This year’s Labour Representation Committee (LRC) AGM was the first the Tendance has attended.
We joined, because Labour Briefing is now the official journal of the LRC. It seems a good idea to go along to the meeting of a left paper that has played a significant role on the left for several decades.
The turnout for the event was as Stan Keable in the Weekly Worker describes,
There were slightly more than 100 comrades attending the November 23 annual conference of the Labour Representation Committee in London’s Conway Hall. That is down by a third compared with last year. Bad news for what is an umbrella organisation of the pro-Labour Party left, but surely reflective of the general state of the left in Britain.
He puts the LRC’s importance in this context,
The LRC also has significant organisational affiliates, including six national trade unions (Aslef, BFAWU, CWU, FBU, NUM and RMT), numerous trade union branches and regions, constituency and branch Labour Parties, Welsh Labour Grassroots, Campaign for Socialism (Scotland), and a variety of communist and socialist organisations.
It is hard to comment on Comrade Keable’s detailed remarks about the functioning of the LRC, and the “office problem”, since we do not have direct information on this. The Briefing is something we can all judge. Against the Weekly Worker article we would that Briefing has changed, though perhaps “renewed” – for the better – is a more balanced description.
Of the speeches Owen Jones was uplifting, pointing to the successes of such initiatives as the People’s Assembly. Keable dismisses this as his “usual fare” – ignoring the importance People’s Assemblies have taken on the ground.
John McDonnell MP was excellent. You can take this argument whatever way you wish: “People are still voting Labour,” he said. “We must nourish struggles within the party by building struggles outside.”
Stan rightly underlines the importance of the contributions made by “two activists from the Boycott Welfare campaign, Clive and Robert, gave a moving contribution from the platform as guest speakers. Unemployed people and benefit claimants are clearly being badly maltreated by the system. Half a million have been already denied benefits under the workfare system, they reported.”
These are issues dear to our heart and the LCR, and associated Labour MPs, are to be congratulated for making the campaigns against of Workfare, Universal Credit and Sanctions, not to mention ATOS, a priority. We were able to develop our contacts with Boycott Workfare by talking to the activists during the break.
Jeremy Corbyn MP gave a more nuanced portrait of the 1945 Labour government than has recently appeared (notably in the Ken Loach film, the Spirit of 45). Its record was exceptionally largely positive, but it had been Atlanticist and a far from a consistently principled anti-colonialist government.
Mark Serwotka is patronised by Comrade Keable (whose style is rapidly tiring). “he would not waste time repeating “how bad it is”. We need to talk about “what we’re going to do about it”.
I did not get a chance to speak to guest speaker Philippe Marlière of the Front de Gauche (Left Front) – with whom I have contacts. He must have felt cheered by the serious speakers listed above, though less encouraged by some of the others.
Of these, Stan does not mention the antics of Graham Durham who seemed eager to hog the limelight at every opportunity. His virulent attacks on Len McCluskey and the LRC elected Committee (amongst others) and his support for Murdoch’s man in UNITE, Jerry Hicks, struck a sour note.
Durham’s only accurate observation was on the lines that every meeting he attended got smaller.
We wonder why.
There was also an extraordinary motion by something called Socialist Fight, on Syria.
This noted that “Negotiation with Russia and Iran disarm Syria of its chemical weapons and Iran from developing nuclear weapons and so prepare for a future attack against weaker enemies.”
It ended, “The defeat of this utterly bogus ‘revolution’ will defend a relatively secular administration, strengthen the Syrian working class against Assad and dent chauvinism in US, Britain and France.”
This was roundly defeated in favour of a policy of defending democratic movements in Syria against Assad and opposing the Western backed jihadists.
There was a debate on the Labour-Union link.
Andrew Berry from Unison, Maria Exall of the CWU and Ian Hudson of the bakers’ union (BFAWU) all made pertinent speeches – Ian Hudson was particularly rousing.
Labour Party Marxists made an appearance.
Stan Keable led off by citing the phrase, “The Labour Party emerged from the Bowels of the Unions” – a quote he attributed to Ralph Miliband.
Ernest Bevin, who actually made the observation, was hardly a model of democratic practice in his use of the union – T&GWU - block vote.
Perhaps next time former members of the CPGB begin talking about the Labour Party they might care to familiarise themselves with its history.
The motion that was passed broadly re-affirmed the importance of keeping unions affiliated to the Labour Party. Keable, this time accurately, mentions that their motion,, which sought “the end of individual ‘opting out’ of trade union political funds”, was voted down by a two-thirds majority. Sadly that majority included the LRC’s political secretary Pete Firmin, though Graham Bash, the de facto editor of Briefing, abstained. “
The motions passed on Europe were, as the Weekly Worker reports, equivocal on the need to defend a perspective of a social, socialist, Europe – a view put forward by both Labour Party Marxists and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. They left space for both this genuine internationalism and a more narrowly focused ‘anti-Brussels’ stand. As the article states, there was a “refusal to recognise that advocating withdrawal means nationalism.”
The AGM was well worth attending.
I particularly enjoyed the atmosphere during the evening that began in the Dolphin and ended in China Town the most.