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Campaign for a New Workers’ Party conference

Report compiled by Pete McLaren, Socialist Alliance National Secretary

 Conference began with a minute’s silence in memory of Terry Fields, the former Militant MP who had died the previous day.

 CNWP assistant secretary Hannah Sell chaired the Discussion Forum which followed for the next two hours, entitled “Which way forward for the Left?  How can workers fight for a political voice? 

 John McInally, PCS Vice Pres, outlined the fight being conducted by the PCS against the attacks of New Labour, and he argued the left trade unions should call a conference to discuss working class political representation around the key socialist issues we could all support, such as opposition to privatisation, war and racism.  He hoped the PCS might discuss with others holding the conference in the autumn, but explained there would be some TU opposition to it. 

 Simeon Andrews, Secretary LRC, agreed there was a crisis in working class political representation.  He added that Labour was finished – it was not reclaimable.  Under Labour, Britain was now more unequal than at any time since the second world war, he added.  He suggested that left Labour MPs should remain in the Labour Party for the time being to continue representing working class people in Parliament.  The LRC felt this CNWP initiative was very important, as were all attempts at unity, which was why the LRC would be attending the SA initiated meeting on Left Unity the following Saturday and the Manchester Convention of the Left in September.  There was a need to end the sectarianism within the left, he concluded. 

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow spoke next.   He said the RMT accepted the need for a new political party to represent the working class, but his members were wary of past failures and splits as with the SLP and Respect.  He suggested we should unite around the ten points we could all agree on, such as opposing privatisation, and then build a simple structure to promote it, avoiding too many party rules.  This umbrella, as he described it, could lead to the new party if groups were prepared to forget their differences.  More debate would be needed first.

 Dave Church, Walsall DLP, was concerned that we were all saying much the same for the 3rd year running, and hoped the outcome of this Conference would be different.  When Labour was destroying more public services than Thatcher did, there was an urgent need for the left to get its act together

 Rob Hoveman, Respect Co-ordinating Committee, was pleased Respect had been invited, and welcomed the opportunity to talk to others on the left.  He accepted Respect was not the finished article, but felt it could be part of the process in building a new workers’ party. We needed to be tolerant, and avoid divides or splits, he added.  The existing left was needed, alongside trade unionists and the wider working class, in any new left party.  The history of the left was not good – we now needed to put unity above our differences and work towards a large broad united working class party, with today being seen as the start of that discussion.

 Mike Davies, Chair AGS, agreed we needed a united left party.  The AGS was committed to unity, an environmental and socialist unity.  The environmental crisis was as serious as the economic crisis, he continued. A rare example of actual progress, albeit limited, was the SGUC, with a set of agreed electoral policies.  He argued that the original SA was a genuine umbrella until the SWP entered and destroyed it. The main obstacles to unity were the Labour Party, a lack of understanding of environmental socialism, left splits, the danger of predatory behaviour, and having a guru.  He felt left Labour MPs were simply propping up the Labour Party. 

 Dave Nellist, CNWP Chair, was the final speaker.  He began by outlining how it had taken 30/40 years to create the Labour Party, and for the next 80 years workers had seen Labour as their party – but not any more.  Labour had lost 5 million voters and 200,000 members in recent years.  Our job was to build a new left party for the millions, not just the left groups.  Socialists within the Labour Campaign group, and left Labour MPs, could do more to build a new party.  The CNWP was making progress and was getting the basics right.  It was a campaign for a genuinely working class party, rather than just a bolting together of the left.  We had to learn from the mistakes of the original SA and the SLP by building an umbrella with a federal approach and the trade unions on side.  We could be a catalyst for building a new workers’ party, he felt, and suggested we could do more to oppose racism and climate change.

There was only time for 7 contributions from the floor - Gerry Byrne from the SA, Jeremy Dewar from Workers Power, Stan Keable from the CPGB, Rob Williams, Bill Mullins, Dave Griffiths and Andrew Price (all SP).  Points made included (each one attributed by party):

CONFERENCE RESOLUTIONS ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CNWP

 Dave Nellist began the afternoon session by reading out messages of support from the German Left Party, French LCR and the FBU regional official who had stood as a council candidate.

 Hannah Sell moved the Socialist Party resolution, arguing that the CNWP had made progress, and further developments would follow with the implementation of this resolution, including the introduction of membership and regional members meetings.

 Steve Freeman moved the RDG amendment to the SP resolution to change clauses 6 and 7, arguing the need to break with Labourism.

 Gerry Byrne moved the Socialist Alliance resolution, arguing both for membership to be introduced and for us to make a start on considering the structure of a new party. 

 Andrew Price moved the Socialist Party amendment to the SA resolution, calling for deletion of the reference to the CNWP being in a pre-party formation which would start discussing the party’s rules and structure. He stressed the positive role played by the SA in the development of the CNWP, but argued it was premature to start discussing structure

 Terry Pearce moved the resolution from Berkshire CNWP.  He outlined the advances made by the CNWP, including TU work, more public meetings, and the web site blog, but suggested we needed to do more.

 Jeremy Dewar moved the Workers Power resolution arguing for a democratic centralist party organised on a democratic basis. 

 Peter Manson moved the CMP resolution and argued against the SP, SA, and WP resolutions.  He argued we needed a party for Marxism which was for working class independence and internationalism, not another Labour Party. 

 Matt Dobson moved the resolution for International Socialist Resistance, arguing we must build against the BNP and campaign more vigorously amongst young people.

 Eleven floor speakers were taken.  Pete McLaren (SA) spoke against the SP amendment to the SA resolution, arguing that it could not be premature to start discussing the structure of a new party when the CNWP Founding Conference had agreed to start considering it, and the Steering Committee last September had confirmed that.  He stressed the resolution only called for such a discussion to commence, and that if we were to offer membership, that would confer rights and responsibilities which would need to be defined.  Dave Church (DLP and SA) added that he was amazed the SP would want to oppose something which would move us forward when the SA was not calling for an immediate introduction of rules and structure, but the start of a discussion about them, which was necessary if we were moving towards a party.

 Six members of the Socialist Party spoke in favour of the SP amendment. – Glen Kelly, Alistair Tice, Monique Hirst, Dave Norton, Ross Saunders and Bill Mullins Monique Hirst argued that we clearly need an alternative, especially because of the danger posed by the BNP.  Ross Saunders added that it was a tribute to the SA that the main debate was about their resolution.  Other points made by SP members were as follows:

§         The size of Conference shows we do not yet have the forces

§         We should not declare a new party just because the left TU leaders will not do so

§         The SA call to start discussing structure could undermine the progress we are making with TU leaders

§         The SA resolution is premature – it suggests we have reached the new party already

§         Mistakes of the past will not be rectified by discussing rules and structure

§         We understand the frustration of some supporters, but work needs to be done amongst the working class to win them to the idea of a new workers’ party

 There were two contributions from Workers Power in favour of their resolution, arguing against a half way house solution, expressing the need for some urgency in creating a new party, and arguing for pressure to be put on trade union leaders to move more quickly.  Stan Keable (CPGB) spoke in favour of the CMP resolution, arguing it was nonsense to have a series of unity fronts and agreeing with the SA that membership requires defined democratic relationships between members. 

 Following the Treasurers Report, (see below) Hannah Sell (SP) announced that, having listened to the arguments, the SP was withdrawing its amendment to the SA resolution. 

 The Chair then put each resolution to the vote:  The resolutions from the SP, SA, Berkshire CNWP and ISR were all passed overwhelmingly, with in each case less than 10 votes against, after the RDG amendment to the SP resolution had been overwhelmingly defeated.  The resolution from Workers Power was defeated with 12 votes in favour, and the resolution from the CMP was defeated with 6 votes in favour.  The successful resolutions have been printed in full as an appendix to this report.

 Workshops

Conference divided for 45 minutes into workshops as follows: Breaking the link with Labour; How to defeat the BNP; Building an electoral alternative; The environment; The economic crisis and what it means for building a new workers’ party

 Treasurers Report

Greg Maughan spoke of the need for finance to build the CNWP.  He asked for regular Standing Orders to be taken out – these already brought in £250 per month.   He announced that £305.78 had been collected at the Conference

 Officer Elections

Dave Nellist announced that the following had been elected unopposed: Secretary – Roger Bannister (SP); Chair – Dave Nellist; (SP) Vice Chairs – Jeremy Dewar (WP); Gerry Byrne (SA); Clara Paillard (Indep); Roger Priest (Indep); Assistant Sec – Hannah Sell (SP); Press Officer – Pete McLaren (SA); Treasurer – Greg Maughan (SP); Trade Unions – Glen Kelly (SP); Terry Pearce (Indep); Community – Francesco Harris (Indep); Wales – Andrew Price (SP); Youth - Tracy Edwards (SP)

 Dave Nellist made a number of announcements before the Conference closed with a rousing chorus of The Internationale.  He announced a new raffle to be launched in October, the need to organise membership and the regional members meetings as agreed, and the need for the CNWP to intervene in all strikes and protests.  Conference thanked Greg Maughan in the traditional manner for his tremendous work in organising the conference 

Pete McLaren, SA National Secretary 03/07/08

 APPENDIX – RESOLUTIONS PASSED AT THE 2008 CNWP CONFERENCE

 Resolution submitted by the Socialist Party

1. This is the third annual conference of the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party. The need for a new party, already overdue at our first conference, is now overwhelming.

 2. Rising prices, pay restraint and looming economic slowdown have enormously sharpened anger at the New Labour government. Unfortunately, the lack of mass workers’ party to challenge that anger means that, at least initially, electoral protest against New Labour has predominantly taken the form of not voting at all or voting for the parties of the right.

 3. The increase in support for the Tories does not represent a deep-seated move to the right in British society. On the contrary in order to gain support Cameron’s Tories have had to pose, utterly falsely, as the party of the poorest in society. Nonetheless, those that can remember the nightmare of a Tory government are rightly horrified at the prospect of a Cameron government which, however ‘soft’ they try to appear now, would implement brutally anti-working class policies.

 4. The pro-Labour trade union leaders are using this mood to argue that trade unionists have no choice but to fall in behind New Labour in order to keep the Tories at bay. However, many rank and file trade unionists, feeling the consequences of government policy in their pockets, are furious that their union maintains a link with Labour. The fact that pro-Labour trade union leaders, in order to head off calls to break the link, have been forced to make moves to threaten to withhold funds from the Labour Party, is an indication of the pressure they are under.

 5. The CNWP needs to use the current political uncertainty to step up the argument for a new mass workers’ party. New Labour’s strategy of winning elections by aping the Tories has been shattered. What is needed is a party that stands against the billionaires and in the interests of working class people.

 6. There are those that hope that the crisis in New Labour will be an opportunity to move Labour to the left. This is utopian. On the contrary New Labour and the Tories are likely to spend from now until the general election attempting to outbid each other with right wing populist measures.

 7. Ironically, the only force that would be able push the establishment parties to the left is a new mass workers party. This is graphically demonstrated by, despite its weaknesses, the effect of the growth in support of the Left Party in Germany. Oskar Lafontaine has correctly declared that the Left Party is pushing the political debate in Germany as the capitalist parties are forced to feint ‘left’ at least in words in order to try and cut across the growing support for the Left Party.

 8. Over the last year the CNWP has had an important impact. In the trade unions it is our supporters who are setting the agenda in the discussion on the trade unions relationship with Labour. It was a CNWP supporter who moved the motion for disaffiliation from Labour at the CWU conference this year, for example. At UNISON conference delegates voted to give ‘number one’ priority to discussing a motion on the union’s relationship with Labour, moved by an officer of the CNWP.

 9. All of our constituent organisations which stood in the local elections (some of whom got very creditable votes) raised the need for a new mass workers party as a prominent part of their election campaigns. Intervening in recent strikes we have been able to win a new layer of supporters to the CNWP.

 10. Nonetheless, as we have stated previously, the CNWP is not currently a new party, or even a pre-party formation, but a campaign for a new party, which will support and encourage any genuine moves towards a new party being founded. Primarily, this is because, while the objective need for a new party is overwhelming, it will take further experience of struggle for a significant layer of workers and young people to draw the conclusion that such a party is both necessary and possible.

 11. Given this, the CNWP, while it is playing an important role in popularising the idea of a new party, is not, at this stage, strong enough to bring one into being.

 12. Nonetheless, we believe that, if we take some steps to raise the level of organisation in the CNWP, this could lead to a layer of supporters, old and new, taking on a more active role in driving the campaign forward.

 13. We therefore propose that:

i. We approach the national leaderships of the RMT, PCS, FBU and the POA for a discussion on how the case for a new workers’ party can be developed within the trade union movement.

ii. We continue our campaign, at local and national level, to get the need for a new party discussed amongst trade union activists.

iii. We will invite all genuine anti-cuts, anti-privatisation councillors to a national meeting to discuss working together. We also encourage trade union, anti-cuts and anti-privatisation campaigns to contest local elections. We work towards a situation where it is possible to stand alliances of candidates on a clear anti-cuts and anti-privatisation programme to challenge for the majority on councils. This would be in order to lead a battle in the interests of the working class in the way that was done in the magnificent struggles of the past, such as in Poplar, Liverpool and Lambeth.

iv. We are currently on 3,345 supporters. We should continue to drive on increasing the number of supporters of the campaign with the goal of reaching 5,000 by the end of this year.

v. As at the moment, to become a supporter it is only necessary to sign the declaration for a new workers’ party and all supporters for whom we have email addresses will receive a monthly e-bulletin.

vi. In addition we will introduce membership of the campaign. All supporters will be invited to become members of the campaign. The only condition of membership will be paying a minimum membership fee of £5 a year.

vii. We will organise regional CNWP meetings, usually on a quarterly basis, at which all CNWP members will be entitled to vote. These meetings will plan and coordinate local CNWP campaigns and public meetings. As at the moment, this does not in anyway preclude the setting up of more local CNWP groups, where the basis for them exists.

 Resolution submitted by the Socialist Alliance

1. This Conference welcomes the initiative of the CNWP Officers in organising a Discussion Forum on the Way Ahead for the Left at the start of Conference.

 2. Conference recognises there is an urgent need for the left to get its act together given the fact that:

i. Workers increasingly accept that Labour can no longer be reclaimed

ii. Labour’s shift to the right – or far right - means there is a vacuum which the left could, and should, fill.

iii. Recent election results would, if replicated in a General Election, return a Tory Government with a large majority, its policies influenced by an increased vote for the far right

iv. There is the growing threat posed by the racist/fascist BNP

 3. Conference confirms its view that the best way to confront these issues is to campaign for a new socialist party – a new workers’ party.  In fact, that is essential.  Conference agrees that, as part of the process of building a new workers’ party, it is necessary to bring together as many of the disparate left forces as possible, in addition to the work being done to build the Party within the working class – within Trade Unions; tenants and community groups; the black community; women; youth; and all those oppressed by capitalism.

 4. Conference therefore agrees that the time is right to start moving towards a pro-party alliance or a pre-party formation that, as well as campaigning for a new party, will also begin work to determine the structure and rules for such a party. Conference recognises that this not only requires that declaration signatories be more involved in the work of the CNWP, but also requires a democratic legitimacy that the present signatories/supporters based system fails to give. To address this, the CNWP will become a membership based campaign, with branches where sufficient membership exists.  This is part of the process which will lead, sooner rather than later, to the formal launch of the new workers’ party. 

 5. Existing and new Declaration signatories/supporters will be asked to take out membership of the CNWP, the fee being determined by Conference or, between conferences, the Steering Committee.

 Resolution submitted by Berkshire CNWP local group

1. Conference recognises the advances that the CNWP has made over the last 12 months, including more public meetings, an increase in publicity literature and more interventions in trade union events. We have seen an increase in signatures for our declaration and improvements on the website, the introduction of our blog as well as regular E-bulletins. We have taken our ideas to a wider section of the working class and into more local communities.

 2. However, if we are to play a major role in the coming period we must step up our activities:

i. We must seek to increase the number of signatures for our declaration to at least 5000 over the next 12 months.

ii. Building on the good work already being carried out we must intensify our work in the trade unions by intervening in national, regional, youth and women’s conferences. We must also seek to get our ideas heard in local trade union branches, workplaces and trades councils, etc.

iii. Following the excellent public meetings held around the country over the last year we should strive to hold meetings in as many major cities and towns in the immediate future.

iv. Whilst the CNWP blog has begun to play a role in encouraging discussions about our ideas, we need wider participation from our supporters if it is to become really effective.

v. There is a need for a CNWP banner which can be taken on demonstrations and other major events

vi. Encourage supporters to make a regular donation towards developing the work of the CNWP.

 3. With unemployment beginning to rise, prices soaring, public services threatened and New Labour moving even further to the right, there has never been a more urgent need for a New Worker’s Party than there is at present. There are real dangers of the return of a Tory Government as there is at the present time no major party to represent workers interests. We must fight to build support for our campaign among those fighting low wages, poverty and struggling against cuts in services and rampant privatisation.

 4. We must argue our case in the trade unions for a breaking of the link with New Labour and the building of a political voice and movement for the working class.

 Resolution submitted by International Socialist Resistance (ISR)

1. Young people have historically played a key role in protests and mass movements. New, young union reps are increasingly seen on picket lines. School students have been involved in battles against cuts and moves towards education privatisation, and were a key factor in the anti-war movement at its height.  University students have seen big attacks on their education and the facilities in their universities. Winning these young people to the idea of a new mass workers party would be a major boost for the campaign, bringing energy and enthusiasm to the CNWP and beginning to lay the basis for a lively and combative mass workers party.

 2. Supporters of the campaign for a new workers party need to be seen to be standing up for young people and working alongside them in unions and in community campaigns. The recent successes of the BNP will be a spur on young people into campaigning. The issue of a potential raising of the amount of fees for university students will focus young people on the question of who really represents us. CNWP supporters need to be using the opportunity these issues present to raise the campaign and continue winning a new generation of young people to the idea of a new workers party.

 Campaigning against university fees

3. The scheduled review of the cap on university top-up fees in 2009 will be a key issue amongst young people. Many universities and vice chancellors are recommending that the cap be lifted and are already budgeting for this increase. Students in England have to pay £3,000 a year for their university courses. This has increased student debt dramatically with NatWest bank estimating that today’s students are graduating with average debts of £22,000. One in four 18-24 year olds are writing off going to university because it is too expensive. University fees and government under funding are creating a two tier higher education system where only the rich can afford a decent university experience.

 4. Action is urgently needed on the issue, mobilising the mass of students and workers who are opposed to higher fees in a campaign that fights for a decent education system for all. Unfortunately the National Union of Students (NUS) current leadership have explicitly ruled out this kind of campaign, and in the recent London UCU strike urged students to work with the management against lecturers striking for a fair pay deal.

 5. The Campaign to Defeat Fees (CDF) is fighting for a mass campaign to force the government to scrap university fees. Over 5,000 students have already signed the Campaign to Defeat Fees petition. The CDF has already organised three national days of action involving hundreds of students in over 50 universities, colleges and schools across the country in the largest protests and lobbies this academic year. Further action is planned in the autumn.

 6. The aims of the Campaign to Defeat Fees can unite all those who want to fight for free education. They are:

i. No to raising the cap on top up fees, scrap all university fees

ii. Write off all student debt

iii. No to top up fees and university fees in Scotland and Wales

iv. No to cuts, closures and privatisation in education

v.  For a living grant and living EMA for all students

vi. For a mass campaign of students and workers for free publicly funded education for all

 7. Fees cannot be fought by students alone. The CDF aims to link up all students who want to fight university fees, existing campaigns against cuts and closures, fighting students unions and workers, trade unionists and community campaigners fighting to defend public services. A party that fights for the scrapping of university fees and for a free publicly funded education system at all levels is urgently needed. The fight over the cap will make this need more clear in students, and others, minds. Supporters of the CNWP involved in fighting against fees will be able to win a large audience to the campaign.

 Campaigning against the BNP

8. The current crisis of political representation poses the question: ‘who can working class people vote for?’ Recognising this, the far-right, racist British National Party (BNP) has tried to position itself as a party for the ‘white working class’ and exploit the legitimate anger that many working-class people hold for New Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats. At a time when the bosses’ parties are so hated, there is no mass party that stands for all working-class people – whether black, white or Asian. This has allowed the BNP to gain some electoral support, such as Richard Barnbrook being elected onto the Greater London Assembly, by posing as an alternative.

9. Conference recognises the importance of campaigning against the BNP. Building the fight-back against the BNP in the trade unions and communities is vital. However, unless we can point to a real political alternative that can build a united fight for jobs, homes and services this campaigning will fall short. Just saying ‘Don’t vote BNP’ isn’t enough.

10. In order to distract attention from crumbling services, cuts and closures war and occupations, New Labour has pushed policies and propaganda against asylum seekers in particular, that play into the hands of racist groups such as the BNP. All mainstream politicians claim to oppose the BNP but it is their policies and their devotion to big business that are allowing the BNP to grow. By ignoring the needs of working-class people and helping the rich get richer whilst the rest of us pay the price, more and more workers are looking for an alternative to express their discontent. Unless a mass party of the working class is fought for the BNP could continue to gain electoral support from a layer of workers wanting to vote against the establishment parties.

11. We need to fight for a new party on a mass scale that can give a voice to those workers’ who quite rightly feel abandoned by New Labour. Only by linking up the struggle against the BNP with campaigning for a new workers party to fill the political vacuum that currently exists can we effectively challenge the root of their electoral growth.

12. Conference resolves to:

i. Produce specific CNWP campaign material on the fight against the far-right

ii. Actively participate in anti-BNP campaigning while putting forward the need for a new mass workers’ party

iii. In elections where the BNP stand, encouraging left independents, socialists, trade union & community campaigners to stand

iv. Helping in these campaigns and putting forward a united working class alternative to undercut the BNP and build support for the CNWP

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