"It's not clear what a 'worker's wage' means", said Alan Thornett, one of the concluding speakers for the majority at the Socialist Alliance Council meeting on 17 January. "If it's what my plumber gets, then even George might accept it".
He urged the Council to vote down a proposal to have the Socialist Alliance argue for "workers' representatives on a worker's wage" in "Respect", the new coalition headed by "George" - George Galloway MP - into which the SWP and its allies are sinking the Alliance.
The "worker's wage" was the unanimously agreed first of the Socialist Alliance's "priority pledges" in the 2001 general election. No-one had difficulty with it then, and even if some plumbers (probably self-employed tradesmen, what Marxists call "petty bourgeois", not wage-workers) get something like Euro-MPs' £72,000 a year plus lavish expenses, Thornett does not really believe "the average wage of a skilled worker" is anything like that.
Nor does the SWP (Socialist Workers Party). Its recent pamphlet on The Awkward Squad describes trade union leaders' pay of between £71,000 and £90,000 a year as "astronomical". Explaining what it means by genuine "rank and file" candidates for trade union office, its first point is that "a rank and file trade union official is expected to take home the average wage of the workers he or she represents, and will be accountable to the members".
But Galloway won't. He has said that £150,000 a year is the minimum he "need[s] to function properly as a leading figure in a part of the British political system".
So the vote was 14 for the worker's wage, 40 against, and 8 abstentions. The 40 represented a solidly-whipped vote of the SWP and its close allies.
The SWP has pulled the stops out for a smooth ride at the launch convention of "Respect" on Sunday 25 January. It has evidently cowed or overawed some more critically-minded SA activists, too. Many speakers proposing such items as the worker's wage were at pains to emphasise that they welcomed "Respect" and would still welcome it even if the worker's wage were defeated.
Only four delegates voted against a motion welcoming the political statement announcing "Respect" and defining it as "a good basis". Four voted for a motion from me opposing links with George Galloway on grounds of his close ties to the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq and his admitted financial links with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, and eight abstained.
Other critical motions on policy got between 13 and 15 votes, with around 40 against. The most-debated was one calling for open borders and no immigration controls, which fell with 13 for, 39 against, and 11 abstentions.
On these pages we describe what has happened to the Socialist Alliance project and what the working class socialist left should do now.