Socialism 2003 took place over the weekend of the 28 and 29 June. Below are reports from the main rallies and interviews with participants.
Well over 400 people attended Socialism 2003, more than in any previous year. Despite holding some sessions twice, in order to make more room, many of the classrooms were uncomfortably full.
More important than the numbers that attended, however, was the mood of confidence and determination. There is no doubt that the Socialist Party’s excellent work in the anti-war movement, particularly our role in initiating the mass school student strikes, and more recently our intervention in the trade union conferences, has increased the self-assurance and party pride of our members. This was reflected in the superb fighting fund collection which raised a total of £7,115!
It was also shown by a number of faces from the past – Socialist Party members and ex-members who have not attended national events in recent years – but this year were moved to come to Socialism 2003.
The number of young people attending Socialism increases every year. However, this year was a qualitative improvement. It was noticeable that even those sessions traditionally attended overwhelmingly by more longstanding activists, such as the trade union perspectives discussion, were this year also packed full of young people.
Sixteen of those who attended filled in Socialist Party ’join cards’ over the weekend; five of them went one step further and joined the Socialist Party on the spot! Many more of the hundred plus non-Socialist Party members who attended thoroughly enjoyed Socialism 2003 and are keen to attend future Socialist Party events.
"Tremble you tyrants, the people are coming"
IT WAS standing room only for the brilliant rally which opened the Socialism 2003 weekend: After Iraq – the struggle against capitalism and war in the 21st century. The first two speakers were trade union activists.
DENNIS KEANE, president of the Irish public sector trade union CPSU, showed how the "Celtic tiger" economic boom in southern Ireland had left most workers behind, through such con-tricks as the Social Partnership deals. He also stressed the importance of having Joe Higgins as a Socialist Party TD (MP) in the Dail, Ireland’s parliament.
JOHN MACREADIE, PCS, showed what a great difference it had been to have a union led by left general secretary Mark Serwotka and president Janice Godrich. The PCS’s old right-wing leadership had tried to sack Mark and Janice but they had been beaten back by the membership.
In one of the highlights of the rally SARA YASSIN and KRISTINA THATA, two school students from West London, explained how they got involved in the anti-war movement. It was obvious that the war on Iraq was all about profits, prestige and domination.
They had started to organise in their school; young people had shown the way forward in the anti-war movement but demonstrations by themselves were not enough to stop the war.
They joined the Socialist Party and learned much about the responsibility of the capitalist system for war, poverty and trying to divide humanity through racism and sexism. They wanted to win many more young people to the Socialist Party.
VIRGINIE PRÉGNY, a leading teacher activist in Rouen, gave an inspiring report of the recent strikes and demonstrations in France that saw up to two million on the streets on 25 May. She described how the unions were forced to take action because of the pressure from their members and she stressed the importance of organisation and unity: "The capitalists are united and organised when it comes to fighting workers, we need to do the same."
PETER TAAFFE, general secretary of the Socialist Party, paid tribute to the 47 Liverpool councillors who put themselves on the line to defy Thatcher’s Tory government in the 1980s. Two of the councillors, Paul Astbury and Harry Smith, were present.
Peter described the crisis in Iraq – the deepening poverty, malnutrition amongst children having doubled in the last three months and the minimum 10,000 civilian casualties from the invasion. The economy has been destroyed and what’s left is being privatised, including the 90,000 workers in the oil industry.
Already there are the beginnings of a national uprising against the occupation, while at the same time the lies that Bush and Blair used to go to war are coming home to roost. Apparently, the job title of the officer responsible for drawing up the original WMD dossier is… ’Story Development Officer!
Workers are beginning to revolt against the attacks on their wages and conditions across Europe, as right-wing governments carry out the demands of big business. Under New Labour poverty is increasing – even Prince William has said that students are having a difficult time – and groups of workers are beginning to take action against low pay and privatisation.
Blair and New Labour have never been more unpopular – the latest polls are showing the Tories ahead for the first time – and the trade union leaders should be calling for a new workers’ party. Instead they say they are preparing to lead workers back into the party! If they are serious they should have a proper programme to transform the Labour Party, but the hatred of New Labour amongst the working class may go too deep.
The two million on the 15 February demo against war in Iraq were not just demonstrating against the war. Like the cry of the Sans-culottes in the French Revolution "tremble you tyrants, the people are coming" – the working class are coming now, and they will settle for nothing less than a complete change in society.
Roger Shrives and Ken Douglas
"MY NAME’S George and I’m being disciplined by New Labour." George GALLOWAY MP said he felt like he was at Alcoholics Anonymous – there were so many people at the final rally of Socialism 2003 who would be familiar with the experience of being witch-hunted by the Labour leadership.
Dave Nellist, also on the platform, was a Labour MP and one of the many Militant supporters hounded out of the Labour Party as part of its transformation into New Labour. (Militant supporters later went on to form the Socialist Party.)
George made a fiery and amusing speech as he showed his determination to fight the witch-hunt and to continue to challenge Blair’s support for George Bush’s wars for oil and influence.
"If a tingle went along Labour’s benches" he said "It wouldn’t have been able to find a spine to go up." Such was the regime inside New Labour now, where very few people have the guts to stand up to the leadership.
He condemned many of New Labour’s policies, including refusing to pay the firefighters £8.50 an hour for doing a dangerous job putting out fires at the same time as spending billions setting fire to other peoples’ countries.
He described how a young member of his staff had come into ask him for a pay rise because she was £19,000 in debt after finishing her degree. He contrasted her position and that of thousands of other young people, with that of the New Labour cabinet. "Most of them attended good universities, with grants and no fees to pay. Now they’ve kicked away the ladder." Young people are saddled with a mortgage from paying for their education, they will have a second mortgage to pay for their pension and will have to take out a third mortgage to actually buy a house!
The disciplinary procedures being invoked are likely to be completed in the Autumn, before the selection meetings for the Glasgow constituencies. George’s seat is one of the three being merged into two. As he left the rally to continue his speaking tour in Birmingham, he pledged to carry on the fight for socialist policies.
Dave Nellist reminisced about the weeks he spent sharing a room with Tony Blair, when they were newly-elected to parliament in 1983. Unfortunately Dave’s influence didn’t have much long-term effect on Blair’s political ideas!
"The Labour Party’s a prison and it’s time for a mass breakout" he said. But he pointed out there were no credible organisations on the Left in England and Wales which could attract the thousands of workers who would have looked to Labour in the past.
Arthur Scargill squandered an opportunity with the Socialist Labour Party, because the SLP was not open, democratic or inclusive and the Socialist Alliance has now fallen into the same undemocratic and exclusive trap. The main impetus has to come now from the trade unions to build a new workers’ party.
Alan McCoombes from the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) outlined the encouraging election results for the SSP, which had 6 MSPs elected on 1 May. The SSP is now a significant force in Scotland, with the RMT rail union likely to affiliate to the Party.
Hannah Sell of the Socialist Party’s executive committee brought the rally to an inspiring end. Using the example of the waves of strikes in France, she emphasised the need for a new workers’ party. But she explained that any moves towards unity on the Left should be on a sound, principled basis, with a programme which fights for the interests of the working class.
George Galloway’s campaign fund details:
Cheques etc should be made payable to: George Galloway Legal fund
Send to: Davenport Lyons solicitors, 1 Old Burlington St, London W1X 2NL, together with a contact address. Confidentiality will be respected.
Fighting for socialist ideas
Rob Williams, Socialist Party Wales candidate for the Aberavon constituency in the Welsh Assembly elections, made the financial appeal at the opening rally.
He talked about his election count and the faces of the Labour councillors, the same ones who were responsible for his expulsion from the Labour Party at the age of 18, as the results were announced. "These people are back", said the look and he suggested that this look would have been repeated up and down the country.
He talked about the proud record of the Socialist Party and its forerunners, Militant and Militant Labour.
The school student strikes against compulsory Youth Training Schemes in the early 1980s; the magnificent struggle of Liverpool Council, led by Militant councillors, that fought the Tories and built 5,000 council houses, sports centres, and introduced the 35 hour week for council workers.
The battle against the poll tax, which overthrew Thatcher; the successful campaign against water charges in Scotland; the campaigns against the BNP in the early 90s; and now the school student strikes against the war and the campaign for a new workers’ party.
Socialist ideas and an organisation that fights for socialist ideas have never been more necessary.
A fantastic £7,115 was raised.
Letter to the Socialist Party
"I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed Socialism 2003, and how it has inspired me.
I’ve been in the Socialist Party, and before it Militant, for about 20 years and witnessed many changes, in both the political situation and within the party itself.
I’ve also been through many difficult times in my own life and I’ve not always played as active a role as I would have liked. In the last few years I’ve suffered chronic ill health and have only become more active in the party within the last ten months. So it was with great enthusiasm that I attended this year’s weekend school and I was not let down.
It was good to see comrades of old, still keeping up the fight. But what impressed me were the huge number of people I didn’t know and especially the numbers of young people swelling our ranks.
As Trotsky said, "He who has the youth has the future", and I certainly feel that we do have the future!
This was also reflected in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Group meeting, in which six new young members attended. We should have a damned good intervention into London Pride this year!
Peter Taaffe’s session on ’Islamaphobia’ was so interesting and thought provoking. Tony Saunois’s session on ’Latin America & Cuba’ reminded me of the importance of international solidarity – with the daily difficulties we face, we can so easily forget the struggles of other workers around the world. It brought home the importance of building the Committee for a Workers’ International and how socialism cannot exist in one country alone!
But it wasn’t just good to hear the main speakers – in many ways it was more important to hear everyone’s contributions and questions, to hear about the work the comrades have been doing around the country in their own areas.
Thanks to everyone involved in organising Socialism 2003, and the Saturday night party – I look forward to next year!"