The Convention of the Left recall conference in Manchester on Saturday, January 24 “Capitalism Isn’t Working – what is the alternative?”, met in the shadow of confirmation that, after six months continuous contraction, the UK economy was officially in recession and heading in the direction of depression.
As more than 180 delegates and individuals gathered - socialists and anarchists, trade unionists, environmentalists, democrats and those who favour direct action - they were confronted from the outset of the discussion with the global economy in free-fall.
The sudden sharp economic downturn since the September Convention, and a succession of failed bail-outs, served to dispel the myths of a stand-alone crisis in the financial sector that could be resolved by a new regime of regulation and a programme of government spending funded by increased taxes, and ever more debt.
News that car production in December had fallen to half the output one year earlier and Honda had doubled its two-month UK shutdown added to a mounting sense of the possibility of recession giving way to a complete economic collapse and gave a new urgency to a vigorous discussion, which I introduced on behalf of LEAP.
However carefully prepared, many proposals crafted in advance proved inadequate for the sudden and sharp deterioration. Almost as quickly as they were raised, calls for pressure on New Labour to pursue a growth agenda, for previously radical-sounding programmes of demands to nationalise the banks, to build resistance to job cuts, for a Green New Deal, for doubling of jobseekers’ allowance and slashing rents, all began to look too weak for the new turn of events, on a scale unprecedented, and therefore unexpected by most.
As the oil price plummeted to new lows, undermining the campaign for a windfall profits tax on energy companies, much of the discussion on the climate crisis revolved around the TUC’s proposals for a Just Transition and how to resolve the conflicting objectives of solving the energy crisis by preserving and creating jobs in coal and nuclear power, whilst moving to a low-carbon economy.
As the day progressed, stronger, bolder proposals began to dominate, coming together in agreement of the need for a coherent strategy to establish a socialist economy.
Beyond fighting to preserve jobs and hence the employment contract, which is being broken everyday as redundancies accelerate, ideas for were put forward for extending existing forms of collective ownership and creating new ones, based in the communities.
Suggestions like using unsold Jaguar/Landrover vehicles as the basis for community transport came together with the necessity not just to oppose the global corporations, but to transfer their resources and those of the privatised bus, and train companies into socially-owned enterprises, democratically controlled and managed by committees of workers and transport users.
The Convention’s own open democratic processes were tested and survived a challenge to its stated policy of broad and inclusive unity rather than campaigning for a new party. A vote to move on from a short discussion about the idea of a new party was carried by more than two to one.
A new steering group was elected with nominations from a range of organisations, and strengthened by a new sense of direction, the Convention decided to invite the absent cooperative movement to join the group.
The Convention provided a timely and valuable opportunity to bring together a wide variety of previously disparate strands. Hopefully, it will be followed up and developed through local Conventions.