Some thoughts on the People’s Convention

Alan Thornett reports that Saturday’s People’s convention  — jointly organised by the Right To Work Campaign (RtWC), the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) and the Disabled People’s Against Cuts (DPAC) — was a useful event, with some 500 or 600 people discussing how to fight the cuts for a day.

The morning session was dominated by an interesting if slightly ritualised debate on the role of councillors and local government essentially between the Socialist Party through its National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) through RTWC. There were 4 opening speakers to the debate: Charlynne Pullen, a Labour councillor for Islington, Michael Lavelette and independent socialist councillor from Preston, Dave Nellist and SP councillor from Coventry, and Barry Buitekant, a Labour councillor from Hackney.

Attempts by the SP to argue that the RTWC was ‘not against all cuts’ came to nothing as speakers from the RTWC made their position absolutely clear, as did speakers from the LRC.

There was more substance, however, in the debate around the role of Labour councillors — which appears to be an obsession with the SP. They seemed to be arguing for a fight back against the cuts led by Labour councils who have adopted deficit budgets and therefore in a confrontation with the government. If only! There were many references to Poplar, Clay Cross and Liverpool.

Just as at the NSSN conference SP speakers accused the RTWC of having Labour councillors on their platforms who, despite campaigning against the cuts, were not yet pledged to vote against cuts budgets in their council chambers.

There was a sharp debate around it. Charlynne Pullen, for example argued that whilst she was campaigning against the cuts, was mobilising for March 26th, and was doing everything she could to minimise the cuts in Islington in the end she was not prepared to vote the budget down. This, she argued, was because Eric Pickles would then take control and implement cuts which would be even more damaging to the poor and vulnerable than the budget proposed by the Labour Group an updating of the “dented shield” policy.

Barry Buitekant said that the good news he could report from Hackney was that a small group of Labour councillors, including himself, were not prepared to vote for the up-coming cuts budget. After prolonged applause, however, he said that the bad news was that they had not yet decided to vote against it!

Apart from these two speakers everyone else in the conference called on councillors to vote against cuts budgets when they came up. This included Darren Johnson (who is a Green Party councillor in Lewisham) who said that he had already voted against such a budget and intended to do so in the future.

There was a sharp division, however, over the attitude anti-cuts campaigners should have to Labour councillors who were against the cuts but not yet persuaded to vote against in the budget votes. The SP (who are clearly still on a leftist trajectory) argued that they should be denounced and kept off of anti-cuts platforms. Most others, however, including Michael Lavelette and the SWP argued that they should be drawn into the campaign which should seek to build up local resistance in order to give them the confidence to vote against when the budget came up. Thousands of people, it was argued, demonstrating outside of the council chamber on budget night would be the best way to give them such confidence.

This approach was set out most clearly by Pete Firmin from the LRC, who reminded the conference that we were in a very different situation from the 1980s as far as the level of trade union struggle was concerned and this put the struggle around local government in a different situation. Today, he argued, the number of councillors who have said they would vote against cuts budgets is minuscule and the pressure on councillors to do so from the unions as national level was none-existent. None of the unions at national level had urged their members who are councillors to do this and in the case of UNITE it had urged then not to do so. Barry Buitekant, when he replied to the debate said that he had not had a single approach from any of the unions in Hackney asking him to vote against the budget.

One very striking thing about the day was the role played by Disabled People Against Cuts, who are rightly outraged at the attack tacking place against disabled people in the course of the cuts. They brought most of the new material into the conference and made a number of the most effective speeches which included harrowing descriptions of the consequences of the abolition of the Disability Living Allowance, which is a whole subject in itself.

The elephant in the corner was the issue of the unity of the anti-cuts movement. In this the SP, unsurprisingly, were pursuing their own course. SWP speakers, however, called for it and it was the main theme of a very good speech from Andrew Bergin who gave greetings from the Coalition of Resistance (CoR).

Probably the weakest part of the conference, in terms of the cuts themselves, was on the NHS – given the scale of what is represented by the attack on the NHS which is taking place. Although it was referred to from time to time there was no platform speaker on it and no workshop.

There was no mention of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition’s (TUSC) plans for the May elections. Dave Nellist was the only person to mention TUSC but there was no response from the SWP about it. Nor was there any TUSC literature on offer that I was able to find from anyone. This seems a bit if an omission with the elections only 12 weeks away.

The amazing events of the Egyptian revolution were rightly a theme throughout the day and it referred to with great effect by John McDonnell in his closing speech when he said that the issue on March 26th was not just how many people went on the demonstration, but whether they went home at the end of the day!

  1. Interesting report Alan. One correction though – there was a workshop on the NHS, and there was a report from the workshop in the final session.

  2. I think this is an interesting debate around defict budgets. You cannot run a deficit budget because local councils cannot borrow money. Ulitmately if you are in control of the council and have a defiict budget the money runs out and you have to stop services and make people redundant. This is what happened in Liverpool. You end up taking part of the blame for the cuts and deflect attention from the real culprits. It is beeter to vote against all cuts and if you are a majority resign on mass when the funds are delivered from central governmnet. Demand proper funding with ways of raising the money. When it does not materialis resign and let the condems implement the cuts locally. That is also the problem with the needs budgets to. We should ask councillors who are agisnt the cuts to resign to and organise action – demos and strikes – against the cuts demanding more funding and with concrete measure to raise more money.

  3. Thornett makes another major right-wing turn!

    Thornett is capitulating to the right wing Social Democrats in not posing demands on not to implement the Tory-Lib Dem cuts. The pessimistic rationale that the workers are at a lower stage of struggle than the 1980s is a wrong assessemt and such conservatvism is always the hallmarks of Trade Union and Social Democratic Bureaucracies. Remember what Cannon said about the Cochanites!

    In reality there are potentially millions of workers and layers of the middle class can be mobilized as the Conservative Bourgeois elements are not leaving them any way out. Trotsky said one of the conditions for revolution is that the masses have no way out. The Independent said on Sunday that there could be the same size demonstration during March 26th as the stop the Iraq war march on February 15th 2003. Trade Union Bureaucrats are being forced to organize it due to mass pressures building up.

    Thornett is classicaly insular not seeing how the revolutioanry upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt could impact on Britain. You, Thornett are commiting political suicide with the radialising youth and millions of workers, combined with the middle class who want the labour movement to fight. The publication of your new book on the 1960s and 1970s with your line of not posing demands on labour councillers is a left cover for capitulating to the labour bureaucrats. Ralphie who I will have no relations becasue of his line on Sheridan makes correct criticisms of Thornett from the left on calling on Social Democrats to fight cuts because otherwise mass despair will set in. Due to a middle and working class radicalization I have been writing on my blog the Fascists have been marganlized over the past 12 months.

    If Social Democray betrays this radicalization Fascism could become a greater threat with middle class despair effecting the Lumpenproletariat. Your ultra-leftism from 1995 played into the hands of the BNP due to not challenging Blairism effectively and not participating in millions of workers experiences with Social Democracy so a revolutioanry leadership is forged. Then you strengthened the FN in the medium-term with your opportunist turn on supporting right wing Bourgeois politician: Chirac. Two years ago I-read Trotsky’s “Whither France” and Daniel Guerin’s “Fascism and Big Business” where they correctly argued that voting for Bourgeois candidates is supporting Capital pauperizing the middle class.

    Thornett’s new capitulatory turn on right wing Social Democratic or even Blairite Councilers will have the disastrous effects I have mentioned. The radicalization is so big they will not get away with it. The Social Democrats and Liberal Bourgeoisie will not sit around and allow the revolutionaries to gain a mass base. Trotsky made this point at the 3rd world congress of the Comintern against Ultra-Lefts who believed Social Democracy could be outmanouvred easily. Thornett is using formalistic arguments about the weakness of the Trade Union left compared to the 1980s and downplays possibility of even bigger mass struggles which could break out. In May 2007 on my blog I predicted the ruling class could be so crude having so many victories go so far it could reverse their sucesses by dialectically turning into its opposite of causing mass upheavals. Since the May 2010 general election there is a mass middle and working class youth radicaliazation; Social Democracy is strengthening their position within the Labour Party; and could be mass workers demonstrations and strikes.

    In France the Bourgeois media are suggesting the FN could reach the 2nd round of the Presidental election during April 2012. This is premature as the rise of world revoluton could marginlize them again. The ex-LCR’s capitulation to Popular Front pressures on Chirac led to the middle class to lose confidence in them which led to the rise of Sarkozy. Now with him in crisis Fascism is re-emerging as a major danger due to the middle class having no confidece in ex-LCR!

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