What to make of the SWP's response to the barrage of criticism they've faced since Saturday's stunt? Reading this report and subsequent comments is to wade armpit deep through a swamp of willful delusion and tenuous self-justification. We're told critics are engaging in a "hatefest", are falling into "historical irrelevance", etc. etc. In other words, everyone else is wrong, do not matter, and the protest was the best thing since sliced bread.
There is however one point a comrade makes that is reasonable enough: that the response of rank-and-file workers is a useful barometer for evaluating the action. Sure, I bet many were pleased to see Willie Walsh harangued by a phalanx of paper sellers. But relying on praise from striking workers is thin gruel for Leninists - if they know their Lenin. As he notes in What is To Be Done, "Attention must be devoted principally to raising the workers to the level of revolutionaries; it is not at all our task to descend to the level of the “working masses.”" (source). In other words, as socialists the SWP should be aware of the political and strategic context in which their action took place. Before charging into ACAS offices the leadership (central committee members, full-timers and Socialist Worker journalists were all present in the throng outside), our self-styled vanguard of the working class should have taken into account whether it would aid perceptions of the SWP, the strike, and the labour movement. It is significant the SWP's defence has dismissed rather than engaged with criticisms framed in these terms. So much for all those International Socialism articles about Gramsci.
As you might expect the point about rank-and-file workers is followed by glowing reports from picket lines. One group of workers were so grateful they let one SWP'er use their loo! But, embarrassingly, there is one rank-and-file BA worker left less than impressed, and that was the speaker at the SWP's Right to Work conference. On the Unite Broad Left email list, they wrote:
I was very happy to be invited to speak at the Right to Work conf on Saturday but I left before 5pm to catch a train home. I had no idea the conference would end with a call to ransack negotiations across the road, and I utterly condemn it. This will make it very difficult now to get a motion through policy conference next week in support of the aims of Right to Work. It also could set back United Left's wider strategy of working with broad-based movements like Right to Work, something which I argued for and supported in my speech that day. We need allies but not allies who undermine our work in the trade unions. It's our dispute and if we want extra demonstrators to support us we will ask for them [emphases mine].What a stupid, pointless own goal. Will the SWP ever learn?