REPORT FROM THE LEFT UNITY MEETING SAT JULY 5th
The Socialist Party; Alliance for Green Socialism; Walsall Democratic Labour Party; Socialist Alliance; Labour Representation Committee; Green Left; Revolutionary Democratic Group; the United Socialist Party; Alliance for Workers Liberty; Respect; Left Alternative (observers); CPGB (observers)
WELCOME AND INTRODUCTIONS
Pete McLaren, Nat Sec of the SA which had called the meeting, welcomed comrades to the meeting and thanked them for attending, outlining how this meeting was almost certainly historic in that never before had 12 different left groups/unity projects met together to discuss ways of working together more effectively. He added that it was therefore essential that something tangible came out of the meeting to take us forward towards the long term goal of a new left party. He mentioned the SA suggested ‘agenda’ of a discussion about what each group would accept, and what it would not, when working with others, but wanted others to put forward what they wanted to discuss. He asked for a contribution of £2 per organisation to pay for the room, and suggested that SA Chair Gerry Byrne chaired the meeting whilst he took ‘minutes’, which was agreed.
After everyone had introduced themselves, Gerry Byrne took the chair, and began by asking those who had submitted Papers to speak briefly to them. Steve Freeman (RDG) introduced his Discussion Paper, which explained why the SA, to whom the RDG was affiliated, wanted all groups to outline what they felt could be obstacles to forming a new left party - an accounting session which could lead to an umbrella organisation as Bob Crow had suggested there should be at the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party (CNWP) Conference the previous weekend. It would be helpful to know where each organisation was on the question of a new socialist party. Mike Davies (AGS) spoke to his Paper about the spectrum of possible structures we could adopt, ranging from clash avoidance, through to coalition, umbrella, to federal or unitary party. Toby Abse (Left Alt) introduced the Left Alternative’s 10 point charter, which was a minimum programme for action. Gerry Byrne in the chair suggested that the left needed to get its act together, and that therefore the meeting should now discuss attitudes towards unity. This was agreed.
DISCUSSION ABOUT WHERE WE ARE AT IN TERMS OF LEFT UNITY
Steve Ballard (tUSP) explained how the tUSP had been set up by workers, and he suggested we definitely needed a new working class party. He stressed the importance of environmental as well as economic issues. Bob Archer (tUSP) argued it was quite possible to work in united fronts with Labour Party members, as against the BNP. Any new organisation would be built by the class - in struggle.
Andrew Fisher (Labour Representation Committee Nat Ctte) explained that the LRC was not solely about reclaiming the Labour Party, and a growing number of members believed that Labour was now dead. The LRC hoped today’s meeting would enable the left to work together. We should agree to respect each other and avoid clashes of events. The LRC was involved in the Manchester Convention of the Left. Chris Ford (LRC Nat Ctte) added that the LRC was not the Labour Party - it had a federal structure like the original LRC with 6 trade unions affiliated. A united front for socialism was needed - Labour was no longer a vehicle for socialism in his view. Some affiliates had already stood candidates against Labour. The LRC was working to become a coalition for working class political representation. The LRC wanted the few remaining left Labour MPs to remain in Labour. There was no viable alternative to Labour at present, but the trade unions could force the issue. There were moves within some unions, and we should liaise as events unfold. We needed closer liaison - it was premature to talk about forming a new party.
Eddie Adams (AGS) supported the notion of a new workers’ party. He agreed we had to link the economic and environmental struggles. He hoped other groups would join the SGUC and improve clash avoidance. The AGS would want to be sure no one group could dominate any new left organisation.
Mike Davies (AGS) explained that the AGS favoured moves towards socialist and green socialist unity, but we needed to do more than just cobble together small organisations. He stressed the importance of environmental issues, and argued we needed an outcome from the meeting. Any new organisation must avoid predation, cult of the leader, and be accountable.
Steve Freeman (RDG) described how the last 10 years had seen the left trying to find a new formation without lasting success. The RDG supported a new socialist party which included the Labour Left and Marxists. It needed an international perspective. Today was part of that process.
Simon Wells (CPGB Central Ctte) explained that the CPGB were involved in a number of campaigns, including the CMP and HOPI. They also had members in Respect and the Left Alternative.
Clive Heemskerk (SP NEC) agreed we needed a new political organisatiion for the working class, and we should combine the forces of those working for working class political representation. He felt what we could accomplish in the short term was limited. He agreed with an international approach, and explained how the CNWP was part of the strategy to fill the vacuum to the left of Labour.
Tom Unterrainevl (AWL) explained how the AWL was raising the need for working class political representation within Respect, the Labour Party and the trade unions, which was where they were concentrating their work. The AWL now concluded that Labour could not be reclaimed. The AWL was in favour of left unity, hence its membership of the SGUC. We needed an honest accounting of past left failures before we can sort out where we are at now. As a minimum for the next General Election, we should make sure there was the largest possible number of left candidates and that clashes were avoided.
Dave Church (Walsall DLP) outlined how the DLP wanted to be part of a national and international organisation, something like Labour could have become in the 1970’s - a single party of the left. Moves towards such a party would be strengthened if existing left groups agreed to act together. We need to leapfrog a SGUC type structure and not all groups can avoid clashes at elections.
Andy Hewett (Green Left) explained that the GL was a growing group inside the Green Party pushing eco-socialism. It was open to the idea of left unity, and had an international perspective. The fragmentation of the left was a problem. The Green Party, though clearly not socialist, had a number of socialist policies. The GL supported a bottom upwards approach to political organisation, believing strongly in grass roots politics. The GL wanted to see how we could work together, and they wanted to take something away from the meeting today.
Wil McMahon (Respect Co-ordinating Committee) agreed we all wanted working class political representation - he would want that to have a socialist content whereas trade unions may not be so explicit, so we should think about a baseline. Respect was unfolding as an organisation and was building more local branches. Respect was in favour of left co-operation, and accepted it was not the only show in town Communication was essential.
Pete McLaren (Socialist Alliance NEC) suggested it was vital that this meeting built on the spirit of unity and general moves forward experienced at the CNWP Conference the previous Sunday. He felt the suggested accounting function, which in some ways had already started today, was one way forward. He put forward the key issues from a SA perspective: federalism or any other structure that prevents domination by any one group and encourages affiliation from all supportive political organisations, enabling groups to retain their identity and traditions; democracy and inclusivity; freedom of expression; anti sectarianism; co-operative and positive ways of working; the 80/20 principle of working together on issues we have in common whilst trying to resolve those we disagree upon
PROPOSALS FOR ACTION
After a short break, the following proposals were put forward:
- Intervene at the Manchester Convention of the Left
- Produce a Joint Statement in support of the public sector strikes
- Agree, where we can, on electoral clash avoidance
- Ask the GL and LRC to try and find a mechanism to avoid clashes from their perspective
- An accounting function - each group to establish the minimum it would accept and explain what barriers there could be for a new left party. What does each group want for a new left party? This to be discussed internally by groups before this group met again, put in writing where possible
- We form a Left liaison Committee to have dialogue on the process as it unfolds
Organisations commented on these proposals. Tom Unterrainevl (AWL) rep saw little opportunity for a new organisation in the foreseeable future. We should continue to co-operate and liaise. Andrew Fisher (LRC) felt we definitely needed a Liaison Committee. Regarding the GE, they would focus on 7 key left seats and ask their members to support other left candidates. They could identify those candidates they would want the left not to oppose, and suggested the GL could do the same for Green candidates. Gerry Byrne (SA) suggested pooling all the various 10 point policy bullet points from the different organisations, establish a framework we could all adopt for clash avoidance, and approach the Convention of the Left for a slot to discuss left unity. Mike Davies (AGS) wanted the fullest agreement possible on clash avoidance. Steve Ballard (tUSP) wanted this group to reach out to unaffiliated anti-capitalist activists. Steve Freeman (RDG) wanted this body to gather information on where organisations stand and what the differences were.
THE FOLLOWING ACTIONS WERE AGREED:
- Produce a Joint Statement in support of the public sector strikes - Gerry Byrne (SA) to initiate and circulate
- Each organisation to discuss internally, in the light of this meeting, its position on cooperation and unity with other groups, including what barriers there might be. Organisations were invited to send in written statements on this - to Pete McLaren, at firstname.lastname@example.org before the next meeting.
- That we discuss becoming a sort of liaison committee to have dialogue on the process as it unfolds - the next meeting on October 11th to consider this, and to see where we all stand as agreed in (2) above
It was agreed that this next meeting on Saturday October 11th, would be at 1pm at the Lucas Arms. The timing would enable discussion to take place after the Labour Party and TUC Conferences, and the Manchester Convention of the Left
Pete McLaren 11/07/08
Report from the Left Unity Meeting Sat July 5th 2008