SP sets up its own anti-cuts movement

Submitted by martin on 22 January, 2011 - 7:17
Cuts

The conference of the National Shop Stewards' Network in London on 22 January, voted 305 to 89 for a Socialist Party motion to set up a third national anti-cuts coordination to compete with Coalition of Resistance and Right to Work.

The new coordination will be a Socialist Party affair. After the conference, all the non-SP members of the NSSN committee resigned. That includes the majority of NSSN officers.

As far as I could tell, all of the 20-odd speakers for the SP-backed motion were SP members bar one, Steve Hedley, London Transport regional organiser of the RMT rail union. Alex Gordon, president of the RMT, spoke before the debate as a "guest speaker", indicating support for the SP, and SP speakers claimed that RMT general secretary Bob Crow also backs the SP on this.

How long the RMT leadership will continue to be taken in tow by SP projects remains to be seen. No-one claimed that the RMT as such had voted to back the SP. Chris Baugh, assistant general secretary of the PCS civil service union, claimed that PCS backed the SP motion, but we understand from PCS activists that in fact the PCS Executive has not voted on it.

Unions like the RMT and the PCS should be getting together with others and approaching COR, RTW, and the NSSN to co-sponsor a unity conference.

The SP's argument was that the NSSN (meaning the NSSN majority, meaning the SP) are the only people with a clear line against all cuts, and that the setting up of an anti-cuts front by the NSSN would ensure that workplace power is brought into the campaign.

Against the SP motion, SWP speakers and others pointed out that COR and RTW are also against all cuts - including, despite SP insinuations, cuts made by Labour councils. They called for unity. Syndicalists like NSSN chair Dave Chapple argued that NSSN should continue to strive to build a non-partisan shop stewards' link-up, rather than being transformed into an SP anti-cuts front.

The SWP and others were right to say that differences of policy and method should be debated in a united anti-cuts movement, rather than being caricaturally exaggerated and made into excuses for setting up competing fronts.

The 305-89 was among "workplace delegates". To be a "workplace delegate" at the conference you did not need to be delegated by your workplace group or union branch; you simply had to sign in as having some union position. A large number of extra people signed in as from "anti-cuts committees" or as observers, and the crowded hall contained many would-be speakers who couldn't get the floor.

No AWL speakers were able to get the floor, and so, while the SP's caricatures of the faults of RTW and COR were refuted, it did not get said that the SP's claim to be the guarantor of uncompromising industrial action against the cuts is also unfounded.

SP speakers referred to Liverpool's Labour council in the mid-1980s, when it was controlled by Militant, forerunners of the SP, as a model. In fact Liverpool council never openly confronted the government; it made cuts in the course of the 1985-6 financial year and in its 1986 budget.

The SP also claims PCS as a model of anti-cuts militancy. In fact the PCS is riding through a wave of job cuts in the civil service right now, with no campaign for industrial action to oppose them. Its strategy is based on a hope of future joint action (of some sort) on pensions with other public service unions if the conditions are right. It has just been ballotting its members on whether they are at all opposed to changes in the civil service severance-pay scheme worse than similar changes they struck against nearly a year ago!

True, it is not within the power of the SP, or anyone else, to launch widespread PCS industrial action against cuts instantly. But at the 22 January conference the SP responded to speakers who attempted to discuss the real weaknesses of the union movement with sneers and demagogy.

People who had voted against the SP motion met in a pub afterwards and agreed to keep in touch. The non-SP former members of the NSSN committee will meet, and there will be a side-meeting at the anti-cuts convention on 12 February called by Right to Work (SWP) with the support of the Labour Representation Committee.

We wish this "residual" post-NSSN network well, but it will have difficulties: 89 was a smaller vote against the SP motion than could have been expected, and was made up mostly of SWPers, syndicalists (very well-respected activists, some of them, but few in number), and members and supporters of other non-SP left groups, like AWL.

The SWP, even in its present disarray, could have mobilised enough people on 22 January to outvote the SP, but obviously chose not to. To get a chance to appear as a voice of unity and sanity, and yet let the SP have its way with a suicidally self-proclamatory policy, will have made tactical sense for the SWP.

Click here for the motions debated on 22 January, and the debate leading up to it.

EDIT: A comrade from the ex-NSSN minority has informed us that the proposal to meet at the SWP's Right to Work convention was in fact not agreed, and that an initial meeting will take place at a "neutral" location less open to domination by any particular group.

Comments

Submitted by martin on Mon, 24/01/2011 - 23:20

1. So the reason for setting up a third centre alongside COR and RTW is that some COR and RTW supporters in local anti-cuts committees have a too-liberal policy about inviting Labour councillors to speak at meetings and protests?

That is a problem at the level of the local anti-cuts committees, not the national centres. So is the new NSSN centre proposing to set up its own "pure" anti-cuts committees, guaranteed Labour-councillor-free, in all areas?

Sometimes SWP has been "soft" on Labour councillors. Sometimes SP has been sectarian. Those issues should be debated out within united local campaigns, and a united national movement, rather than made the occasion for setting up a third centre.

2. "The anti-cuts campaign will merely be an add-on to NSSN..." We'll see. What the conference indelibly branded the NSSN as is an organisation unfriendly to anyone who does not accept that the SP are the only people "really" against cuts. That stance is incompatible with being a politically-broad shop stewards' network.

3. Yes, I know the "workplace delegates" system was as it has always been in the NSSN. Not all readers will know that. There is a difference between a vote of 305 people delegated by workplace meetings, and a vote of 305 people who have some workplace union post.

4. Ok, shall we say "nearly all" the non-SP members of the committee resigned? I don't know Andy's position.

5. I didn't suggest that AWL speakers were unable to get the floor because of exclusion by the SP (or anyone else). On the contrary, I noted that "the crowded hall contained many would-be speakers who couldn't get the floor".

6. There is no great virtue in conceding a democratic debate when you can't avoid it, and when your "party whip" ensures a majority whatever is said in the debate. The SP could scarcely have avoided a debate when all the non-SP members of the NSSN steering committee, and the majority of the NSSN officers, vehemently opposed what the SP wanted.

7. Cursing the Labour Party and the SWP does not amount to "a fighting programme second to none". I notice that you do not respond to the political gist:

"The SP's claim to be the guarantor of uncompromising industrial action against the cuts is also unfounded.

"SP speakers referred to Liverpool's Labour council in the mid-1980s, when it was controlled by Militant, forerunners of the SP, as a model. In fact Liverpool council never openly confronted the government; it made cuts in the course of the 1985-6 financial year and in its 1986 budget.

"The SP also claims PCS as a model of anti-cuts militancy. In fact the PCS is riding through a wave of job cuts in the civil service right now, with no campaign for industrial action to oppose them. Its strategy is based on a hope of future joint action (of some sort) on pensions with other public service unions if the conditions are right. It has just been ballotting its members on whether they are at all opposed to changes in the civil service severance-pay scheme worse than similar changes they struck against nearly a year ago!"

Submitted by martin on Mon, 31/01/2011 - 01:41

Majority of NSSN Officers resign en-bloc

At a meeting immediately following Saturday 22nd January's NSSN anti-cuts conference, the majority of NSSN/Shop Stewards Network national officers - all of those not in the Socialist Party- have resigned.

This is the statement of four of these officers: Dave Chapple, Bob Archer, George Binette and Becca Kirkpatrick:

"1.We are all NSSN national officers. We have decided that we cannot continue to be activists in an organisation that, following the conference decision on 22nd January, is now controlled by the Socialist Party.

The NSSN was established to become a strong independent organisation of trades union activists, with trades council and trades union branch affiliates.

Its meetings cannot function as independent voting bodies if all major decisions are to be taken beforehand by the Socialist Party.

None of our trades council or trade union branch affiliates can continue to be linked to the NSSN on that basis.

2. 22nd January's NSSN conference decision to set up a separate NSSN-led anti-cuts campaign-the third such organisation that exists-is a major strategic mistake for our part of the trade union movement.

It makes unity of the national anti-cuts movement harder not easier.

The essential NSSN anti-cuts task, of stiffening the resolve of the trades unions, locally and nationally, to fight cuts through co-ordinated strike action, will be set aside or de-prioritised.

It will ensure that the regional and local SSN groups - already weak and struggling in the main - will wither as they transfer time and energy to establishing - or duplicating - local anti-cuts campaigns.

At the Steering Committee of December 4th, six national officers and EVERY NON-SP STEERING COMMITTEE MEMBER voted against this proposal, yet the Socialist Party has ignored this feeling despite our further appeals, knowing full well that our continued participation in the NSSN would be intolerable.

3. Ninety NSSN activists met after the end of that Saturday's conference and unanimously decided to continue the work of trade union activists' solidarity on an organised national basis. Please get in touch."

Dave Chapple, NSSN Chair; George Binnette, NSSN Treasurer; Bob Archer, NSSN Communications Officer; Becca Kirkpatrick, NSSN Affiliations Officer

davechapple@btinternet.com.

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