Open letter to the SWP and ex-SWP members who supported Jerry Hicks in two General Secretary elections

Dear Comrades, The decision of the SWP to support Jerry Hicks when he stood for General Secretary in Amicus in 2009 (40,000 against Derek Simpson’s 60,000) and again when he stood against Len McCluskey a year ago (April 2013) and got almost 80,000 (36%) was inspiring and revolutionary. Jerry stood on a clear rank and file (R+F) ticket on both occasions and achieved those magnificent results against the entire union machine who mobilised all their officers and employees to campaign for their chosen candidate (against union rules, of course). After the last election one officer privately expressed his frustration at the regime saying that if he had not campaigned for McCluskey he would have become “the officer for dog shit”. I am aware that on both occasions there were strong opposition within the SWP to adopting this clear rank and file approach and there is still opposition to this course within the ex-SWP groups, the International Socialist Network (ISN) and the Revolutionary Socialists of the 21st Century (RS21C). The purpose of this letter is to strengthen the left oppositions who favour the rank and file approach so as to effect a fusion between the Grass Roots Left and the Grass Roots Left Rank and File (the new name for the Unite Fightback, the SWP dominated movement set up a year ago following their expulsion from the United Left, the bureaucrat’s front, for supporting Hicks). I am also aware of the reasons some comrades give for opposing setting up an effective R+F opposition in Unite and across the entire union movement – “the working class is not ready for such a radical step”, “Len McCluskey is a left-winger and we would objectively assist the right by opposing him”, “Len has hinted that he might call for a new party to represent the unions if Labour does not agree to defend the unions”, etc. I am also aware that the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) are likely to merge with Unite and that the Socialist Party has already begun preliminary discussions with United Left to secure top positions for the coterie of SP members that control the Executive of the PCS. Their National Shop Stewards Network is simply a front for left trade union bureaucrats who sound off about fighting and sell out most struggles when push comes to shove. The two recent examples are Billy Hayes of the Communication Workers Union, who allowed the Royal Mail to be privatised without a struggle (apart from windy speeches) and Len McCluskey himself, who capitulated over Grangemouth in a humiliating manner that demoralised whole sections of the labour and trade union movement. Comrades it is long past time that we launched a forthright challenge to these fraudsters by building a real Grass Roots Rank and File. SWP leader Alex Callinicos has made a forthright condemnation of McCluskey’s capitulation on Grangemouth: he was in the process of selling out the Royal Mail fight against privatisation. Similarly the United Left defended McCluskey. Shamefully this offensive against R+F struggle was led by none other than Alan Thornett of Socialist Resistance, former Workers Revolutionary Party and Workers Socialist League militant in the Cowley car factory in Oxford, author of three volumes that set out that struggle, From Militancy to Marxism, Inside Cowley and Militant Years and who did so much himself in the late 60s and 70s to fight the very bureaucracy he is now defending. This from Weekly Worker No 1004:
The right also won out on the question of our approach to the unions. An amendment from Lambeth urged that LU “orients to the rank and file of the trade unions above privileging any relationship with leftwing officials, because we recognise that union leaders, lefts as well as rightwingers, are prone to compromise and call off action at the decisive moment”. While the phrasing of this could be criticised, the general sentiment is correct. However, Alan Thornett from Socialist Resistance urged opposition: “To have that position on Bob Crow would be disastrous”; while another comrade claimed the motion was the equivalent of saying to trade unionists, “Your leaders are a bunch of scabs.” The clear implication of both contributions was that we should look to “privileging any relationship with leftwing officials”. The amendment was defeated.

Comrades I believe that a Rank and File movement needs to have a proper constitution to regulate the organisation and clearly demarcate its boundaries. I propose that if the GRL and GR R+F merger goes ahead then the Constitution of the Grass Roots Left, (attached) is such a document or that it can be amended to suit the new Organisation when it is founded.
Comradely Gerry Downing Chair Crass Roots Left 8/4/14

Grass Roots Left Conference

The Grass Roots Left is holding a conference in Birmingham: ‘Where we are & what’s next?’ Saturday 12th April 2014: 12 noon to 4pm. Agenda:  Victories compromises & defeats. From Hovis to Grangemouth, from NHS to Royal Mail privatisation.  Proposed merger between Unite and the PCS. Its reason & its effect.  Unite & the Labour party.  Unite NEC elections & candidates with GRL support.  A longer working life, a longer working week. Is the 35 hour week being defended or being surHad the Grangemouth workers decided to fight, there is no certainty rendered. & what’s happened to the ‘fighting’ they would have won. But there is equally no certainty that they would have lost. They are well organised and had seen off an attack on their fund? pensions in 2008. They had also supported the struggles of other workThis meeting is open to members of UNITE the union, ers in the complex (electricians and tanker drivers) so they would have their families, friends & trade unionists who are supbeen in a strong position to call for solidarity had they chosen to defy Ratcliffe and occupy. porters of the Grass Roots left initiative. His exposure of then ISN leader Richard Seymour’s apology for The Comfort Inn: Station Street B5 4DY opposite BirMcCluskey is very good. However I question the wisdom of Unite mingham New St Station: the Resistance giving a platform to Billy Hayes last December when

Constitution of the Grass Roots Left (GRL) adopted at the Conference of 5 November 2011
and authority to determine their own organisational and campaigning priorities where this does not contravene the constitution of the national organisation. e) The national committee shall have the power to disciAll those elected as representatives of the grassroots left are pline any member it deems to have breached the constituobliged to uphold its platform, constitution and policy tion. Disciplined members shall have the absolute right to documents, and we offer our support only to those who appeal to the conference, and to have their appeal circudo, and continue to do so. lated to all other members prior to conference.

1. Preamble

The grassroots left aims to build a rank and file movement in our union controlled by its members themselves.

2. Platform

a) For regular elections and right to recall of all officials and reps, who shall be paid no more than the average wage of those they represent, for democratic control of the union from the bottom up. b) For rank and file control over all negotiations and industrial action through mass meetings and elected strike organising committees. c) For militant action and strikes and occupations, to stop all cuts - with the backing of the officials when possible, without them where necessary, for recognition and strike pay for ‘unofficial’ strikes. d) For defiance of the anti-union laws, wherever they are invoked to prevent workers' action, for solidarity strike action with any group of workers or union that is prosecuted under these undemocratic laws. e) For the right of the rank and file to veto all management decisions and workers' control over all aspects of production, including hiring and firing, for workers' control over and nationalisation without compensation of all firms sacking workers in the interests of profit. f) For a mass unionisation drive, drawing migrant workers, casual, part-time, low-paid workers, self-employed, pensioners and the unemployed into the trade unions, against immigration checks and raids, papers for all and freedom of movement: no one is illegal. g) for the right of all women, black, lesbian, gay, transgender, disabled, migrant and undocumented workers to caucus in the trade unions and voice their own demands, against any discrimination at work, fascists out of the unions and off our streets. h) For a rank and file movement, across unite and the whole trade union movement, for cross-European and global rank and file organisation, for joint action and solidarity with like-minded organisations, for industrial unionism and the democratisation of the labour movement.

4. Conference is sovereign over all other bodies in the GRL

Conference shall: a) Take place at least once annually, convened either by the national committee or by request by petition of 10% of all members to the national committee including a summary of business proposed for discussion, with due notice and the option of a pooled fare to be provided to all members by the national committee. b) Elect a national committee for the GRL. c) Elect a chair, secretary and treasurer as officers, or public representatives of the organisation, including members of the national committee. d) Take all decisions and pass all resolutions by majority vote, except amendments to the constitution, which require a two thirds vote. 5. National committee is elected by members at conference and shall: a) Act as a ‘collective leadership’ or national decisionmaking body between conferences, leading national initiatives aimed at winning the base of the ‘broad lefts’ to the principles of rank and file organisation, and considering proposals from all members on how best to further those objectives. b) Implement national policy agreed by conference by a majority of no less than 51%, and be responsible for the organisation of national events, ensuring that all members shall receive at least 14 days notice of the conference, and 7 days notice of other events. c) Aim to meet for one day each month, convening as determined by the previous national committee, and operating a pooled fare scheme to allow all elected members to attend. d) Be completely transparent and open to all members as observers but will take votes only on the basis of those elected at conference to serve on the national committee. 3. Members: a) the GRL shall include as members all those who accept e) Facilitate the creation and maintenance of a national egroup that will allow all members who choose to particithe platform of the GRL, which may be amended at conpate to share information with all other participants of the ference. egroup upon request. It will be subject to moderation for b) Members shall be required to make a nominal financial inappropriate behaviour and spam by moderators chosen donation to the GRL on an annual basis, if necessary at by the national committee. conference itself, and are encouraged to donate more fref) Maintain a copy of the registered membership and naquently. tional contact list, and facilitate the creation of and commuc) All union officials and employees are entitled to be mem- nication between as many new local and sector GRL bers and shall have a voice but no vote in the meetings of groups as possible. the group, until such time as they are elected. g) See that officers operate under its jurisdiction. d) Local and sector GRL groups have complete freedom