A real test for left Unity

London Assembly elections: A statement by the Socialist Party

A real test for left unity

LABOUR’S SELECTION ballot for its London mayoral candidate shows growing opposition to Blair’s openly capitalist party.

Blair’s project has deprived the mass of workers of their own independent political organisation. The Socialist Party has raised the need for a new, broad, inclusive mass party of the working class. Building such a party though will be a complicated, protracted process.

No other organisation to the left of New Labour is better qualified in building an electoral alternative to Blair’s party. Socialist Party member Ian Page is currently London’s only socialist councillor. We also have two councillors, Dave Nellist and Karen Mackay, in Coventry.

The Socialist Party was the first left organisation to propose the need for socialist alliances. We played a pioneering role nationally in developing this work. Since 1995 we have participated in the London Socialist Alliance (LSA), a grouping of left organisations, and played a pivotal role in its political and organisational development.

Last August, the LSA was relaunched to offer a socialist alternative to New Labour in the GLA elections on the basis of left unity around a commonly agreed socialist platform.

The LSA accepted our position that socialist alliances are part of the process of building a workers’ alternative to New Labour, alongside initiatives in the trade unions and single-issue campaigns. Socialist Alliances can play a role, providing workers’ long-term interests are put before particular groups’ short-term electoral gains.

The LSA, involving collaboration on common aims, marked a step forward, but it can only be maintained on the basis of openness, recognition of differences, and democratic decision making.

The LSA’s success will also depend on the approach it takes to workers’ mass struggles and developments within the trade union movement.

Socialist Workers Party

RECENTLY THE Socialist Workers Party (SWP) decided, belatedly, to throw its full weight behind LSA. Previously they were “neither in nor out” of the LSA; they opposed alliance work and denounced socialists standing in elections.

The SWP now turn to the LSA because they believe it will benefit them. They don’t view it as part of the process of building a new mass working-class party.

With the SWP in charge (with the compliance of the other left groups) the LSA has turned away from democratic and joint decision making. If not corrected, this will undermine both the assembly election work and the LSA’s future.

The SWP only pay lip service to left unity. In the student field, the SWP excluded Socialist Party members involved in the Save Free Education campaign from discussions on the “united for free education” slate of candidates for NUS executive elections.

The SWP has an inconsistent attitude to socialist alliances, preferring to stand aloof from, and even oppose, attempts to build a broad left against New Labour or the trade union right wing.

They have never been involved in alliance work at a national level. In Wales they aren’t involved in the Welsh Socialist Alliance, and only participated in the Welsh Assembly elections under the temporary banner of “United Socialists”.

In the trade unions, the SWP’s approach is inconsistent. The SWP have always worked outside of, or even against, broad left formations. In the 1995 UNISON general secretary elections, the SWP stood against the left candidate.

In the current UNISON elections, fearing a drubbing, the SWP were compelled to back Roger Bannister. Many rank-and-file SWP members worked in Roger’s campaign. But in typical SWP fashion, they set up campaign committees separate from the official CFDU campaign. After an initial flurry, the SWP leadership’s attitude has been lukewarm.

Even when involved in alliance work, the SWP operate outside alliance structures, with only a pretence of consultation. This attitude will be a major obstacle in attracting new workers and youth, who will be repelled by undemocratic methods.

Outrageously, the SWP recently tried to expel the Socialist Party, one of the LSA’s founding members, from the LSA in order to pursue their short-term objectives, free from our opposition.

The SWP also sought to prevent other lefts from identifying their group or expressing political positions other than the broad LSA platform at public meetings. Important issues face our movement; workers will be coming to meetings wanting to debate them.

Contrast this attempt at gagging, rightly rejected at a recent LSA meeting, with the full freedom the SWP give themselves to make public statements in the LSA’s name on issues as yet undecided by the LSA.

In a recent Evening Standard article, SWP member Paul Foot said that LSA London assembly candidates backed Livingstone for mayor. The LSA’s position, taking account of differences between its constituent groups, was to await the outcome of the selection process, including whether Livingstone stood as independent, before deciding whether to support Livingstone.

When the Socialist Party objected at this attempt to impose its position in the LSA, the SWP said it would become the LSA position. The SWP announce the decision first and debate the issues later.

Too many speakers?

AT THE Waltham Forest Socialist Alliance public meeting on 11 February, despite previous agreement by the local Socialist Alliance, a Socialist Party member and local health worker was told on the night of the meeting he couldn’t speak from the platform.

The SWP claimed there were too many speakers. However the chair of the meeting later revealed that she thought our member might criticise the LSA’s decision to stand against the Campaign Against Tube Privatisation (CATP). As a result, no local community activist spoke from the platform.

Public meetings are an essential part of any election campaign. But given the nature of the socialist alliances and the political differences which exist, agreement between organisations is vital.

No one group should be seen to be using the LSA to the exclusion of others. Where one group is looking to initiate a meeting or activity in the socialist alliance’s name, that organisation needs to consult other groups before proceeding with its plans.

When a list of public meetings was presented to the LSA meeting on 1 February, the Socialist Party assumed that all of them had been organised by local socialist alliances involving all local left groups.

But in Lewisham, for example, where there has been a genuine socialist alliance for a number of years, a public meeting was originally organised for 14 February, without consultation with either the local socialist alliance or the LSA.

This meeting appeared in a list of public meetings presented as a fait accompli to the LSA meeting on 1 February and was announced at a Lewisham and Greenwich alliance campaign meeting on 31 January.

Notwithstanding the LSA meeting’s decision to cancel the Lewisham public meeting and continue discussions with the local socialist alliance, the meeting was rescheduled for 17 February, again without consulting either Lewisham and Greenwich Socialist Alliance or the LSA.

The rescheduled meeting clashed with an important tenants’ meeting called to oppose Lewisham council’s proposal to privatise council housing stock. Ian Page, Socialist Party councillor in Lewisham, nevertheless agreed to speak at the meeting.

At a Lewisham and Greenwich Socialist Alliance meeting on 14 February, called to lay plans for the local campaign, the SWP swamped the meeting with over 40 members to push through a decision to support the LSA top-up list, reversing a previous decision to await further developments before making a final decision.

The Socialist Party will remain committed to the socialist alliance project long after the London assembly elections, unlike the SWP, who, on the basis of past experience, we predict, won’t be able to sustain their current distorted turn towards left unity.

If the SWP continues with its current methods in the LSA, other left groups may be forced to conclude that the only way to develop real left unity is to turn their backs on the SWP’s manoeuvrings and build genuine socialist alliances.