On 27 November over a thousand people attended the Coalition of Resistance conference in London, and responded enthusiastically to speeches calling for militancy against the cuts.
The platform called for support for the TUC anti-cuts march on 26 March 2011, and for a week of action from 14 February (around the “Housing Emergency” lobby of Parliament on 16 February).
AWL members attended the conference, calling for anti-cuts unity and for a political orientation to making the labour movement fight against the cuts and for a workers’ government.
We advocated that COR (run by the SWP splinter group Counterfire, with allies), Right To Work (SWP), and National Shop Stewards’ Network (SP) fix a joint conference instead of competing.
On those issues the outcome was mixed.
In the closing speeches there was a contrast between Chris Bambery (of the SWP and Right To Work) and John Rees (of Counterfire and the Coalition of Resistance).
Bambery called for unity and emphasised that “no one organisation can claim to lead the movement”. John Rees, on the other hand, was on the attack. “This is the movement”, he announced. “This is the conference. There is no other conference down the road”.
Both Bambery and the COR conference text said that activists in every locality should unite in a single anti-cuts committee (i.e. instead of having competing COR, RTW, etc. groups). We must hope that local practice will now live up to those statements..
The Socialist Party’s leaflet dismissed the COR conference as “top-down” and instead recommended the NSSN conference on 22 January.
The COR conference was dominated by top-table speakers, 20-odd of them in the opening and closing plenaries. The core of the event was being talked at by movement celebrities, sometimes well, sometimes not so well.
Len McCluskey, the general secretary-elect of Unite (Britain’s biggest trade union), sent mixed signals. He made this militant left-wing conference his first public engagement since his election, and he quoted Frederick Engels in his speech. But he also exhibited some of the nationalism that has poisoned elements of the labour movement, by presenting the fact that British workers have “worse rights than German, Italian and Spanish workers” as unfair because British workers had “saved Europe from fascism and won the rights other European workers enjoy for them”.
Bob Crow dropped his characteristic anti-Labour Party demagogy and called for a fight against “the right wing in the Labour Party” rather than the Labour Party itself.
The closing plenary was supposed to discuss amendments to the conference declaration and elections to the National Council, but was instead persuaded to co-opt all 122 (un-named) nominees to the Council and remit all the amendments. Power remains with the Steering Committee (elected when, and by whom?).
There were workshops, including an extra one on women and cuts, added to the agenda after pressure from Feminist Fightback, which is reported separately; but generally discussion was limited, and some workshops seemed token.
For example, the one on climate change combined lifestylism (“people need to install solar panels on their house”, from a Green Party member) with popular frontism (“we need to get people like Tim Yeo on board” from platform-speaker Peter Robinson) and bland waffle.
At the workshop billed as dealing with political representation, speakers were a Green Party councillor; Liz Davies, who declared herself a critical supporter of the Green Party; Billy Bragg, who spoke not about the cuts but to argue for voting yes in the May 2011 referendum on AV; and Guardian contributor Laurie Penny. It was chaired by a Green Party member and allowed little debate.
Probably the COR organisers did not really want to promote the Green Party (or AV). They just didn’t mind much about political debate, and saw the workshops as cheap ways to get some Green Party support.
There was more talk about “people power” from the platform than about working-class struggle or socialism. Right To Work, similarly, is calling its February conference a “People’s Convention”.
Yet the conference may well have been an inspiring experience for some. They will have gone away feeling part of a big movement. Let’s hope the energy feeds into the anti-cuts committees.