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The Socialist Party of Great Britain Polemic - Trade Unions Camden branch May 04.1



1. On 28th August Camden Br. Circulated to branches the statement "the Socialist Party of Great Britain, THE TRADE UNIONS AND THE MINERS' STRIKE".

It opened with the following paragraph:-

"At its formation the Party thrashed out a considered statement on the Trade Unions which was endorsed by Conference and Party Poll and was published in the 1905 PARTY MANIFESTO.

It stated that the basis of the trade unions must be a clear recognition of the position of the workers under Capitalism and the class struggle necessarily arising therefrom, and that all action by unions tending to side-track and workers from the only path that can lead to their emancipation, should be strongly opposed. Only action on sound lines should be supported".

2. At the Delegate Meeting on Sunday 14th Oct. 1984, Comrade Coleman handed to a Camden delegate the following letter:-

"To Camden Branch. The opening paragraph of your circular on trade unions contains certain erroneous historical information. In short, you are mistaken in claiming that the T.U. issue was finalised in 1905. In fact the 1906 Conference endorsed by a Party Poll passed a different resolution from that quoted by you.

Are you prepared to a. let me know the source of your information? b. Acknowledge that my correction (which is based upon detailed records of the relevant sources) is correct?

If you accept (b) then could you make this clear to Delegates who will have been misled by your circular?

Signed Steve Coleman".

3. Camden delegates informed Comrade Coleman of the source of the statement made by Camden Branch in the paragraph quoted above and showed him a copy of the 1905 MANIFESTO. Comrade Coleman then added a further note:-

"You will find that the 1905 resolution which you quoted was rescinded one year later. You will find that the poll which you refer to was about the 1906 resolution".

Comrade Coleman subsequently repeated his criticisms during the discussion at the Delegate Meeting. Neither then nor since has he informed Camden Branch of the sources of his alleged correction, or offered to withdraw it.

4. Comrade Coleman's criticisms are entirely without justification and the statement made by Camden Branch is correct in every particular.

5. Immediately on the formation of the Party discussion took place about the Party's attitude to trade unions.
The first issue of the SOCIALIST STANDARD in September 1904 contained a statement on the very limited powers of trade unions.

At a General Meeting of the Party on 18th September 1904 the question of trade unions was discussed at length, and again at two Party Meetings as shown in the report in the SOCIALIST STANDARD for October 1904.

The following is an extract from the report of the General Meeting in the S.S. for October 1904.

"The question of trade unions and the attitude of our Party thereto has been the subject matter of two meetings of the Party ….. We venture to assert that never before in the history of the working class movement in Britain has the question of trade unions been so searchingly investigated from a scientific standpoint."

At the 1905 Annual Conference on 20th and 21st April 1905 it was again discussed and a resolution was passed (see Report of Conference in SS, May 1905). It was after that Conference, on 12th June 1905, that the Executive Committee endorsed the text of the PARTY MANIFESTO which was published in July 1905 and advertised continuously in the SOCIALIST STANDARD in the following months.

6. It was from the first edition of the MANIFESTO that Camden Branch quoted. The text of the first edition of the MANIFESTO including the statement on trade unions, was reproduced in the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth editions of the MANIFESTO, which came out in the years 1907, 1908, 1910, 1911 and 1920.

In each of these new editions the original text of the first edition of June 1905 was reproduced without any alteration. The text of the first edition was never rescinded, in whole or in part.

The only difference between the various editions was that the second and subsequent editions each had a preface dealing with the events in the political field. None of the prefaces made any alteration whatever to the original 1905 Party statement on trade unions.

The MANIFESTO was no longer published after 1920 because its place had been taken by other pamphlets.

7. The 1905 statement on trade unions has never been rescinded by the Party. An Executive Committee statement which was endorsed by Conference 1971 contained the following passage repeating the essential parts of the 1905 MANIFESTO.

"That we are in agreement with working-class action on the industrial field when based on a clear recognition of the position of the workers under capitalism and the class struggle necessarily arising therefrom and we oppose all activities of unions in support of capitalism or tending to side-track workers from the only path that can lead to their emancipation."


Comrade Coleman's statement that the 1905 resolution was rescinded one year later is completely erroneous as regards the Party statement on Trade Unions in the 1905 MANIFESTO.


CONFERENCE 1905 (20th and 21st April) passed a resolution on Trade Unions which was in line with the Statement in the Manifesto, and would have been taken into account by the Executive Committee when it endorsed the text of the MANIFESTO on 12th June 1905.

CONFERENCE 1906 (see SOCIALIST STANDARD May 1906) passed a resolution instructing the EC to call a Party Meeting to discuss the trade union issue, with the additional instruction that the resolutions were to be put to a Party Poll. The proceedings at the Party Meeting (which occupied several days at various dates in 1906 were reported in the SOCIALIST STANDARD for July, August, September 1906 and February 1907.

CONFERENCE 1907 reported the rejection of the above resolutions in a Party Poll and endorsed the statement on Trade Unions in the 1905 Party MANIFESTO (see Conference Report in Socialist Standard April 1907), the report reads:

"YOUR PARTY MEETINGS of London members were held to discuss our attitudes towards Trade Unions, but the resolutions carried at these meetings were defeated on being submitted to a vote of Party Members".

The resolution in the name of Tottenham "That this Conference re-affirms the position re Trade Unions laid down in Party Manifesto, pages 8, 9, 10", then came on, but on the ground that the resolution was unnecessary in view of the Poll already taken, Wilkins and Phillip moved "Next business" and it was Carried 9-6."

8. CAMDEN BRANCH repeats that the paragraph to which Comrade Coleman objected, is correct in every particular.

The Branch deplores Comrade Coleman's reckless disregard of the easily verifiable facts.



Steven Coleman was instrumental in orchestrating the expulsion of Camden and North West London Branches in May 1991. He also prevented the first meeting of the reconstituted Branches taking place at Marchmont Street Community Centre. He is no longer a member of the Clapham based Socialist Party. Increasingly, those who organised against our expulsion for taking principled political action in the full name of the Party have left the Clapham organisation.

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