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.