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Union Leaders Facing The Wrong Way On Labour
SPECULATION AT the top of the Labour Party about how long Blair can last has focussed attention on the succession. Union leaders who have argued for staying in the Labour Party - grouped around the Labour Representation Committee (see article below) - have argued that now is the time for 'one last heave' to reclaim the Labour Party and get rid of Blair.
Although it is extremely doubtful they have the ability to achieve their stated aim of 'reclaiming' or 'refounding' the Labour Party, behind their argument is the contention that Gordon Brown would make a better 'Old Labour' leader of the party. Yet, it appears that they have had their job done for them by their arch-enemy Peter Mandelson, who announced on TV this week that Brown is the best successor to Blair.
Coming from this veteran member of the 'project', such a statement shows that to install Brown in Blair's place would make no difference whatever to the direction and policies of New Labour. Blairism would become Brownism overnight without a blink of an eye.
The leader of unions still affiliated to the Labour Party are continually caught between a rock and a hard place of their own making. Their members have no trust in the Labour Party that their unions donate huge cash sums to.
That's why, under pressure, the GMB union has this week declined to give anything to Labour's general election fund. When asked to donate £774,000 to the party's election campaign, the union said it would only sponsor individual MPs who supported the aims of the GMB. The union talked of a 'watershed' moment approaching.
When they are being attacked day in and day out by Labour politicians, many union members question why their union should have any relationship with a party that advocates a programme and policies that defends the interests of big business.
Everyday, workers in the public sector are coming into collision with New Labour politicians who are trying to undermine their wages and conditions and in the case of Ken Livingstone urged people to cross tubeworkers' picket lines.
The conclusion increasingly being drawn is that there is no point in trying to reclaim Labour; the possibilities for doing so no longer exist. As an organisation to take forward the interests of working people, the Labour Party is long gone and finished.
Clear alternative needed
ORDINARY UNION members will wonder then why their leaders spend so much time trying to reclaim Labour, when they should be making a decisive break in order to better defend them from the continuing attacks Labour is lining up. The expulsion of the RMT railworkers' union from Labour and the disaffiliation of the Fire Brigades Union are the first hesitant steps of the unions breaking the link with Labour and towards the formation of a new mass party to represent working people.
But a clear alternative also needs to be posed that will enthuse and inspire working people. An opportunity to begin that process was unfortunately lost at the RMT conference last week.
There, a resolution from Bristol RMT calling for a conference to build "a national conference of trade unions and representative organisations of working-class communities and political organisations to discuss political representation for workers" was derailed by an amendment, supported by RMT leader Bob Crow, supporting the work of the LRC in "rescuing the Labour Party".
As the report below shows the LRC is comparable to the band on the Titanic, playing on to keep passengers' spirits up.
Instead of trying to reclaim Labour, the best union activists now need to increase the pressure from below on their union leaders to make the break and for a genuine working-class political alternative to Labour to be forged.
In particular there needs to be a co-ordinated push for clear statements from their executives and for resolutions at next year's union conferences about breaking from Labour and initiating a union-based conference, like that described in the RMT resolution. Such a clear approach will more effectively utilise union members in beginning the process of establishing a new mass party of the working class.
In The Socialist 10 July 2004:
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