The Socialist Workers Party’s first pre-conference bulletin of 2013 has already been quite widely leaked, which in itself tells you a lot about the state of that organisation. I’ve been dipping into the 88-page document over the last week or so and was particularly struck by the following contribution from Andrew “ozzy” Osborne – not because it’s particularly insightful or sophisticated (it’s not) but because of its obvious sincerity and almost heartbreaking sadness. I was also particularly interested in the comrade’s account of the way the SWP Unite fraction reacted to being overruled / outvoted despite all its leading members disagreeing with the Party leadership’s wish to support Jerry Hicks in the Unite GS election. It should go without saying that I have not spoken to “ozzy” (who I don’t know anyway) about reproducing his piece here, but as it’s already effectively in the public domain I don’t believe that’s an issue. Nor have I had any contact with the ‘In Defence Of Our Party’ (IDOOP) faction of which “ozzy” is a member:
ME AND THE PARTY…..A PERSONAL JOURNEY OF 9 MONTHS AT THE END OF THE STRUGGLE.
A funny thing happened to me in January of 2013, I voted against the Central Committee on two issues (once against the entire CC once against the CC Majority group) at the party conference having never done this before; January 2013 was a bit of an eye opener for me.
One issue was a strategic/tactical issue and one was a question of principle.
I voted against the CC regarding the “should we support Jerry Hicks position” myself, Frank W, Gill G, Ian A and Julian V were the 5 members of the SWP unite fraction committee who opposed the CC at the conference.
My position (the position of the 5 members of the SWP unite fraction) was massively defeated. My vote at that conference on the acceptance of the disputes committee report was also defeated by a wafer thin margin as was my vote on the Central Committee.
At a recent meeting at Marxism Alex Callinicos asked a question of a comrade “what do you do if you lose the vote??” I think the actions of the unite fraction leadership provides a useful example of what comrades in the tradition of the International Socialists who understand democratic centralism do when you lose a vote on a question of tactics and strategy, the vote was taken by the highest democratic body of the party and we were obliged to follow it, there was no more discussion, it was not required….We campaigned our collective asses of(f) and secured Jerry Hicks 118 branch and 19 workplace nominations, 9 branch nominations were from my county of Cambridgeshire.
When the election was put to the membership of Unite Jerry received 79,819 votes an absolutely amazing result. During the campaign I coordinated the
activities of the unite fraction and from that the industrial intervention of the party nationally over this important trades union election campaign. It wasn’t just me; Gill secured her branch nomination for Jerry speaking in opposition to Frank W (Unite EC Health sector) who resigned from the party in protest at the parties support for Jerry. Ian A set up Jerry’s website for the campaign, was at most of the face to face meetings with Jerry during the campaign and secured the workplace nominations of 4 Fujitsu sites as well as his his own branch,Julian put the case for Jerrys nomination at his branch which we lost as it’s a bit of a united left (unite broad left – backed Len during the campaign) stronghold but secured his workplace nomination.
Over the period from the SWP conference of January 2013 till the close of the campaign and the result announcement on the 13th of April there were 320 emails all related to the general secretary election campaign on the swp-unite-fraction email group, there were also skype teleconferences and more phone calls than I care to remember. Maps locating major unite workplaces in most regions of the country were produced and used to direct the intervention of the party nationally. The united left and Len McCluskeys campaign actually did shit a brick once they realised the fact that the SWP was incredibly organised and taking the election campaign very seriously. I was sent an email from Steve Turner the unite Executive policy director and Len McCluskeys campaign manager during the election campaign on the 15th of March which was titled “SWP activities in your area – BE AWARE” I almost fell of(f) my chair as I laughed so hard.
During the election Jerry Hicks campaign was attacked on twitter and other social media sites disgracefully by Len and the united left as being “rape apologists” and the question was put why should unites female members vote for a candidate supported by the SWP, these attacks were disgraceful but despite my protestations the SWP did not respond seriously to these allegations. We did get an article written by Julie S from the CC in the guardian as a right of reply to an article by Laurie Penny but without meaning to offend Julie S (who I have a great deal of respect for) this article was not the defence of the party position we needed.
During the campaign (the period from January to April) I had to temporally shut down the SWP unite fraction email list twice due to comrades using it to factionalise, my actions were not one of a comrade trying to damage the party rather that of a comrade trying to build the party organisation in the country’s biggest trades union.
Then we come to the second issue on which I opposed the central committee at the January 2013 conference on the question of the disputes committee, prior to the January 2013 conference I had signed the CC statement and was not involved in any factional issue. My position changed after the January 2013 conference session on the disputes committee, let me be frank, I’m a big bloke with a thick skin but when I walked out of the venue for a fag break on evening of the 6th of January 2013 I was actually in tears and gave serious consideration to keeping on walking, I didn’t walk but resolved then and there to do all I could to fix the problem which evidently had occurred. I was a member of the In Defence Of Our Party faction (IDOOP) prior to the special conference in March and I have signed the statement of intent to form a faction at this year’s conference.
A lot of mud and rubbish is slung around at comrades who oppose the CC around the disputes committee report, some of which is that we don’t want to build the party, sell the paper or that we have moved away from democratic centralism, I would urge comrades to look a mine and the unite fraction leaderships example. We understand democratic centralism and do want to build the socialist workers party but don’t judge us by our words judge us by our actions. Words are cheap actions are solid gold. I have said all I am going to say on this subject unless the CC responds to me directly.
This pre conference period will be tough for many comrades I would urge all comrades in unite and in the wider party to listen to my words and judge me by my actions. Join me in opposing the current leadership. We have had a tough year as a party. We can get through this if we do a couple of things, firstly apologise to the two women who raised issues with a former member of the SWP, and secondly be a tribune of the oppressed.
Andrew “ozzy” Osborne (Cambridge)