Open letter to the SWP and ex-SWP members who supported Jerry Hicks

08/04/2014 by socialistfight

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.

  • 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 surrendered. & what’s happened to the ‘fighting’ fund?

This meeting is open to members of UNITE the union, their families, friends & trade unionists who are supporters of the Grass Roots left initiative.
The Comfort Inn: Station Street B5 4DY opposite Birmingham New St Station:



Open letter to the SWP and ex-SWP members who supported Jerry Hicks

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:

Had the Grangemouth workers decided to fight, there is no certainty 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 pensions in 2008. They had also supported the struggles of other workers in the complex (electricians and tanker drivers) so they would have been in a strong position to call for solidarity had they chosen to defy Ratcliffe and occupy.

His exposure of then ISN leader Richard Seymour’s apology for McCluskey is very good. However I question the wisdom of Unite the Resistance giving a platform to Billy Hayes last December when 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 right-wingers, 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

WRP Explosion

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