Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/330/5594
Labour attacks RMT
Fight For New Workers Party
THE LABOUR Party's threat to expel the railworkers' union, RMT, is a serious attack on all unions considering loosening or breaking their links with the Labour Party.
The Labour Party has instructed the RMT that unless it immediately revokes its decision to ratify Scottish branches affiliating to the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), it will have "placed itself outside the constitution of this party" and at the "earliest opportunity" it will recommend that "the RMT be treated as disaffiliated from this party forthwith."
The RMT has called a special annual general meeting in Glasgow on 6 February in response and RMT general secretary Bob Crow has called on branches to hold special meetings to discuss the issue.
Socialist Party members in RMT are arguing, in a special edition of their industry bulletin, The Redline, that the RMT should reaffirm its decision to allow Scottish branches and its Scottish regional council to continue to affiliate to the SSP.
RMT and other unions like ASLEF and FBU, supported Ken Livingstone after his expulsion from the Labour Party. They have also supported other non-Labour candidates, including John Marek in Wrexham, for over a year now. Clearly, Labour's leadership are trying to isolate Bob Crow and RMT and make an example of them to other unions. The issue of the union link with Labour will be hotly debated at the FBU conference in May, after the experience of last year's firefighters' dispute.
Government ministers will also be hoping that they can use the RMTís right wing to try and remove Bob Crow as general secretary, as they did with Mick Rix in ASLEF, with the help of the employers.
Rix's replacement, Shaun Brady, is already showing his pro-boss stance by attacking ASLEF headquarters staff's pay and conditions. He has threatened a lock out and the employment of non-union, agency scab labour if they take strike action.
Labour wants pro-capitalist compliance as they try to deal with the serious crisis in the rail industry. Bob Crow and the RMT leadership are undoubtedly a thorn in the government's side.
It's likely that the special RMT conference will reaffirm the branchesí decision to affiliate to the SSP. But the big question is what happens after that?
There are clear dangers that the RMT's right wing will claim the union will lose all influence in the rail industry by not being affiliated to the Labour Party. And they will probably attempt to stir things up amongst rank-and-file rail workers, complaining about the irrelevance of the 'politicos' at the top of the union, who should be fighting for decent pay, conditions, the renationalisation and reintegration of the rail industry etc. This was certainly a theme in Shaun Brady's campaign to oust Mick Rix, although the right wing will not effectively campaign on these issues.
It was also the case in the broadcasting union BECTU. There, activists forced the executive to hold a referendum on affiliation to Labour. Union leaders warned of dire consequences for the British film industry if the union disaffiliated. Eventually the union upheld its affiliation by a margin of over three to one in a membership ballot.
Some on the RMT executive are raising the idea of a membership ballot to reaffirm the decision to support the SSP. However, the most immediate step is for the union to reaffirm its conference decision and then prepare a wider consultation of the membership.
Given the experience of the BECTU ballot, there would be an almighty avalanche of propaganda in the capitalist media aimed at influencing the result of any RMT referendum or ballot. Whilst activists can withstand that, there has to be a campaign to reach all layers of the union.
There will not be sufficient time between now and the 6 February conference to discuss fully what comes next if Labour carries out its threat. Instead, Socialist Party members will argue that a full discussion should continue in the branches after the special delegate conference to ensure that the union comes up with a clear policy. We believe this should include continuing to support candidates outside the Labour Party and organising a conference, with other interested union bodies, to discuss the setting up of a new mass working-class political party.
This will help prepare the RMT for making a clear break, avoiding any ambiguity about the union being stranded in a political wilderness, isolated from other unions.
There is a developing mood amongst rank-and-file trade unionists for a clear break from Labour. If the threatened expulsion is carried out, then RMT members and leadership must seize the opportunity to pose a clear alternative, through calling a conference of trade unions aimed at taking steps towards establishing a new mass party of the working class. The RMT's forerunner played that role over 100 years ago in forcing the unions to break from Liberalism and establish the Labour Party. It must not shy away from the same task of breaking from Labour in the 21st century.
Model Resolution for RMT branches:
This branch reaffirms the position taken at last year's annual general meeting, allowing branches to affiliate and support political organisations other than the Labour Party.
We believe this decision represents the best interests of RMT members; and the Labour Party's arrogant threat to now expel our union shows how out of touch with working people this Blairite, bosses' party has now become.
If the Labour Party goes ahead with this decision, after our special conference on 6 February, then our union should prepare a full discussion amongst all members to show how the RMT could play an important role in building a political alternative to represent the interests of working people.
We reaffirm our support for individuals and parties who are standing in elections and who take a clear working-class position in their election material against Labour.
Finally, we call on the council of executives/annual general meeting to call a conference by the end of this year, inviting other trade unions and trade union bodies, to discuss the establishment of a new mass party of the working class.
In The Socialist 17 January 2004:
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