The SWP has held meetings about its “left unity initiative” on the fringe of the Unison union conference and in Sheffield and other cities.
Ed Whitby reports from the meetings in Middlesbrough and Gateshead: “The SWP have little to say, but these two meetings were useful for us in opening up the discussion and for showing to the SWP periphery that we are serious about working with them even when we are very, very critical of them ideologically. And that we have concrete ideas for united activity when they just say ‘unity’ and UAF and demos”.
At the Unison conference fringe, Charlie Kimber was the SWP speaker. When challenged about whom the left unity initiative was aimed at, and asked why SWP has not responded to AWL’s reply saying “yes, let’s discuss unity”, his basic response (repeated in more vitriolic terms from the floor) was “It’s not just about left groups sitting in a room together — we have to reach out”. Sheer demagogy! He did, however, when pushed, say “a reply will be sent”.
He argued that Respect failed because not enough “Labourites” came on board, with an implication of this meaning Labour MPs. (The SWP defended the Respect venture down the line, by the way.)
The SWP’s basic tack seems to be: We want a united front with “serious forces”, not with “little sectarian groups”. How to get it? Hmmm, not sure, but UAF is brilliant, isn’t it? Meanwhile, join the SWP.
In Sheffield, so Daniel Randall reports: “Chris Harman said nothing concrete in his introduction about how the ‘left pole of attraction’/’broad socialist alternative’/’united left’ might actually be built. He posed the need to ‘break with New Labour’ as an almost mystical concept — a higher state of political being that, once attained, would unlock a universe of possibility.
“Unbelievably, he claimed that the reason previous ‘left unity initiatives’ had failed (he listed the SLP, the Socialist Alliance, Respect and No2EU) was because they were all initiated at periods when there was still too high a degree of Labourite consciousness within the British working-class for them to have an impact. The European election results have changed all of that, apparently, so now’s the time to have another tilt. In his summing up, he pointedly ignored all suggestions that it was actually the politics of this initiatives that were problematic, not merely their unfortunate timing.
“The whole scheme was finally laid bare when Harman, in one of his closing remarks, said ‘if you could get Alice Mahon, Bob Crow, Arthur Scargill, Mark Serwotka, and Clare Short to get together, and maybe persuade Tony Benn, then you’ve got the basis for a campaign that could become a real pole of attraction.’
“When called to speak, I first welcomed the SWP’s turn back to calling for a ‘socialist alternative’ but suggested that there should be some accounting for the perspectives they’ve been pursuing for the past five years. I also asked why prominent SWP trade unionists, such as the CWU’s Jane Loftus, are still voting with sell-out bureaucracies to prevent the unions from meaningfully attacking Brown and perhaps actually precipitating the ‘break with New Labour’ that Harman fetishes so much. I also suggested some concrete, practical struggles around which the revolutionary left could unite immediately, including within working-class anti-fascist campaigns”.