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.
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.