Jerry Hicks is a former AEU/Amicus convenor at Rolls Royce in Bristol. He is one of the most experienced trade union militants in the SWP, and a natural and charismatic working class leader. In 2006 he acheived 25% of the vote for Respect in the mainly white working class estate of Lockleaze, finishing second (ahead of Labour). He is a member of Respect’s National Council. He is a key member of the SWP in Bristol. On a personal note, in the thirty plus years I have been involved in socialist politics, I have never met anyone I respect more than Jerry.
To the SWP Central Committee and membership: From Jerry Hicks:
Respect is in crisis. How did we arrive at where we are now?
Was it George Galloway’s letter sent out on 23rd August 2007 to all Respect National Council members stating some observations, expressing some criticisms and making some suggestions? Or was it the hysterical reaction by the SWP leadership in the weeks that followed? Despite apocalyptical warnings and assertions of “no capitulation” in the SWP road shows that took place in September, virtually all of Galloway’s solutions were agreed but only after weeks of vile and damaging blood letting.
On receiving the letter of August 23rd there were two ways of dealing with it. We had a choice to defuse or to ignite. We, i.e. the SWP leadership, chose to do the latter and have been fanning the flames ever since.
I attended the Respect National Council meeting 22nd September 2007 where it became evident for the first time to the overwhelming majority of the council that there have been very serious and deeply disturbing problems for nearly two years.
Every end has a beginning and a number of soul searching questions need to be asked.
As the SWP is by far the single largest organisation in Respect, should it not then shoulder the greatest responsibility to ensure that Respect not only survives but grows, flourishes and prospers?
How can it be that the national Respect membership numbers only 2500 when the SWP membership is nearly 6000. Obviously fewer than a 1/3 of the SWP membership are even in Respect?
When was the last time we as individual members of the SWP took part in a campaign or union activity and identified ourselves as Respect?
When did we bring anyone – friend, family, colleague or supporter of a campaign that we are involved in to Respect events or activities?
When was the last time as an individual we recruited or even asked anyone to join Respect?
Who is responsible for allowing this when the official line is that the SWP throws its full weight behind Respect?
Why have so many SWP members not even joined Respect yet are called to go to meetings around the country to discuss Respect and are now being urged to join Respect and to get delegated to Respect conference! See email below sent out on the 17th October 2007…………….
RESPECT ANNUAL CONFERENCE
‘The Respect annual conference is going to be very important this year. We are urging comrades do the following:
You can only get delegated to Respect conference if you are a registered member. You MUST be a paid-up member by THIS FRIDAY, 19 October .Deadline for resolutions is Friday 19 October.
Deadline for the election of delegates is Sunday 4 November. Once again we are urging as many SWP members as possible to get elected to the Respect Conference. If you have any questions please contact John Rees or the SWP National Office. Martin Smith, SWP National Organiser.’
We, in the SWP also need to ask ourselves the following questions.
Did we play any part in reaching this disastrous situation or is it all due to George Galloway’s letter of August 23rd 2007? When did it all start to go wrong? Was it August 23rd or long before that?
Who or how many knew of the issues? Why was there no debate or discussion within the SWP or Respect National Council immediately problems began to arise to try to resolve the differences and thereby avoid being where we are now?
In my view the responsibility rests with the SWP leadership for this situation of crisis to have been developing over many months, even years, whilst in the SWP we were told nothing.
Is Bristol different and is this only a London thing?
Lots of people in Bristol Respect have done lots of things but we only stood for one council seat in this year’s May elections. Let’s ask ourselves why. Was it because we had grown? Was it because we did not want to stand in any other ward?
Or, was it in part because not enough people in the SWP in Bristol had either joined Respect or done one single thing to help Respect?
Whilst we might not have the upheaval of Tower Hamlets, our own Annual General Meeting (AGM) held on 27th September 2007 was almost ruined by our full time SWP organiser who wanted to call all the SWP members out of the room 5 minutes before the AGM was due to start, leaving non SWP Respect members (a third of the meeting) sat there not knowing what the hell was going on.
That potential disaster was averted because I refused to let it happen, but it would have without my intervention. Who would bet that this is not happening elsewhere.
Galloway was and is a maverick, warts and all. We all knew this. I am not making excuses just stating the blindingly obvious.
The Big Brother experience was considered by many a mistake but his performance before the US Senate was unrivalled and made the name of Respect known across the globe.
To describe Galloway as right wing is farcical. To vilify him and demonise him as the enemy beggars belief.
The 27 members of the Respect National Council who are also critical of the SWP do not represent a “Galloway faction” as is being presented, nor are any of them right wing or witch hunters as we are being asked to believe. They include people like Ken Loach, Linda Smith, Victoria Brittain, Salma Yaqoob and Yvonne Ridley. They are all socialists, they are all remarkable people in their own right and they are all senior members of Respect.
I feel that our SWP leadership has created an atmosphere where an observation made is described as a criticism, where any criticism is taken as an attack which is transposed as being ‘right wing’.
Are we really supposed to believe that we were in an ‘all or nothing’, ‘them and us’ situation where everything we the SWP say must be true and that everything the ‘other side’ says must be lies. Everything we the SWP do is right but everything they do is wrong!
Frankly, as in life or politics this is ludicrous.
After having overreacted to Galloway’s letter in August, the SWP leadership rallied its membership to emergency party councils and road shows, seeking votes of endorsements predicated on half truths and contorted facts to justify their position, in a dishonest and degrading manner.
When sound judgement was needed we got poor analysis, when honesty and frankness were required we got a call for blind loyalty and expulsions.
The situation has been appallingly handled by our SWP leadership, with a series of misjudgements eventfully reaching a position of a self fulfilling prophecy.
Have we just thrown away a fantastic opportunity? Are we now dashing the hopes of millions having given others and ourselves a glimpse of what is or was possible?
Was it right that so many were ready to join the chorus of catcalls vilifying some of Respect’s brightest stars without more thoroughly questioning the denouncements.
I have seen things that I can no longer accept.
I have heard things from meetings I have been at described in a way that I don’t recognise.
No longer will these things be done in my name.
For the reasons that I have set out, as from this moment I am resigning from the SWP.
To those of you who will feel let down I offer an unreserved apology, to those who will feel disappointed I am truly sorry, to those who could not care less and who may from here on invent their own distorted version I wish you well in your world.
We all have to live with our own decisions and I know I am leaving the SWP with my integrity and honour intact and feel sure that I will be able to sleep well at night, safe in the knowledge that I did what I did for the right reasons at the right time and with the best intentions.