Around 40 comrades from a mix of trade unionist, socialist and anarchist backgrounds attended a meeting on the theme of 'From Spain to South Bank', in the appropriate setting of Cleveland Trade Unionists and Unemployed Workers' Resource Centre in Middlesbrough. The meeting was organised by the SWP's Unite the Resistance front. With a couple of the scheduled speakers failing to attend, Yunus Bakhsh, UNISON and Socialist Workers' Party activist apologised for the absence of the scheduled striking Spanish Miner (no mention was made of the absent CWU speaker) and received a round of applause for an uncontroversial outline of the need to support workers in every dispute and of the importance in supporting the Miners in Spain particularly. Next up saw Durham NUM veteran David Hopper drawing contrasts between the 84-85 strike and that of the present struggle in Spain, infused as it is with battle against austerity. Lots of political background and his own political thoughts were provided including an (understandable) hostility to the Labour Party as well as to the wider Tory government agenda.
With the floor opened to discussion, comrades from the SWP, Socialist Party, Workers' Liberty and other trade union bodies all contributed. Points raised highlighted a mixture of general support with political emphasis from the contesting political shades being in evidence. All of this appeared uncontroversial and the series of intelligent and mature remarks made by members of both the SWP and SP was generally impressive. Former Miner Dave Temple from the Spanish Miners' Support Committee made also a useful political/practical contribution steering the meeting towards direct support and action that could be taken from this point. In my own contribution, I called for some sobriety and acceptance of the reality of where the workers' movement in Britain is at presently. Whilst we need to support every struggle and every advance, there is a clear need to learn from our collective experiences, good and bad. I noted the importance of supporting the Spanish Miners, financially, but critically also in terms of learning from their experience, using it as a means of highlighting what trade union and political struggle actually looks like and how it can be effective. I made a point of congratulating the organisers for hosting the meeting, despite personal reservations with regards to the SWP-front nature of Unite The Resistance and made practical suggestions around utilising networks, feasible film nights and other activity, that has begun to take shape subsequently.
Returning, somewhat prematurely to the discussion Comrade Bakhsh, somewhat bizarrely, seemed irate at the terms of reference not focusing on the practicalities of organising money and of people not 'putting their money where their mouths were'. 'I'm in the SWP, but we don't want to talk about The SWP or the SP or Capitalism' is I think an honest appraisal of his lengthy utterance and was ironic in that this was the first time anyone in the room had mentioned either of these two groups. Souring the atmosphere, this contribution oozed control freakery and a patronising aversion to politics that surely requires challenge, rather than the simple toleration and passivity from a meeting generally aware of the comrade's antics and bullying method. Respected and longstanding independent and other aligned socialists have subsequently acknowledged this as well as the steering by a manipulated chair, of the meeting away from politics, noted. Comrade Bakhsh's hectoring and aggressive tone appeared to have done the trick in terms of dampening down the audience, nonetheless 'this has been a great meeting' we were constantly told. Somewhat embarrassingly the meeting was brought to a premature close and my attempts to speak again were ignored as more embarrassingly was that of Workers Liberty comrade Martyn Hudson, whose weary arm had been held aloft for what seemed like an eternity. This had been noted by others in the meeting, however my challenge to the chair at the exclusion of Martyn, resulted in predictable further rant from Comrade Bukhsh and a' political' blast of his own, barely pausing for breath. Politics only from the top table, our monopoly if you please, summed it up.
At least both myself and Martyn were able to make some basic points about democracy in the workers' movement and if this has been even partially noted, it will have been worthwhile. Positively, a number of SWP comrades appeared somewhat embarrassed by this and it is to the credit of the majority of them and others were able to continue political discussion after the meeting and into the evening's deliberations in the pub afterwards, openly and fraternally. Unfortunately, a more aggressive fellow traveller of the SWP (distanced by them, but infested with their politics) squared up to comrade Hudson at the end of the meeting, accusing him of being a racist and somewhat comically grabbed hold of his nose. The hostility to open politics and discussion of ideas surely breeds this kind of atmosphere, thankfully isolated on this occasion. It presents also not the first episode of slander of this type, thrown at comrades in our organisation.
Despite the shortcoming and sad impulse to control everything and everyone, underpinning the body politic of the SWP, the meeting was largely positive in my view. Contacts were made and ideas raised , informally, outside and despite the meeting unfortunately. The apparent task of the evening for SWP/Unite The Resistance in wanting to keep hold of the attendance list and ensurig the running of 'their' meeting like clockwork was undermined. This is a good thing, conducting, continuing and learning from the struggle is the important thing, not the growth of the monolithic and increasingly prehistoric formation of bureaucratic leftist sects. The meeting raised £148 for the Spanish Miners' struggle and clearly this is an honourable start. Networks can be activated and uniting the resistance, in a real sense remains of course a pressing urgency.