(Sue's home address and phone number)

3rd April 2002 Please note: some names in this have been changed.

Dear Central Committee,

I would like to add a personal statement to the joint letter from Rehan Hafeez* and myself explaining our reasons for resigning from the party. I would like to emphasize that I do not have any general disagreement with the party's national perspectives; my disagreement is with the behaviour of the Birmingham organiser (and, in the process, with a couple of other party members who have supported him uncritically).

My problems with Ger Francis began with the selection of Socialist Alliance candidates for the General Election 2001. I heard that a young Sikh man was being proposed as the candidate for Sparkbrook and Small Heath. I knew him as someone who had attended the recent Globalise Resistance dayschool and had also come on one or two anti-privatisation demonstrations. It was not clear who within the SA was putting him forward as a candidate, but it appeared that he had been suggested to the SA by the Council of Sikh Gurudwaras. Rehan Hafeez, my partner Willem Meijs (SA but not SWP) and myself discussed this and were concerned about it: not that this person as an individual was a practising Sikh, but that a religious organisation was apparently playing a leading role in nominating SA candidates. Accordingly, at the next Socialist Alliance meeting - which I think was the one held on 30th January 2001 - I tried to raise our concerns. Just before the meeting I saw Ger, who informed me that the prospective candidate had withdrawn. (This suggests to me that his initial agreement to stand had not been very well thought through and perhaps had been made under pressure.) I saw this as a good opportunity to raise some issues in general, without my arguments being misconstrued as a personal criticism of the candidate. I was astonished at the reaction from SWP comrades. Even at the outset, when I gave apologies on behalf of Rehan and tried to ask questions on his behalf, the reaction from Lynne Hubbard was that this was not acceptable. When I and Raj Pal tried to articulate questions about the SA's relationship with religious organisations, Ger Francis, Liz Crosti and Andy North laid into us. Andy North, while not exactly calling me a racist in so many words, said that the sort of thing I was arguing was racist, which amounted to the same thing. As an active anti-racist all my adult life I am still deeply hurt by this suggestion.

A few days after this meeting Ger rang me and subjected me to what I can only describe as a harangue, accusing me of "not understanding democratic centralism". My reply to this was that I did not have a problem with democratic centralism, but the SWP's decision to back that candidate had NOT been made democratically: I had not been told of any SWP caucus to discuss our intervention in the SA. Ger's response to this was that (a) these discussions took place at District Committee meetings and (b) I should ring him to keep in touch with current events. I regard both of these claims as disingenuous: the District Committee is used for organising and is not generally the place for all Birmingham comrades to turn up and have a general political discussion; and a one-to-one conversation with the full-timer is no substitute for a debate among local comrades.

With hindsight, this episode was a taste of things to come: many of the issues would get recycled in the arguments over the Stop the War Coalition a year later.

It is highly ironic that later that year (I think it was Wednesday 9th May) I got embroiled in a row with a racist as I was en route to collect papers. The man had been abusing an older Sikh man for no apparent reason, calling him a "fucking Paki" etc., and when I gave support to the Sikh he turned on me and followed me down the road. At this point Andy North appeared, closely followed by Ger. These two comrades, who had apparently thought I was being racist at the Socialist Alliance meeting, failed to give me any moral support in a confrontation with a real racist: far from saying anything to him, Ger turned to me and told me to shut up. The fact that Ger and Andy were physically present may well have deterred the racist from attacking me, but I had expected better than this.

At around this time Ger had been ringing me repeatedly and saying that I should buy a week's ticket for Marxism 2001 in advance. I explained to him that I was on six months' unpaid leave and consequently totally broke, but he appeared not to believe this. One day - I think it was Tuesday 8th May - he happened to catch me in my office at Birmingham University and started this argument again. He also accused me of being "isolated" from my colleagues at work, which was totally ridiculous given that I was on study leave and trying to keep out of the place; he told me that I should be ringing up colleagues and arranging appointments to talk to them about Marxism. I said that this was impossible, but that I would be attending the next day's union meeting because redundancies were being threatened (I wasn't even attending union meetings at that time, in general). I promised Ger I would talk to some likely union members about Marxism - which I did.

The following day (Wednesday 9th May I think) I saw Ger at the paper collection (immediately after the confrontation with the racist mentioned above). Ger asked me how the union meeting had gone and I said it hadn't been bad: we seemed to be fighting off the threatened redundancies effectively. Ger took no interest whatsoever in whether my colleagues were losing their jobs, but just asked "What about getting people signed up to Marxism?". I was disgusted at this: for me, one of the fundamentals of being a socialist is fighting on trade union issues like defending jobs.

At Birmingham University there are a number of unions: my own, AUT; Unison; MSF, GMB and AEEU. There can be very nasty divisions between the various categories of staff and the unions representing them, which of course the management exploit to the full. I try hard to build good relations with leading members of the other unions. In particular I was in frequent contact with someone called Dave Owen [not his real name - SAB ], who was an officer in Unison. In my experience he is a good trade union activist who may have political differences with the SWP but is not a member of any other group. Around the end of August he e-mailed me suggesting that we write a joint article for Socialist Worker about the current joint trade union protests over the University's new car parking charges. I was rather ashamed that a non-party member had suggested this before I had, and readily agreed. Accordingly, after a bit of direct action which AUT and Unison had jointly organised on Friday 7th September (occupying the Management's part of the car park), I drafted a report for SW and e-mailed it to Dave for him to look at over the weekend and suggest revisions.

The next day, Saturday 8th Sept, I saw Ger at a paper sale. I told him about the demonstration and the fact that Dave and I were doing a joint report for the paper. Instead of being pleased at this, he exploded, saying that on no account was anything with Dave's name on it to be printed in SW. When I asked why, he said that Dave was a "snake" who had tried to persuade comrades to leave the party and had "physically attacked comrades". When I asked who, he said "me, for example", implying that there were others. Andy North, who was present during this conversation, confirmed Ger's claims, saying he was surprised I didn't know all this. I was totally shocked, and this put me in a very difficult position regarding the article. I even rang Mary Phillips, an old friend of mine who works on the paper, asking her advice. In the end I e-mailed the joint article, including Dave's contributions, to the paper with a covering note stating what Ger had told me. The article was printed in issue no. 1766 (15th September 2001) - not surprisingly, with the quote from Dave deleted.

I could not leave Ger's allegations against Dave unresolved as the issue was seriously affecting my working relationship with him. Accordingly, I mentioned Ger's name in an e-mail to him to see how he would react. He spontaneously told me his account of the whole episode, which was basically that a number of people had been drinking in a pub following a SA meeting; that Ger had persistently provoked Dave at a time when Dave was going through a bad time personally; that Dave had got wound up and asked Ger whether he wanted to "settle things outside"; that Steve Jones [not his real name - SAB] had immediately told Dave to apologise, and Dave had done so. I asked Steve about this and he confirmed Dave's account. Of course Dave was out of order, but there is a big difference between what he actually did and physically attacking Ger, which is what Ger had claimed.

By the start of the academic year, around the beginning of October, the US and UK were preparing to bomb Afghanistan and I decided to initiate a Stop the War group at Birmingham University. I saw Ger one weekend at a demo in the City Centre and told him I was doing this. Instead of saying anything supportive, as usual he berated me for not consulting him first, and said - to my surprise - that there were student comrades at the University who were organising a STW group, implying that I was duplicating their efforts. He then introduced me to two comrades: on talking to them it became apparent that they had not in fact organised anything yet. We proceeded to work together to build a joint staff-student STW group, which held several successful meetings. However, Ger displayed a lack of sensitivity in turning up to these meetings week after week, which offended many people who felt that the meetings should be for staff and students of the University. He also collared me after a party meeting a few weeks into the war and accused me of showing a "lack of leadership", apparently because I was not chairing all the meetings myself and was encouraging non-party members, both staff and students, to take turns in chairing it. Ger argued that instead of intervening in the STW meetings, SWP members should be holding their own separate meetings. I expressed doubts that anyone would find the time to attend two political meetings a week, given the pressures we were all under. Not only did Ger not listen to this, he actually said I should take over the STW room booking for SWP meetings and move the STW group to a different slot. I was appalled at this idea, and refused to do it, trying to explain to Ger what this would look like to STW activists outside the party. In fact I booked a different regular lunchtime slot for SWP meetings a few weeks later. To my knowledge Ger called one SWP meeting using this slot, which was not well attended, and then abandoned the attempt, vindicating my arguments.

More recently, in January 2002, Ger also asked me to book larger rooms for a Globalise Resistance meeting and dayschool, which I had to do on a commercial basis through the University's Conference Office. After some e-mail exchanges Ger told me to confirm one booking and make the other one provisionally, which I did. I pointed out to him that there was insufficient time to give the required three weeks' notice to the University of an outside speaker; Ger proposed to get round this by not having the names of the speakers on the posters. I agreed to this, but reluctantly because if the meeting had gone ahead with outside speakers who had not been cleared and someone had complained, I could personally have been put in a difficult position with the University. In the event Ger asked me to cancel the provisional booking and move the firm one; then he cancelled the firm one too. My credibility with the Conference Office is now zero as a result, and I do not think they will accept any future bookings from me for political meetings on campus.

I could go on, but I think I have detailed enough unfortunate episodes for you to understand why I no longer have any respect for Ger and feel unable to work with him. In my experience he bullies comrades rather than giving them support: his response to anything I undertake has been consistently negative. He has even lied on at least two occasions about comrades within the party (Steve Jones) and outside it (Dave Owen). His behaviour has made it harder for me to organise on campus, within both the trade unions and the STW group. The recent fiasco with the STW Coalition, which has led to the establishment of a breakaway group as documented in my and Rehan's joint letter, is for me the last straw. I am very disappointed that Chris Bambery, apparently speaking for the Central Committee, has not shown any willingness to criticise Ger's conduct. Since I no longer have any respect for our full-timer and since the CC seem to think there is not a problem, the only honest position is for me to resign from the party so that I can freely speak my mind at meetings in the future.

I would be willing to discuss the contents of this letter with a Central Committee member other than Chris Bambery, or with a National Committee member from outside Birmingham. I will consider re-joining the party at such time as Ger Francis is no longer a party organiser and my confidence in party democracy is restored. In the meantime I will continue to take and sell SW and participate in the Socialist Alliance, Stop the War, ANL and other joint activities on the left as well as arguing socialist politics within my union.


Sue Blackwell

* Rehan Hafeez is a pseudonym: I have replaced his real name at his own request.

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