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Socialist Party congress report (2)
The Socialist Party congress took place on 17-19 February. Following reports of the congress political sessions on world events and Britain in last week's the socialist, this week two congress delegates report on the sessions on building the Socialist Party and the party's publications.
Recruitment, membership & campaigning
SOCIALIST PARTY executive committee member Jane James opened this congress session by describing the Socialist Party's proud achievements in the last year.
Chris Moore, Stroud
We are playing a pivotal role in the battle to save the NHS. We have co-launched the Campaign for a New Worker's Party (CNWP), which now has over 2,500 signatures pledging support. Our members have led successful struggles at Ford's car parts organisation Visteon and Whipps Cross hospital in north London.
In the civil servants' union, PCS, our members have played a critical role in the national leadership, helping to lead action to defend pay, pensions and jobs.
Important electoral victories have been achieved, re-winning a third councillor in Coventry and securing the re-election of our two councillors in Lewisham.
Socialist Party member Jackie Grunsell was also elected as a councillor in Huddersfield as a representative of the local Save Our NHS campaign. And we are playing a leading role in the struggle against student tuition fees.
Anger boils against New Labour, while the trade union movement as a whole remains almost paralysed by its leadership. But in the meantime our party increasingly influences events.
Councillor Jackie Grunsell and many other Socialist Party members have fought for a national demonstration to defend the NHS in the face of opposition from the trade union leaders. Jackie and the Huddersfield Socialist Party branch have helped build support for the striking Unique care workers and for mobilising a campaign against nursery cuts. Party branches throughout the country are involved in numerous other anti-cuts and privatisation campaigns.
Matt Dobson, national co-ordinator of Socialist Students, explained how the Campaign to Defeat Fees (CDF) is taking off, with backing now won from the National Union of Students.
While all these campaigns are very important and victories can be won, it was emphasised throughout the discussion that the building of a party with an understanding of the tasks necessary in struggling for a socialist society is critical. So it is crucial to build our own strength by striving to swell our ranks with new recruits.
Jane James read out some of the emails received at the party national office from prospective party members. One summed up the thoughts of many searching for a political alternative: "I am deeply interested in joining the Socialist Party, as I have lost all faith in the fat-cat government that runs Great Britain."
AROUND HALF of those joining our party have been young people, many of who are now involved in launching new branches and reinvigorating others. One or two speakers explained how splitting larger branches has allowed newer members more leeway to build our membership.
Ross Saunders from West Glamorgan described the campaign in Bridgend against cuts to free transport for school students - where a group of students came to the campaign meeting the local Socialist Party branch organised.
Monique Hirst from Huddersfield called herself and the other youth organisers in her area the 'Three Musketeers'. She explained how a 'debt board' at Huddersfield university was building for the 22 February CDF day of action.
Sarah Sachs-Eldridge, Socialist Party national youth and student organiser, highlighted youth revolts in France, Chile and Greece and called on party branches in England and Wales to plan to reach the growing number of angry and politicised youth in Britain.
Lively, interesting political discussions can deepen newer members' understanding of turning ideas into reality. Paula Mitchell from London talked of workplace lunchtime socialist discussion groups and Andy Bentley from Stoke described regular discussion groups on the 1917 Russian revolution.
Summing up the discussion, Lois Austin from the national campaigns department and executive committee emphasised our role in calling for a national demonstration to defend the NHS in opposition to the trade union leaders and their apologists. She also highlighted our work in building the CNWP including on picket lines during the recent one-day PCS strike.
Congress agreed, with the growing politicisation in the universities and elsewhere, it will be the building of our party and the spreading of socialist ideas that will best mark the coming year, the 90th anniversary of the Russian revolution.
Spreading the word
THE SESSION on publications reflected the pride and interest that Socialist Party members take in our written material. It was a wide-ranging discussion which covered all areas of the party's publications: the socialist, our monthly journal Socialism Today, and our books, pamphlets, leaflets and website.
Tom Baldwin, Bristol
The discussion was introduced by the new editor of the socialist Judy Beishon, who stressed that our weekly paper is the main voice of the Socialist Party and means of introducing people to our ideas.
As a paper written by and for working class people it has a lot of unique material reflecting workers' lives and struggles and eyewitness reports on events in Britain and across the world.
We discussed the need for the paper to play several different roles, from providing information to posing a way forward.
It also needs to appeal to many different people, from workers or youth reading it for the first time who might be new to the ideas of socialism, to long-standing Marxists.
As many party members and supporters as possible should send in articles, including interviews and articles that reflect the daily life of ordinary people.
If good articles that are sent in are subsequently not included in the socialist due to the limitations of available space, they can be posted on the Socialist Party website.
Suggestions were made on how to increase the sales of the socialist, including doing more sales outside workplaces and on housing estates.
Andy Bentley from Stoke Central, one of the best branches for its paper sales record, reported how members of the branch do an estate sale each week. They also make sure their street stalls are well placed and presented, with lots of eye-catching placards.
National sales organiser Bob Severn spoke on the need to increase subscriptions to the socialist in order to build its regular readership.
If you do not have a subscription and you like what you read, then fill in the form on the back page to subscribe!
It was reported that 2006 was a successful year for sales of our journal Socialism Today, outstripping the sales figures of each of the previous seven years. However there are still many more opportunities to further increase the sales of this vital political journal, which has longer, more in-depth analysis and reviews than can fit in the socialist.
The need for a number of new party pamphlets such as on the NHS and on the environment was mentioned and efforts must be made to find resources for these. This means increasing sales of our existing books and pamphlets to finance new ones, but also putting together the necessary research and material.
The party has produced a number of successful books over the last few years; we aim to produce more, and to be in a position to reprint some of the Marxist classics which can be a vital aid to workers in struggle.
Again, this was linked to the need to maximise sales of our current books such as the excellent Marxism in Today's World by Peter Taaffe, which came out recently.
There was some discussion around the role of our website, currently the most read website of the parties on the British left. It is an excellent resource that is becoming increasingly important as an adjunct to our printed material. The latter can be taken directly to workplaces, picket lines, schools, colleges and demonstrations.
The website can play other roles such as providing an historical archive of material, fast analysis of events that occur in the days before our weekly paper is printed, articles not printed in the paper and campaigning resources such as model leaflets and petitions.
Finally we discussed plans to update our printing equipment to allow us to produce more attractive and modern leaflets, pamphlets and posters.
Changes are also planned regarding the design of Socialism Today and the socialist, including the introduction of full colour to some pages of the socialist.
To enable these changes to be made, a print fund appeal was launched at the congress with a target of £50,000, and all members and supporters were urged to dig deep to help us make these important steps forward.