"IT SEEMS that every 25 years when the Queen has a jolly, we have a strike."
OVER 300 people attended Socialism 2002, the Socialist Party’s annual weekend of discussion and debate. The ideas of workers’ solidarity, socialism and internationalism, inspired a number of first-time visitors to join the Socialist Party.
Nearly 250 of those attending came for the whole weekend and for many it was their first national political event. It was particularly noticeable the number of young people who attended.
There were two very successful and well-attended rallies at the weekend. At the first rally over £3,500 was collected for the Socialist Party fighting fund.
The high level of political discussion obviously inspired a desire for reading more about socialist ideas as over £1,000-worth of books were sold by Socialist Books at the weekend.
An inspiring weekend
Steve Godward, a Birmingham firefighter introduced the opening rally with a resounding call to support the firefighters’ strike action.
Steve explained how the massive majority for the strike had already forced Blair to come up with an ’independent review’ but: "Blair and Brown have already said there’s no money. They’re scared that if they give a pay rise to us they’ll have to give it to everyone else.
"Then they attack us and call us criminals. I’m a life-saver but Blair is a life-taker, he’s bombing Iraq daily and he bombed Afghanistan daily. He uses our taxes for bombs but not for the services we need and demand as a class."
Janice Godrich, president of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) explained how the Left and Socialist Party members in particular had had to battle against the extreme right-wing in the union to elect a fighting leadership and resist the right-wing’s coup attempt.
The Left were elected because they were prepared to tackle issues like low pay, safety at work and cuts and organise action to defend members’ interests.
"We didn’t shy away from issues like calling a national demonstration in defence of public services, which is now official union policy after a national conference decision."
She urged everyone to join the fight for democratic and campaigning trade unions who are prepared to stand up for their members’ rights at work and not just go along with government policy. "All socialists and trade unionists must do all they can to support the firefighters." The PCS have circulated all branches explaining how to do this.
"I’m looking forward to working alongside Mark Serwotka and other Left trade union leaders to release the potential of the TUC. To work together to provide a lead to millions of workers. New Labour recognise the potential of that power so that’s why these leaders are already under attack. We must have confidence in our members and our class to withstand these attacks. We as leaders must be champions of our class and put forward policies and programme to better workers’ lives."
Billy Hayes, general secretary of the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) recalled how the winter of discontent arose out of a pact between the trade union leaders and the government. It was the Labour government trying to hold down wages – similar to today – which eventually caused the explosion of discontent amongst workers.
Referring to the title of the rally "For a 24-hour public-sector strike to fight privatisation" he pointed out that BT privatisation had meant a halving of BT’s labour force.
Finishing on a positive note, looking forward to the battles ahead, he said: "I’m glad to be part of the so-called awkward squad. We reject social partnership, we oppose PPP and PFI, we support effective campaigns against racism and sexism, we support the democratisation of the movement."
Oliver Campbell, jailed for 12 years for a crime he did not commit, thanked the Socialist Party for the support given to him over the years, explaining how he was still fighting to clear his name.
Dave Nellist, leader of the Socialist group on Coventry city council exposed the hypocrisy of Bush and Blair’s war plans. "They just want another Saddam in Iraq – but one who’ll do as he’s told this time. They’ve nothing against dictatorships."
Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party brought the rally to an inspiring conclusion by explaining how this was a defining moment for the trade unions and the Labour Party. "All Blair needs now is a blond wig and a handbag to be Thatcher." With a £20 billion budget deficit New Labour are faced with tax increases or more attacks on public expenditure. The vilification of the FBU is part of an attempt to break the power of the public sector workers.
The trade unions are paying to a party which is savaging the working class, in a way which Thatcher only dreamed about, so the creation of a new mass workers’ party is an essential part of the forthcoming battles to defend and improve workers’ living standards
What did you think of Socialism 2002?
"I’VE ENJOYED the school a lot. People are very friendly and its good to be around people who share the same ideas as me. Its been very good in consolidating my own opinions and ideas. I particularly enjoyed the Marxism versus anarchism debate – that was very interesting – looking at the differences and similarities.
I’d definitely come again – we’re setting up an ISR group in Bristol so I’ll be coming along to the ISR national conference as well in November."
"THIS IS the first major national event I’ve been to and I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s really good to meet up with other active socialists and hear about the campaigns they’ve been running in their areas – as well as getting a better grasp of the Marxist theories. The hardest thing is trying to decide which of the meetings to go to.
But we’ve got 25 people here from Bristol so everyone can report back to our branches later on, so its really productive in loads of ways.
It’s also good coming here because you meet other young socialists. It’s really inspirational it makes you want to go back to your own area and build the movement yourself. "
Tom Baldwin, Bristol
"This weekend has confirmed my belief in socialism.
It’s given me ideas and shown me more that I don’t know and given me something to build on. I’ve only been a member for a few weeks and now I’m organising Socialist Students at Sheffield Hallam University!
I enjoyed the opening rally very much, I thought that Billy Hayes, Steve Godward and Janice Godrich spoke very well. The session on socialism vs anarchism was good, Hannah Sell’s introduction was clear and her arguments were very convincing."
Bob Severn, Sheffield
"I’ve been a member of the Socialist Party for a few months. I thought the rally was really good. I haven’t spoken at any of the meetings but I really enjoyed the session on the liberation of women. I’m definitely coming again next year!"
Jena Mckinley, Huddersfield
All the meetings I’ve been to have been really good, I spoke in the meeting on Socialism and women’s liberation. The rally was brilliant and I enoyed it although I didn’t sing!