Thursday, 9 October 2008

SWP Demand Stoke Anti-Fascists Pay £1,800

I write the following in my capacity as an individual member of North Staffs Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (NorSCARF).

Back in late July, when a posse of UAF (i.e. SWP) visited Stoke for a leafleting session in Bentilee (one of two wards in the city where the BNP have all three councillors), Weyman Bennett delivered Stoke Socialist Party a lecture on anti-fascism. We weren't comfortable with the liberal finger-wagging tone of the leaflets, and said we'd be handing out our own. Weyman replied the bottom line for him was the building of a broad-based coalition against the fascists.

Since then the SWP in its UAF and LMHR guises have been coming up to Stoke for the odd event. UAF have had a stall at Stoke gay pride, spoke at meetings of the local anti-fascist group, NorSCARF, played a part organising the September 20th rally and carnival against the BNP, and last weekend's 75-strong discussion of anti-fascist strategy. Unfortunately, far from aiding the cause of unity the SWP/UAF/LMHR have done everything to rub NorSCARF activists up the wrong way.

The first problem has been the question of personnel. The SWP's two local activists are friendly and well-liked comrades, who have tact, patience, sensitivity and local understanding; in short, the qualities needed for coalition building. Sadly, neither were in a position to work for the UAF and/or LMHR full time. I say sadly because the SWP sent up a party worker totally devoid of these attributes. Bunny Laroche, a full timer who previously excelled herself by making the SWP's name mud in Kent, has spent the odd week in Stoke as a 'LMHR organiser'. At the gay pride festival a local activist was selling UAF t-shirts she had personally purchased to raise funds for NorSCARF. As this was in direct competition with her own similarly decked out UAF stall, she accused the activist of stealing them from her. She then changed tack and said she was "not allowed" to sell the shirts and demanded they be removed. She was ignored.

Bunny came into her unpleasant element again when she ran up against Stoke SP comrades. She went from sweetness and light at the founding meeting of North Staffs NSSN to an aggressive bully at the anti-fascist rally held a few days later. When we turned up at the rally with our banner she *commanded*(!) we take it down because "it was agreed" no party banners or placards were allowed (we refused). Needless to say her concern for this spurious agreement (if indeed it ever existed) evaporated when her fellow SWP'ers disembarked their coaches and broke out their SWP-branded 'Smash the BNP' plaques. Then at last week's debate, she harassed our paper sellers and leafleters by telling them where and when they could/couldn't sell/leaflet, led the charge in shouting down - with some Labour people - one of our comrades who pointed out the rise of the BNP in Stoke might have something to do with the identikit policies of the mainstream parties, snapped at the coffee attendant to make sure one of our comrades paid for his drink, and curled her lip at the activist on the NorSCARF stall - for the crime of daring to carry Searchlight material. It beggars belief someone obviously unsuited to this kind of work, let alone a full time position in a socialist organisation, has been so appointed. What does this say about the SWP?

Weyman Bennett hasn't exactly covered himself, the UAF or the SWP in glory either. At the debate, he took a local Labour activist to one side and told her to "be careful" because "the SP will try and take NorSCARF over". Physician, heal thyself! Seeing as NorSCARF and the SP/Militant branch have a history of consistent activity in the Potteries going back 30+ years, you might think we would have done it by now if we were so minded! But far more serious than Weyman's silly sectarianism is the SWP's bypassing of local anti-fascists when it comes to the actions of the day. At the last NorSCARF meeting Weyman attended, he assured us UAF were going to take a back seat on the 20th September. They were going to be there to support its decisions. But in practice, it was very much the other way round. Two routes were agreed from the vigil/rally point to the carnival with the police, depending on the numbers turning up. One meant going through the city centre if there were under 50 people, and avoiding it if more came along. Approximately 200 went on the march, which meant the latter route came into play. However, it seems the SWP had other plans. As it set off its activists rushed to the front of the demo without any consideration for the NorSCARF banner (where has that happened before?) Then in defiance of the agreed plan the SWP tried to break through police lines to try and march through Hanley. As well as trampling on NorSCARF's wishes, there were children on the demo too, so trying to provoke the police into a ruck wasn't the wisest of moves.

The icing on the SWP/UAF/LMHR cake was announced at last Monday's NorSCARF meeting. During the debate a couple of days before, the PCS rep announced to much applause that the union would be donating £2,000 to NorSCARF in recognition of its vital work against the BNP. It seems the announcement was noted by Weyman and Bunny too, as an itemised bill bearing LMHR's name was received by NorSCARF on Monday morning demanding almost £1,800! Of course, it was the first anyone heard we were going to be charged for LMHR's assistance. After all, the far left isn't in the general habit of getting involved in solidarity actions and campaigns and billing them for our work, so why is this different? A trade union rep who regularly attends the Stoke LMHR group has confirmed its deliberations have never discussed charging NorSCARF. Only those who compiled and sent the bill know why they did, but whatever the reason they have successfully pissed away the goodwill of the majority of NorSCARF activists. Another job well done, comrades!

You can almost see it now. Undoubtedly some will feign offence and incredulity that I bring this story to public attention in times such as these. But tough. There is a real political crisis in Stoke. If the BNP's ambitions aren't thwarted here the city can be their springboard into the political big time, which, given the political volatility that is sure to follow the economic crisis, could be dangerous for us all. To be blunt the stakes are too high for the SWP's arrogant and alienating shenanigans, and until it learns to act differently its shoddy behaviour deserves exposure in front of the entire movement.

20 comments:

Chris S said...

What a bunch of wankers, it seems they will do anything to keep their monopoly of the anti fascist movement.

It is good that you brought this shameful dealing out in the open. Maybe the will back down over the bill now that it is up for everyone to see.

RMTjames said...

as a trade union activist in kent i feel your pain! bunny laroche (or 'fanny le feck', as she's known by many local trade unionists) is the bastard child of decades of opportunism and sectarianism by the swp leadership and their complete inability to develop 'cadre' capable of enhancing the movement of the working class in any way shape or form.

i can't say im too surprised by her actions in stoke, i can't help but wonder if shes been sent away from kent, as her name has become the whisper that lets any decent trade unionists and anti-fascist campaigners know that nows the time to get running!

to all the comrades in stoke, do you think you could put off showing her up for a few more weeks?i know it may be of detriment to the movement, but its been so quiet down here recently ;-)

Sean Ambler said...

In Leeds the SWP under the guise of the UAF refused to sell coach tickets to Revolution & Workers Power, claiming the coach was empty - at the same time as they were selling other non affiliated activists that we talked to tickets, then on the day had a relatively empty coach. Afterwards they seeked to blame it on us - firstly claiming we hadn't contacted the UAF national office (why should we need to do this, it's a local demo and we had the local contact numbers?) and then that the reason they wouldn't sell was because we undersold tickets we had bought in blocks before (simply not true, as shown in part by the next StWC coach where we were in fact a majority on it!).

I hope their ultra-sectarianism is confined to this one campaign, however as long as their opportunist method is in place they will use sectarianism to protect themselves from revolutionary criticism.

If comrades have not read reports of their actions at the Nottingham demo, I suggest you look for these now. This was another case of hi-jacking an existing campaign, one in which they collaborated with the police to prevent the demo going anywhere near the fascists, as well as blocking this in other ways (sending young children to a potentially violent demo). There was great potential to break through police lines because of their small numbers compared with the demo if marchers had been co-ordinated to link arms, etc, instead of to sit down when police tried to stop them.

Jim Jay said...

From the sounds of it this could be very frustrating. Because there is no local SWP branch of any weight to act as a shield between everyone else and their full time organiser.

Whilst SWP full timers are individuals when they are recruited the party does something to them (hypnosis? brain surgery?) so that within a year they have become an indistinguishable mass of unpleasantnesses.

You have my sympathies - although things like the invoice are laughable, what's going to happen when you don't pay? F all. I quite admire people who chance their arm occasionally but they do need to have *some* judgement about it!

Anonymous said...

perhaps they will send debt collectors round?!

the guy from leeds story reminds me of a coach back from the ESF in london a few years ago. A few of us had been there the whole weekend and were getting a lift back to coventry on the stop the war bus. (the bus was half empty)
when the three of us went to get on, one of our comrades (a full time SP worker) was told that he wasn't allowed on as he had been 'banned' from the stop the war buses because of 'violent behaviour'. of course this was bollocks and had apparantly been voted on at a stop the war meeting in coventry, and of course no one could remember when or tell us when that meeting took place!!
so the comrade was left in london. what spiteful arseholes.
still we always look back on that day with a smile because as we were being told all of this, an swp member informed us that 'the socialist party is finished because nick wrack has joined the swp'.
classic entertainment

paul

Roobin said...

"Undoubtedly some will feign offence and incredulity that I bring this story to public attention in times such as these."

That's called covering your own arse. So, no longer able to feign incredulity or take offence I will simply add -

Foward! To Renewal Against Fascism.

Phil BC said...

Roobin, if all SWP'ers were like you the left would be a much better place :)

Roobin said...

So, when you talk about Northern Ireland do you say SinnFein/IRA as well?

Phil BC said...

Nice attempt at muddying the waters, comrade. But you know as well as I the degree in overlapping personnel between your good selves and the aforementioned anti-fascist organisations. Can LMHR and UAF do anything without a nod from the mothership's CC? I doubt it.

Roobin said...

How would I know that? More to the point how would you know that?

I don't have a clue what happens in Stoke or who MC is is. His/her description of relations between UAF and the Stoke group seems much less frantic and, well, hysterical (for example that UAF asked for the money, not demanded it).

I'm even less inclined to believe the version pasted above as it comes hot on the heels of a post transparently about working up some supposed left-wing critique of the SWP's anti-fascist strategy in order to differentiate the SP.

If you don't want to muddy the waters don't use lazy insinuation such as "UAF/SWP".

Duncan Money said...

If you don't want to muddy the waters don't use lazy insinuation such as "UAF/SWP".

I was, possibly as a result of grave sins committed in a previous life, a member of UAF at one time and have worked with UAF groups in three different areas in the county.

In each of these areas the local UAF organiser/spokesperson was also a long-standing member of the SWP.

Why do you think this might be?

Dave said...

"Why do you think this might be?"

Because for fuck sake comrade, it's staring you in the face, it's a conspiracy by the SWP! Conspiracy I say! Conspiracy!

Duncan Money said...

Dave,

With UAF I'd say it's more cockup than conspiracy.

Grow up.

chjh said...

The other side of the argument was put on the Socialist Unity site by a comrade signing themselves mc. No-one subsequently refuted their argument, so it might be worth reposting it here:

I’m sorry but the wording of this response to the situation is filled with disgusting rhetoric and mis-information.
First off, neither the SWP nor Love Music Hate Racism demanded that NorSCARF pay up £1800. Love Music Hate Racism just compiled a list of things that it had paid for on the 20th of September and just asked (not demanded) if, in the light of what it had provided for the Peace vigil, it could receive SOME (not all) of that money.
It is worth pointing out that events like this cost a lot of money, which LMHR was and still is more than happy to spend in the important fight against the fascists. However when a large amount of money is paid in recognition of the good work carried out by local anti-fascist activists such as NorSCARF (which LMHR is a part of) nobody can blame Love Music Hate Racism for asking for some.
Far more than “shipping people in from London” Love Music Hate Racism paid for the truck that was used that day as a platform for the speakers, the hired generator, the hired PA system, hundreds if not thousands of peace vigil leaflets and sent Bunny La Roche up to Stoke for a full week to build the demo. Rest assured that Bunny worked tirelessly and spared no effort for that week, neither did I, in promoting the Peace vigil to students, workers, church and other faith groups in Stoke-On-Trent and nearby Stafford.
As for the day of the rally, the police didn’t even seem to know what was going on. I asked one of the police officers walking at the front of the demo if he knew the route of the demo and he said “You’re going up through the potteries centre.” When we got to the junction and the police charged in and formed a flash-mob road block, EVERYONE at the front of the demonstration was caught-off guard. To then say that the SWP/UAF and LMHR conspired to push through the police lines is lunacy, when people on a march suddenly have their movement restricted, naturally there is pushing. I had friends on the demo, not in the SWP or any other group, who in fact where on their first demo ever, guys as timid as Mearcats, who pushed against the police lines in a natural response to the aggression of the police. This sort of thing cannot be planned or pre arranged, it is a purely spontaneous occurrence!
In regards to the socialist party’s banner, we had no problems with them having a banner at the demonstration, what was objected to was for any party banners to be up at the start of the demonstration, it appeared to people arriving that it was a socialist party event. It was decided in a previous NorSCARF meeting not to have the Labour Party logo on any promotional material given out for the peace vigil so there would be no confusion that there was no illusion that any particular political party controlled the demo. The SWP didn’t have a banner up at the start or any other party for that matter.
The NorSCARF banner not being at the front of the demo was not as a result of anyone else forcing their banner to the front, the demo was being lined up for a good five or 10 minutes before we left. NorSCARF where free to go at the front of the march, they just didn’t! I myself got the NorSCARF banner down from the truck and handed it over to someone from NorSCARF at their request before the march had begun to line up.
Given all the hard work that Bunny and I put into the demo before hand and continue to do afterwards, I find it almost a slur against me personally to read some of this.
Can we please just get on with fighting fascism.

Incidentally, Andy Newman closed the comments section for this post on SU, and said that I can’t see anything is to be gained by continuing this, it has degenerated into an apolitical slanging match. Perhaps the tone of Phil’s post was ill-considered, and the legitimate area of political debate became too coloured by the personal, and by what could seem like a turf war between the SWP and SP. Words to consider?

Phil BC said...

Apologies for the late reply, my internet time's been much reduced of late.

Anyway, last point first. This is not a "turf war". When the SWP has a stall out in Hanley at the same time as us we each visit the other, buy papers and have a chat. Hardly the behaviour of two organisations at loggerheads! No, what this post is is a complaint against the behaviour of two *leading* SWP activists who happen to have been spending time in Stoke, and a bill sent to NorSCARF. If they had behaved in a comradely way, there would be no basis for complaint, and no reason for me sounding off.

Replying to MC's points in turn;

1) The £1,800 bill. I will put my hands up and admit I let my annoyance get the better of me by giving the post a tabloid-style headline. However, if it was merely a request for funds, then why did it annoy the majority of local activists? Why wasn't it made clear beforehand we could expect such a request? Why arrange for the bill to be delivered immediately after a substantial PCS donation was announced, which makes it *look* as though LMHR was after the funds? And why make the request when tens of thousands of pounds have been poured into LMHR by the trade unions?

2) There is no doubt Bunny and MC worked hard, That's not the issue. The issue is her intimidating and bullying behaviour toward fellow socialists, albeit those who carry a different party card to hers.

3) The demo route. Rather than refuting my point, MC illustrates it. True, the cops didn't have a clue about the route. Perhaps there was trouble with their PFI command and control centre communicating things to the plod on the ground. But Weyman knew the route, because he was part of the team that negotiated it in the first place! Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say he was unable to communicate it to the head of the march. Nevertheless it was pretty obvious from my point of view on the demo that the police had no intention of letting us march into Hanley, otherwise they wouldn't have parked a couple of riot vans across the middle of the road.

4) The banner issue. Again, let's be generous and say there was a communication breakdown. No one informed us prior to the march our banner would not be welcome, and indeed the official material put out advertising the march said 'all banners welcome'.

That aside, we would have been happy to remove the banner if someone had come up and explained, in a comradely way, that "it had been agreed" party banners were not allowed for whatever reason. Instead we were treated to aggressive demands from Bunny to remove it. I'm sorry, but if anyone comes up and makes surly and hostile demands you're going to stand up to them, especially when that individual is not a member of the local anti-fascist group nor has any special status in it.

On a final point, the idea that anyone approaching the rally would have thought it was an SP event is ridiculous. If memory serves next to us was a Unison banner. The NorSCARF banner was also up, as were other trade union banners. Would anyone coming along have thought it was a PCS event, for example? Of course not.

5) The line up. MC's sense of time must be longer than most, seeing as no sooner was the march to HFP announced that it lined up and set off! No wonder it had no time to make its way near to the front!

As for the other comrades who've been getting high on their horses about my "sectarianism" and other such rubbish, they're totally mistaken. If I see someone acting in a counter-productive and hostile way to local activists, whether they're members of the same party as I or not, I will try and do something about it. As a formal letter of complaint would have gone straight in the bin there's only one way to try and seek redress - and that's by publicising it as widely as possible.

Roobin said...

'As for the other comrades who've been getting high on their horses about my "sectarianism"'

I've scanned up and down and, actually, no one used the word sectarianism.

You appear, at least to me, very anxious about this piece... and with good cause, because it's collated gossip dressed up as news. If a national newspaper was ever inclined to print stories such as these the editor would send it back because almost none of it is verifiable and almost all of it is libellous.

Which makes the above refutation of Mc superfluous. The point is not what did or didn't happen. The point is that you saw fit to raise this on a weblog instead of through any remotely democratic means. Oh, there's always an excuse for doing this sort of thing! If UAF is that heinous and flagrant then you should disaffiliate post haste.

Anonymous said...

Hi Marxists. When are you going to speak out about Islam. I am gay and will vote BNP. I dont want an Islamic country.

big_d said...

to anon
'I dont want an Islamic country'

I don't think thats ever going to happen, unless you move to pakistan.

Roobin said...

If you come back Anon, please be aware that the BNP are not too keen on gay people either.

They oppose LGBT history month:

http://www.naar.org.uk/newspages/060130b.asp

They actually support religious bigotry

http://www.pinknews.co.uk/news/articles/2005-2434.html

Let's not forget one of their members went on a bombing campaign in 1999, killing and maiming mostly muslims in Brick Lane, and mostly gays and lesbians in Soho:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Admiral_Duncan_pub

It's entirely in keeping with their political tradition:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pink_triangle

Phil BC said...

Indeed.

There's also more than one Marxist take on Islam, which I'm sure Anon is capable of finding if s/he's so inclined with google.

Here's the last thing I wrote on Islam.