Friday 3 July 2009

Branch Meeting: National Committee Report

In the Socialist Party the highest decision making body is the annual party conference. But obviously an assembly of the membership on a regular basis is impractical and would throw a huge burden onto our limited resources. Therefore decision making devolved to two bodies inbetween conferences. There is the executive committee which meets at the very least on a weekly basis, which is in turn immediately responsible to our national committee. This meets less frequently but is comprised of a mix of lay delegates from branches and full timers plus visitors. The EC is overseen by and is subordinate to this body. Meetings of our NC are therefore very important to the functioning of our party.

Brother A attended the last NC meeting over 20th-21st June on behalf of
Stoke branch and reported back at last night's meeting. There were seven items on the NC's packed agenda - where is Britain going?, prospects of a left challenge at the general election, the SP's approach to countering the BNP, problems around transitional demands in industrial disputes, the importance of trade union and workplace activity and finally, building the party. Given the length of proceedings A focused his contribution on two items - Britain and party building.

As tentative as it may be, it was the opinion of the NC that we could be seeing the re-emergence of a confident industrial working class. Though at the time of the meeting the Lindsey dispute hadn't been won, the unofficial action the oil workers took back in winter and recently - in conjunction with sympathy stoppages elsewhere - demonstrates the potentiality the industrial working class still possesses. In effect the anti-trade union laws do not exist when masses of workers start to move. There was also some discussion of the roles played by the SP at Lindsey, Visteon and Linamar. The latter demonstrates what can be achieved after very patient and consistent work. The reasons why Rob Williams became site convenor and was successfully defended by Linamar workers was on the basis of him being effective and giving workers a lead. In the cases of Visteon and Lindsey the SP was able to play the role it did because official union leadership was either lacking or non-existent.

Nevertheless it must be remembered that each of these disputes were of a defensive character. But there results, particularly Lindsey because it received some national media coverage could help embolden layers of workers well removed from the environs of the refinery and construction industry. These seeds of victory fall on a shifting ground of consciousness. The political crisis stemming from MP's expenses have established an inchoate but widespread anti-establishment feeling - sentiments that have been deepened because of the recession. There is also a general acceptance of the bosses argument that belts have to be tightened and jobs shed, a matter not helped by the absence of a mass independent working class voice. Again union leadership has been lacking at British Airways and Corus as wage freezes and job losses have been allowed through almost on the nod by the relevant trade unions.

Internationally there is increasing volatility to. The explosion in Iran over the presidential elections does not challenge capitalism, but it could be a foretaste of what is to come elsewhere.

When it came to party building, A told us about some of the workers who've recently joined the party off the back of our involvement in the aforementioned disputes. He said we're not recruiting hand over fist, but we are making good progress. The same number had joined in the first six months of this year as had in all but the last two months of last year. If the rate remains at least the same we'll pass the psychological target of 2,000 members. A new comrade recruited from the shop workers' union,
USDAW was reported as saying he'd joined the party after watching its activity for a long period of time - there could be hundreds of trade union activists doing the same thing.

During the discussion a number of points were made on consciousness,
Labour's backtracks on rail nationalisation, Royal Mail privatisation and ID cards and the situation in Honduras. C asked about the discussions around No2EU and a couple asked A how the position now compared with Militant at various points of its development.

I tried to have a stab at the latter. Militant's size and the things it did represent the pinnacle of Trotskyist influence in Britain. However, though it did have some industrial muscle its base was in the CLPs and Labour Party Young Socialists. Now where the SP makes its strength felt is in the trade unions. A agreed. During the Miners' Strike Militant nationally recruited some 500 miners but for the most part, the rest of the far left played important and constructive roles among the miners and in the solidarity movement. As the labour movement rallied around the distinctive parts played by each were lost amid the efforts of everyone else. But now the SP's trade union work stands out and offers a positive class struggle alternative - as Lindsey demonstrated. Thus there is a qualitative difference between Militant's and the SP's union base.

On the son of No2EU unfortunately little progress had been made. Despite the positive comments Bob Crow made in the aftermath of the election he now believes a challenge is only really worthwhile if more than one union can get involved. Furthermore, as far as comrades were aware the
Communist Party's executive does not meet until July 11th and so are waiting on what the comrades have to say.

But overall A reported a real mood of confidence at the NC in the SP's prospects. Undoubtedly, things are looking up.


ian said...

I am still trying to get my head round the SP allying itself with the CPB.Its positive that common interest can be found but after 70 years of the split in communism its certainly going to be a steep mountain to climb. I have heard one SWP member telling me that he fails to understand why the SP could do this while treating their 'Open letter' with such cynicism? well maybe the boots on the other foot now after a whole period where the SWP themselves are guilty of using the same tactics traditionally the preserve of Stalinists.

The CPB is far from perfect but I hope this is a realist realignment of the non Labour Left and not a busted flush like the countless SWP political initiatives.

Charlie Marks said...

Great post, very interesting.

Like Ian, I'm pleasantly surprised at the outbreak of non-sectarianism between SP + CPB, and am similarly hopeful. My estimation is the biggest impact will be in the unions rather than electorally.

Anonymous said...

calm down!

i don't think the sp and cpb are in fusion talks just yet! lol.

i don't think there is any love lost between actual cpb hard-line stalinists and the sp. although it should be said that there are less stalinist or even anti-stalin cpb members as well. they are a very mixed bag.

the force that hold together the sp and cpb in any alliance is the rmt.


Leftwing Criminologist said...

Speaking to several young cpb members at NUS conference earlier in the year they were really shocked that people thought about them as having anything that much to do with stalin - i don't know whether this is just the four that i spoke to or reflects their wider young memory but it's something that sticks in my mind

Charlie Marks said...

I think it probably does reflect the young membership of the CPB, LC - for older members, the issue was more significant.

With regards the exclusion of the SWP from the No2EU project, I believe that this was regrettable and is for me the downside to the cooperation between comrades from the SP and CPB.

pete shield said...

Apart from those comrades who got involved with the Straight Left faction of the then CPGB, I think you will find that most people under the age of 45 who ever held CPGB ot CPB cards don't define themselves politically in terms of Stalin/Stalinism, or for that matter Russian style 'socialism'. At least that was my experience in Communist Student in the 80s and in Yorkshire and London until the final meltdown of the Party.
Great blog by the way, and chapeau to the SP for your superb Trade Union interventions recently.
You talk about the differing strengths of Militant and the SP. A useful model could be the role of the CPGB in the Unions and TUC in the 70s.