Lee Rock, CPGB representative on the Coalition of Resistance’s national council, reports on its first meeting
Readers of the Weekly Worker will recall that the COR conference on November 27 2010 ‘elected’ 122 people to the national council. In reality, everybody who put their name forward was accepted onto the NC. Although this makes for a rather unwieldy committee, this was clearly done in a spirit of inclusiveness and is therefore to be welcomed.
It is also a good sign that more than 70 actually turned up to the first meeting of the NC on January 15 in London. This emphasises the fact that COR is currently the main show in town when it comes to the myriad of anti-cuts campaigns that have sprung up since the election of the coalition government.
Another positive feature was the fact that – in stark opposition to plenty of other meetings I have been attending – representatives were honest and forthright about their political affiliation: There were nine or 10 members of John Rees’s group, Counterfire, seven representatives of Socialist Resistance and the same number from the Green Left. The Socialist Workers Party and Workers Power sent four comrades each, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty a couple. All in all, representatives of political organisations made up more than half of those present. Apart from an official representative from the Unite union, the rest of the committee appeared to be made up of non-aligned, local anti-cuts campaigners.
Interestingly, the only serious left group that did not send a representative was the Socialist Party in England and Wales. Or if it did, the comrade(s) concerned did not identify themselves as such and I did not recognise them. SPEW seems to have decided to continue on its sectarian trajectory and go it alone through its various front campaigns – be it Youth Fight for Jobs/for Education, the National Shop Stewards Network or the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party.
The meeting was opened by Andrew Burgin, who spoke about the need for militant action by users and providers of services under threat – and raised the possibility of taking over such services. It was said later, for example, that when libraries are earmarked fore closure, they should be occupied (Counterfire comrades in Doncaster reported that 14 libraries in the town were set to close). This is often easier done by the people who use the service, as opposed to those delivering it, comrades remarked.
Andrew also made reference to the ‘protocols’ agreed with other anti-cuts campaigns, making particular reference to the SWP’s oddly-named Right to Work campaign. An agreement has been negotiated to have a representative on the other’s steering committee and to avoid organising national activities on the same dates. Clearly, this is not enough. The various national campaigns must urgently merge in order to allow for effective national action against the attacks that are coming.
Chris Bambery, national secretary of RTW and a leading SWP member, then spoke of the good working relationship with COR. Chris went on to talk of the next national student action on January 29, adding that workers should walk out in support of the students. This seems highly improbable and it is unlikely to be a position that SWP members will be putting in their own workplaces. After all, the SWP comrades have been arguing not to go further than the demands of the union bureaucracy. But it certainly sounded militant in the confines of a meeting room.
Ex-SWP and now Counterfire member Clare Solomon, who has played a leading role in the militant wing of the student movement as president of the University of London Union, reported to the council about the weekly meetings of the London Student Assembly (see Weekly Worker January 13). Between 150 and 200 students attended the first meeting after the Christmas break on January 9, which hopefully indicates that students have not given up the fight. The demonstration on January 29 in London, despite the attempts by the National Union of Students leadership to undermine it by calling a demonstration in Manchester for the same day, will be an important test for our forces. It is, of course, cause for concern that a couple of hundred arrests have already taken place and that the police are still after many more.
After hearing these reports, the meeting dealt with the large number of amendments to the final ‘declaration’ that were referred to the national council at the COR conference in November. Most of them were fully supportable and caused no real disagreement (these can be read on the COR website).
The first real debate, which the chair unfortunately cut very short, was about support for a general strike. Moved by Jeremy Drinkall (Workers Power), it was not wanting COR to call a general strike, but simply calling for support for one. To revolutionaries, inspired by recent events in Europe and Tunisia, one might think such support non-controversial. Unfortunately not. Both the SWP and Counterfire argued against it. The line being that no trade union has (yet) called for it, so we should not be seen to pressurise them, presumably.
The amendment was lost by about two to one. The same result went for another amendment from Workers Power that simply stated: “We will fight with the official leaderships wherever possible and without them where necessary.” The only logic of opposing this is either the belief it just cannot be done – or the fear of upsetting the leadership of the so-called fighting unions.
A brief but interesting discussion took place around an amendment that stated: “Where they [local councillors] vote for cuts we will oppose them and encourage anti-cuts groups to stand against them.” This was overwhelmingly defeated, with Chris Bambery of the SWP stating it was not possible, as we cannot even get unity amongst the left. Chris unfortunately did not go on to speak on whether the SWP wanted unity amongst the left (Marxist or otherwise), and if so, what it was doing about it. Clearly, the need for Marxist unity in a single Communist Party remains an essential task for all Marxists today.
Whilst not happy with the wording of the amendment, I spoke in favour of it. I put forward the need for a political alternative in any election where all other candidates of the major parties were supporting cuts. Also, there would be no serious opposition to the likes of the British National Party, who are quite capable of picking up a lot of disgruntled protest votes. ‘Don’t vote BNP – vote for cuts’ is hardly a winning slogan.
Another unfortunate vote came with the defeat of an amendment moved by the AWL’s Daniel Randall: “COR also calls for a united left slate at NUS conference 2011, involving the National Campaign Against Cuts and Fees (NCAC), the Education Activists Network (EAN) and others to challenge NUS leaders who refuse to back the student protests.”
The SWP argued against the amendment, saying it was “not the role of COR” to encourage such unity. This could have been a purely sectarian manoeuvre – ie, the SWP is trying to make sure that COR does not become too successful. Or it might have been bowing to the NUS bureaucracy once more – after all, SWP comrades have been arguing against the abolition of student fees (because the NUS bureaucracy will not do so). In any case, the SWP certainly helped to prevent COR adopting a more militant outlook, along with their former comrades in Counterfire. They might have parted ways organisationally, but politically they are still conjoined twins.
One of the more humorous moments of the day came when some local anti-cuts activists complained that the morning had been spent talking politics. Even the old charge of “this is just a talking shop” was wheeled out. The idea that we can have a real coalition of resistance to the cuts and not talk politics is very naive. The cuts are a political attack and we must have a political response. It was worrying to see Dan Randall and other AWL members clapping enthusiastically for this nonsensical ‘no politics, please’ stance.
The afternoon concluded with the national council agreeing to increase its number to about 135, while the steering committee, which has been meeting on a weekly basis since May 2010, was augmented by the addition of around 10 new members. These include: Chris Bambery (RTW), Amy Leather (SWP), Brian Heron (People’s Charter), Bill Greenshields (Communist Party of Britain) and a representative of the CPGB.