Britain: NSSN anti-cuts strategy vindicated

Developments in SWP confirm Socialist Party’s arguments for NSSN anti-cuts campaign

On 22 January, 2011 the very successful National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) anti-cuts conference overwhelmingly agreed to launch an anti-cuts campaign (ACC).

An initial anti-cuts committee involving leading trade union and community anti-cuts activists was established (including Alex Gordon, president of the RMT and Ben Sprung, London regional organiser of the FBU).

Since the conference the NSSN ACC has supported and built for lobbies and demonstrations outside the Labour Local Government and Tory Spring conferences.

It also organised two very successful stages on the 26 March TUC demo, where thousands of workers heard the NSSN’s call to oppose all cuts and for the next step to be a 24-hour general strike against the cuts.

The increasingly important role the NSSN is playing in the anti-cuts movement means that the debates which took place at the beginning of the year on whether the NSSN should launch an anti-cuts campaign at all now seem a distant memory.

Events have quickly confirmed that the NSSN was right to do so.

Split from SWP

Nonetheless it is worthwhile briefly commenting on recent developments in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) because they have so clearly confirmed many of the points made by the Socialist Party in the debate at the beginning of the year.

In the run up to the January NSSN conference the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) was among the most vociferous opponents of an NSSN anti-cuts campaign being launched on the spurious grounds that it would unnecessarily divide the movement to launch another national anti-cuts campaign when Coalition of Resistance (CoR) and Right to Work (RtW) were already in existence.

In the anti-cuts movement there is rightly and inevitably a mood for unity. Nonetheless, as was understood by a large majority of delegates at the NSSN anti-cuts conference, to attempt to use that mood as a reason to oppose the NSSN launching its own anti-cuts campaign was completely disingenuous.

The NSSN has consistently argued for the maximum possible cooperation between the national anti-cuts campaigns. To give just two examples from recent weeks the NSSN invited RtW and CoR to speak on its stages at the TUC demo and has taken part in joint delegations to discuss with the TUC.

However, to merge the three campaigns into one organisation would only be a step forward if the net result was an open, democratic anti-cuts campaign organised around a clear, fighting programme.

Right to Work’s lack of democracy

The Socialist Party warned at the NSSN anti-cuts conference that the political approach and top-down methods of both CoR and RtW meant that this would not be the case.

Our warnings regarding the top-down approach of RtW have been confirmed by events that have taken place in the SWP over the last week.

Chris Bambery, secretary of RtW and longstanding SWP Central Committee member, has left the SWP along with a number of others. Both Chris Bambery’s resignation letter and the SWP CC’s reply demonstrate many aspects of the mistaken political approach and method of the SWP.

However, it is the points he makes on RtW which are of the most pressing importance for anti-cuts activists.

Bambery refers to RtW being "initiated in bizarre circumstances" and adds that he only found out about it when he read it in the SWP’s ’Party Notes’. This confirms that RtW is not a broad democratic anti-cuts organisation as Chris Bambery and the SWP have claimed, but is run by the SWP.

It was founded without a democratic discussion in the anti-cuts movement, or even within the ranks of the SWP, or even it seems on their Central Committee!

RtW was set up virtually overnight, without discussion, in order to try to create a rival to the NSSN, as the SWP Central Committee stated explicitly in their 2010 pre-congress discussion documents that said that this was because the NSSN was now "dominated by the Socialist Party with the RMT’s blessing".

As on previous occasions – such as in the Socialist Alliance – the SWP have taken a ’rule or ruin’ approach to the anti-cuts movement. The NSSN, which was founded by the RMT in 2006, has from the beginning had an open and democratic approach, bringing together militant workplace representatives from across the trade union movement.

After RtW was launched in 2009 the NSSN steering committee passed a resolution which stated:

"We view therefore with some concern the setting up of the Right To Work (RTW) by the SWP and their allies which is attempting to occupy the same ground as the NSSN, to appeal to the same union branches and national unions.

"This will only confuse the situation in the eyes of workers and has the potential to fragment the fight-back.

"We note that previous attempts of this character have failed, because, unlike the NSSN they have not been firmly rooted in the unions and workplaces, and have not been seen as an open unifying force."

The NSSN steering committee has been proved correct regarding RtW. And when the NSSN came to discuss founding a national anti-cuts campaign, it took a fundamentally different approach, setting aside a whole day for a democratic discussion at its anti-cuts conference on whether to launch a new campaign – with equal speaking rights for and against doing so.

Chris Bambery also states that internal arguments in the SWP have brought RtW "near to derailment". The SWP CC’s reply refers to Chris Bambery, as RtW national secretary, "not effectively helping to build a broad Right to Work".

While they disagree on who is to blame both parties accept that RtW has not developed in a healthy way.

Yet this is the organisation that was counterposed to the NSSN!

If NSSN activists had listened to the SWP and others there would have been no effective intervention by the national anti-cuts organisations into the magnificent demonstration on 26 March.

Instead the NSSN was able to intervene very effectively to popularise a programme to defeat the cuts.

Mistaken approach to Labour

We have dealt with the mistaken political approach of the leadership of RtW (and CoR) in detail elsewhere, in particular their determination to build up New Labour councillors as leaders of the movement.

Our view is that, where councillors vote against cuts we should fully support them. However, we warned at the time of the NSSN conference that there were very few examples indeed of Labour councillors pledging to vote against cuts and that RtW and CoR were misleading the movement by creating illusions that Labour councils would stand and fight by their side.

By contrast the NSSN has warned from the start that it would be necessary to organise a struggle against both the government and local councils in order to defeat the cuts.

For this the NSSN was attacked as sectarian. However, since then our warnings have been proved correct as every Labour council in the country has wielded the axe handed to them by central government leading to hundreds of thousands of job losses.

No wonder that, at a London anti-cuts meeting on 9 April, with fifteen local anti-cuts campaigns represented, including those led by RtW and CoR, for the first time no-one could oppose our consistent position that the anti-cuts movement cannot give uncritical platforms to Labour councillors who vote for cuts.

Unfortunately, in the same week, a RtW public meeting in Leicester had a Labour councillor who had voted for cuts as the main speaker, with the speaker from the SWP also emphasising the need to keep working with Labour councillors even though they had voted to lay off 1,000 workers.

The role that RtW has played is one of many instances where the fundamentally mistaken approach of the leadership of the SWP has acted to weaken the forces of socialism and the labour movement in Britain.

The working class in Britain is now entering a period of tumultuous struggle where the correct programme, strategy and tactics will have a decisive effect on the outcome of coming battles.

The Socialist Party will continue to argue for the maximum possible unity with other forces on the left, but around a clear programme that will increase, rather than decrease, the prospects for victories.

We appeal to members of the SWP, and to those that have left, to fundamentally reassess the programme and methods of their party in order that it can play a positive role in the coming battles.

Available from Socialist Books: "Socialism and Left Unity"

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by Peter Taaffe

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April 2011