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Open letter responses: ‘We need unity in struggle’

This article is over 12 years, 6 months old
NUJ vice president Peter Murray (pc) responds to the SWP’s call for left unity and argues that lessons from union work can help the left today
Issue 2157

Many hundreds of socialists and left activists in Scotland are still nursing wounds from the catastrophic, and I believe completely unnecessary, schism on the left north of the border in 2006.

So, while the SWP’s call for left unity is welcome, it is understandable why the move is so far being met with some scepticism.

The prize is obvious – one single organisation, rooted in the working class and single-mindedly fighting for their interests: for decent jobs, housing, an end to poverty pay and the politics of greed and war.

That’s what we had in Scotland in 2005, the most successful far left party in Europe. Then, as Gill Motion put it in Socialist Worker last week, “personalities became the sole voice and bigger than the party itself”.

So let’s look at some of the obstacles. Any unity project is going to require honesty about the past, realism about the present and optimism about the future if it is to make progress.

One hurdle is the court case hanging over the Solidarity party leader, Tommy Sheridan. Tommy is due to appear in court for perjury next month. In practice, none of the parties in Scotland are able to begin even the most general talks before then.

In “How We Can Join Together” Michael Rosen last week suggested a federation where “it may be that one or other of our groups has done most of the work in that locality. Then we should be grown-up enough to give that organisation pride of place and the rest of us do what we can to support them.”

I have no doubt Michael is sincere. It sounds like a useful idea to build upon. However, a couple of botched attempts to create alternatives to the SSP-led “Save Our Schools” campaign in Glasgow this year suggests some people need to listen to Michael a little more carefully.

If we can’t build trust among ourselves, how can we ever expect those working class communities to trust us when we ask them to vote for left unity candidates?

There is some hope. A united, non-sectarian left organisation is growing quickly inside the journalists’ union, the NUJ.

It has begun to make a difference, with notable successes over the union’s six-month fight-back against the jobs carnage in our industry and most recently over building a policy fight-back against the racist lies of the BNP in the media.

After years of talking about it (but doing little more than talking!) activists were driven together by the huge scale of the job losses our members faced across the UK and Ireland.

Agreement in our initial discussions about jobs, pay freezes, or police violence against photographers has thrown up a much broader political debate – about alternative forms of media ownership and about how we can take socialist ideas into workplaces.

I have no doubt similar debates are going on in most unions – the PCS union is actively considering standing political alternatives to New Labour. So the idea of left trade union unity candidates is firmly on the agenda. I would like to see the parties get down to some serious talking as soon as possible.

However, even if we can reach agreement on the basics, we have to take the next big step to deciding what policies are on that platform and who will stand aside to give another party’s candidate a free run for the left vote.

With new battles looming over jobs, pensions, the future of Royal Mail, it’s a familiar message – unity in struggle.

Keep it broad with common ground

I am encouraged to see the stirrings of another attempt at left unity and that the SWP is playing a constructive part in this.

If I may make one plea, it is to keep any formation as broad as possible. This would allow it to keep channels open to the Labour left, and in particular the Compass grouping.

I suggest the criteria for membership of a new left formation could be based on the simple “golden principle” of believing in the need to narrow the gap between rich and poor.

That would surely create the necessary common ground for revolutionary and social democratic forces of all hues to come together in some numbers.

The golden principle would also serve as a sharp dividing line from the political mainstream, which only peddles the meaningless mantra of greater equality of opportunity.

If a left bloc or federation could be constructed around this principle it should immediately make a direct appeal to Labour Party members to leave that moribund party and to join the new formation.

An electoral co-operation pact should also be sought with the Greens. There is more that unites the left and the Greens than divides us.

The unity required will be extremely difficult to achieve.

But if we do not accomplish it, the only winners will be the rich beneficiaries of the neoliberal political and economic consensus that is driving Britain, and the planet in general, to destruction.

Bill Kerry, London

To read the open letter go to »  Left must unite to create an alternative

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