By writers for The Spark
In early June the Workers Party held its annual national conference – this year called Socialism 2012 – in Newtown, Wellington.
The event opened with Jared Phillips of the Hamilton branch putting forward a class analysis and economic forecast for the coming period. Guest speaker Sue Bradford from Auckland Action Against Poverty and MANA spoke about reorganising the unemployed and the vulnerable sections of the working class, which was followed by Mike Kay, a WP member in Auckland, looking at the current position of meat-workers and wharfies who have both recently been in significant struggles.
On Saturday Mike Kay presented on the concept of the combat propaganda organisation, examining what type of Marxist organisation it is possible to build in the current period. Kassie Hartendorp of the Wellington branch then spoke about Safer Spaces, touching on some of the problems in Occupy and putting forward strategies to deal with unsafe spaces.
After those sessions a panel was held on ‘Eco-Socialism in Australasia’. Grant Brookes of the Wellington branch spoke about the idea of forming an Eco-socialist network in Aotearoa and Ian Anderson – also of the Wellington branch – then spoke on the connection between socialist policy on immigration and the environment. Guest speaker Ben Petterson of Socialist Alliance spoke about the state of the Eco-socialist movement in Australia.
Continuing with Australian guests, Yarra City Councillor Anthony Main from Socialist Party Australia spoke about the way in which that organisation participates in elections and the connection between the transitional method and their work in council. This was followed by a panel ‘Against the capitalist education system’ in which Joel Cosgrove of the Wellington branch spoke about new forms of organising being required as student unions are increasingly becoming the tools of the university administration. Rowan MacArthur of the International Socialist Organisation spoke on student resistance and reasons for increased activity amongst students. University teacher Dick White then spoke about the idea of the university as the critical conscience of society and counterposed that idea to the reality of the role of the university.
On the last day of public conference Byron Clark and Paul Hopkinson presented on imperialism with Paul focussing on the PFLP solidarity campaign and Byron focussing on NZ imperialism. Jared Phillips then outlined the emergence of new analysis within the Workers Party in favour of pro-working class Tino Rangatiratanga. James Froch of the Wellington branch pointed to a socialist programme for queer liberation in New Zealand. The final session consisted of a panel with a representative from each of Socialist Party Australia, Socialist Alliance (Australia), International Socialist Organisation, and Workers Party putting forward perspectives of their organisations.
The Workers Party convened several internal meetings. There were reports from all those holding elected positions in the organisation. There was agreement that the organisation now has the beginnings of a finance consciousness, that the organisation endorses the internal document now published on the WP website titled ‘The Treaty, the foreshore & seabed, and Tino Rangatiratanga’, and that a debate will continue regarding changing the name of the organisation.
Socialising, bands, fundraising
Over the conference weekend there was plenty of socialising and fundraising. On the first night for example the bands Kittentank, Big Rick, and Man/Woman played a fund-raising gig at Bar Bodega which took $450 at the door. On the following night there was a Greek food theme, and there was also a raffle for art and wine.
Whilst attendance is not the sole criteria for assessing the strength of a socialist conference, and is not the key criteria, it has to be said that the organisation was pleased with the hugely increased turnout in comparison to previous annual national conferences. Over the last five years attendance had plateued at no more than approximately 75. The increased turnout indicates the increased opportinuties for socialist building and reflects the organisation’s increased invovlement in mass work in areas such as workplace, student movement, queer liberation movement, and MANA movement. The Workers Party is looking towards holding next year’s national conference in Wellington at Queen’s Birthday weekend for the second year in a row.