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COR conference – a slump in numbers, politics and ambition

At its second conference on 9 July, the Coalition of Resistance consolidated itself as a rightward moving organisation within the anti-cuts movement, reports Simon Hardy.

While the founding conference in November 2010 saw around 1,200 people gather to launch the new initiative, this was attended just over 200 people. The audience was mostly older, made up of members from Socialist Resistance, Peoples Charter (the Communist Party), Green Left, the International Socialist group and of course Counterfire, which remains the driving force behind the coalition.

The highlight of the initial opening speeches was former Lambeth council leader from the 1980s Ted Knight’s fiery calls for an end to capitalism and a fight for socialism – though it was certainly not part of the COR conference script. In fact there was a real sense of tension from the organisers, who seemed concerned that a resolutions conference would lead to arguments and debates opening up which might threaten the colition. Romayne Phoenix (Green Party) from the chair repeatedly urged the conference to act in a spirit of unity and comradeship, clearly nervous about political debates over the key issues.

The two most contentious positions concerned the organisation of COR and whether it should call for a general strike.

How to organise COR

The outgoing steering committee proposed a 50 person National Council to be composed of people put forward at the conference. This was the status quo – and it is worth mentioning that the National Council has met but twice in 8 months and COR has been effectively run by a self-selected Steering Committee, which meets during working hours in London.

The alternative, from Lambeth SOS, proposed a delegate based body made up of two from each local anti-cuts group and trade union body. The strength of Lambeth’s resolution was that it would have made COR accountable to grassroots organisations, which would have democratically controlled it. It would have got rid of the current set-up, whereby Counterfire use COR’s website and news-sheets to promote its preferred union leaders and its political slogans. Increasingly, as the poor attendance proves, local groups see COR as distant and yet another party front.

Chris Bambery argued against this saying we needed provision for delegates from national organisations like Keep our NHS Public, BARAC or UK Uncut. This was a problem with the Lambeth resolution, which is why Workers Power proposed an amendment deleting the reference to delegates only coming from the unions and the local groups and replacing it with:

“A real national anti-cuts co-ordination will only be built by bringing together the most active anticuts groups, drawing in local and regional trade union organisations fighting the cuts, federating anti-cuts groups at a regional level and in this way compelling the various national anti-cuts groups to unite.”

If this had passed then Bambery’s criticism would have been answered – all the national organisations fighting the cuts could have been represented, and COR could have been qualitatively transformed into a broader, truly dynamic organising centre for the resistance. As it was the Lambeth motion (and amendment) was defeated with only 15 delegates supporting it.

 

General Strike struck down

Two separate motions were proposed to the conference which called for a general strike, one from the SWP and one from Workers Power. Workers Power proposed compositing them but the SWP wanted to keep them separate – so in the end both motions were put to the conference.

NUT National Executive member Alex Kenny was wheeled out to argue against the general strike. He said we needed some humility – “there is only 200 people in this room” – and to limit ourselves to support what the trade unions were already calling for. Of course, comrade Kenny: after all, only five trade union conferences have called for a one day general strike now, including your own!

Socialist Worker reported that at the NUT conference the entire national executive backed calls for a one day general strike – yet when Kenny comes to COR conference, less than three months later and after his own union has played a crucial role in the coordinated strike of  750,000 workers, the call has apparently become abstract and “lacking in perspective”.

Kenny claimed that no one had raised the call for a general strike at the TUC. Then why has he and the rest of the NUT leaders ignored their own conference decision? When Zita Holbourne spoke from the PCS and BARAC she explained her unions position – to organise a general strike, but from members of other unions with similar policy they are silent on it. There is clearly a conspiracy of sorts at the heart of COR and among the TUC leaders, both left and right, to prevent a general strike from happening.

Again and again the arguments were trotted out: the unions are too weak, the demos are too small, no one is calling for a general strike, etc. The message from the conference was clear – yes we can organise another national demo, but that is all. Of course if strikes happen then we will support them, but COR refuses to provide any genuine leadership in the anti-cuts movement.

Their starting point, as Andrew Burgin explained, was 26 March (not 30 June). Burgin quoted Hungarian Marxist Istvan Mesteroz who has said that these attacks are more serious than 1930s and could see every gain made since the Second World War destroyed. Therefore we needed to focus all our energies on… another national demonstration backed by the TUC! This is Stop the War Mark II: more protests and more demonstrations, build the confidence to fight the cuts but constantly tack to the right and prioritise alliances with “big figures” in the movement which means no criticism of the leaders of the trade unions. (It was significant that no mention was made of Len McCluskey or Bob Crow – so much for the backing of the left bureaucrats.

A common argument was that a call for a general strike will somehow interfere with the “work on the ground” of building the struggles against the pension cuts or job losses in different sectors. The image that the people who use this argument want to project is that those who are advocating the general strike simply run around everywhere, shouting, “General strike!” and are indifferent to the struggles taking place in the here and now.

I challenge these people to find one serious example where a group has downplayed or argued against the 30 June strike because it was limited only to pensions and not a general strike. Find me one example where the general strike has crowded out other immediate slogans or where the general strike has been counterposed to an actual dispute, leading to a division of forces. I make this challenge confidently because I know that the people who make this claim are doing so in bad faith – constructing a “bogey man” which they can easily knock down.

Around 25 delegates voted for the general strike resolutions. No doubt various people can be pleased with this result; after all, isn’t this a victory for common sense against supposed ultra-left posturing? No. What it shows is that the COR conference entirely failed to reach out to the new forces in struggle, the young teachers and civil servants, the postal workers moving into battle against privatisation, the journalists fighting job loses. All of these sectors of workers have called for a general strike at their union conferences, which represent far more people than COR does – if a significant number of them had come to COR then the vote would have been different.

Although the motivators of the general strike resolutions gave it a good go, the delegates had already made up their mind in advance – many of the people in that room will be arguing up and down the trade union movement against a general strike and for them COR is an essential vehicle for their perspective that all we need for the immediate future is just more demonstrations to “build confidence”.

A further move to the right

The conference also passed an emergency motion from the People’s Charter concerning the Bombardier job losses. The motion contained many supportable things, but was riddled with dangerous Stalinist popular frontism – including a call for reinvestment of profits in British industry and to limit export of investment capital. While it called for renationalisation of “essential industries”, it did not call for nationalisation of the industry that was making the cuts, i.e. manufacturing. This is the old Stalinist project of the popular front, appealing to British captains of industry to form a bloc with workers against the City of London.

The resolution contained dubious statements about the government’s “callous disregard for workers in Britain”. Although this reference was removed at the request of Dot Gibson, the resolution reeked of “British jobs for British workers”. Tellingly, there was no provision for contacting German trade unions and making common cause. The resolution was passed by a large majority; despite significant opposition, the “Trotskyists” of Socialist Resistance and Counterfire merrily swallowed this nonsense.

Even more bizzarely, a short resolution from Communist Students, which committed COR to a unity conference with other anti-cuts forces before the end of 2011, was defeated by an overwhelming majority. The steering committee’s argument boiled down to COR being busy with no time for such an initiative, and anyway it was unneccesary because there is already practical unity “on the ground”. Considering the need for unity was raised repeatedly throughout the conference, it is very revealing that the only motion which proposed concrete action around it was so roundly defeated. All talk of unity is just posturing (on all sides) until something more real emerges.

 

The future for COR

 

What conclusion can we draw from COR’s second conference? Unless there is a dramatic turnaround, it will not become a driving force in the anti cuts movement. It is consolidated as a project made up of those forces that want to limit the resistance in the current phase to protests and co-ordinated strikes, while handing out broadsheets with a mixture of socialist and Keynesian arguments.

Workers Power thinks that the entire perspective needs to be changed. We need a radical overhaul in the anti-cuts movement as no single group – neither Right to Work, COR nor the National Shop Stewards Network – represents a real united front of the forces fighting the cuts. On the contrary, they are in danger of becoming obstacles to one emerging. There is too much posturing, too much empire building by the various groups, too much division and an utterly unserious perspective to how we can actually win.

We reiterated what is needed, an All Britain Anti-Cuts Federation, uniting in committees of action the movement locally, regionally and nationally, with delegates from all groups and organisations involved. Alongside this, we need a rank and file movement in the unions and a campaign for a general strike as the strategic goal of our movement. We need an alternative leadership, an alternative centre of power, one that can organise the protests, strikes and occupations – with the labour movement leaders if possible, without them where necessary. Without this alternative leadership we cannot win.

It seems that COR does not want to become that alternative – it wants to act as an adjunct, a subordinate coordination of those forces which will uncritically support the left union leaders and MPs, consciously limiting the working class action to what is acceptable to these leaders, rather than what is necessary to win. COR can still play a vital role in this movement, it can act to unite the broader forces into an effective movement to fight the cuts and bring down the government.  We need to build the movement from below – supporting and initiating rank and file organisations, forging joint union committees and building active and powerful anti-cuts groups – and take the argument into the wider movement for the kind of anti-cuts alliance and the sort of tactics that can beat the government without fear or favour.

 

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