Yes, another one. This report comes from the indefatigable Pete McLaren, truly a hero of socialist labour if his involvement in scores of failed far left unity projects are anything to go by. Personally I think initiatives of this sort are a diversion from the main task of the day, but I recognise there are comrades who will never accept the perspective that Labour remains the political centre of gravity for the organised working class. But I do wish comrades all the best as a strong and united far left might help pull Labour in a leftward direction.
Unfortunately, going from this report there are few reasons to be optimistic. Some might be thankful the larger groups - the SP and SWP - stayed away for fear of being taken over and/or annexed to their own political objectives. But if you're in the business of building a nation-wide left alternative, you cannot do it without the activists and resources they bring to the table. Another point is the attendance. I suppose it is an advance to have some community campaigns on board, even if they are led by old left time-servers. But the impression you get from Pete's report is the new Network is but a shell of an organisation unlikely to make any inroads over the coming years.
This report was first posted to the Indie SA discussion list.
Report from the national meeting of progressive, community and socialist parties July 24th, Rugby
1. Welcome, introductions, and election of chair and minute taker
In attendance: Coventry And Warwickshire Socialist Alliance; Tyne & Wear Left Unity; Rugby Red Green Alliance; Socialist Alliance; Alliance for Green Socialism; Kidderminster Independent Community Health Concern; Epping Forrest; Wellingborough Independent Socialists; Wigan Community Action; CPGB; Green Left; Convention of the Left; Socialist Resistance - and a number of observers, making a total of 33 people present.
Pete McLaren opened the meeting welcoming everyone on behalf of Rugby Red Green Alliance, and asked those present to introduce themselves. He suggested Nick Long chaired, and that he took notes and compiled a report - this was agreed
After that process, Nick Long took the chair and described how this meeting had arisen. He accepted that the varying groups would have different perspectives. He was against there being any 'top down' committee. The main agenda was to share experiences and network, whilst hearing about what was going on around the country in terms of campaigning.
2. Apologies – DLP; ISL; AWL; tUSP; Bermondsey Socialist Society; Brighton TUSC; Bracknell Socialists; Workers Power. Messages of support were circulated.
3. Reports from each local group/party and national organisation
Each group/organization had 3 minutes to explain their role and outline their priorities/interests. These are summarised below:
Tyner and Wear - Many different groups involved, - a bottom upwards approach, fighting for socialism. The demise of the Labour Party means there is a need for a progressive banner. The problem of electoral clashes was highlighted but the group is wary of structures. The Northern Public Sector Alliance has been launched to fight the cuts.
Wigan - Local election results were positive, with a 13% average in Wigan for the left. We need a broad, pluralist, democratic, bottom upwards movement and an end to sectarianism. Nothing should be imposed.
Kidderminster - Started as a single issue party to defend their local hospital but now called Independent Community and Health Concern with seven councilors on Wyre Forest and control of Stourport Council. They had an independent MP for two parliamentary terms until this year. Their members have a wide range of political views.
Wellingborough - Started four years ago. One of their key objectives is to change the age, gender and ethnic mix of political organisations. They work with other progressive local organisations such as Hope not Hate, and are trying to re-invigorate their local TUC. They had a TUSC candidate in the General Election.
Manchester/Convention of the Left - The Convention of the Left had been established to show that there was an alternative to Labour. It had the support of the Labour Left, the CPB, Respect, the Green Party, the Green Left and a number of Socialist organisations. The CoL had organised a number of events around this year's Labour Party Conference. They were calling for bottom upwards unity to fight the cuts and they wanted an end to the 'sticking flags in the sand' mentality of the Left.
Leeds/Alliance for Green Socialism - The AGS is committed to Socialism and Environmentalism. It has 60 members in Leeds and a number of other branches. It is involved in a wide range of campaigns including elections. It wants to co-operate with other locally based groups.
Coventry and Warwickshire Socialist Alliance - Members were already campaigning against local cuts, including the closure of three fire stations in Warwickshire.
The Green Left - The Green Left had influence within the Green Party. Caroline Lucas had been elected against the trend, with her Socialist credentials. The Green Party should have been formally invited to the meeting. It was important to hold local discussions to avoid clashes. The Green Left was also active in opposing cuts.
CPGB - A national organisation, campaigning for a united Left party, based on Marxism, and were in favour of any step towards that. We need an organisation to unite the '57 varieties' and we need our own media. People need to be willing to be in the minority within a new movement, which needs to be pluralist. We need to build co-operatives and anti-cuts campaigns with a trade union orientation.
Lewisham People Before Profit - The organisation included a number of campaigning groups, all fighting against profiteers. They polled over 14,000 votes across Lewisham in May, although Labour support cut across theirs. Since the elections they had focused on fighting against the cuts and there was a general need for more trade union involvement.
Socialist Resistance - Described themselves as an eco-socialist group, which works inside Respect. Respect did generally well in the general election, averaging 13%. They were interested in any moves towards Left unity. They were in favour of a broad democratic anti-capitalist party.
Socialist Alliance - The SA endorsed today's meeting, days after it had been first suggested, because the SA has always stood for Left unity. It launched the Socialist Green Unity Coalition in 2005 to avoid election clashes and the Left Unity Liaison Committee in 2008 which now involves 15 different Left and Green Left organisations. It is a founder member of the CNWP and supported No2EU and TUSC as potential unity projects. The SA sees today's meeting as part of the process of building a new Left alternative/ party with a federal structure.
Epping Forest - Described as a community activist group. Stressed the need to swap ideas and develop local networks into a national one. They had worked hard against the BNP.
A number of observers made comments. A member of Socialist Resistance described their work in Birmingham against Academies. A member of Tyne & Wear Left Unity suggested we find ways carefully of presenting bids to area committees of the Co-op. It was suggested we set up a website and blog. A member of the SA outlined how some campaigns, including those against Immigration controls, could not just be local. The fight against the BNP had had some success In London. Wellingborough TUSC candidate Paul Crofts thought that the Socialist Party had become less sectarian, and hoped other socialist groups would follow. We needed a new Left party like Die Linke, he added.
4. Discussion on the establishment of a national network for all local/regional/national organisations, including a working title and the election of functional officers
Nick Long, in the Chair, suggested the establishment of a national network committee with one representative from each organisation. We need to hold the line for people who have broken from Labour. We need something tentative loose and federal - a network which will be there for the mushrooming community based anti cuts groups. The following points were made in the discussion:
* Local groups could take it in turn to organize and host meetings.
* We should have an organising committee and use a website and Facebook.
* We need to establish a purpose for coming together - it could be support and facilitation.
* We need to be as broadly based as possible.
* The network needs to enable and empower.
* The focus should be on fighting the cuts, with a national conference.
* The title needs to be positive.
* We need to be doing more than just opposing cuts, as important as that is.
* We should wait until later in the year to decide a title and elect officers.
* We need to avoid a rigid structure.
* We must be open and inclusive with defined aims.
* It would be inappropriate to have a title at this stage.
* We do need to ensure we meet again - we do need to elect people to ensure that happens.
A number of possible titles for the Network were suggested.
The following proposals were agreed:
* That the ‘People before Profit Network’ would be the interim title – agreed overwhelmingly with three votes against and three abstentions.
* That Nick Long (Lewisham PbP) and Pete McLaren (SA) continue as acting Convenors and arrange the date and venue of the next meeting.
* To set up a Web Site/Facebook site – David Manasse (TWLU) volunteered to set this up.
Pete McLaren 25/07/10