Sunday, 23 January 2011

Too Many Cooks?

It's done. Yesterday a special conference of the National Shop Stewards Network voted by 305 to 89 to set up yet another anti-cuts campaign. As I've said before what with UK Uncut, Right to Work, Coalition of Resistance, Trades Councils and various localised groups already organising opposition, I'm not convinced an additional group patronised by a Trotskyist organisation is anything other than surplus to requirements, especially as many of the charges the Socialist Party makes against their RtW and CoR rivals are somewhat economical about their real positions. But such is life on the far left. With self-defeating sectarianism like this, who needs satire?

We shall now see if Son-of-NSSN offers anything superior to what's already available as it's tested in the white heat of the anti-cuts movement. A conference report from the SP's Judy Beishon can be read
here. A more critical take from Martin Thomas of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty is here so comrades who weren't present can make up their own minds.

One thing surprisingly missing from the SP's website at the moment is a report on the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition conference that took place immediately afterwards. I think the comrades involved are on a hiding to nothing (as demonstrated by TUSC's
election results) and are set to do poorly at this May's local elections, in spite of their anti-cuts politics. But that's for another post. Anyway, here's Pete McLaren's report of the conference.


Dave Nellist opened the Conference by expressing the need for hundreds of candidates in the May elections to fight the cuts and provide opposition to the BNP.

Michael Lavellette (SWP) spoke about his 9 years as a Socialist councillor in Preston. He argued we must stand together against the cuts. Five Labour councillors had informed the local TUC they would oppose cuts only to vote for cuts in the Council vote. He still thought we needed to find ways of working with those 60,000 new members of the Labour Party who had joined since the General Election.

Clive Heemskerk (SP) called for candidates rooted in the anti cuts movement. Councils were at the forefront of the struggle, but, as the TUSC platform spelt out, they did not need to implement cuts. Councils should set a “Needs Budget” and demand the government makes up the rest, as Liverpool did in the 1980’s. Surcharging was no longer a major issue as it only now existed for individual fraud. Any Councillor accused of breaking the Code of Conduct, according to the Standards Board, would be entitled to a hearing, which itself would be a focus for mass protest, and at worst case could only result in a 5 year ban from being a councillor! Councillors should use reserves and prudential borrowing powers.

Owen Herbert (RMT) apologised for arriving late. He outlined how Labour had betrayed the working class and was now calling for cuts, but a slower pace. The results were the same. In Swansea, the Labour Council had threatened to sack its workforce if they would not accept its cuts package and then re-instate workers on new inferior conditions. The Welsh TUC was doing nothing, and a TUSC intervention was essential.

Alan from Darlington UNISON moved the one amendment to the platform - that council tax could be raised above inflation if approved by the electorate.

The platform was opened for discussion, and 22 individuals spoke – 11 from the SP, 2 from the SA, 1 from SR, 3 from the SWP and 5 independents. Points made included the following;

* We need to work with Labour Party members
* There is no evidence of activism amongst the new layer of Labour Party members
* There should be national issues in the TUSC local elections platform
* There needs to be a new Party, and it should champion democracy
* There should be something on pay and conditions within the TUSC platform
* Candidates need to be involved in local campaigns
* We need to build TUSC. The fortnightly Bulletin should help.
* TUSC should stand in Barnsley to help establish itself
* The TUSC Steering Committee has agreed to there being an Independent Socialist Network within TUSC to encourage involvement from independent socialists
* We should use the TUC Demo to publicise TUSC
* We should oppose all cuts, rent and council tax increases as they are all attacks on the working class
* TUSC provides a political direction for the anti cuts movement
* Setting up a local anti cuts group can persuade local trade union activists to come on board, and in the longer term this could be a basis for a new workers’ party
* We should not include Labour councillors as part of our campaign unless they are prepared to vote against cuts
* TUSC should be opened up and become fully democratic
* We should work with all who oppose the cuts, whatever their label
* Green councillors do not vote against cuts in Council meetings
* TUSC should work with Labour councillors who do vote against cuts whilst standing against those who don’t
* We should write to ask Labour candidates whether they would vote against cuts
* We need to discuss our position on police cuts
* We should add our opposition to any attacks on pay or conditions to our platform position

In their replies, Michael Lavalette explained that all SWP members opposed all cuts. He went on to argue there needed to be a clear alternative to Labour, adding that if a Left Councillor was elected it boosted workers’ confidence.

Clive Heemskerk argued for as many TUSC candidates as possible, adding that ‘Trade Unionist & Socialists Against the Cuts’ had also been registered. He accepted that TUSC was a work in progress.

Dave Nellist concluded proceedings by putting the proposed TUSC platform to the vote. It was agreed unanimously. He went on to announce that the TUSC SC would discuss AV, and reminded delegates that TUSC candidates would need formal nomination so there would be a need to communicate with the TUSC SC

Pete McLaren 22/01/11


Riversider said...

As you point out, there are a multiplicity of anti-cuts organisations springing up.

Strange that only one of these anti-cuts initiatives was met with howls of opprobrium and indignant accusations, even though NSSN has been around much longer than any of the other organisations you mention.

Let's hope it was all a storm in a teacup and that we can get back to the serious work of fighting against ALL the cuts.

Jon Stone said...

The AWL/Martin Thomas article you linked to was interesting, but I laughed so hard at how at the end he still manages to bring it back to slagging off the SWP ('I may completely agree with the SWP in every way, but it made long-term tactical sense for them to wish to *appear* as the voice of unity and reason'!)

This does further confirm my suspicion that the AWL is essentially an organisation whose primary goal is criticism of the SWP.

Jim Jepps said...

Green councillors don't vote against cuts? They did in Lewisham and everywhere else I've heard of - I'm sure it will come up if a Green cllr decides to support cuts in essential services. As we went into the election on a basis of investment rather than cuts it's not really our thing.

Anyway,on the NSSN, group that does nothing of any use decides to do it with less people. This decision means that exactly the same number of people organising anti-cuts work in their area will continue to do so - not one person more and not one person less, and they will also all do this in the same way that they did it before, probably, unless they just fell out with their mates in which case they wont.

Loz said...

The overwhelmingly sad thing about all of this is how detached everything on the left is becoming from reality. I know it's been bad for a while now, but all of this manic posturing over trivial detail is so destructively off-putting and diverting.

Without wishing to be overly depressive, we have an opposition Labour Party that, at the very best, is wishy-washy in opposing cuts and at worst covertly supporting them - and then outside of that we have a pathetic sectarian school playground bunfight between bureaucracies seeking to "control" or "lead" the anti-cuts movement.

We've seen credit card capitalism collapse as largely predicted, we've seen the rich get richer in spite of their abject and grand failure, and we're about to see the remainder of the public sector decimated as the neo-liberal scumbags get their wish in turning the UK into a bleaker and more stagnant version of the US.

And the lefts response? Set up some committees to pretend to be in charge of anti-cuts campaigns, slag off anyone who doesn't exactly agree with you and make sure, beyond anything, that there is no semblance of political unity amongst people who actually broadly agree on the fundamental points.

All because it is more important to have exactly the "correct" position than attempt to actually bring something together than can make a difference.

Meanwhile does anyone outside of the left-trainspotting circles care or even know about these various groups? Do the mass of trade union members understand the nuances between the various groups competing for their attentions? Do even non-aligned local anti-cuts campaigners understand why so many groups now exist?'s a mess...lets pat ourselves on the back and congratulate ourselves for maintaining our utter irrelevance from the lives and hopes of ordinary people.

Phil said...

Riversider, why do you think people were so pissed off the SP decided to launch an anti-cuts group decidedly under its control? If you as a collective lack such self-awareness of how other Marxists and socialists see you, how do you expect yourselves ever to be taken seriously by the class you wish to lead?

Phil said...

It is a curious course of action, Jim. As far as I can see there was no rhyme or reason for setting up another group beyond the interests of the SP. Has I still been in the SP this and the cult-like pro-Sheridan hysteria would have seen me bid farewell.

Phil said...

For interest, here's Pete McLaren's NSSN report:

Nearly 600 people met on Saturday 22 January for the special anti- cuts conference of the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN). The Conference debated two motions. Motion 'one', from a majority of the NSSN steering committee, proposed that the NSSN launches an "anti- cuts campaign, bringing trade unions and communities together to save
all jobs and services".

Motion 'two', from a minority of the steering committee, proposed that the NSSN should not launch an anti-cuts campaign, and instead
should "do everything constructive, through discussions with Coalition of Resistance, Right to Work and other groups, to build and launch a single national anti-cuts organisation early in 2011" (see
appendix for the two motions). Two NSSN officers chaired the discussion, one from each side of the debate.

In the vote after the debate, 305 trade union branch and workplace representatives voted for motion one, against 89 for motion two (NB: nearly 200 observers and anti-cuts campaign representatives also
attended the conference but were not part of this vote, to respect the democratic structure of the NSSN). A committee of eleven people, six from trade unions and five from community anti-cuts campaigns, was then elected unopposed, to lead the NSSN's new anti-cuts campaign – it includes the SA’s Toby Abse and independent socialist Terry Pearce.

The proposers of Motion 1 made it clear that they will discuss with the other national anti-cuts organisations and explore the extent to which united work can be achieved.

The debate largely centered around the extent to which the anti cuts movement should include Labour councilors who would be voting for cuts, and whether the trade unions were ready to take on the
government. Those supporting Motion 1, the majority position, included the following points:

We should work with members of the Labour party opposed to cuts, but not with Labour councilors who are imposing the cuts. Labour councils should refuse to pass on government cuts, as Liverpool and Lambeth councils did in the 1980s. There is a need to co-ordinate anti cuts committees. The NSSN was set up a long time before Right to Work (RtW) and
Coalition of Resistance (CoR) If there was an established national anti-cuts organisation in
existence with a strategy for defeating the cuts, then the NSSN wouldn't need to be proposing another one. Some of the supporters of Motion 2 accept the need for some cuts The Socialist Party wants the leaders of all the anti-cuts campaigns to meet together to discuss how the anti-cuts movement can be built.

Points in support of Motion 2 included the following:

Trade unions are weaker today than in the 1980s, so the NSSN's key task is to establish the base for trade union resistance to the cuts.

The left isn't big enough to lead the anti-cuts movement

The role of the NSSN is to continue to build workers' solidarity and the shop stewards' movement.
We do not want a SP dominated anti cuts movement where decisions are taken within the SP not the NSSN

We can not stop all the cuts

The NSSN should work with RTW and the CoR
The NSSN can not set itself up as the leadership of the campaign against the cuts

There were 30 contributions altogether in the debate, 15 for motion one and 15 for motion two.