the prospects for industrial action. Huw from south east Wales pointed out that the strike rate is the lowest since records began. “It’s one tenth of the figure for the first four years of the 1980s — in the depths of the downturn in struggle.”
He argued that a reassessment of the prospects for struggle was needed.
John, a local government worker in east London, replied, “This year I should have been on strike over pensions with five million other workers.
“But that didn’t happen, partly because those leading the unions accept that workers are not confident to fight.”
The new political radicalisation, seen in the anti-war movement, could begin to give workers the confidence to fight. Delegates argued that this could lead to sudden explosions of struggle, rather than a slow incremental increase in strike figures.
Charlie Kimber added that the other key reason why the fight didn’t go ahead was political — because of the loyalty most union leaders feel towards the Labour government.
“That’s why we need Respect — and the politics of Respect — in every union and workplace,” he said.