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Solidarity - Scotland's socialist movement
Conference agrees to build a socialist party
TWO HUNDRED and fifty members of Solidarity - Scotland's Socialist Movement attended the first national conference of the new party on Saturday. Philip Stott from International Socialists (CWI Scotland) reports.
SOLIDARITY - SSM was launched at the beginning of September by Tommy Sheridan, Rosemary Byrne and hundreds of socialists who had broken with the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) in disgust at the actions of the SSP leadership who sided with the News of the World against Tommy Sheridan in his defamation case during the summer. The International Socialists (the Scottish section of the CWI) were founding members of Solidarity - SSM.
During October more than 1,000 people attended ten Solidarity public meetings across Scotland, the largest in Dundee where 250 came to hear Tommy Sheridan speak.
This enthusiastic response to the idea of building a principled socialist movement has shown the potential to build Solidarity in the months ahead in the run-up to the Scottish parliament elections in May.
Saturday's conference was called primarily to agree a constitution and finalise the name of the new party. However, it was clear in the run-up to conference that there would be a very important debate on the character and type of organisation that Solidarity should be.
The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) used the conference to strongly argue against Solidarity being a socialist party. Instead they advocated that Solidarity should be a "movement of the movements", a home for those fighting Islamophobia, the anti-war movement and those opposing climate change.
During the debate on the name of the party one SWP member said: "Socialism should not be in the name if we remove it people will join us". The SWP supported a vote for the name to be Solidarity, dropping the reference to Scotland's Socialist Movement.
One SWP speaker after another emphasised that if Solidarity was socialist it would put people off joining. They argued that Islamophobia was the main political issue in society today and Solidarity has to prioritise winning more Muslims into its ranks.
It is correct to oppose racism and division and to appeal to Muslims to join Solidarity - SSM, but this can be done most effectively by explaining the link between the attacks on Muslim's by the political establishment and New Labour's anti-working class and pro-capitalist polices.
They counterposed, falsely, that a socialist party would inevitably be narrow and isolated, whereas a movement that was "broad" and concentrated on Islamophobia and the war would be far more appealing. They called essentially for an electoral coalition rather than a campaigning socialist party.
THE SWP's position found no support outside their own ranks. Speaker after speaker in opposing the SWP's ideas defended the importance of building a socialist party. Members of the International Socialists spoke in this debate.
Ronnie Stevenson, who is a UNISON convenor for 4,000 workers in Glasgow City Council explained that he personally knew of local government workers who would only join Solidarity if it was a socialist party. It is precisely by explaining ideas in the language of the working class, reflecting their concerns and linking that to the need for socialism as a solution that a thriving party can be built.
The contradictions in the SWP's position were also highlighted. Many SWP members said that "I'm a socialist but...." As one CWI member pointed out if it is good enough for the SWP members to have drawn socialist conclusions then why should the working class not have the same opportunity.
The SWP's prescription for how Solidarity should develop would inevitably leave it as an isolated and largely irrelevant force as far as the majority of the working class is concerned. On the other hand if Solidarity - SSM turns to the working class as a whole taking up the issues of immediate concern like the NHS, low pay, housing, unemployment, workers' rights as well as anti-war and anti-racist campaigning it can build into a significant force.
It is this strategy of fighting on the day-to-day issues facing the working class and linking that to the need for socialism that the International Socialists supports. It was clear that the majority of the Solidarity membership also want to build a socialist party.
The conference voted for the name Solidarity - Scotland's Socialist Movement and agreed to adopt an interim constitution, with a national policy conference in February 2007.
Tommy Sheridan made a very effective speech to open the conference, which made clear his views that Solidarity was the "Scottish wing of the international socialist movement." International Socialists members Brian Smith (Glasgow UNISON secretary for social work) and Alan Manley (nurse and UNISON steward) spoke from the platform in the opening session on the trade unions and the NHS.
The urgent tasks facing Solidarity - SSM is to rapidly establish campaigning socialist branches in every area and build its forces in preparation for the elections next year. 50 copies of the International Socialist were sold at the conference with many Solidarity members thanking International Socialists members for their contributions to the debate.
In The Socialist 9 November 2006:
War and terrorism
International socialist news and analysis
Marxist analysis: history