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The debate over the union-Labour link has surfaced repeatedly during the trade union conference season. This is not surprising given the attacks from the Blair government.
Some small unions have even threatened to disaffiliate. Bectu is balloting its members. The RMT took the decision to support various parties opposed to Labour. There are also rumours that the FBU will cut its links.
Socialist Appeal has consistently opposed this line of argument. Whilst understanding the frustration with the Labour government, to respond by breaking the link would be a big mistake. The point is not simply to get angry, but to get even! The only way to defeat Blairism is for the unions to take back the party. This has become the overwhelming view of the bigger unions such as the CWU, UNISON, GMB, Amicus and the TGWU.
Over the past few years, in a string of union elections, the Blairite candidates have been resoundingly defeated. The biggest setback for Blair was the defeat of his erstwhile supporter Ken Jackson of the AEEU. The executive elections in September could see a further victory for the left. Again, the recent election of Kevin Curran in the GMB, a powerful industrial union, also served to reinforce this shift to the left in the trade unions.
Most recently has been the defeat of Blair supporter, John Kegee, deputy general secretary of the CWU, by leftwinger Dave Ward. "The result is a further setback for Downing Street, which is losing its grip on the TUC and Labour Party machinery", states The Guardian newspaper. (23 May 2003)
At the conference of the Transport and General Workers' Union, Tony Woodley, the new general secretary, gave notice that New Labour's time was now up. "The days of New Labour are now numbered," he told the conference. He told delegates it was "time to reclaim our party" and put an end to privatisation, anti-union laws, pandering to big business and wars of aggression.
"Working people want something different. I say it is time to reclaim our party, not walk away from it as a few on the fringes would argue, but reclaim it for the values of working-class men and women, the values of socialism."
This call to arms is the latest onslaught in the long running battle over the future political direction of the government and the Labour party. Woodley, a leading member of the so-called awkward squad of new union leaders, is planning a summit of union leaders later this year to put the Labour "back in our party".
With Blair on the run, is it time for the trade unions to disaffiliate from the Labour Party? We say ABSOLUTELY NOT! Such a move would simply play into Blair's hands. It is exactly what the Blairites want. They want to eliminate the trade union (i.e. working class) base of the party, so as to transform it into a capitalist party. Up until now, they have completely failed in this 'project', as they call it.
The task facing the trade unions, which created the Labour Party, must be to kick out the Blairites and take back the party for the working class.
There has been a lot of talk, but now we have to transform words into deeds. We support Woodley's initiative to call a summit of leaders to reclaim the party. To begin with, the 12 trade union representatives on Labour's NEC must represent union policy or be removed. Secondly, if the unions were to send 50 members into every constituency party, they could take it over. It would be sufficient to trigger the full reselection process of sitting MPs. Thirdly, the unions should give fully backing to a '300 Club', aimed at signing up 300 trade unionists to each Constituency Labour Party. Lastly, they should draw up a list of potential replacement candidates who will consistently fight for union policies.
The unions have the resources to help its members join the Labour Party. In the past trade unionists were given a special rate of £3 to join. The unions should reinstitute this scheme. The members' political levy should be used to subsidies members to join the Labour Party. This is not to cut the finances to the party, only that they will get this money through membership fees instead of donations, sponsorships, etc.
The FBU has just donated £12,000 to the Labour Party. This could have been used to help hundreds of FBU members join the party, a number of whom could have joined say, John Prescott's party in Hull East, or maybe Nick Raynsford's party in Greenwich and Woolwich. On the basis of the rules, which stipulate One Member One Vote, every potential Labour candidate would be judged by the policies they support. Obviously, the trade unionists would caste their vote for those closest associated
with union policies. Together with other trade union members, they could decide, at the snap of their fingers, the best candidate to represent Hull East and Greenwich and Woolwich at the next election! Think about it.
Socialist Appeal has urged that words be translated into deeds with the establishment of a '300 Club'. If the unions simply recruited 300 trade unionists to every local Labour Party, even on the present rules of One Member One Vote, they could decide who should represent the party at the next election. After all trade unionists can join the party for £12 per year. The unions could even help members financially to join by returning some of their political levy. It is as easy as that!
The Labour Party could be easily reclaimed for the working class and socialist policies. The unions have the power to change the Labour Party. Now is the time to act. Don't contract out! Contract in!
July 4, 2003.