Labour Representation Committee conference: a missed opportunity

Submitted by martin on 23 November, 2007 - 2:50 Author: Chris Ford

"The LRC meets at a time when socialists within the Labour Party, trade unions, left groups and many progressive campaigns are being forced to face up to a number of hard truths in reassessing their future", read the National Committee statement to the Labour Representation conference on 17 November.

Around 250 attended the conference, slightly down on last year. The theme of the conference was Next Steps for the Left.

The National Committee rightly pointed out that in the current situation the: ‘potential for the left is therefore immense and the LRC could play a pivotal role because of its strategic positioning within the Labour Party and in the wider socialist and progressive movement’.

This view is shared by the AWL; the LRC has six national unions affiliated, eight union regions, sixty-two union branches, sixteen socialist groups and campaigns, and revealingly ten Constituency Labour Parties. No other socialist initiative can boast such a range of support, but it is a fragile base and the LRC cannot afford to take it for granted.

To turn this into a meaningful force requires a serious change of direction in the LRC. Certainly this is what John McDonnell has and the National Committee statement were encouraging the membership to face up to – but it is clear from the conference there remains a woeful poverty of ambition that needs to be overcome.

There were a series of motions focused on perspectives, from the Scottish Campaign for Socialism, which stated that after the failed electoral campaigns and Bournemouth Labour Party conference decision ‘we cannot pretend it is business as usual’:

‘As currently constituted the Labour Party is no longer a vehicle for promoting progressive or socialist ideas. We need to re-refound Labour as a party of radical change…..To do this the LRC must become a campaigning organisation that can reach beyond the Labour Party Left and create the basis of a mass Labour Party committed to social justice and equality in the UK and internationally’.

The means of achieving this being – to get more involved in campaigns. Islington North CLP and the Network of Socialist Campaign Groups focused on a campaign to increase Labour Party membership and restore democracy.

The major argument on the way forward for the LRC became focused on the motion from the Alliance for Workers Liberty. Our motion offered a realistic way forward for the LRC by which it could strengthen its current base of support and achieve significant growth in the coming period. Our argument recognised that the LRC is in a prime position to become an axis to bring about re-composition in the socialist and labour movement. To become a broader Workers Representation Committee with a goal of the widest possible unity under the banner of working class political representation. To achieve this goal the LRC should issue an appeal to all socialists and trade unionists to join our project, to enter into discussions with those socialist organisations, trade union broad lefts/rank and files to secure their affiliation. We should seek to establish local workers representation committee based on the broadest possible unity, and flexibility of tactics to achieve working class representation.

Such a call for serious socialist unity from the LRC headed by a respected leader like McDonnell could carry immense weight amongst the thousands of activists desperate for an alternative. Such an organisational framework could begin to overcome the sectarian fragmentation which has retarded so many initiatives. But instead the LRC conference failed grasp this historic possibility placed before it refused to ‘face up to the hard truths’. The debate became focused not on achieving socialist unity or finding ways to overcome what divides the left but the line in our resolution which stated: ‘Local committee will be encouraged to adopt a flexible approach utilising whatever means available, to secure working-class political representation’.

The fact this could mean the united forces in a local committee intervening in a coordinated way to get workers representatives selected through local Labour Parties was not considered. It was the option that where we cannot component parts of the LRC need the freedom to utilise other tactics including electoral challenges that was seen as the problem.

The opponents of the AWL motions ranged from Socialist Appeal, that the Labour Party remains ‘the mass party of the working class’, with no consideration of the changes underway since Kinnock, and the lies that the Scottish Socialist Party has collapsed. In fact its conference was larger than the LRC event! The comrades of Labour Briefing presented a series arguments which were incredibly contradictory, that ‘we need a new party of labour’, ‘that party is the Labour Party’ and that ‘it may take generations to create a new party of labour’. Will our great grandchildren ever forgive us!

All of these arguments against the AWL were shamefully hypocritical by conveniently ignoring the fact that affiliated bodies of the LRC have long been standing candidates against the official Labour Party, such as unions backing Livingstone’s Mayoral challenge and numerous RMT challenges. Of course if John McDonnell or Jeremy Corbyn were prevented from standing again by New Labour would it be wrong to support them mounting such a challenge. Similarly for the conference to welcome the affiliation of Stalinist nutters from the New Communist Party but reject actively seeking the affiliation of the Scottish Socialist Party or Socialist Party in England is a staggering contradiction.

For all the talk of breaking out of the ghetto and linking up with undefined new forces there were many in the LRC unable to face up to the bold changes necessary achieve such a goal. The motion for a workers representation committee was defeated with a significant number of abstentions. In stark contradiction, in the afternoon the conference gave a rapturous reception to PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka who made exactly the same arguments as presented in support of the AWL motion.

It would be wrong to say that there were no steps forward at the LRC conference, structures have become better organised in terms of the elected National Committee, a series of good policy motions were passed setting a campaigning agenda and the Constitution was changes to facilitate non-Labour Party members being equal to Labour Party members and the building of regional and local structures. There is still every opportunity for the LRC to realise its potential, it will just take longer having squandered a window of opportunity. Many of the sectarian socialist positions are being undermined ongoing events, such as the looming disaffiliation of the CWU from the Labour Party. If the new National Committee must now implement the polices to draw in wider forces which in reality means initiatives achieve greater left unity. The affiliated unions such as the RMT and FBU also need to take amore pro-active approach in shaping the LRC into the body that meets the needs of organised labour.

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