SA National Office bulletin
17 December 2002
THE NATIONAL OFFICE WILL BE CLOSED FROM 5.30pm ON MONDAY 23 DECEMBER AND WILL REOPEN ON THURSDAY 2 JANUARY. In extreme emergencies, please phone 020 8525 6616.
WE WOULD LIKE TO WISH ALL OUR READERS AND SOCIALIST ALLIANCE MEMBERS AND SUPPORTERS EVERYWHERE A VERY HAPPY XMAS AND NEW YEAR.
- Bouncing into the New Year
- 'Where is New Labour going?'
- The democracy debate
- Elections 2003 and 2004
- Defend council housing
- Fire fighters
- Local news
- Stopping the war
- Women's day school
- New office worker
- Policy groups
- Annual conference
- Dates for the diary
Bouncing into the New Year
Every day more news arrives to anger and disillusion those who hoped that five years of a Labour government would begin to see progressive policies and social improvement. Today the government will confirm there is a £27 billion hole in pension provision. New Labour's response - apparently to abolish the age of retirement and to leave those unable to work and with no private pension struggling on the pittance of the state pension. Yesterday Prescott signalled a hardening of the government's position (if that was possible) on the basis of the Bain Report's proposals for job cuts and minimal wage increases for fire fighters. And there was news that one in five trains might be cancelled next year as the disastrous private companies running our railways slash services in the face of reduced subsidies from the government.
A bloody war on the innocents of Iraq seems more certain by the day as the government helps host a meeting of the utterly corrupt and divided forces of the Iraqi opposition. And there's the sleaze surrounding Cherie Blair's decision not to tell the truth and the whole truth about her association with Peter Foster and more importantly reveals the extraordinary wealth of 'Two flats' Blair and wife, as Blair takes a hard line on fire fighters' pay and conditions.
All of this provides an enormous opportunity for the Socialist Alliance to grow rapidly and begin to become the kind of organisation it's clearly capable of becoming - with tens of thousands of members and the socialist alternative to New Labour in England and Wales - as the SSP is becoming in Scotland. But it means also that we need to act quickly once we're over our Xmas and New Year hangovers. Comrades in every local Socialist Alliance, even where you may not have been meeting regularly recently, need to get in touch with one another before Xmas and draw up an action plan in order to come bouncing into the New Year.
'Where is New Labour going?'
The National Executive is encouraging local Socialist Alliances to set up Socialist Alliance forums/debates as soon as possible in the New Year (last week or so of January or first week of February ideally) with titles along the lines of 'Iraq, firefighters: Where Is New Labour Going?' The forums/debates will work best with a panel of speakers from trade unions - particularly from the key Labour affiliated unions like the FBU, the RMT, the CWU, and Unison.
If you can get national names all well and good. Otherwise every local SA has members and contacts within the local TUs. It may be difficult in some circumstances to get those who would defend Labour's monopoly to speak on a Socialist Alliance platform, so we need to be tactically flexible. We could jointly organise a debate or 'host' it without it merely appearing to be an SA meeting. It is crucial however that we have good speakers promoting the democratisation of the fund and the Socialist Alliance on the platform.
The democracy debate
At least in some unions such as the FBU the debate around the political fund has moved on. At this year's conference Andy Gilchrist was able to see off a democratisation motion, firstly by portraying it as disaffiliation, on the grounds that Labour would be able to disaffiliate the FBU if the rule change were made, and secondly only by maintaining Labour's monopoly were the union leadership able to exercise the necessary influence to defend jobs and conditions. Andy Gilchrist will not be able to make either argument stick at next year's conference. New Labour has taken the FBU's money and then kicked them in the face and thousands of fire fighters have now filled out the forms seeking to stop the element of the political fund contribution which goes to New Labour. That is why Andy Gilchrist now fears the real possibility of a democratisation or disaffiliation motion being passed.
It is possible that the leadership of the FBU and indeed the CWU will opt to go down the RMT road, in order to hold the line against disaffiliation, and set sponsored MPs a set of questions to determine whether or not to continue sponsorship. Many on the Labour left are trying to devise ways in which funding of Labour is no longer a 'blank cheque'. In these circumstances it isn't relevant to argue that democratisation will still allow money to go to Labour (as well as other, socialist, organisations and candidates).
We support not giving the Labour Party a blank cheque and targeting support on those campaign group MPs who support the fire fighters, oppose war, and stand up for union policies and rights. But as this only includes a relatively small minority of MPs, it raises the question of who the union should support where, as in most cases, there is a Blairite candidate for the Labour Party. Our argument is that union members must look seriously at giving support to candidates and organisations that do support the union's policies and rights (this of course will rule out the Lib Dems as well as the Tories etc). In arguing for this we are also arguing that, whilst we understand why trade unionists may want to disaffiliate from New Labour, trade unionists need a political voice, which is why we need democratisation not disaffiliation.
Socialist Alliance comrades in Labour-affiliated trade unions have been using or adapting the model resolution which is to be found on the website [here]. But we need comrades to move quickly if you haven't already moved a democratisation motion. For many unions the deadline for motions to go to conference is January or February.
There are now individual union email groups for SA members and supporters in most of the principal trade unions. Please contact the national office if you want to go on the list, want to be put in touch with the other SA members in your union, or if you want advice. Please do not assume we will know which union you are in - please tell us!
Elections 2003 and 2004
The May 2003 local elections are a big opportunity for the Socialist Alliance to make further significant electoral advance. But to make the most of the opportunities, we need to be planning for the elections now. Experts tell us that most voters make up their minds whether or not to vote and who to vote for in advance of the official election campaign of the three or four weeks preceding the poll itself. We therefore need candidates in place as soon as possible and some strategic planning to ensure we have made contact with key tenant and other community activists and that we have wherever possible leafleted the ward and started selected canvassing in the next couple of months. This means beginning to select candidates as soon as possible and establishing the presence of the Socialist Alliance in the wards in which we intend to stand. Both Bristol and Colchester now have candidates selected.
Many areas outside London will be having council elections in May. But the whole country will be facing Euro elections in June 2004, conducted under a form of proportional representation, and London will be facing GLA and mayoral elections. The National Executive will be coming forward with proposals to establish or re-establish relevant regional organisation early in the New Year. In the meantime we need to be doing our utmost both to increase our membership and our geographical spread.
Defending council housing
Another key area of confrontation between New Labour and its traditional base is council housing stock transfers. New Labour councils have been rolled over on a host of ballots across the country. But the battle goes on. This is a very important campaign for local SAs if they are to get seriously rooted in the local working class. And of course it's an intrinsically important point of potential resistance to Blair. There will be a very important lobby of parliament initiated by DCH and now strongly supported by Unison on Wednesday 29 January. We need local SAs to be building for this lobby very hard and to be raising the profile of the SA in local campaigns, on local estates, and with local activists. This is particularly important in relation to the forthcoming election campaigns, where we would hope stock transfers will be a big issue in some councils (see the report from Colchester below).
Advertising for the lobby, transport details and a lot of other material are available from Defend Council Housing - their website and further contact details can be found at www.defendcouncilhousing.org.uk
We have had a steady flow of recruits over the last few weeks, including a number of FBU activists. But we are still only touching the tip of the iceberg. There are literally thousands of people who would join the SA if they knew about us, if they were asked, or if we sat down and had a chat with them. And every member is like gold dust. Everyone we recruit knows people in their workplace, on their estates, etc. Every member is part of the process of establishing the roots in the working class that Labour is so rapidly losing. Again we would ask comrades to get together a recruitment plan, perhaps with a target for monthly recruitment.
The miserable report from Bain, and the government's support for it, still means that it is possible the fire fighters will be out on strike again at the end of January. We still need to be raising the question of what the government is trying to do to the fire fighters wherever we can and maintaining the contacts we have developed during the two strikes held so far. Whether or not the FBU leadership settles, bitterness with New Labour is not going to go away, and we need to channel that anger positively in the direction of support for or even membership of the SA. If the FBU does reject the government's blackmail and the strikes start again, raising financial support will once again be vital. But it will also be vital that the government faces more than one challenge (it will by then presumably be on the eve of war). The health and safety issue remains very important in this regard.
Please send us any stories from local SAs which you think might be of general interest - including recruitment, successful meetings, or initiatives in which the SA has been involved.
Jim Jepps writes from Colchester SA:
'At December's SA meeting we formally made a preliminary selection of the wards that we would fight and the candidates in Colchester, five in total. We have also been in contact with socialists in nearby Braintree, Witham and Brightlingsea (famous for live animal exports protests, but possibly nothing else - sorry Brightlingsea) and we are hopeful that new SA groups can be launched there and serious discussion is taking place about standing one candidate in each place.
'There is no shortage of work we are doing before the elections though. The council have been attempting to push through part privatisation plans for council housing in Colchester and SA members have taken a leading role, working along side tenants, UNISON members, Labour councillors, and even Lib Dems! Plus there has been a series of worrying racist attacks, including an attack upon a hostel for refugees and the SA has led the way to bring groups together like Amnesty International and the Trades Council to form a Committee to Defend Asylum Seekers in the New Year.
'Our new local newsletter Left Field has been extremely positively received and a number of people both inside and outside of the SA have asked to make contributions to the next edition. In conjunction with our website (www.colchester-socialist-alliance.org) probably one of the best local websites for an SA (go and look if you don't believe me), which has received three and a half thousand hits this year, we feel we've made a good start at building an SA branch in Colchester.'
Will McMahon, chair of Hackney Socialist Alliance writes:
'The Hackney Socialist Alliance threw itself into two more by-elections in the last few weeks. In the seventh set of elections in 30 months we received 7.1% in Leabridge Ward and 7.9% in Kings Park. These are good results for the SA. Leabridge was a hard fought contest between Greens, New Labour, and Tories, all of whom expected to win the seat. It is traditional in these kind of elections for new parties to lose most of their vote; in Hackney our core vote still came out and voted for the SA. In Kings Park we also faced the challenge of getting our core vote out in a ward with a history of very low turn outs and where they weigh Labour votes. Again our supporters turned out to back our stand for a socialist alternative to New Labour. By rights, in Hackney we should now have four councillors.'
We still have some copies of Left Turn, the national newsletter, for Winter 2002. If local Socialist Alliances wish to order copies, please contact the national office. You can order 50 for £7 including p&p; or 100 for £13.50 from the National Office.
Stopping the war
War on Iraq now seems all but certain. We need to be building anti-war initiatves and organisation as much as possible over the next few weeks and helping to ensure that there is the biggest anti-war protest ever seen in this country on Saturday 15 February.
The Stop the War Coalition conference has now been rescheduled for Saturday 11 January from 10.00am to 5.00pm at the Camden Centre, Judd Street, London (nearest station: Kings Cross). We continue to urge comrades to take out standing orders with StW, affiliate local organisations, including your local Socialist Alliance, and to come to this very important conference. We also need to make sure that the Socialist Alliance locally is building local Stop the War Coalitions and their initiatives and that we have a high profile in meetings, activities, etc.
Women's Day School
There will be a Day of Discussion and Campaigning Ideas organised by the Socialist Alliance for women only on Saturday 25 January from 11.00am to 5.00pm at Cross Street Chapel, Cross Street, Manchester. The agenda will include meetings on the effects on women of globalisation, neo-liberalism, and the US/UK's warmongering, how to make the Socialist Alliance more attractive to women, and workshops on campaigns and programmes, including the situation facing young women today, womens' under-representation in the Socialist Alliance, trade unions, and labour movement. A crêche will be available if booked in advance - email for the crêche and further details from Margaret Manning at firstname.lastname@example.org. The day school will be open both to women who are SA members, but also to non-members. If women want accommodation on Friday/Saturday evening this can also be arranged with SA members in Manchester. A leaflet with more details will be available at the National Council on 14 December.
New office worker
The Socialist Alliance is now advertising for a new full-time office worker. If you are interested in applying for the job, please contact the national office. Job description, terms and conditions of employment are still being decided. We intend to close applications on Saturday 18 January at the National Executive meeting and then proceed to a selection process after that. As soon as these and other details are finalised we will post them out.
A Health Policy Group is now being convened by Geoff Barr from Exeter Socialist Alliance and Geoff Wexler from Cambridgeshire Socialist Alliance wants to establish a policy group on Genetically Modified Organisms. The purpose is to develop the Socialist Alliance's policies in these areas. If you are interested in participating in either of the groups, please contact the National Office.
The annual conference will be on Saturday 15 March, 2003 at the South Camden Community School, Charrington Street, London N1. The Conference Arrangements Committee has decided there will be a deadline of Friday 24 January for policy resolutions and constitutional amendments, which may be submitted by individual SA members, local SAs, or the National Executive. The resolutions and constitutional amendments will then be sent to every registered member. Amendments to the policy resolutions and constitutional amendments must then be submitted by Friday 21 February. A final order paper will then be sent to all members registered for the conference.
The CAC has also decided that, whatever changes might be made to the method of electing the National Executive and the Appeals Committee at the annual conference, we will use the existing method as passed in December 2001 for the election of the National Executive and the Appeals Committee at the 2003 Annual Conference. This is election by slate using the alternative vote system of voting. However, the CAC is urging those who might wish to be considered for election to the National Executive to put in their nomination, with up to 100 words of biography, to the CAC by 24 January and for preliminary slates to be drawn up and submitted by 21 February. Nomination of slates will close at 2.00pm at the annual conference on Saturday 15 March. The National Executive is encouraging local Socialist Alliances to make time available at their local meetings in December and January to discuss resolutions they might wish to put forward to the annual conference.
Dates for the diary
Saturday 11 January - Stop the War Coalition conference, London
- Meeting for independent members of the Socialist Alliance, Birmingham, venue and time tba
Saturday 18 January 2003 - Socialist Alliance National Executive meeting, Birmingham
Saturday 25 January - Socialist Alliance day school for women, Manchester
Wednesday 29 January - Lobby of Parliament for council housing called by Defend Council Housing
Saturday 15 February - Stop the War demonstration, London
Sunday 23 February - [NOTE CHANGE OF DATE] National meeting for all Socialist Alliance members and supporters in the RMT, ASLEF, and TSSA in London from 12 noon at the Lucas Arms, Grays Inn Road (nearest station: Kings Cross)
Saturday 15 March - Socialist Alliance annual conference, London
Rob Hoveman, National Secretary
Firefighters; national newsletter; recruitment - 4 Dec 2002
Firefighters; Steve Godward; Stopping the war - 27 Nov 02
Firefighters; War; Women's day school - 19 Nov 02
Firefighters' strike is on - 12 Nov 02
Firefighters; Political fund; Stop the war - 5 Nov 02
Stop the War; The political fund debate - 29 Oct 02
Strike off; Labour turmoil over Iraq - 6 Aug 02
All out to stop the war on Iraq - 30 Jul 02
TU meeting/Conference on Europe/ESF - 2 Jul 02
Mini-bulletin - 27 Jun 02
Perspectives for the next two years - 17 Jun 02
Taking the long view - 12 Jun 02
Capitalising on our election success - 6 Jun 02
Contact the SA office by phone on 020 7609 2999 or by email