TUSC conference report

Rob Griffiths of the Communist Party Last Saturday’s (September 22nd) conference of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) was attended by about a hundred people, about seventy of whom were members of the Socialist Party (SP), six or seven were with a delegation from the RMT, five or six were SWP members and there were four Socialist Resistance (SR) supporters.

What made the conference important, as far as SR was concerned, was that two of its three sessions were devoted to the development of TUSC. The first session was on working class political representation and the third on the future structures of TUSC. Organisations supporting TUSC, but not necessarily affiliated to it, were invited to make submissions.

TUSC for the first two and a half years of its existence has had a federal structure with representatives of the affiliated organisations, the Socialist Party, the SWP, the Independent Socialist Network (ISN) and the RMT forming a steering committee with some individual appointees. There has been no provision for individual membership or for the election (or reelection) of the Steering Committee itself. If an individual wants to join he or she is required to join the ISN, an organisation which had been created internally for that purpose.

SR made a submission on developing the structures of TUSC based on individual membership, one-person-one-vote and an elected leadership body with provision for trade union representation (see below). These are issues which are important in the struggle for broad pluralist party of the left in England.

The other thing which made the conference important for us is that it would give us the opportunity to raise the issue of SR’s affiliation to TUSC, which had been refused on two occasions over the past two years by the Steering Committee: first in December 2010 and again in December 2011. We tabled a resolution to the conference on this which is also reproduced below.

RMT bombshell

The conference was heavily dominated by the SP. Dave Nellist chaired and gave a political introduction; Hanna Sell spoke on behalf of the organisation and Roy McInally spoke in his capacity as a PCS official.

Alex Gordon, speaking on behalf of the RMT, in the first session dropped a bit of bombshell. He had said that objective conditions for building mass left-wing parties are difficult. There is a deep instinct to vote Labour as lesser evil among working class voters. He said that the RMT is determined that TUSC would continue to have a federal structure, a view that was repeated throughout the day by RMT speakers.

He said that the current situation, in which the RMT was the only union officially affiliated to TUSC, is very unsatisfactory. TUSC supporters who were present and were members of unions had to redouble their efforts to get their unions to affiliate. He explained that this means affiliation of the entire union, not just the support of individual EC members.

His insistence that TUSC needs to win more support in the unions was followed by very clearly expressed warning that the RMT will not stick around as the only affiliated union in TUSC. He demanded that socialists deliver broader support in their unions if his union is to remain in it. Just so there was no room for doubt he said twice that the RMT would walk away if this did not happen. This bombshell was dealt with by being ignored for the rest of the day.

Charlie Kimber of the SWP gave an assessment of the period we could agree with. He went on to add that the key method of fight back is in workplaces, streets, and colleges. He spoke of the need for a new political party adding that some of us have recognised need to unite to put forward electoral alternative, though he didn’t go into detail about what if might look like. He was one of the few speakers who referred to SYRIZA and Bradford. He was very critical of Galloway pointing out that the weakness of a reliance on individuals has been shown by meltdown following his remarks on rape.

No speaker from SR was taken in the first two sessions, which was not a good start, but the final session on structures was worse. It was also the shortest of the day’s three sessions. There were opening contributions from the SWP, the SP, and the ISN. The chair then made clear that no speakers would be taken from the floor and that not all of those who had tabled submissions would get to speak either.

The Steering Committee had met before the conference and had decided to call on us to remit our resolution on affiliation to a future meeting of itself to which we could make the application. In other words it would be remitted to the same Committee which has rejected us on two previous occasions. Our situation currently is that we can give TUSC money, do the leg work at elections, and even stand as candidates but we given no role in any national decision making process.

When Alan Thornett for SR intervened to say that we were not prepared to remit our resolution on affiliation and ask when it would be taken we were told that the resolution would not be taken at all because the conference was not empowered to deal with it. It was a non-voting and non-decision-making conference. When we asked for an indicative vote that was refused as well. The reason given was that no votes would be taken was because there was an overwhelming majority of SP members present, so they’d be certain to win any vote. Why it should be necessary for every member an organisation to vote in an identical manner on every issue was not explained.

Federalism is a barrier to growth

SR was then given three minutes to introduce both our resolution on affiliation and our submission on structures. Alan Thornett spoke explaining the context of our application for affiliation and the need for TUSC to adopt a democratic and open structure. He said that in his view the federal structure has been there for two and a half years was now an obstacle and there was now an urgent need for one-person-one-vote system and an elected leadership body established. The chance of getting individual political activists to join an organisation in which they will then have no say or vote on anything as a part of the structure is pretty remote. The federal system is now a barrier to the development of TUSC.

Nick Wrack and Pete McLaren of the Independent Socialist Network argued forcefully for our affiliation and a place on TUSC’s leadership. Mark Thomas of the SWP made the same point rather more delicately. Nick Wrack, who had submitted a paper on structures with many similar points to SR supported a lot of what Alan Thornett had said, though he said not the tone. Dave Hill was also called to speak on the Brighton resolution calling for our affiliation. Clive Heemskeerk, on behalf of the SP acknowledged that the request had been received but offered no explanation for the lack of formal responses over the last two years.

Dave Nellist said that our third request for affiliation will be discussed at a future meeting of TUSC’s steering committee (which will not be the October one, however) and we’ll be invited to explain it there. We may also be allowed to put our submission to the body reviewing TUSC structures.

A speaker from Walsall forcefully echoed our critique about the absence of any mechanism for individual members to have a say in decision-making. He went on to complain that despite paying money every month to the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party, and at the last meeting it held the aim was to develop it into a broad left party, no one had bothered to let him know it had been put in the deep freeze. His was the reaction that most people you’d want to recruit to a left party would have.

On the broader political level the conference felt like an ecology free zone. There was not a single mention of it from start to finish.


Build a broad pluralist party of the left- Socialist Resistance leaflet and resolutions to the conference

Dear sisters and brothers

The need for a new broad and inclusive party to the left of Labour will no doubt be common ground at today’s conference. This need has existed for over 20 years, and not just in Britain but across Europe as social democracy has marched to the right and adopted the full neo-liberal agenda. TUSC has provided a radical electoral anti-austerity alternative under difficult conditions for the left with the severity of both the economic and ecological crises.

George Galloway’s victory in the Bradford West by-election in March this year with a majority of 10,000 is clear proof that the space still exists for such a party in England, despite the subsequent evolution of Respect.

In Greece we have seen the spectacular rise of Syriza, a broad and pluralist coalition of the left, which in June came close to winning the general election with 27% of the vote – an achievement which has placed it in the vanguard of the anti-austerity struggle and has reignited the need for such parties across Europe.

How such a new party in England should be organised and structured, however, and the organisational principles on which it should be based, remains a subject of debate. We welcome the fact that TUSC has opened a discussion on this as far as its own development is concerned and we are pleased to make a contribution to it. Our contribution is based on our experience of a range of political experiences in Britain across Europe and beyond.

In our view the aim of TUSC should be to help to create, and to be a part of, a broad, pluralist and democratic party to the left of Labour. This needs to be based on the widest possible unity if it is to effectively address the unresolved crisis of working class representation. Such a party should seek to embrace a range of radical forces, both those with revolutionary politics and left-wing anti-austerity activists from other political traditions both political and ecological. It should move towards becoming an individual membership party with affiliated organisations having the right to form recognised platforms inside it. It should seek to stand in elections on the widest possible basis and at the same time establish itself as an activist organisation fully involved in the unions and the campaigns.

It will take some time to build the kind of mass party we need. Unity is difficult to build. So, at the

same time as it builds itself, TUSC has to work with other forces on the left. It will not be possible to effectively build TUSC without first building common campaigns both inside and outside of electoral periods. TUSC cannot build itself as just an electoral party, rising and falling with elections and not effectively functioning between them. It needs to act politically, and build its own grass roots base of support separate from the SP and SWP’s infrastructure.

As we say in our submission: ‘The key to building such a party is that it has both a fully democratic structure and a fully democratic internal culture and functioning if it is to reach out and achieve the level of unity which is both possible and crucial.’

Such an approach, however, which reflects the way some of the most successful broad left parties across Europe are organised, is not well served by the federal (which in practice means top-down) structure around which TUSC is currently organised. The lesson for us of the past 20 years of the numerous attempts to build such parties in Britain is that a federal structure – an arrangement between organisations without individual membership – is not the best answer.

We are not against federal structures in all circumstances. Such structures might be necessary in order to get a new initiative off the ground, as in the early development of TUSC, or as a temporary electoral arrangement. In our view, however, it is not an alternative to a broad-based and pluralist party since it renders individual members who are not members of a component organisation powerless. It replaces the democratic procedures of a party with negotiations between its component organisations. It also means that, in reality, most political life takes place within the component organisations rather than the broad organisation itself. Affiliated organisations, therefore, should take active steps to ensure that individual members feel that they have a real possibility of influencing a decision-making processes which they are in a position to dominate.

Clive Heemskerk accepts that there is a problem here in his article in the current Socialist where he says: “However it is not an ideal arrangement as TUSC develops in the future. One dilemma is how to involve individual supporters of TUSC who are not leading trade unionists or members of the Socialist Party or the Socialist Workers Party (who both have representation on the steering committee), while not diluting the role of the trade unions as currently enshrined.”

Of course the full representation of the trade unions is hugely important for any organisation that wants to build a political alternative. But provision for this can be made without restricting democracy. One member one vote is the basic democratic principle which allows the individual member, who is not a member of an affiliated organisation, to have rights and influence. Without that the reality is that very few will join even if there is a special organisation, such as ISN, created set up for them to join.

It is instructive that the lessons that Syriza has drawn from its electoral battles in June and in their preparation for the next elections, which might not be far away, is that it needs to change to a full party structure based on one person one vote. Syriza in any case had already moved beyond a coalition and had adopted many of the features of a party. It had both affiliated organisations and individual members, though the individual members were not fully represented. It had an extensive local branch structure. It already had a Political Bureau on which all affiliated organisations were represented. It had National Committee which included the affiliated organisations, geographical areas, its youth organisation and trade unions as well as individual members. It also had an ecology commission, a women’s network, an LGBT group, and it has a policy making conference every two years.

Finally, Socialist Resistance has been trying to join TUSC since it was launched at the end of 2010. We have made two applications but were rejected on both occasions, first in December 2009 and then in December 2011. We are now appealing to this conference to agree that we should be a member organisation of TUSC with representation on the steering committee. We hope that you will support our resolution to this end which we think would broaden and strengthening TUSC. We look forward to working with other comrades in TUSC, in the SP, the SWP, the ISN and sympathetic unions.

Socialist Resistance submissions for this conference

1) Resolution

That Socialist Resistance is accepted as a member organisation of TUSC with representation on the TUSC Steering Committee.

2) Proposal on the future of TUSC and its structures.

The text below is a submission to the conference in response to the appeal for a discussion on the future organisation and structures of TUSC. It is not a draft constitution (it therefore does not attempt to cover everything) but proposes a set of principles which would define the kind of party TUSC should seek to be and how it should be organised.

The first part (a) sets out the broader aims and the second part (b) proposes a number of organisational changes designed to take TUSC in that direction.

a) The future development of TUSC

The aim of TUSC, in a period of acute economic, political and ecological crisis, draconian attacks on the working class, and the failure of social democracy to offer an alternative, is to build, and be part of, a broad, pluralist, and democratic party to the left of Labour, on the basis of the widest possible unity of the left, in order to address the continuing crisis of working class representation. It should seek to embrace a range of radical forces (individuals and organisations) including include those who have embraced a revolutionary perspective and those who have not.

The key to building such a party is that it has both a fully democratic structure and a fully democratic internal culture and functioning if it is to reach out and achieve the level of unity which is both possible and crucial.

Such a party should seek to stand in elections on the widest possible basis and at the same time establish itself as an activist organisation fully involved in the unions and the campaigns.

b) In order to move in this direction TUSC should be developed along the following lines:

1) It should give a high priority to developing relations with other organisations of the radical left. This to include electoral arrangements where possible.

2) It should seek to develop the strongest possible relations with the trade union left.

3) The structure of TUSC should be: local branches, a National Committee (NC) and a national conference as the highest decision making body.

4) It should become an individual membership party.

5) Organisations of the left, which support TUSC, should have the right to affiliate with guaranteed representation on the NC. Members of such organisations should join TUSC as individual members.

6) Affiliated organisations should take active steps to ensure that individual members of TUSC can feel that they have a real possibility of influencing the decision-making processes.

7) Trade unions should be urged to affiliate, with guaranteed representation on its leading bodies.

8) There should be priority representation on the NC for leading trade unionists who support TUSC on an individual basis.

9) The national conference would elect the individual members of the NC who would sit alongside the reps from the supporting organisations and the unions.

10) The NC should function as much as possible by consensus.

  1. A very good and accurate report and one i agree with although not a member of Soialist Resistance.
    The TUSC conference could have been so much bigger (such a deliberate poor turn out from the SWP) and better and most of all it could have moved to a member led structure but did not. It felt all over again like the old dsys of Respect when the SWP and GG did not want Respect to become a Party and used their control to make sure it did not happen until it was too late – this time it was the SP using what control they had.

    For me the worse part of the conference (and there were some good contributions as well)was the failure to allow even a vote of interest on the SR resolutions. We also failed to use the conference as a “public face” for other trade union members and the public for which it needed to be much much bigger with invited guest speakers (the CPB[Morning Star] were invited and made the most depressing predictable speech of the day).

    Perhaps SR and the ISN should talk together to see how we can each work together in TUSC to make it a more democratic organisation. You have my full support for affliation and a full place on the TUSC Natioanl Steering Committee and i will fight alongside you for this in TUSC.

  2. Neil is right about the speech by Rob Griffiths from the CPB being depressing, it was a bit an omission from our report. I have heard Rob speak on this subject a number of times over the past 5 or 6 years and this was the most stridently reclaim Labour contribution I have heard him make. Previously you got the impression that there was at least some kind of debate going on in the CPB about the subject but in this speech it came across as a settled position. Any chance of involving the CPB in the left of Labour political party, or even a coalition, in the foreseeable future is clearly out of the window.

  3. my impression of this report is that tusc is over as a serious electoral group if it ever was. non of the problems in the report are likely to be solved and tusc will just be a facility for socialists who want to stand outside of labour, green, respect, plaid cymru/snp, to do so as a protest rather than a serious attempt. tusc additionally looks set to be a negative affair that does not create its own programme and values.
    i do not know who could now create an electoral socialist party in the current situation a trades union party is a non-starter, the social movement left activists are atomised and either pessimistic, hostile to parties or just in the greens or labour. the far-left are the only people left who could do this but it could only really be done by them if a substantial block of parties including the swp were to form a one and again im not sure there would be a will to stick at it given past expierence.

  4. I despair at the obvious hostility towards Socialist Resistance. In my eyes, and mind their polemics are sounder than the rest. All who contributed to this blog’s discussion have said Alan Thornett has given a fair appraisal in his above report.

  5. A very interesting report. I also made a written submission on individual membership, I agree with SRs submission completely. I hope they will finally accept your membership, I cannot for the life of me understand why they are so reluctant.

  6. Neil, the whole thrust of our proposals on the day was to make TUSC into an open, attractive, democratic organisation. As it’s presently constituted there is no obvious reason why an individual activist would want to join.

    Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that you wanted to get something added to TUSC’s programme or amended in the constitution. First you’d have to win the argument in the ISN and then have a similar discussion in the larger organisation. Essentially, being a member of TUSC requires a person to be in two organisations. To most people that seems odd.

    My personal view, and it’s no more than that, is that if the main players in TUSC wanted SR to be in they could have acknowledged receipt of our two previous applications. Equally, on Saturday the SP could have done what the SWP and ISN did, which was to say that they felt that SR should be admitted. The choice as final speaker of someone who argued against our positions was not accidental. On reflection, it’s not altogether clear on what basis he was called other than to send a clear signal in public.


  7. And the cock crowed thrice and TUSC denied democratic universal participation three times. What a sordid sorry state large sections of the British left are wallowing in.

  8. As a former SP member I can tell you they do not regard SR as significant enough to allow to join. The SP cannot ignore the SWP (they would if thy could). But they don’t regard SR has having an industrial presence of sufficient importance to warrant having to listen to you within the structures of TUSC.

    Make of that what you will….

  9. Thanks for that information Mark. It’s a very strange argument if that’s the position of the SP. There is representation of the Independent Socialist Network (ISN) on the steering committee and I hadn’t heard that they had a strong industrial presence.

  10. The report of the TUSC conference makes very very frustrating reading. Lewisham PBP would welome SR comrades attending our meetings in Lewisham to discuss alterative ways of building a new party of the left based on community campaigns. Nick Long 07515113390

  11. I have now republished the excellent Socialist Resistance TUSC conference report on my United Left blog for more people to see and read it (there are also other TUSC conference reports on the same site) – see link by my name.

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