The case for socialism (2013 version)
Reclaim the unions
The case for socialism (2013 version)
Can the unions 'reclaim' Labour for the working class?
There are others who think that the road to solving the crisis of working class representation is to reclaim the Labour Party.
In the past, even though Labour still had a pro-capitalist leadership, its democratic structures allowed its mass, predominantly working class membership, to influence the party.
Today those democratic structures have been long since destroyed. The attacks on the leadership of the UNITE union, cheered on by the Tories, for the 'crime' of encouraging its members to join the Labour Party to vote for prospective parliamentary candidates that it judges support union policy, sums up the reality of Labour today, and the enormous obstacles that exist to reclaiming the Labour Party.
The Labour Party was founded by the trade unions over a century ago, in order to give a political voice to the organised working class.
Yet today UNITE, the biggest trade union in Britain, with up to two million members - which has donated £8 million of its members' dues to Labour since 2010 - is being treated like a 'dangerous infiltrator' of the Labour Party.
Miliband even called the police in to investigate! The refrain of the Labour leadership is that UNITE has committed a crime for having the temerity to have opinions on matters which are solely for Miliband to decide.
This is a complete negation of the historical democratic traditions of the Labour Party.
Miliband's current proposals to further weaken the link between the unions and Labour are the latest in a long succession of measures to push Labour to the right and consolidate it as a party that is 'safe' for capitalism.
The Socialist Party was formerly the 'Militant tendency', whose supporters faced expulsion from the Labour Party over 20 years ago for daring to stand up for working class people.
Our 'crimes' were to stand for socialism and, when we played a leading role in Liverpool's Labour council from 1983-1987, to have the temerity to refuse to cut public services, but instead to build houses, schools and leisure centres, and to create jobs on decent rates of pay.
We then led the mass movement against the unjust, flat-rate poll tax. Eighteen million people refused to pay the tax, which resulted in the government having to scrap it and ditch then prime minster, Margaret Thatcher. Thirty four supporters of Militant
were among those who went to prison for refusing to pay the tax, often as a result of court orders from Labour councils.
Their reward was to face expulsion from the Labour Party. We warned then that the expulsion of Militant supporters would end with the expulsion of socialist ideas and the influence of the working class from the Labour Party.
Today the handful of Labour councillors who have had the courage to vote against cuts being implemented by Labour councils have all suffered expulsion, or at best suspension, from the Labour Party.
Trade unionists need to draw all the necessary conclusions from the Labour leadership's attacks on UNITE and the treatment of anti-cuts councillors.
Any battle to reclaim Labour must be fought seriously, demanding that Labour adopt policies in the interests of the working class, including opposition to all cuts in public services and repeal of Britain's vicious anti-trade union laws.
It would also have to include fighting, not only to oppose the further undermining of the union link, but to recreate the democratic structures that have been wrecked by New Labour.
In our view, however, such a struggle would not succeed. Far better for UNITE and other unions to break their links with Labour and begin to build a new mass party of the working class.