SWP respond to the SSP letter

Nigel Irritable nigel_irritable at yahoo.com
Thu Dec 12 10:06:22 MST 2002


Below you can find a letter from the Socialist Workers
Platform of the SSP to the SSP executive.

Some of the points made are accurate enough, but it
does its best to avoid the substance of many of the
issues raised by the earlier SSP letter and much of it
is just plainly dishonest.

When reading the correspondence it is important to
bear in mind that "Red Watch" is not a paper produced
by FBU rank and filers, but a publication put out by
the SWP to aid its intervention into the dispute.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with that but the
sustained pretence to the contrary in the letter below
is disengenuous.

As a final aside, I nearly choked on my tea when I got
to the paragraph just before the conclusion:

"Secondly on your criticisms of the Socialist Alliance
& the International Socialist Tendency we suggest you
take these matters up with them directly. We fail to
understand what this has got to do with us."

---------------------------------------------------

Reply to SSP EC From Socialist Worker Platform


Dear Allan Green


Your letter of 1 December is a serious complaint about
the conduct of
the SW Platform. The SWPlatform has been accused of
activities in
relation to the firefighters strike, which supposedly
result from our
implementing the strategy of the SWP in England and
Wales rather than
that of the SSP. In particular, SW Platform members
are said to have
promoted the rank and file paper Red Watch rather than
SSP
publications, to have built united front local support
groups and
meetings rather than SSP city wide ones, and to have
abstained from
delivering the SSP election bulletin. You claim that "
the swplatform
basically is organising and co-ordinating activity as
if it is a
separate party and one in competition with the SSP"
You also claim
that " these actions breed confusion & are
unnecessarily divisive"



None of this is true. The SWPlatform is entirely
committed to
building the SSP and to securing maximum
representation in the
Scottish Parliament. We have not done anything that
contradicts SSP
Policy. We have not done anything that contravenes SSP
membership
guidelines. We have not done anything that breaches
the agreement
that the SWP and SSP reached when SWP members joined
the SSP in
Scotland. We have not sold SWPlatform literature in
public, nor have
we used SSP public meetings to promote either our
Platform or the
International Socialist Tendency.



We are therefore concerned that your letter is part of
an attempt to
portray SWPlatform members as not playing a full part
in the build up
to the elections, and more seriously of undermining
the unity of
socialists in the SSP. SWPlatform members activities
along with other
SSP comrades, over the period of the firefighter's
strike have been
focussed on building both solidarity for the fire
fighters & support
for the SSP.



It would have been more in keeping with the dictates
of natural
justice had we been asked to provide evidence that
this is not the
case before you wrote your letter & presented it to
the EC, or issued
it to the email list. However, instead of inviting us
to respond and
then considering the evidence on both sides, you have
taken it upon
yourself to play the role of judge and jury in simply
deciding that
the accusations are true. When we hear of such
practices in our trade
unions or the Labour Party, socialists have rightly
been the first to
complain.



Our attitude to the SSP is not, as you claim, to treat
it as a kind
of United Front (even if one of a 'special type'); it
is to build the
Party as a political alternative to Labour in Scotland
and as a space
for socialist discussion and organization. But we
should be very
clear at the same time that the alternative we seek to
build is not
only electoral. We do not counterpose strike
solidarity work to the
election campaign. They all strengthen each other. The
4-page SSP
election broadsheet is good precisely because it
addresses wider
issues.


It is the firefighter's strike, however, which has
brought a number
of extremely important political issues - such as the
difference
between rank and file and broad left strategies and
the proper
relationship between socialists and the trade union
bureaucracy -
into sharp focus. But rather than open up debate on
these issues,
your paper, which you purport to have the backing of
the EC, appears
to be attempting to block off discussion by
bureaucratic fiat. In
other words, any positions which are contrary to the
views of
the `majority' will simply be dismissed as
manifestations of
SWPlatform activity, and so discussion and debate can
be avoided.



But National Conference is the sovereign policy-making
body of the
SSP, not the Executive Committee or the National
Council, whose role,
as the constitution states, is to 'implement'
Conference policy. We
do not feel our actions have contradicted in any way
the spirit of
building a new type of `inclusive, pluralist party'.
However,
unfortunately, the behaviour and attitude of some SSP
members have
led to some of our platform comrades feeling alienated
within the
party. We would prefer differences of opinion to be
solved by
political discussion and debate, not hectoring which
some of our, in
particular, younger comrades have experienced.







The SSP's sovereign body, the National Conference,
supports the
building of rank and file organisations in our unions.
The motion
passed at Conference 2002 noted the 'growth of left
organisations
within the unions, which offer a strategy based on
rank and file
militancy and a challenge to the bureaucracy.' It
further called
for 'the SSP to have an orientation on the unions and
play a leading
role in the development of rank and file
organisations', including,
many of those explicitly referred to in your letter.
The Platform
upholds this policy - does the EC?



As far as the leadership of the FBU is concerned, our
attitude should
not be to oppose (or support) the FBU leadership for
the sake of it,
but rather (in the words of the Clyde Workers
Committee in 1915),
that:

`We will support the officials just so long as they
rightly represent
the workers, but we will act independently immediately
they
misrepresent them. … We can act immediately according
to the merits
of the case and the desire of the rank and file.'

This is a central part of the socialist tradition, and
one Scottish
precedent, which should be much more widely known
about and acted on
in the SSP.

SWPlatform members have worked with the leadership of
the FBU in
Scotland for many years, both – before we joined the
SSP and since as
SSP members.



At the same time it is unfortunate that the FBU EC
voted to suspend
the strikes and previously backed Andy Gilchrist at
FBU conference in
opposing a motion from Socialist Alliance supporters
(Matt Wrack,
etc.) on democratising the political fund which is
also SSP policy.
Are you saying that these decisions are above
criticism?



This is the context in which Red Watch has been
produced. Red Watch
is a rank and file paper set up by FBU stewards from
Clerkenwell and
Dowgate London firestations in the early summer (well
before the
dispute), although the calling off of the strike by
the FBU executive
has only underlined the need for the rank and file to
organise
independently. Red Watch continues to be written by
and for
firefighters and control staff. It is not an SWP paper
or indeed that
of any particular party. Labour Party, SWP, SSP and
no-party
firefighters contribute. Andy Gilchrist has
contributed twice, as
have Ronnie Robertson, who is the ex chair of
Strathclyde FBU and
other Scottish fire fighters. Both George Galloway &
Tony Benn have
contributed as have Mark Serwotka PCS general sec &
RMT leader, Bob
Crow.

It is of course a UK wide publication because the
union organises
across the UK, and the dispute is with the government
in Westminster.
We believe it would be a serious mistake not to
embrace Red watch!
The FBU is a UK-wide trade union and Red Watch
reflects this in a way
which Scottish Socialist Voice cannot, by including
articles written
by firefighters from different political backgrounds
the length and
breadth of the UK.

SWPlatform members have sold Scottish Socialist Voice
and handed out
Firefighters Voice on picket lines, but the
Firefighters Voice is an
SSP publication, not a rank and file paper. It
reflects SSP views
which are not necessarily the same as those rank and
file militants
who, if need be, may want to be more critical of
Gilchrist and the
FBU executive through the pages of Red Watch.



As noted above, it is SSP Conference policy to support
rank and file
papers. Are you saying, in disregard of this policy,
that SSP members
are not allowed to take part in rank and file
organisations within
the trade unions? Would you tell SSP members in AMICUS
not to
contribute or promote the Engineers Gazette or our CWU
members to
dissociate them selves from the network of rank & file
activists
based around Post Worker? We believe not to
participate in these
forums is tantamount to operating in a sectarian
manner?



Unbelievably, SW Platform members have been condemned
for helping to
establish local firefighters support groups. Whilst
welcoming and
participating in the Glasgow city wide SSP meeting we
also helped
along with other SSP members to set up local united
front support
groups.



The two types of meetings should not be counter-posed
but should be
perceived as both contributing towards supporting the
fire fighters
and indeed, raising the profile of the SSP. We are
shocked that our
involvement in local support groups is being perceived
by your paper
as detrimental to the fire fighters and to the SSP.
The FBU
encouraged people to set up Support Groups – there is
no question
about this – and to do so on a local level. Their
purpose is to give
maximum support to the firefighters and control staff.
These groups
have involved local firefighters and members of the
public collecting
signatures and money in their local shopping centres
and leafleting
local workplaces. We have welcomed everyone who
supports the fire
fighters wishes to give solidarity, including members
of the Labour
Party and the SNP.



These groups are reminiscent of Miner's Support Groups
during 1984-85
(or local anti-poll tax groups during 1988-90!), in
that they are not
exclusive to one political party. Surely a key role of
a party like
the SSP in a dispute like this should be to turn
massive support into
active solidarity, by involving the maximum number of
people in
supporting the firefighters irrespective of their
political
affiliation.



The support/solidarity meetings done under a united
front banner have
been highly successful. There are numerous examples
from across the
country, here are a few.



130 in Edinburgh organised through the trade's council
in conjunction
with the support group.

The Castlemilk support group in the southside of
Glasgow was composed
of SSP, local labour party members & community
activist (who had
experience of being involved in the anti poll tax
campaign). The
group collected large amounts of money, leafleted
local workplaces
with fire fighters & organised a successful (despite
the strike being
called off) public meeting of 60.This included around
15 fire
fighters.



In the West of Scotland, comrades helped to build a
number of
meetings. 100 attended under the banner of the Paisley
trades
council, this meeting included around 40 fire fighters
& was
supported by Renfrewshire UNISON.



In Inverclyde SSP members initiated a support group,
this was
sponsored by Inverclyde UNISON & backed by the FBU.
150 people
attended, 70 of these were fire fighters. Incidentally
the motion
that was carried at the UNISON Scottish council that
resulted in a
£15,000 donation to the FBU hardship fund came from
Inverclyde
UNISON .The original motion was proposed by a
SSP/SWPlatform member
and seconded by a labour party member.



In Dumbarton, again, despite the strike being called
off an amazing
80 people turned out for an FBU solidarity meeting.
This meeting was
backed by UNISON, T/G housing, GMB & the local EIS.
There were 10
labour councillors at the meeting & around 30 fire
fighters. SSP
members in Dumbarton not only initiated this meeting
they also played
a full role in building the meeting. All the united
front meetings
have featured SSP speakers & mostly list candidates,
who obviously
were well received.

How on earth can this damage the party & its profile
amongst the
working class and indeed the fire fighters?



Finally two other issues you raise. Firstly on the
distribution of
the election bulletin. Our comrades take great offence
at the
suggestion that we have not been involved in its
distribution. We
have not only welcomed it but have also played a full
part in its
distribution in all regions of the country .We will
continue to do
so. Your comment that there only are a "few honourable
exceptions "is
inaccurate and insulting to all those in our platform
who have worked
hard to get them out.

Secondly on your criticisms of the Socialist Alliance
& the
International Socialist Tendency we suggest you take
these matters up
with them directly. We fail to understand what this
has got to do
with us.

Conclusion

The criticisms of the SW Platform therefore amount to
two `crimes'.
We built united front local support groups for the
fire fighters and
we promoted the rank and file paper Red Watch. These
two activities
hardly merit the harsh condemnations and accusations
that we are
presently experiencing. We joined the SSP on the basis
that it was
a `democratic, pluralist socialist party' in which
different points
of view –could be expressed. That is the party we
joined and which we
seek to build. We further recognise that political
debate is crucial
to developing a clear strategy. We therefore believe
that issues as
important as the correctness, or otherwise, of a rank
and file
approach should be debated openly and fraternally in
the pages of
Scottish Socialist Voice and not the subject of
discussions behind
closed doors. We therefore call on the EC, in addition
to arranging
for this debate, to and refrain from attacking SSP
members who are
actively building solidarity for strikers and the SSP,
and to put
into practice the pluralism which should be at the
heart of how the
Party operates.



Yours fraternally,

SW Platform Steering Committee


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