Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/449/5368
RMT rejects move back to New Labour...
...but hesitates on alternative
THE KEY political debate at the Rail Maritime and Transport workers' union (RMT) meeting in Dublin this month was on the crisis in working-class political representation. Earlier this year the RMT held a successful conference on the issue, the Campaign for a New Workers' Party (CNWP) was launched and now Respect/SWP have called a conference on organising fighting unions.
The debate centred around a main resolution from Waterloo RMT branch in London which recognised that "the RMT held a successful first conference in January 2006 [which] highlighted the fact that, working with others in the trade union and socialist movement, the RMT has a key role to play in developing a solution to this crisis."
The union reaffirmed its commitment to explore further the issues around the crisis in working-class political representation. Regrettably, though, the debate was short of suggestions about how to take the process forward.
Indeed, it seemed that the main aim of RMT general secretary Bob Crow and those supporting him was to ensure that the 'status quo' of being able to support a number of varied political organisations on the Left outside the Labour Party - in particular the Scottish Socialist Party - was kept intact.
The Waterloo resolution believed the union could "further the processes started at the January meeting" by organising: "further national conferences; developing with 'sympathetic' trade unions, nationally and locally, along with trades councils, progressive trade unionists, community and political activists, the call to develop a new national shop stewards movement; joint campaign activity in a united front against capitalism; and the development of new socialist political organisation, extending the work already progressing in Scotland and Wales to the rest of Britain."
Opposing this were two wrecking amendments. These called on the conference to oppose "RMT playing a role in the creation of any new political party or organisation participating in elections." Instead, they said, RMT should "support organisations, such as the Labour Representation Committee and others, that seek to make the Labour Party truly representative of the labour movement with a socialist programme in the interests of the working class."
Although these amendments were defeated, nevertheless one amendment got about 25% of the conference vote - a figure substantially higher than many would have expected.
DELEGATES SPEAKING in support of the main motion clearly saw these wrecking amendments were designed to tilt the union back towards work within the Labour Party. They clearly confirmed that there was no question of taking the union back into the Labour Party or fully engaging in the process of trying to reclaim it. But, neither was there outlined - with a few exceptions - the idea of building on the development of a "new socialist political organisation".
Some delegates correctly pointed out that we were not yet at the stage where a new workers' party could be launched. But leading figures in the debate gave no indication that they were prepared to follow on from the RMT January conference to assist the process of formation of a new party.
Brian Munro, a London Underground delegate moving the main motion was at pains to stress "this was not a contentious resolution" although it became clear that its opponents clearly thought the idea of furthering a new socialist organisation was contentious.
Brian pointed to the success of those challenging Blair's New Labour such as Peter Law and his supporters in Blaenau Gwent. He also correctly said that he didn't want the union to affiliate to the Labour Party because it "was a party of big business that no longer represents the interests of working-class people."
However, he felt that the resolution allowed the RMT to "stick to [its] current formula" on funding of political groups, rather than looking at further steps towards establishing a new party. He concluded by saying: "This resolution is not saying the union should call a new party this year or anytime soon - if that is people's fears. All we want to do is carry on the good work of the last few years."
Mick Lynch, moving the amendments, said he had no problem supporting the union's current position, allowing RMT members more control over the political fund but he said the resolution was about setting up a new political party and added: "Small political parties want our endorsement and that's a trap. There's no demand in the RMT to create another small party contesting elections such as Respect or the CNWP ... they are all failing; look at the SSP which is pulling itself to pieces... supporting the creation of any new political grouping would be going down a cul-de-sac and we need to state clearly we will not support a new political party."
Another delegate, Mike Sergeant said that setting up a new party "is not our business and we will lose half of our membership overnight." But Nick Quirk from Plymouth felt that the RMT had the strength to "form the RMT party and put RMT candidates" and added that he didn't believe that the RMT should be opposed to the creation of a new workers' party.
Socialist Party member Bob Law, a London Underground delegate, warned that the amendments were trying to trap the union into going back into the Labour Party and felt the union should look to forming a new party. Bob said: "We are perhaps not quite at the stage yet where the party can be formed but it is a matter of urgency and there are real dangers of a vacuum opening up which, as we can see already, is beginning to be filled by the BNP."
Bob concluded that there is "a growing groundswell of workers wanting to withdraw funding by the unions of the Labour Party" but they also needed "an alternative to be built" to stop workers voting for the far right.
REPLYING TO the debate RMT general secretary Bob Crow said that they'd asked Waterloo branch secretary Greg Tucker - a member of Respect and the International Socialist Group - if this resolution meant forming a new political party and Greg had said no, which Bob agreed with.
Bob added "we will support other political parties who don't believe the Labour Party can be reclaimed... such as the SSP whose marriage with Labour was over in Scotland."
He added that the RMT was not going to limit itself by accepting the amendments and the union doesn't support everyone who supports its policies, pointing out that the BNP have a policy of renationalising the railways.
He said that as well as supporting new candidates such as Trish Law in Blaenau Gwent and RMT member Janine Booth - who stood in local elections for the Socialist Green Unity Coalition - the union would also continue to work with the LRC, SSP and Greens and work with most of those who further the aims of the RMT!
He concluded: "I don't believe the RMT should become a political party but I know that if we'd continued supporting the Labour Party then more than half the RMT membership would have jumped ship."
So, while the conference decision may have opened the door slightly for the RMT to campaign for a new mass workers' party it appears the union's leadership is, at this stage, not preparing to open the door any wider.
Build the Campaign for a New Workers' Party
SINCE BLAIR became Prime Minister in 1997 trade union leaders have given over £100 million of their members' hard-earned money to New Labour. Blair and Co's only way of saying 'thank you' has been to attack remorselessly the interests of union members.
The Campaign for a New Workers' Party (CNWP) thinks that it is no longer possible to transform Blair's New Labour into a party representing workers. We say the unions should not only stop funding New Labour now - they should also help to build a party that will fight in their members' interest.
If you agree with us, get in touch with the CNWP by emailing email@example.com or by writing to CNWP, PO Box 858, London E11 1YG. The CNWP's website is www.cnwp.org.uk
In The Socialist 20 July 2006:
War and occupation
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party campaigns
International socialist news and analysis
Scottish Socialist Party
Campaign for a New Workers Party