Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/333/5624
Trade Union Left Convention
THE ISSUES being debated by the RMT are likely to surface at the Convention of the Trade Union Left, which takes place the day after the RMT special conference.
Originally the Convention was called in the name of the Socialist Alliance (SA) but organisers later claimed the: "convention has nothing to do with the Socialist Alliance."
The stated aim of the 'Convention' is to discuss issues like "who should we vote for at the next elections? What can we do about the state of political representation for trade unionists [and]... the question of the political fund".
The Socialist Party believes there is a pressing need for the trade union Left to come together and debate these issues, particularly given what's happening with the FBU and RMT. But we feel that the primary responsibility for organising this rests with the new Left union leaders - collectively known as the awkward squad.
Regrettably, many of these leaders still claim it is possible to 'reclaim the Labour Party'. But this assertion flies in the face of the evidence of recent weeks with Blair's pushing through top-up tuition fees and the Hutton whitewash.
The Left union leaders, even the best ones, are unable or reluctant to square up to the reality of New Labour being an openly pro-capitalist party. They are not drawing the necessary conclusion that a new mass workers' party is needed. This has left an enormous vacuum on the left of British politics and trade unionism.
The SA is incapable of filling this vacuum, as some of their leaders recently admitted at the Respect Unity Coalition (RUC) founding rally. SA leaders signalled in their statements signing up to the RUC that they believe the SA has not developed because socialist ideas are not yet popular enough with working-class people and the electorate generally.
But, as the Socialist Party has modestly demonstrated, where a base for socialist ideas is properly built then socialists can beat Labour. Five Socialist Party councillors in Coventry and Lewisham demonstrate this.
New workers' party
THE NEED for a new workers' party to give a political voice to trade unionists and to give a real choice for workers at elections has never been greater. And, a meeting of rank-and-file trade unionists can play a useful role, even without the presence or support of the union leaders, if it is representative and if it draws clear conclusions.
Unfortunately, given the previous experience of the Socialist Workers Party-dominated Socialist Alliance, the meeting's aim of just 'debating' the issues will not take the struggle for workers' political representation forward.
The issue of a mass workers' alternative will become ever more pressing. It will no doubt dominate large sections of this year's union conferences. At these most union leaders, with a few notable exceptions, will be fighting tooth and nail to retain their union's link with Labour.
New Labour's marketisation of health and education, their commitment to letting the market rip in all areas of the economy has produced a boiling, angry mood amongst workers throughout Britain.
The mood of the rank and file of the trade unions is far to the left of most of the union's local and national leadership on breaking from Labour.
Most workers cannot see why their unions continually fund a bosses' party and will increasingly be demanding something more decisive than just debates about the issue.
The SA Convention, however, will be used by some union leaders as an opportunity to sound off on the issues rather than their being pressed to organise a genuinely representative conference.
Union leaders like Bob Crow of the RMT and Mark Serwotka of the PCS need to put their full weight and authority behind a genuine conference which will inspire the millions of workers looking for a left alternative to Labour that at last something concrete is being done.
In The Socialist 7 February 2004:
War and occupation
Socialist Party workplace news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis