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North East London RESPECT post election meeting

Will McMahon


 

 

The clear message from this meeting was that if Respect is to develop into a mass alternative to New Labour then it must engage in grassroots campaigning and build links with communities across North East London between now and the 2005 General Election.

 

The sense of the contributions from both the platform and the floor was that it would be wrong to stop campaigning now and to begin to get our act together in February in time for the General Election campaign. Lindsey German argued for a campaign to open up empty houses much as the CPGB did in the 1950s. She pointed to a book by Pollitt “Our Flag Stays Red” which showed how the CP built a mass base by relating to local issues where the interest of capital self-evidently conflicted with the interest of working people.

 

Another SWP member called for surgeries to be held to begin to build the campaigning networks that can impact on New Labour at election time and more importantly in the wider class struggle. All of this is good stuff and, if carried out, will transform what Respect can achieve. Given its size in Hackney the SWP will be the lead organisation and now has several years of experience of how to do this kind of work. There are now also both old and new non-SWP layers who can help build such a project.  Our joint aim is to minoritize ourselves.

 

The meeting had between 60 to 70 people in attendance. There was clearly a new layer of people who had been drawn to the meeting by the Respect campaign. A group of Kurdish and Turkish supporters were joined by people from a local mosque and the afro-Caribbean community. These gains were also seen on the battle bus where the megaphone was delivering messages in Kurdish, Turkish and Gujurati. Small but significant gains have been made in this regard over the course of the campaign. New forces are involved and further progress is possible.

 

The introductions from the platform set the stage for a good floor discussion in which all views were sought and different perspectives were heard. There was a genuine political discussion taking place both between different platform speakers and between the audience. Lindsey German expressed the view that some of the left had been left behind by political developments and that new people had come forward. There was, in truth, a good representation of the pre-war left in the room who had got to grips with a new political situation. Missing were the AWL and Workers Power. Also missing was clear representation from the trade union left beyond those that we knew from the SA.

 

There is a clear intent on the part of the Respect leadership to set up branches of the organisation across the country. These will be the organisational life-blood of Respect if it is to succeed simply because any left project in the next period must have clearly accountable democratic structures that the membership can understand and use. New Labour spent most of the 1980s and 90s building a structure that insulated the leadership from the members. This was a clear pre-figuration of the generalised anti-working class policies to come. Following this experience and the disaster of Stalinism, and the current general existing distrust of politicians the question of democratic participation and control is pivotal to the success or failure of any formation to the left of Labour. Nothing less than a transparent and understandable structure will do.

 

Equally important will be Respect’s capacity to go beyond the essential routinism that permits the one member one vote system to function in branches and conferences. Self-evidently a mass organisation will not be built out of attending monthly meetings and hearing ever more interesting speakers (even if that were possible). The political life-blood will be week-in-week-out campaigning by Respect members both as part of other campaigns but also as Respect led and identified campaigns on key issues. Establishing a campaigning identity both locally and nationally is a necessity for both name-recognition come the General Election and to draw to us the people most prepared and able to combat any further neo-liberal offensives. Also crucial will be the relationships built up with local community organisation that are forced to confront the local and national state’s neo-liberal projects. It is these relationships that will accelerate the crumbling of the foundations of Labourism.

 

It is this kind of work that we began in Hackney as the Socialist Alliance. What is interesting about the Euro vote in Hackney is that over 4,000 people, or 200 per ward, vote for the left alternative. Much the same as voted for Paul Foot for Mayor in October 2002. I am pretty sure that this is not the same 4,000 but am certain it came from the “red belt” across the centre of the borough and from Muslim voters who saw through the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.  Whilst we are debating whether or not to stand against Diane Abbott in the north it is certain that we will stand against Meg Hillier in the south. It is in the south of Hackney where our organisation has always been the weakest.  Our job over the next six months is to build an organisation that has vibrant organisational meetings for members because it is rooted politically in local campaigns and community organisations. If we achieve this we can build on the General Election result of 2001 and crash into New Labour at the local elections in 2006.

 

 

July 2004

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