Monday, November 13, 2006

No Respect for trade unionism

"Respect", the lash-up between the erstwhile 'Marxists' of the British SWP, and the Muslim Association of Britain, held an event this Saturday, called the "Organising for Fighting Unions Conference". As these things go, it was quite big (about 600 people); politically it was terrible, rarely rising above the level of "people are angry and the fighback is beginning". Perhaps the nadir was an incoherent stream of consciousness from one Jane Loftus, an SWP member on the CWU executive, who seemed to be arguing that the way to combine the political and economic struggles was to disaffiliate unions from the Labour Party...

I attended as a delegate from my union branch: I was in a small minority in being delegated: the vast majority of attendees were there as individuals, representing no-one but themselves (this can be confirmed by checking the "Respect" website, where supporters of the conference whose trade union bodies have actually voted to support are marked with an asterisk: they are very few). What was most noticeable about the event was that:

1/ It wasn't realy a conference, in the sense of "confering": there was virtually no debate. There were four lengthy platform speakers per session, leaving little time for contributions from the floor; virtually all the floor speakers were either SWP'ers, or people who the SWp knew weren't going to say anything contentious;

2/ It wasn't really a trade union event: few of the platform speakers had anything of significance to say about the state of the British union movement, or the way forward for the working class: they wanted to talk about the war in Iraq, Islamophobia, the veil, the US election fact, more or less anything except trade unionism. The two noticeable exceptions were Paul Mackney of UCU, who at least attempted to discuss the role of shop stewards, and Andy Snoddy of the T&G's Organising Unit, who gave a detailed practical description of their efforts to organise migrant workers. Snoddy's contribution was exactly what the event should have concentrated upon: significantly, there was no further discussion of the issues he raised.

The session entitled "Who speaks for trade unionists: the struggle for political representation" was especially disappointing. For a start, there was very little debate on the subject that was supposed to be under discussion (most of the contributions were about Islamophobia and the veil); and what little debate on the subject of political representation there was, was thoroughly dishonest. Let me explain: it is clear that the SWP are in fact in favour of unions disaffiliating from Labour; no-one who listened to the speaches from leading SWP trade unionists (like the afore-mentioned Jane Loftus) could doubt that; and yet they would not argue openly for that position. The reason for this appeared to be a desire to avoid alienating the Labour left. So an opportunity to have an important discussion was lost because the SWP refused to argue for their own politics. They even went so far as to oppose the Socialist Party's pro- disaffiliation amendment to the "Charter" that the conference was asked to vote on in the final session: again, not because of any principled disagreement, but out of pure opportunism towards the Labour left. Interestingly, the best (and most political) speaker on this topic was John McDonnell. But he came on as a guest speaker, not as part of the "political representation" debate. So, in the end, the conference rejected the call for disafilliation: quite rightly, but without any proper debate and with the conference organisers (the SWP) playing a thoroughly dishonest role.

What was the point of the whole exercise? Don't ask me; you could try asking the SWP, but I strongly suspect they don't know either.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home