Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/280/24459
Stop Funding Blair
Time for a new workers' party
ON PICKET lines all over the country firefighters have been asking why the unions continue to finance New Labour. Why should FBU members fund a party that wants to cut thousands of jobs, undermine working conditions and the fire service and refuses to pay firefighters a decent wage?
In some stations firefighters are filling in forms to withdraw from paying the political fund which goes to the Labour Party. Others are passing or circulating resolutions that question the FBU's link with New Labour.
This dispute has completely exposed whose side New Labour are really on. They are squaring up to the firefighters in the interests of big business.
"This branch demands that the political donation towards Labour Party funds cease immediately, that an independent political party or individual be found to sponsor and to receive the political levy and if this is successful to take it forward to the TUC conference to become trade union policy."
Resolution from A23 Euston strike committee to FBU London Regional Committee.
The Financial Times called the dispute "a full-fledged confrontation between the Labour government and the trade union movement over the future of Britain's public services". They, the bosses and New Labour - all want public services on the cheap. That means private sector vultures swooping in and making a killing while jobs are cut, working conditions made unbearable and public sector workers are expected to survive on poverty pay.
For New Labour, which is now the bosses' party, taking on the firefighters is part of its pro-big business agenda.
Resolving to break the link
THE BITTER experience of five years of New Labour government has pushed more and more workers towards challenging the unions' financial and political link with Labour. The postal workers' union CWU voted to cut the money it gives to New Labour by £500,000 and the rail workers union, RMT, is cutting £700,000 over five years and only backing MPs who support union policy.
At the UNISON public sector union conference in 2001, Socialist Party member Glenn Kelly successfully moved a motion calling on the national executive to review the union's financial links with New Labour. This reflected the huge anger of health workers, council workers etc who are facing privatisation and attacks on jobs, pay and working conditions.
In the same year, delegates to the FBU conference voted to instruct the executive to prepare any necessary rule changes that would allow the union to support candidates and organisations in opposition to New Labour, as long as they uphold policies and principles in line with the FBU.
Unfortunately, the rule changes were not brought to this year's conference and the FBU maintained its affiliation to the Labour Party. But there's no doubt that next year's conference will be flooded by resolutions from firefighters, like the ones in Euston, who've had enough of paying for the privilege of being kicked in the teeth by New Labour.
Time for a new party
SOME union leaders have raised the idea of "reclaiming" the Labour Party. This is what Andy Gilchrist said he meant when he called for New Labour to be replaced by Real Labour. Before the current strike he told The Guardian that remaining inside the Labour Party was "the best opportunity to be in the game where the big decisions are taken".
But despite donating millions every year to the Labour Party, the unions have no real influence over party policy. Labour Party general secretary, David Triesman, showed his contempt for trade unionists when he said that the party "cannot be bought" by unions demanding concessions in return for finance.
The union block vote at Labour Party conference has been reduced from 90% to less than 50%. At this year's conference, delegates voted two to one in favour of a review of the Private Finance Initiative. Union delegates voted in favour by a margin of eleven to one. But Blair turned round and arrogantly declared: "It won't affect our determination to proceed with the policy because we think it's the right policy".
The New Labour 'fixers' prevented the firefighters from even getting a resolution about their impending dispute on to the conference agenda.
In some areas, individual Labour MPs have supported the firefighters but they are part of a party that is completely tied to the market and the interests of big business. The time has come for the unions to break the link with New Labour and begin the task of building a new party that can stand up for the interests of workers in the same way that the Labour Party stands up for the bosses.
Building a new workers' party
MANY FIREFIGHTERS who've had enough of New Labour are opting out of the political levy and raising the question of the FBU disaffiliating from the Labour Party. But firefighters and other workers also need a political voice. Firefighters at Euston have said that they want the money that the union currently pays to the Labour Party to be used to support in elections parties and individuals who backed them in the strike.
The Socialist Party supports the idea of the unions' political funds being used to finance alternative candidates and parties in elections, whose policies correspond with those of the unions.
In previous elections trade unionists (including FBU members) have themselves stood as election candidates. In the 2001 general election in Wyre Forest, a retired consultant was elected with 58% of the vote campaigning against the downgrading of a local hospital. This gives an idea of the support firefighters could generate and the impact they could have if they stood candidates in the future.
There are bound to be hundreds of firefighters itching to take on New Labour candidates in future elections and they should be able to do so, with the backing of the union.
Firefighters, postal workers, rail workers, council workers, health workers - all are under attack from the pro-big business policies of this New Labour government. If, after this dispute, the FBU was to approach the newly elected left leaders in unions such as the RMT, CWU, PCS, ASLEF etc about organising a cross-union rank and file conference to discuss what concrete steps could be taken now to build a new political alternative, it would be a huge step forward for working-class people.
As we wrote in the Socialist Party pamphlet 'The case for a new workers' party': "A new workers' party could play the role of uniting together, around a fighting anti-capitalist programme, all those who want to struggle against the system and its effects. It could be a vehicle for defending the interests of working-class people through collective action in the workplaces, communities and society generally..."
THE TRADE unions make up eight out of ten of the largest donors to the Labour Party. Last year they donated a total of £9.87 million.
In the summer New Labour went to the unions, cap in hand, to beg for more money to fund their debt of over £10 million. The unions agreed to raise affiliation fees by £750,000 in 2003. Instead of giving millions to bail out a big business party that is attacking ordinary workers, the unions should be donating that money to the FBU hardship fund and supporting the campaign for a new workers' party.
Musicians union £16,125
(Labour Research, June 2002)
Free the Funds
FREE THE Funds is a cross-union campaign for a new workers' party, initiated by the Socialist Party.
Its founding sponsors include ten trade union national executive members from six trade unions.
If you would like to invite a Free the Funds speaker to your union branch or would like copies of model resolutions or petitions, telephone:
020 8988 8779 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
In The Socialist 6 December 2002:
Socialist Party news and analysis
War and occupation
Socialist Party reports and campaigns