Slightly over 100 comrades gathered for the Labour Representation Committee conference on the 15th of January. In terms of size this was a much smaller number than those who gathered for the Fabian Conference on the same day. However, in-terms of significance it would be wrong to underestimate the LRC.
John McDonnell MP opened proceedings with a typically rousing speech. He said we were ‘entering the final battle for the welfare state’ and rounded firmly on the Coalition government. Matt Wrack, speaking for the Fire Brigades Union, dispensed with the niceties and in a frank and bold speech stated plainly the truth — we are not ready as a movement for the coming battles, programmatically or organisationally. I got the impression comrade Wrack was casting a mournful eye not just over the LRC but the entire movement. He must feel keenly the need for the left to get in shape as he fights desperately to save his members’ jobs in London, and he should be more than forgiven a certain frustration. The FBU needs strong political allies and it isn’t getting that from anywhere at the moment.
However, by disaffiliating, the FBU has, in some regards, inflicted that problem on itself. Were it still affiliated to Labour, it would have a strong group of allies in the GMB, Unite and Unison. Now though, that is not an option. A determined group of people tried to move a motion in the morning session which deemed the LRC’s ‘Rebuild the Party’ slogan was not appropriate for the entire organisation. This refers back to the contradiction between being an inner and outer Party grouping — something which has eaten away at Compass and is at the heart of its current rot.
Of course, it manifests in a slightly different way within the LRC but essentially it is the same problem. The vote on the motion, however, showed a majority for a Labour orientation and it became the only motion to fall. (Other motions may be found here) Several organisational problems made debate problematic; motions were not composited and no real procedure existed for amendment. Furthermore, my overriding concern about the cuts motions are that they are something of a hotch-potch.
What we are actually urging Labour councillors to do other than a negative rejection of cuts is therefore unclear. A somewhat foolhardy Labour councillor from Islington who spoke, saying she would support the cuts was badly heckled. This went too far in its ferocity I feel, and made me feel slightly uncomfortable for even being a Labour member. She is wrong –however, it’s all very well for us to heckle and cat-call but we need to offer a positive strategy. What should have happened is the National Committee should have prepared a document for conference to consider, and we should have been able to vote on that; not the other way around.
In the afternoon, the session on international policy was notable from good contributions from Jeremy Corbyn MP and an insight into the recent events in Tunisia provided by Mohammed Ali. The session on our strategy within the Labour Party was marked by less controversy with a general degree of agreement that the LRC should endeavour to unite the Labour left. It is now committed to organising a conference of the Labour left before the March trade union demonstration in London.
Our key challenge now is moving forward to establish much greater organisational and programmatic coherency. At the moment this is lacking and it has to be a worry that this will hamper the growth of the LRC. Enough was on show to suggest the LRC can prosper – it needs too, not for itself but for the people it represents. However, that will only happen when this clarity is won through a struggle for it; that is the only way we can prepare for the battles ahead.