Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/175/7938
New Labour and the Trade Unions
Workers' disgust at New Labour's failure to deliver anything on wages, pensions, jobs or services has raised once again the question of Labour's links with the Trade Unions and the need for a new workers' party. Craig Johnson, president of North West and Manchester regional council of the rail workers union RMT and North East organiser for the RMT Campaign for an Independent Political Fund, spoke to Christine Thomas
"AT OUR national conference this year 40% of delegates voted in favour of organising a special conference of the RMT to discuss setting up an independent political fund. I think this was an important step forward. More and more rail workers are discussing breaking the link with New Labour. Other unions of course are also doing the same. There have been discussions in the CWU and FBU for example.
But it's significant that it was the rail workers, who moved the original resolution which led to the formation of the Labour Party in 1900 to represent workers' interests. Now, looking to the future, we are discussing breaking the link because New Labour is just there for big business. On the railways, Labour were against privatisation in opposition and look at the situation now. They are going ahead with privatising London Underground against the wishes of tube workers.
The guards balloted recently for industrial action and got an overwhelming majority in most train-operating companies. But the ballot was declared illegal under the Tory anti-union laws, continued by Labour. Now everything is coming home to roost. It's challenging the traditional loyalty of rail workers.
RMT members have set up the Campaign for an Independent Political Fund (CIPF). It has now got the support of several union branches. I see this as part of the process towards a new mass workers' party. It's absolutely necessary. There must be somewhere else to go. Workers need a political voice. Understandably, it's heart-rending for some members to take on board that they've been betrayed by the Labour Party. It's not just about the railways and transport. There are so many other issues.
Look at the privatisation of the NHS and education and student fees and doing away with the grant. Many didn't expect this continuation of Tory policies. Labour now occupy the ground where the Tories were. There's a big void on the Left and we need an alternative.
In the Tyneside branch there was a serious row when the resolution supporting CIPF was discussed. This is one of the biggest branches. Some said "we've got to stick with Labour because there's nowhere else to go yet". But others said: "There's no point staying, they've betrayed us and are incapable of changing". There was no action on the resolution, but 20 conductors signed up to the campaign.
Some underground workers have said: "Why should we give them [Labour] our money?" and are refusing to pay their political dues. But that's an individual response. We need a political voice and have to make sure our money goes to the candidates who support our interests.
We are drawing up a pamphlet to put the case for an independent political fund. We've got a leaflet and have elected regional organisers and organising a fringe meeting at the reconvened RMT AGM in London in the autumn.
We are doing everything we can to sign up branches, regional councils and individual rail workers to the CIPF resolution and are getting a brilliant response. On the London Underground it's been passed at every branch where it's been put. It's the older workers who are most resistant to ditching Labour, the younger ones are most keen.
There are many workers in other unions who have similar views, like in the CWU, FBU and UNISON. We have to link up with other unions."
What's the alternative to New Labour?
THE RECENT oil protests graphically demonstrate the need for a new workers' party. The action of the protesters represented the most serious challenge to the Blair government since it came to power in 1997.
Their action became a catalyst for a general outpouring of discontent against New Labour. Millions supported the protest not only because of the high level of fuel tax but also because of all the other ways in which they feel let down by New Labour; such as the state of the NHS, the attacks on education, and the pathetic level of the pension.
Now, New Labour's support has plummeted in the polls. For the majority of working-class people this poses the question: "What's the alternative? Who else can we vote for?"
All of the existing major parties are parties of big business; they all put the interests of the billionaire fat cats before the interests of the rest of us.
In the coming months and years the need for a new party, that organises and represents the working class, will become increasingly clear to millions. Out of future mass struggles such a party will be forged.
The Socialist Party is campaigning for a new mass workers' party. At the same time we are doing our best to provide a socialist alternative to New Labour now. Our party is the only socialist party or socialist group in England to have successfully won seats in elections; we now have three councillors in Coventry (Dave Nellist, Karen Mackay and Rob Windsor) and one in Lewisham (Ian Page).
In the general election we will be standing in 18 seats across the country. However, we are anxious to maximise the impact that socialists make in the general election.
That is why we want to stand as part of a broad Socialist Alliance campaign, bringing together as many socialist organisations, groups of trade unionists and anti-cuts campaigners as possible.
In The Socialist 29 September 2000: