The Socialist Unity Network

Developing RESPECT

Will McMahon

The Socialist Unity Network welcomed the formation of Respect and its campaign in the 2004 European Elections. There were some very good results achieved particularly in London and the West Midlands. Respect is the only left electoral coalition that operates across England and will, unless there are dramatic developments in the labour movement, be leading the left challenge to New Labour at the next General Election. Respect now has a membership of 3,300 and this is likely to grow in the run up to the 2005 General Election. It is possible, but not definite, that in the next year it will surpass the Green Party (England) membership.


For Respect to succeed it will need to develop as a vibrant and democratic coalition that will be able to combined campaigning élan and know-how with a transparent democratic internal life that is part of any successful left wing organisation. Both are essential ingredients for success. The SUN will participate in Respect and support it with the expectation that both of these ingredients will be taken for granted by all as the formal structures are decided upon at the conference later in 2004.


Whilst Respect may be the main England wide coalition the SUN recognises that this does not make it the leadership body for the whole of the left. The participation of Mark Serwotka and support of RMT and FBU branches show what is possible but there are still significant trade union leaders and tens of thousands of trade union militants and left activists who, while looking for a left alternative to New Labour, are unconvinced that Respect is that alternative.


The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. If Respect is not known as campaigning (rather than electoralist) and democratically structured and governed from below by its members (as opposed to the bureaucratic in whatever form) then it will not succeed. These are surely the lessons of both the Labour Party and other left wing alternatives of the 20th century.


The SUN recognises that those committed socialist not yet convinced by Respect will be forming networks and campaigns that are also aimed at forming a left alternative to New Labour. This may take the form of a network of local socialist groups in towns and cities across the country and in trade union left activists organising networks for a socialist alternative to New Labour. Our hope is that these will be non-sectarian and have as their focus the building a class alternative to Blairism rather than engaging in conflict with Respect. The SUN will participate in such non-sectarian developments and work for co-operation between them and also with Respect.


The SUN believes that, exceptional developments aside, it will not be possible to launch a united left challenge in the 2005 General Election. To obtain a broadcast Respect will have to stand in around 90 seats. Without doubt, others will stand as socialist or left candidates in many places. Our hope is for the maximum possible vote for all left candidates.  Our belief is that it should be an aim for the left to field a united left challenge at the 2009/10 General Election. This is both possible and desirable. It is likely that such a challenge will be a result of unity developed between Respect and other electoral alternatives – perhaps even an entirely new organisation, of which Respect will form a part, based on the labour movement. Such a development will be in part the product of three elements. First, the development of local grass roots community campaigning that have recently produced good local election results in Walsall, Preston, Swindon and Hackney to mention just a few. Second, the extension of the political fund debate across the trade union movement. Third, the development of a united left campaign against the European constitution and/or on other key issues.


If we do not succeed the danger we face is twofold. First, that our electoral system mimics that of the United States with the historic chance to build a radical left alternative lost for at least a generation. The window of opportunity that we are currently presented with will not stay open forever. Second, that such a failure to develop a united left alternative will leave the way open for the far and extreme right in a period when life for working class people will be made ever more insecure by the Blairite neo-liberal onslaught on welfare provision and collective social insurance.


The SUN aims to provide a site and publications where activists can debate out these issues in a comradely and straightforward fashion and campaign on issue where we find common purpose. We hope, with others, to be part of a process that will transcend the past practice of the left that seemed to specialise in sectarian in fighting and a refusal to properly debate the issues out. We reject both the methods of the post 1945 large far left groups that denounced minorities who don’t agree as sectarians and those of the small groups who place their interests above the interest of the working class as a whole.


Despite the many difficulties that we face we remain optimistic that a left-wing working class party that challenges neo-liberalism can be built in the next five years or so. We welcome discussion, correspondence and joint campaigning with anyone who shares this aim with us and the sentiments expressed in the statement above.


June 2004


For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism