We learnt recently of a new initiative, New Directions, which describes itself as "an informal network of union activists who have either campaigned against social partnership or want to work, more generally, to promote a stronger and more militant union".
Sounds good, doesn't it? Unfortunately it appears that only members of the Socialist Workers Party set it up and decided its aims. Though we worked alongside SWP members of our union in SIPTU Members Against A Partnership Deal and in the wider Campaign Against A Partnership Deal, to which the SIPTU grouping was affiliated - we were not informed of this initiative nor have we (so far) been contacted by them.
The conclusion we draw from this is that New Directions is just the latest recruitment front for the SWP (like the short-lived SIPTU Activists for Change, which they set up a couple of years ago). If they were honest they would call their group something like 'SWP supporters in SIPTU'; setting up front organisations that pretend to be something they are not is dishonest and alienates activists who don't like being used to suit some Party's hidden agenda.
Having said this, we certainly don't wish to cut ourselves off from anyone who may share some the same aims as ourselves. We have supported Carolann Duggan (a SWP member) in all four elections she contested. We are happy to co-operate with other union members, including those involved in New Directions, where we agree on a particular objective or goal; such as winning support for a fight for higher wages, assisting fellow workers in struggle, winning progressive rule changes, increasing democracy and participation in our union.
SIPTU Fightback will continue as an independent newsletter. While members of political organisations are very welcome to get involved, we are determined that it will not be dominated by any one viewpoint. Our role is to spread some useful information, help to put activists in touch with each other, and stimulate debate about the type of union we want.
Alan MacSimóin, Mary Muldowney
The presentation of two views on New Directions is not a 'hard cop/soft cop' act, though the different approach of my good friends puts me in the comfortable position of the 'soft cop'. The divergence, even if only one of tactics, is genuine, and the breadth of SIPTU Fightback allows for the expression of both sides of the disagreement, our first in a three-year collaboration.
We differed on two counts: in what tone our views should be expressed and how we should relate to New Directions. Condemnation and even the naming of the party seemed to me unhelpful (though, as my colleagues have mentioned the Socialist Workers Party, it is pointless me being diplomatically euphemistic). My different orientation to the fait accompli will be apparent below.
After separate paths, which did not exclude cooperation on issues such as Carolann's candidacies, the SWP and us worked together in a single body, SIPTU Members Against a Partnership Deal (SAPD). In my case this extended to the committee of the Campaign Against a Partnership Deal (CAPD), to which SAPD was affiliated.
At the end of the campaign there was at least the question that SAPD or something like it might be kept on in SIPTU. Indeed, at the last, small and informal, meeting of SAPD in March, I asked for a final meeting of SAPD to discuss this question. The matter was left unresolved pending a final meeting of the committee of the main campaign, CAPD.
Nothing more was heard of SAPD or CAPD, and four weeks later I learnt indirectly of a new initiative, New Directions, "an informal network of union activists who have either campaigned against social partnership or want to work, more generally, to promote a stronger and more militant union". Only members of the SWP appear to have established it. They, unfortunately, did not inform us of their plans for this follow-up to SAPD. The announcement and Founding Statement of New Directions was widely circulated in the Union, except to ourselves.
In SIPTU Fightback we have worked as a newsletter that is edited by and open to people from different political parties and none, for aims that are similar to New Directions. We look forward to cooperating and organising, on that broad and independent basis, with all those in SIPTU whose aims are similar to our own. Those who have similar wishes for SIPTU should work together. There are few enough of us without setting up separate groupings.
Rather than organising a couple of dozen SIPTU activists on a very narrow basis, socialists in SIPTU &endash; and all those aiming for a new direction for our Union &endash;should seek to influence the couple of hundred thousand SIPTU members by involving as many activists as possible, not least those closest to them. If Teachers Against the Partnership Deal could be kept on with a mixed membership, and renamed Teachers United, why couldn't SAPD be relaunched with a mixed membership in SIPTU? If the left in London (for God's sake!) can do it (with the London Socialist Alliance) surely the left in SIPTU can?
These are my own tentative proposals for taking us forward from the situation we find ourselves in. They are addressed in good faith to all supporters of New Directions and SIPTU Fightback:
New Directions and SIPTU Fightback should co-exist in harmony and cooperation for the next few months (and indefinitley after that, as publications, if diversity within unity is deemed best). Before the end of the year, say in November after the Regional Conferences, Carolann could convene a small, open conference of her supporters to discuss the work and organisation of the network of activists seeking a changed and fighting Union.
Participation in the conference would be on the basis of general agreement with Carolann's candidacies. New Directions, SIPTU Fightback and a list of representative activists would sponsor the conference. A conference organising committee would be established from among the sponsors. Conference or no, there's lots that we can all be co-operating on: Motions for the 2001 Conference, Rules Revisions for 2001, a slate of candidates for the next NEC elections, solidarity work for current disputes, preparation for the General Secretary elections, and so on.
I invite New Directions, or Carolann, or any SIPTU member to respond to these suggestions in our next issue.