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Tony Clark, Leni Solinger: Letter to the National Committee

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On April 19, the N.C suspended us (Tony Clark and Leni Solinger) from all I.S. work apart from teachers work for 6 months. We were permanently excluded from the Sheffield branch. We would like to ask you to support the reopening of the case on the following grounds:

  1. No specific charges were laid
  2. There was no question of IS discipline being broken.

We felt that the commission was not wholly satisfactory.

  1. Only one of the four lay members was present
  2. We were at no time allowed to hear the case being put by the branch committee, the full-timer or anyone else, as interviews, were always separate.

As we recognise the situation in Sheffield has become untenable, regardless of right or wrong, we would like to try to build a Rotherham branch. We feel that it is a dangerous precedent to suspend members from an entire area without any charges or breaches of discipline.

Two things said were that we wanted to take over the leadership of the branch and that we obstructed the decision making of the branch. We did not move into the branch with any intention of a 'takeover'. Anyone who expects to walk straight to the top does not understand how to build credibility or earn leadership. We did have some criticisms of some things the branch committee did but it is a gross exaggeration to say that we obstructed decision making or 'criticised everything'.

Because the case is not one of clear cut political differences, we feel it is necessary to go into the background, in (boring) detail. Unfortunately, it is the only way to come to some rational decision.

Tony Clark and Leni Solinger lived in London for the last six years. Throughout that time they were active members of the Hackney branch of IS and Southwark R&F. Leni Solinger was branch secretary of Hackney for one year. They built a R&F group in Southwark which started with about 5 supporters, Leni Solinger was convenor of the group. When they left in September 1974, there were 47 supporters and it was one of the strongest R&F groups in London. It was the CP stronghold in London teachers in the early seventies. When they left it was and still is a R&F stronghold. Many of the members were actively involved in the teachers strikes, both official and unofficial. Tony Clark’s school was out on unofficial strike on many occasions. Tony Clark was secretary of the IS Teachers fraction from 1969 to end of 1973. Tony Clark is presently on the EC of R&F. and Leni Solinger on the EB. They are both on the National IS Teachers Steering Committee. Although they have had disagreements, as every comrade has had, throughout this period, there, has never been a complaint about their participation as IS members.

They moved to Rotherham near Sheffield in September 1974 as they wanted a change from teaching In London and wanted to work in a more Industrial area. Two comrades put them up at their house. One of them Mick Duffield was a member of the branch committee. He told them that two things were said about them to the branch committee by the fulltime organiser, Sheila Macgregor.

  1. A possible reason why they came to Sheffield was to build a faction.
  2. Tony Clark had opposed unofficial strikes in London. Tony Clark and Leni Solinger do not understand why these statements were made feel they must have had some influence on the branch committee’s attitudes towards them before they had even met.

The first incident in which there was any conflict occurred in October when they opposed a branch committee –motion to discontinue the internal bulletin. As IS comrades, they expect disagreements of this sort to emerge and be debated but they found the debate very unsatisfactory. The reason it had come up was that an article in the IB concerning NUJ .Fraction Work had been used against one of the NUJ comrades in the Sheffield branch. The debate was completely personalised - the main argument being if you support the NUJ comrade, you must support doing away with the internal bulletin. Tony Clark and Leni Solinger took position, of more careful writing and editing of, articles for the IB and talked maily about the positive role of the bulletin. The debate got very heated and Tony Clark lost his temper (although he was not the only one)

He was very rude to one comrade in particular after the meeting he gave an open and honest apology for this at the next branch meeting.

Before that meeting, neither Tony Clark or Leni Solinger can recall any event which might have influenced the branches attitude towards the two comrades other than the remarks made to the branch committee before they came or the false rumour that was put around that Tony Clark had insulted the branch secretary at the very first meeting.

Between that October meeting and the time of the AGM of the branch in January Tony Clark and Leni Solinger disagreed with several things the branch committee did and were completely open about it. Programmes were not sent out giving meeting nights or topics. Unless you attended all meetings or phoned someone, you didn’t know exactly what was going on. Important but not urgent items were brought to the branch without any prior, notice. One example of this was the Internal Bulletin motion mentioned above. Another was a perspectives document on women's work. Tony Clark and Leni Solinger objected to things such as this being brought to the branch without prior notice as it did not allow for thought or discussion beforehand. When items come completely cold very few people are likely to participate in debate. This was the case, in the Sheffield branch- there was very little debate, discussion or involvement- o£ the majority of members. Education and political discussion items were almost totally lacking at the branch. The issue of education was raised several times, after a few months the branch finally voted on an education programme (about December). The night it was supposed to begin after: it had been postponed at least two times, the branch committee proposed that it be scrapped and Tony Cliff’s book used Instead. This was carried and the education programme was postponed again. The branch decided to go through the book In seven parts. In the last three months we have had only two meetings where the book was discussed. It has not been touched for over two months. Branch meeting consisted largely of items such as S.W sales, planning public meeting, films, flyposting etc. Public meetings were; held once every six weeks.

Too much of the branch revolved around Sheila McGregor; people were not being trained to be independent. 'All perspectives were written by and introduced by her. Tony Clark and Leni Solinger made positive proposals to the branch and also volunteered to do things such as contacting ; or education. Their suggestions were often ignored or looked upon as personal attacks. One example of this is the following: Tony Clark volunteered to do a book list to accompany T. Cliff s book, First another comrade was asked to do it then the branch committee said Tony could. Although Tony Clark did it within a couple of days it took four weeks before it appeared. By this time the two above mentioned education meetings had passed. The atmosphere in the area began to become more hostile, although this expressed itself largely outside branch meetings. Tony Clark and Leni Solinger resented the way they were being treated by the branch committee. They also resented hearing rumours about themselves being spread behind their backs worsening the atmosphere*, Tony Clark and Leni Solinger attended a branch committee meeting (on their own request) to discuss the problem. There was very little discussion although Tony Clark spoke for about four minutes explaining his position. At this meeting Cliff Hughes accused Tony Clark and Leni Solinger of “holding secret meetings in Rotherham”. That is an absurd allegation and Cliff did not even attempt to substantiate it. The meeting was non-productive.

Branch Committee Elections

In January, when the branch committee elections; came up, Tony Clark and Leni Solinger decided to stand for the following three- reasons; they felt capable of playing a leadership role in the branch, since they had criticised the existing leadership, they felt it was their responsibility to stand, they had developed credibility in the 'Sheffield 'Rank and File group (Leni Solinger was elected on the committee and made chairman). They were both new to the Sheffield area but other nominees were in the same position. Their nominations met with the organised opposition of the branch committee and a full slate was put forward which excluded them. Extensive lobbying went on against them and the branch committee minutes went out saying something like Tony Clark and Leni Solinger were opposed by the branch committee because they were against building a workers leadership. No reason was given for this statement. At the meeting Malcolm Cottom, another teacher, supported them by saying they had earned the respect of the local R&F group and that their experience had proved very valuable. The vote was about 25 for those on the branch committee slate 7 .votes for Leni Solinger and 8 for Tony Clark,

Although there are many incidents which led to the problems in Sheffield branch only one more example will be given. In January a womens sub-committee was set up in the branch. The branch committee came to a meeting with recommendations for who should be on it. Leni Solinger was not proposed although everyone knew she was very interested in womens work. She volunteered and was accepted, after a couple of meetings the womens committee asked Leni Solinger to be the convenor. She was asked to prepare a leaflet on equal pay and brought a draft of it to the next womens meeting. It was gone through for content and style, amended and duplicated. It was by chance in an unrelated conversation that Leni Solinger was told some 4 days later that the branch committee had discussed the leaflet, found it politically unacceptable and asked comrade McGregor to write another one. Leni Solinger was never notified by the branch committee that the leaflet was being discussed or rewritten and the new leaflet was produced without the womens committee or the branch committee seeing the final version. When the leaflets appeared at the next branch meeting, Leni Solinger criticised the unusual procedure. The fact that Leni Solinger complained might be an example of what the branch committee would call “Obstructing the decisions of the branch”. Tony Clark and Leni Solinger think it is a good example of how their efforts to integrate themselves into branch work was obstructed by the branch committee.

In March, a motion was put to the branch from the branch committee that the problem of Leni Solinger, Tony Clark and MD, the full time organiser, and the branch committee be looked into by the NC. The motion was very largely carried (including the votes of three ploy students who were brand new to the branch and had never seen them before). There were 9 votes against the motion.

The Executive Committee sent JN and TD to Sheffield. The interview with Tony Clark, Leni Solinger and MD (held in an open, packed pub room) lasted less than an hour. Other work groups were interviewed separately. TO and Leni Solinger were informed that the majority of the branch wanted them expelled but no specific charge were given, despite repeated requests. No complaint had or has since ever been levelled at their work. They were fully active in the teachers always brought contacts to public meetings, regularly sold the paper etc. They were never accused of any breach of branch or group discipline. JN end TD referred the matter to a full control commission.

We do not pretend not to have criticisms of IS. We have always been entirely open about this. We feel that the Sheffield branch and the full-timer in particular, have been unreasonably rigid in dealing with what we regard as quite normal disagreements within a revolutionary organism, and we feel that this rigidity is largely at the root of the problem in Sheffield. What we considered to be normal give and take in an IS branch was seen as a threat to the existing local leadership. Our expectations and style must have been incongruous with the existing branch although we were never confronted with any criticism. The response of the branch committee on many occasions was totally out of proportion to events.

As loyal and active members of the organisation, we are most upset at the prospect of being denied the right to participate fully in the life of the group. We are willing to build IS, and to build it in accordance with the democratically decided policies of the group. We appeal to you to support thy reopening of our case and reverse the decision of the April NC.

Tony Clark
Leni Solinger
25/4/75