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Sunday, 28 November 2010

Coalition of Resistance or Damp Squib?

Another Left Campaign Headed for Nowhere?

At the unearthly hour of 8 am 9 of us from Brighton Benefits Campaign met at Brighton Station to go to the Coalition of Resistance. We included claimants and workers.

The Coalition of Resistance is one of these favourite formats of the SWP and other far-left groups when they can’t think of anything else to do. It consists of a big rally, at the beginning and end and in this case 2 sessions of workshops which didn’t key into the conference proceedings but were their to suggest that there was involvement at the grassroots

Speakers included the new General Secretary of Unite, Len McLuskey, John Macdonald MP, Dot Gibson of the Pensioners Convention, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Mark Serwotka of PCS, John Rees and Linday German of Counterfire, Chris Bamberry of the SWP, a school student, Clare Solmons President of the University of London Union, Bob Crowe of the RMT and Andrew Burgin of the Communist Party of Britain. To round everything off an address by the President of the Coalition Tony Benn. Benn who must be nearly 80 now and looked increasingly feeble. The Conference was chaired by Andrew Burgin.

It was noticeable that the only left group with any form of industrial implantation, the Socialist Party, was not represented on the platform. This kind of sectarianism is unacceptable and gives the lie to the 'broad coalition' idea. Counterfire has barely got a 100 members and yet 3 of the speakers were from it. The Socialist Party which has about 1,500 members and a significant trade union base was unrepresented. That suggests that the conference was as much about building particular grouplets as building resistance.

All resolutions were remitted to what we were promised would be a conference in 6 (or was it 3?) months and an absurd steering committee of 122 was adopted en masse. As might be apparent from the speakers line-up, the political current behind the conference was John Rees and Lindsey German’s Counterfire – a right-wing split off from the SWP last year (it split before it was expelled).

I won’t take bets on whether or not there will be a recall conference, though I remain dubious but it is clear that the Coalition is unlikely to last beyond the normal time limit of SWP style ‘united front’ initiatives i.e. about one conference.

I attended one workshop on Pensions and Benefit Cuts. Chaired by a member of Green Left, it included a London official of PCS, Pip Tindall of Brighton Benefit Cuts and Colin Hampton of the TUC Unemployed Centre’s Consultative Committee and Derbyshire/Chesterfield Unemployed Centres.

Pip, also of Green Left, spoke about our work in Brighton in mobilising claimants and workers and Colin Hampton spent most of his time detailing the appalling individual cases of people affected by the government’s determination to migrate everyone on Incapacity Benefit to ESA or JSA. What he markedly didn’t do was make any suggestions for action nor did he describe the useless role of the National Consultative Committee from which I resigned about 18 months ago.

So when I spoke from the floor I deliberately tore into the duplicity and dishonesty of Hampton. How it had ended up being an echo chamber for TUC bureaucrats who had never done a thing for the unemployed. How one of the most basic principles of independent action by the unemployed has been abandoned by the NCC in order to court favour with TUC bureacrats. How it had said absolutely nothing about welfare reform under New Labour and how it’s only activity is to hold a one day conference with a charity, the Child Poverty Action Group once a year, having abandoned the unemployed centres conference. Hampton had admitted at the beginning of his speech that there were barely 40 centres left, many of which were just hanging on there. Not once did he suggest why this might be so. My criticisms were warmly welcomed by the audience who applauded by call to the PCS representative to do more than offer warm words – they should be instructing their members not to implement sanctions.

Hampton sat there looking even more furious and glum than normal. His only response was to say we needed ‘unity – which somewhat begged the point. Unity around what? Doing nothing? He didn’t say but given his record and that of the Unemployed Centres Combine which he and the failed careerist Kevin Flynn from Gateshead Unemployed Centre head, it doesn’t look promising.

The key question for activists, and there are signs of a groups springing up around the country, is where we go from here.

Tony Greenstein


Stuart said...

Bloody hell Tony this is a very one sided report!

I put a more balanced view I think at:

A correction: As far as I know Andrew Burgin has never been a member of the
CP. He is an ex-WRPer who left in the 1980s and is now active in his local


Tony Greenstein said...

Yes I guess I'm feeling a little cynical of these rally gatherings from which little results. John Rees has form on this. Remember the TU Conference which wasn't Respect but actually was Respect where it later emerged he took a £10,000 cheque from a privatiser?

Ok I know it's not just him but I am sceptical of anything that doesn't rest on existing campaigns.

Take your point on Andrew Burgin and will remove it.

Andrew Coates said...

A balanced view would begin from the experience of anti-cuts campaigns in general, not this 'coalition'.

But in any case, Tony is spot on about the Unemployed Centres' campaigns - I can confirm this from the grass-roots.

The Coalition of Resistance merits criticism as well. Anything that has links with Counterfire - with its record of manipulation and worse in Respect and the StWC - is open to lots of it.

Andy Richards said...

Hi Tony

I must admit that I wasn't there, so you have the advantage of me in that regard. But I think it is a shame that your report is so negative, and it does not accord with what I have heard from a variety of sources.

I think CoR does have a chance of being something different, and it has already had some success in building bridges and working jointly with both the SP and SWP organised campaigns.

Tony Greenstein said...

Hi Andy,

I don’t hold it against you that you weren’t there but I notice that you chose to reprint the report of your comrade Liam MacUaid rather than link to my report, so I guess you have predetermined which report is more accurate.

We are in unprecedented times. The post-war settlement, Beveridge as implemented by Bevan, is for the first time under serious attack and being rolled back. We have a pitifully weak and depoliticized working class, how then do we respond. Well if the organizers of the Conference have their way we will do it with slogans and bombastic speeches and the blurring over of political differences and the elimination of any political analysis.

We will have the same united front campaigns as over the Iraq war. Now I happen to be one of those who holds that the old distinction between a united and popular front has little meaning at present, given the chronic lack of working class parties or organizations. I have no problem with a mass campaign which includes radical bourgeois elements but based on working class forces. What I oppose are pitifully weak Trotskyist and Stalinist organizations pretending to be leading something they are not.

Just what is the COR? It doesn’t organizer, it doesn’t initiate, it doesn’t lead nor does it show much sign or coordination. Is it going to actively set up local cuts committees or link them regionally? Yes these are practical tasks but they are the bread and butter of any serious campaign.

The workshop on benefits and pensions, where I spoke from the floor, was an example. Clearly what I said hit home as Colin Hampton of the TUC Poodle Committee [TUCPC] on unemployed centres looked more furious and my speech was punctuated with applause, not least when I called on PCS to call on their members not to implement sanctions. The TUCPC has had concordats and agreements with PCS but it has asked for nothing and gotten nothing beyond warm words of support.

But it is illustrative. The TUCPC has been like the 3 wise monkeys during New Labour’s rule. It saw, heard and spoke nothing against the attacks of New Labour, which today broadly supports the Tories’ continuation of their welfare reforms. If the COR was aware of anything it might have been aware of this, not least because I resigned and published my letter of resignation from TUCPC broadly. But of course they didn’t so they had a representative of the TUC Committee as if completely unaware of TUC hostility to unemployed activists in the past

I don’t suggest that Brighton Unemployed Centre should have sent a speaker instead, given that one of the other speakers was from Brighton Benefits Campaign. But there are one or two other centres which aren’t just advice or training centres, such as Salford, where Alec McFadden is based.

Tony Greenstein said...

What is happening is too serious for more of the same and Liam MacUaid’s report is symptomatic of Socialist Resistance’s mode of working. You are a party loyalist par excellence. You are also a good trade unionist, but you don’t criticize your own organization and that is a weakness. You need to draw conclusions from Respect. When I criticized the first tentative steps towards forming it during the end days of the old Socialist Alliance, when I criticized Rees in no uncertain terms at the SA’s steering committee, Alan Thornett during the lunch break came up to me absolutely furious because he believed I was not entitled to speak at the meeting from Brighton. Not once then or subsequently has he tried to address the political concerns I expressed.

It is not the job of a revolutionary organization to act as cheer leaders. It still rankles after 3 weeks that Terry Conway, at the Community Sector conference of Unison, made it clear that she opposed my criticism of personalization and individual budgets in terms of care for the disabled, even though ‘personalisation’ was a key part of Blair’s choice agenda.
You think that the COR will succeed? How. What is it, what does it represent? None of these questions is even addressed by Liam MacUaid