Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/242/24892
Socialist Party Congress 2002
THE CONGRESS of the Socialist Party on 16-18 February brought together 250 delegates and visitors, with a wealth of experience in trade union work, in building the party, in campaigns amongst young people and international campaigns.
Alison Hill, Dave Carr, Ken Douglas and Roger Shrives report on the discussions and decisions.
Britain: Growing anger at capitalism
THE CONFERENCE opened with Socialist Party (SP) general secretary Peter Taaffe explaining the background to current events in Britain.
The attacks of 11 September and the brutal war which followed illustrates the bleak prospect which capitalism has for most of the planet.
Refuting claims by leading establishment economists that the worst of the economic crisis is over, Peter explained how serious the world crisis is, notably Argentina's record debt default and the biggest corporate collapse ever by Enron.
Blair and Brown try to claim that Britain has somehow escaped the world crisis, ignoring the attrition of manufacturing industry. Anger is building up from below at the job losses and the disgusting inequalities between the bonuses paid to the bosses and the poverty wages of many workers.
MANY DELEGATES referred to the shift to the left from below. SIMON DONOVAN from Waltham Forest in east London explained how public-sector workers were gaining confidence. A strike to defend jobs and social services in the local council saved 22 jobs and built the workforce's confidence for action to save every job the council wants to cut.
BILL JOHNSON, a London Underground worker, spoke on the breakthrough for the left represented by Bob Crow's election as leader of the RMT rail union. London Underground workers now want more action to defeat Blair's privatisation scheme. 95% of the money for the scheme will come from government yet the private companies involved will own the infrastructure for 30 years.
Strike action extracted the promise of no compulsory redundancies but SP members on London Underground will keep fighting in the unions for a public campaign against privatisation, including a demonstration and for renationalisation of the whole railway network.
He said many RMT members had concluded that the union should disaffiliate altogether from the Labour Party.
MATT WRACK a visitor from Tower Hamlets branch argued it was premature to campaign for trade union disaffiliation from the Labour Party. Instead we should campaign to democratise the political funds and demand that union leaders put pressure on New Labour.
His opinion was that we should not have left the Socialist Alliance (SA). Some workers may still look towards the Alliance including FBU members.
Later in the discussion, GLENN KELLY replied to Matt Wrack. Our principled position is for disaffiliation from the Labour Party, now that it's a big business party. But how the campaign develops may be tactically different in each union.
Many council workers hate New Labour locally but on a national basis they cannot see an alternative. That is why we call for the formation of a new mass workers' party and at the same time support all steps towards such a party, such as campaigning in UNISON for the formation of a third fund.
In reply to Matt Wrack, DAVE NELLIST, leader of the Socialist group on Coventry city council, stressed that a genuine alliance needs more than just a name to mean anything to workers - amongst other things it must have a democratic approach.
The forces for a new workers' party will come through the trade unions and community campaigns and workers will demand open and inclusive organisations to fight for their demands.
NAOMI BYRON warned of the possibility of some electoral success for fascist parties like the BNP in May's local elections. This is a direct result of New Labour's policies creating pockets of deprivation and decline.
DAVE REID from Cardiff said that contempt for all politicians is so great in Wales that even the poor 35% turnout in the Ogmore by-election is being celebrated. New Labour are worried about the turnout in next year's Assembly elections.
JIM McFARLANE, a visitor brought greetings from the Socialist Party's sister organisation in Scotland. The Scottish economy has suffered many blows recently, like the 4,300 jobs lost at electronics firms NEC and Motorola. 700 have been sacked from Levi's and many call centres are threatened with closure.
But workers have been fighting back, train drivers, council workers, NHS staff amongst others. Reflecting this upturn, the Scottish paper International Socialist is being relaunched as a monthly paper (see page 8).
The government have turned a dispute over a simple industrial demand for safe working conditions into a political trial of strength. TERRY ADAMS spoke on the Jobcentre-plus dispute, affecting thousands of civil service union PCS members. He explained how over the last six months 320,000 days have been lost in strike action in the Department for Work and Pensions.
SOCIALIST PARTY industrial organiser BILL MULLINS, reported on the party's activity in the trade unions. With the election of a layer of new trade union leaders the confidence of many activists has been raised.
As ROGER BANNISTER explained, workers see the possibility of changing union policy. Despite years of anti-union legislation and spin, workers' class instincts are coming to the fore.
With significant groups of Socialist Party members in many unions, we have scored a number of victories in disputes over the last few months. The defence of the 35-hour week in Knowsley council, the pay rise for education support workers in Kirklees and the restoration of ancillary workers to NHS employment in Wakefield are just some examples.
In summing up, KEN SMITH pointed out that Blair sees his battle with the 'wreckers' as like former Labour leader Neil Kinnock's battle with Militant, (which the Socialist Party was formerly known as).
The national committee's resolution on trade union work was passed unanimously. The resolution on Britain was also carried with a few additions.
Copies of the resolutions have been distributed to Socialist Party branches but more copies are available. Ring: 020 8988 8777.
Build The Socialist Party
HANNAH SELL from the Socialist Party (SP) executive committee introduced the party-building session. She said the pace and scale of working-class struggles in Argentina shows the urgency of our 'dual tasks' i.e. building a new, mass workers' party and our Marxist party.
Summarising the SP's performance over the last 12 months, Hannah spoke of the many working-class struggles we've led. She also listed the many national campaigns and events the party has conducted. This included a general election campaign and building an anti-war movement, while raising a programme of socialist internationalism against imperialist intervention.
Last year we helped launch a broad-based, democratic socialist youth organisation, International Socialist Resistance (ISR) - to inject socialist ideas and methods into the anti-capitalist movements. In December, ISR's 500-strong conference in Brussels brought together similar organisations within Europe.
The SP also held a successful weekend educational event - Socialism 2001. Socialism 2002 (26/27 October) will aim to be even better attended.
In December, SP members promoted an anti-privatisation conference, bringing together trade union "broad lefts" in UNISON, CWU, PCS and NUT.
Our party structure rests upon our party branches. As working-class struggles accelerate in 2002, and with elections due in May, we must increase the number and strength of our branches. (Conference agreed new national recruitment targets.)
"Persistence and patience" said Hannah, are key words in reaching the targets, as is structuring branch meetings and activities to attract and retain new members.
"Recruitment is every member's responsibility", she emphasised, "from the longest standing member, for party officers, to the newest member."
IN THE discussion, ROB WINDSOR, Coventry SP councillor, showed how our party's "specific weight" is often greater than our numbers in leading local campaigns on housing, fighting PFI, defending trade unionists, etc.
ELEANOR DONNE, NC, dismissed New Labour's idea that women have achieved equality under capitalism and explained how SP members have brought social issues such as domestic violence onto the unions' agenda.
KEN DOUGLAS explained The Socialist's crucial role in party building. The SP's successful intervention in the anti-war movement was aided by the paper's analysis and programme which promoted our socialist ideas.
A new party member in Exeter used The Socialist to approach trade union activists and union members in the PCS, the TGWU and UNISON. (A day school for party members on The Socialist will be held on 16 March.)
PHILIP STOTT, guest speaker from the CWI in Scotland (International Socialists - IS), spoke of their progress in rebuilding the forces of Marxism.
IS members recently organised a successful speaking tour (including speaking to Edinburgh postal workers) by a CWI member from Northern Ireland on fighting sectarianism.
IS members are building support in trade unions such as UNISON and the PCS union. The RMT rail workers' union in Perth invited the CWI to speak on the Afghan war.
STEVE WOOTTON from Bristol explained what lay behind the explosive growth in the South West region's membership - door-to-door petitioning in the election, intervening on the war issue at the freshers' fairs and rapid response ("within 48 hours") to follow up names of potential new members.
VASEEM KHAN, Tower Hamlets, raised the importance of the SP Black and Asian caucus in developing a socialist programme to combat racism.
CATRIONA WILLIAMS, Cardiff, successfully moved a resolution on strengthening the party's structures to build our ideas amongst women.
Young People Are Fighting Back
OPENING THE session on work amongst young people CLARE JAMES reviewed the development of the anti-capitalist movement, and our role within it, since 11 September and the war in Afghanistan.
Demonstrations in New York and Brussels showed that young anti-capitalists were still determined to show their opposition to the system but, in the words of one protester, "nobody really knows where we're going yet."
Worldwide 60% of the population are under 25 and a third of these under 15 but capitalism has nothing to offer most of these young people. In Britain, most young people are already in low paid, casualised and temporary jobs.
International Socialist Resistance (ISR) can tap into the anger that is building and become the socialist wing of the anti-capitalist movement. The main international campaign - fighting education privatisation - will be marked by a day of action on 15 March with half-day walkouts and strikes in schools and colleges across Europe.
Consistent work can create a mood in a school or college, encourage students to talk to their friends and put material up. A democratic youth organisation is built from the grassroots and this provides an opportunity to build bases in schools and colleges.
Many young members of Socialist Students and Save Free Education (SFE) have joined the Socialist Party.
ALIX from Cardiff spoke of how the Welsh Assembly had made concessions on tuition fees but only for parents on a joint income of below £15,000! Nevertheless it showed that they were susceptible to pressure.
PAUL HUNT from Coventry reported on the success of Socialist Students' campaign against the war. Students are signing up at every stall and a lecturer has joined who now sells The Socialist in his department.
ZENA AWAD, London, reported that youth in the Black and Asian caucus would be campaigning to get Lewisham Socialist Party councillor Sam Dias re-elected and taking up campaigns against police harassment and for youth facilities.
MANNY DOMINGUEZ from Bradford spoke of the support amongst Asian youth for the 15 March education shutdown.
MIKE GOODWIN from Manchester stressed the continuing role for Youth against Racism in Europe (YRE) and the work they'd done in Oldham and Burnley after the riots. 20 local trade union branches had affiliated to YRE and they had attended a UNISON black members conference. They had launched a campaign for facilities for young people in Oldham.
JOSIE NICHOLLS from Leicester said we must aim to recruit young workers. Three young PCS members who she had met on the picket line were now coming to the branch.
Replying to the discussion KIERAN ROBERTS urged every area to help set up an ISR branch and build for the 15 March education shutdown. ISR aimed to have 500 members by July and 1,000 by December.
ALIX and ELEFERIA, two students from Cardiff university.
"The conference was very good. On industrial work delegates spoke about involving young people in fighting through the trade unions. That's very important. Some contributions on what's happening in local areas were very exciting. It's not something that you get from the media."
FIONA PASHAZADEH, a student from Bristol university.
"I've been a Socialist Party member about a year and this is my first conference. It's a really good education, especially the discussion on the trade unions. Being a student and not involved in unions, it's very interesting to hear what's going on."
BILLY VALDES, a removal worker from South London:
"I was impressed with the commitment of the members I've met and spoken to. I believe in the need for a revolutionary party to end the nightmare of capitalism. That's why I joined the Socialist Party at the Congress."
New World Order Mk.II
THE FINAL session of the Socialist Party 2002 congress dealt with the world situation. LYNN WALSH, editor of Socialism Today, stated that the rapid victory in Afghanistan was a major but temporary and limited victory for US imperialism.
By Manny Thain
The volatile situation in Israel/Palestine, the India/Pakistan stand-off, and instability in Colombia - to name but a few - mean that to say the US enjoys unconstrained power would be a big mistake.
The recent slight upturn in the US economy contains no new factors. Consumer spending has expanded with cheap credit, one-off tax rebates and low oil prices. Profits and investment are falling. There are record levels of debt.
The delegates at this year's World Economic Forum spent $100m on entertainment - $33,333 each, 14 times the average annual income of South Asia and 74 times that of Sierra Leone. Bush plans increased US arms spending of $48bn. The capitalists fear meltdown in the world's second-biggest economy, Japan.
Meanwhile 60,000 activists took part in the Porto Alegre social forum. Many anti-globalisation leaders are drawing back from radical positions, but young people and workers increasingly want alternatives to the capitalist system. In Argentina, demonstrations and general strikes show the growing combativity and working-class strength.
In October in the US, despite the patriotic propaganda, 30,000 public employees in Minnesota took action. The 'liberal' mayor, Jesse Ventura, sent in the National Guard. In New Jersey, 1,000 teachers were denounced as Taliban for taking action in November and 200 teachers were jailed. We are seeing the re-emergence of the working class. The Committee for a Workers' International has an important role in helping to develop the programme, tactics and strategy to revive working-class struggle.
Mariam Kamish commented on the war psychosis promoted by Bush to muffle working-class opposition, with much protest action being made unlawful.
Debbie Morano detailed the corruption in Italian politics under Silvio Berlusconi. Mass protests and strikes have resulted in hundreds of requests for information about the CWI.
Jared Wood countered the claim that military supremacy alone led to the rapid defeat of the Taliban. The US had vastly superior military resources in Vietnam, too. The primary question is political and the Vietnam regime had popular backing.
Angelika Teweleit said there is huge disillusionment with the Red/Green government in Germany with unemployment over 10% (20% in the East).
The IGMetall union is demanding a 6.5% wage increase, under immense pressure from the workers.
Bill Hopwood explained that Bush's hypocrisy will reinforce the anti-capitalist movement. While Bush demands a worldwide coalition 'against terrorism' he refuses to sign any international agreements, e.g. the Kyoto protocol on global warming.
JUDY BEISHON, Socialist Party National Organiser, replied to the discussion. The anti-capitalist movement is regaining momentum. Establishment political parties are losing support, anger against US imperialism is increasing. Support is growing for any party that is even mildly radical.
Therefore, imagine the allegiance the working class will have to parties which wholeheartedly represent their interests.
Our programme can help such parties develop and play an indispensable role in providing a socialist alternative internationally.
In The Socialist 22 February 2002: