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If you think all the big political parties are the same - you're right! The bosses have got three parties - isn't it about time we had one of our own?
Campaign for a New Workers' Party conference
successful conference for a working class alternative
The second conference of the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party (CNWP) took place on Saturday 12 May. The conference was highly successful and a central London hall was packed out with over 350 people united in their desire to develop the campaign further.
The conference was opened by CNWP Chair Dave Nellist, who pointed out that it was apposite to be meeting in the same week that Tony Blair announced his departure from power. But when Blair leaves office on 27 June, “unfortunately he won’t be taking the entire cabinet with him”.
The world is a less safe place as a result of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and in Britain, young people now face massive debts consisting of loans and payments equivalent to “three mortgages”: the first for a house, the second for rising pension contributions and the third for university fees. However, house prices are so high now, that workers such as fire-fighters, teachers and health workers are unable to afford a house at all in many parts of the country.
Voters in elections are not faced with “three competing parties” because “the Tories, New Labour and the Liberal Democrats agree on all the essential issues – at least between elections.” The CNWP needs to build further on the 2,500 signatories it has so far, by sinking deep roots in local communities and trade unions to help create the conditions as soon as possible for the existence of a new party.
Chris Baugh, Assistant general secretary of the civil service trade union PCS addressed the conference in a personal capacity and expressed his support for the CNWP. He condemned Gordon Brown’s “arbitrary and swingeing” 100,000 job cuts plan in the civil service and said such cuts will inevitably damage vital services. He also condemned Brown as the chief architect of the NHS funding crisis, the huge privatisation programme being forced on 20,000 workers in the Ministry of Defence, and the vicious spending limits across the public sector. “PCS members will take some convincing that there is any material difference between Blair and Brown” he concluded. He reminded the conference that three million public sector workers had threatened strike action in the run-up to the last general election over the government’s plan to increase the pension age, and that this forced a significant government climb down. More recently, on May Day this month, successful PCS strike action shocked the government and was a warning of further action if cuts continue.
Due to unforeseen family commitments the actor and Shrewsbury Two campaigner Ricky Tomlinson was unable to attend the conference, but just 48 hours before hand recorded a video address. In his ‘virtual’ appearance, Ricky outlined the campaign still running over the jailing of 24 construction workers for picketing in 1972. He went on to he express his anger at the way New Labour has made things “worse and worse” for workers in Britain. He went on to say: “I don’t think there will be a difference between Blair and Brown because they’ve worked so closely together.. New Labour doesn’t represent working class people.. I call on workers to unite to form a left wing socialist party to represent the working class. There’s no shortcuts, no easy fix.” He closed his comments by stating: “New Labour, my arse!”
The first conference debate was on the CNWP’s charter. In proposing an updated charter, CNWP assistant secretary and Socialist Party (SP) member, Hannah Sell, explained that its wording needed to cover the period up until the next conference, so it deliberately concentrated on the most enduring issues and government attacks.
Hannah argued that it is preferable to keep a clause stating the need for socialism in the charter. But she argued against resolutions being put to the conference by Workers’ Power (WP) and the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) wanting clauses for the ‘revolutionary overthrow’ of capitalism and how it could be achieved, because: “It is not our job to sound as left and radical as possible. We need a programme that is readily taken up by workers.., one that they can identify with. Most of these workers have not yet drawn conclusions on how socialism will be achieved”.
In the debate that followed, four organisations– the Socialist Alliance (SA), WP, the Campaign for a Marxist Party and the CPGB moved four resolutions and amendments. The debate also included contributions from conference delegates, including from Onay Kasab of Greenwich Unison, who spoke on the battle against pay cuts by employees of Greenwich council and from Alec Thraves, a Socialist Party candidate in the Wales Assembly election, who concluded: “In Wales many people voted for the party most likely to defeat New Labour because there is no mass workers’ party. They need a voice”.
In the voting at the end of the debate, the CNWP officers’ proposed updated charter was overwhelmingly carried, along with the amendment from the SA. The three other amendments and resolutions were defeated.
Debating the way forward
The second conference debate was on the way forward for the CNWP. Secretary of the CNWP and Unison NEC member, Roger Bannister, moved a resolution from the CNWP officers, which called for the CNWP to “vigorously campaign to popularise the idea of a new mass workers’ party over the coming year” and outlined a number of steps towards doing this. The debate that followed was opened by the moving of three resolutions, from Berkshire CNWP (subsequently carried), the SA (defeated) and Workers’ Power (defeated)
In moving the Berkshire resolution, Terry Pearce reported on a “spirited” campaign in his area to defend council housing, and called for a regular CNWP newsletter to be produced that can report on all campaigns around the country.
Vanessa from the health service campaign PUSH spoke in this session on the need to build for a protest against NHS cuts and privatisation in Parliament Square on 5 July. She expressed her frustration with the union leaders’ delay of a national demonstration to save the NHS – now called for 13 October – by asking “will October ever come?”
Burslem postal worker, Jane, explained why she and other local postal workers had been forced to take nine days of strike action. During the second strike, 400 managers had been drafted in to do the work of 100 workers! Darfur refugee Sadiq Abakar, made a moving appeal for help with his campaign for asylum, and that of other Darfur refugees whose lives are in danger.
Pete McClaren, a member of the SA, said to the conference that his press releases went out without any unwelcome political edits by other CNWP officers, in this way making it clear that he was happy with the working relationship that exists within the campaign. There was however a difference at the conference between the SP and SA on the present structure of the CNWP, with the SA calling for individual membership to be introduced now and there to be a right of representation on the steering committee regardless of the size of affiliated organisations. These issues should be discussed further in the coming period to attempt to reach agreement.
Following commissions and the election of a new steering committee, the conference was closed with an inspiring speech by Tony Mulhearn, who was president of the Liverpool District Labour Party (DLP) during the 1980s battles of Liverpool council against the then Tory government. In summing up what he described as “a great conference”, he said that the politics of the mainstream parties today is to “make promises, get elected and then to break promises”, but that in Liverpool in the 1980s the Marxist and other leaders of the DLP carried out their promises. By building a firm basis in local communities, we can again “be absolutely positive that we can build a mass movement”.