Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/488/2427
John McDonnell speaks to the socialist
AT THIS year's civil service union PCS conference, Bill Mullins interviewed Labour Party leadership challenger John McDonnell MP for the socialist. John is chair of the PCS parliamentary group. He spoke to Bill just before he addressed the conference.
John, unfortunately you didn't get the nominations to stand for the Labour Party leadership. What are you going to be saying today to the PCS conference?
I'll be explaining what I think Brown's strategy will be, which will be a new round of privatisation, job cuts and pay cuts and that we'll need to be gearing up throughout the summer for the autumn. To undertake the consultation with our members in PCS and call for solidarity within the union and also call for solidarity with other unions through the TUC to mount a campaign to push back the Brown agenda.
The comprehensive spending review will be a tight one and therefore I think he will be looking for a sizeable cut in public expenditure. On that basis we'll need to use industrial action to protect jobs and services.
The PCS has already taken action and it looks like there's a chance of getting UNISON and the NUT and the postal workers involved in future strikes.
What is interesting this time round is that there'll be a broad united front, right the way across the public-sector workers' unions. On that basis through solidarity and strength we can win.
As Mark Serwotka has talked about, there's the bringing together of the spirit of the pensions struggle in 2005.
The pensions campaign demonstrated that if we can get solidarity across the public-sector workers' unions we can win. And I'm hoping that UNISON, now that the general secretary has made a statement in solidarity, can bring other TUC-affiliated unions together.
But PCS will need to take the lead. It will be PCS that I fear that the government will want to try to pick off and smash. I think the Brown government will see PCS as a key union to take on, that's why solidarity is needed elsewhere.
Have you got any inside information about Brown's attitude to the PCS?
That's the track record so far of what Brown has done. I was in the Commons when Brown got up and announced the 100,000 job cuts. I was there when he announced the pay cut as well for the next year or so. So I think he sees PCS as at the forefront of the campaign to protect public services and public-sector jobs. That's why he'll come for us.
And perhaps also to make a point that he's able to take on the unions as well as any other right-wing leader.
I think that's what he wants to try and do. He's forced into the situation because of the way the economy and the comprehensive spending review is going, I think he's looking to see whether he can have what is effectively a public-sector pay cut over the next two years as a minimum. He's looking to see if he can enforce privatisations across the board. In his view, no public service is safe from privatisation. On that basis I think we're in for a real struggle.
Of course the crunch for you is the Labour Party. You know that the Socialist Party is part of the Campaign for a New Workers' Party. We sympathise completely - we hoped you'd get on the ballot paper. We were saying to our supporters in affiliated unions that they should demand that their union back John McDonnell if he gets on the ballot paper, putting the likes of UNISON and TGWU on the spot. So what conclusion are you going to draw now?
What my campaign demonstrated was that, within the Labour Party and affiliated trade unions and beyond, there was massive support for the policy, programme and political perspective I was pursuing. So that gives me a lot of confidence, particularly about the new generation that has come in as a result of that campaign. But we fell at the stumbling block of the Parliamentary Labour Party, so that's the target for the future.
But you don't think it's time to leave the Labour Party and join the campaign for a new party?
No, I still think the Labour Party offers us the opportunity of a mass workers' party. But at the same time my campaign was completely non-sectarian, working across political campaigns and that's the future. We want to see a broad united front on a whole series of issues and industrial struggles will be part of that.
In The Socialist 24 May 2007:
Labour Party leadership
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party news and analysis
Marxist analysis: history
Environment and socialism