Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 26 January 2006

Time for a new mass workers' party

Ken Smith, Socialist Party Executive Committee, looks at the way forward after the RMT conference held in London on 21 January.

RMT General secretary addresses the conference THE POTENTIAL for beginning to build a new mass working-class party in England and Wales was glimpsed in outline at the RMT rail union discussion conference on the crisis of working-class political representation.

RMT General secretary Bob Crow addresses the conference

The leadership of the RMT had made it clear that the conference was not going to found a new party, or take any concrete steps in that direction.

 Nonetheless, this was the first time that a national trade union has called a conference to discuss the question of working-class political representation. The Socialist Party welcomed the conference as potentially an important step forward.

Although there was a very limited trade union mobilisation for the conference, including from the RMT, the turnout could have filled the hall twice over, and most speakers said a bigger hall should have been booked, as some RMT members who hoped to attend were turned away.

However, it showed that even though it is only the beginning of a process, there is a significant layer of trade unionists and socialists who would enthusiastically take part in any moves towards a new mass workers' party.

Contribution after contribution at the conference agreed with Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT's, statement that "the Labour Party can't be changed" and that a new party was needed.

Even speakers who are still members of the Labour Party, such as John McDonnell MP, did not attempt to argue that Labour could be reclaimed and said that he did not know if the Labour Representation Committee (which campaigns to reclaim the Labour Party) was the best way forward.

Speakers graphically showed, in their descriptions of the everyday horror of conditions after eight years of Labour government, why such a new mass party to the left of all the establishment political parties is objectively necessary for working people.

However, the key question that came out of the conference is what is the next step in building such a new formation?

The lessons of the false starts of the 1990s, such as Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party and the wrecking of the Socialist Alliance by the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP), were clearly present in the minds of many attending the conference.

Federal Approach

Contributors to the conference showed that a new political party could not be grafted onto the working class or any other sector in struggle from above. Instead, a new party would have to be forged out of campaigning and building together in struggle a unity based on an inclusive and democratic approach - in short a federal approach as the Socialist Party argued for at the conference. Unfortunately this has not been the approach taken by Respect, the project led by the SWP and George Galloway MP. Respect was viewed with scepticism by many of those attending this conference.

Even one of Respect's leading supporters, Greg Tucker a member of the RMT, said that we "needed something bigger and better" than Respect.

A speaker from Respect who lectured the delegates that they should get on board the Respect ship for the May elections "which had already left the port" created a self-inflicted hole below the waterline of the Respect ship as his speech was heckled for its arrogance.

A process of clarification of how the first steps towards forming a new party can be achieved could begin from the RMT conference. The Socialist Party-initiated Campaign for a New Workers' Party conference in London on 19 March, will be an important stage in pushing this process forward.

Bob Crow said at the conference that he felt sometimes as if people blamed the RMT for the fact that there is no longer a mass working-class party.

No one at the conference argued that but a number of contributors, including RMT members, pointed out that having called this conference the RMT had a special responsibility for taking matters forward.

Having correctly argued that trade union struggle was not sufficient and that a political alternative, a generalised struggle, was necessary, Bob Crow failed to draw the obvious conclusion that a new party is needed and that the RMT should initiate concrete steps towards founding one.

He put the main emphasis in his contribution to the conference on rebuilding a mass shop stewards' movement such as existed in the 1970s.

Whilst this is a good objective its achievement cannot be seen as a prerequisite before moving on to the creation of a new workers' party, as Bob Crow seemed to suggest. The shop stewards' movement in the 1970s arose out of the major class struggles that took place at the time.

Rob Williams (pictured left) a car workers' convenor and Socialist Party member from South WalesToday, after the retreats of the 1990s, the layer of activists in the trade unions is still much thinner than it was then. It is being rebuilt as a new generation is drawn into struggle, and this is taking place more quickly in left-led unions, such as the PCS.

However, it will take time to develop, and the existence of a new party or pre-party formation, as Rob Williams (pictured above) a car workers' convenor and Socialist Party member from South Wales explained, would help raise the confidence of potential shop stewards and therefore actually help to speed the process up.

Immediate practical steps have to flow from this conference. Firstly we have to ensure the widest publicity and turnout for the Campaign for a New Workers' Party conference on 19 March. The CNWP declaration for a new party can also play an important role in galvanising support. And, secondly, there is a need to call upon the RMT leadership to follow up from its own conference and energetically drive for the building of a new workers' party from amongst the trade unions and the working-class at large, with another conference and other practical initiatives.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

In The Socialist 26 January 2006:

Striking to save jobs & services

Fight cuts and closures

United action planned

City greed hits workers' pensions

PCS youth conference success

'Crisis in working class political representation'

Time for a new mass workers' party

A socialist world is necessary

An antidote to cuts, lies and corruption

Morales' presidential victory - a new phase in the class struggle

Chile: First woman president elected

Venezuela: Nurses protest in Caracas

Blair's 'high wire act' - heading for a fall?

Lincoln fights to defend council housing

Homophobia isn't the exclusive preserve of any religion

Scaring children into believing in Jesus


Home   |   The Socialist 26 January 2006   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:


triangleAnti-DOO lobby of Liverpool's transport committee

triangleNationalise rail now

triangleVirgin train workers vote for strike action over pay

triangleVirgin train workers ballot for strike action

triangleStrikers picket the South Western Railway network

Socialist Party:

triangleTamil Solidarity AGM & public meeting

triangleBirmingham South East Socialist Party: Can the Labour Party be changed?

triangleCoventry Socialist sales hit 1,000

triangleArriva bus strikers stand firm


triangleSocialist Students national conference

triangleSocialism 2018

triangleSocialist Party national women's meeting


triangleBrutal rail privateer Abellio takes over Midlands rail services

triangleTory housing policy: build zilch, hike prices

Bob Crow:

triangleThe left unions and the Labour Party affiliation debate


triangleBlairite horror and Labour's divisions graphically exposed


triangleThe Socialist Inbox


triangleCNWP extended steering committee meeting

News and socialist analysis

News and socialist analysis



Local government pay: fight for the 5% claim, fully funded



Corbyn's Labour can defeat Tories with socialist programme



Branson sues NHS: kick out the profiteers



Royal wedding exposes them-and-us visa system



RBS to sack 1,000: nationalise the banks



Rough sleeping crisis: make homes, not arrests



End Tory war on poor



Nationalise rail now


Them & Us

Them & us



Tory housing policy: build zilch, hike prices



Make the Tories history



Birmingham bin workers win!


British economy

Amber warning lights flash on British economy



After the budget - unions must launch pay fight


Climate change

Carbon dioxide hits 800,000-year high: end profit-driven pollution

triangleMore News and socialist analysis articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party

triangle8 Dec Local government pay: fight for the full 5% claim

triangle6 Dec Strikers rally in Liverpool

triangle6 Dec Corbyn's Labour can defeat Tories with socialist programme

triangle5 Dec Victory at Glenfield shows people power can save our NHS

triangle5 Dec Labour council Blairites deselected

triangle30 Nov Victory: Glenfield Children's Heart Centre saved!

triangle30 Nov Dramatic retelling of Grunwick strike

More ...

triangle11 Dec Leeds Socialist Party: Campaigning workshop

triangle11 Dec Bristol North Socialist Party: Christmas Quiz

triangle12 Dec Birmingham South East Socialist Party: Can the Labour Party be changed?

triangle12 Dec Liverpool Socialist Party: Fighting council cuts

More ...

Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



December 2017

November 2017

October 2017

September 2017

August 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017





















Platform setting: = No platform choice