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Debate on political representation rages at bakers' union annual conference
Political representation for workers was the keynote for the first day and a half of bakers' union BFAWU's annual conference. Anger at Labour's election defeat and rightwards drift could break the union's link to the party.
Delegates made numerous references to BFAWU policies Labour doesn't support. These include a £10 an hour minimum wage and renationalising public services. As one speaker pointed out, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) backs all such policies.
TUSC is an anti-austerity electoral alliance including the Socialist Party, transport union RMT, and growing numbers of trade unionists. This May it mounted a historic challenge to Labour: over 130 anti-cuts, pro-working class parliamentary candidates.
A motion calling for support for TUSC candidates was ruled out of order, alongside a number of others. But four emergency motions kept political representation on the agenda.
Socialist Party member Steve Nevin moved that the union explore both the reasons for Labour's defeat, and support for alternatives which back union policy. It was was overwhelmingly carried.
A first time speaker commented that "you can't be a party of the employer and employee; you can't be a party of the landlord and the tenant." Big applause greeted speakers who called for a new party for workers based on the trade unions.
A minority of speakers attempted to defend the Labour link. A number made points showing the party's inadequacies even further. One Labour councillor commented on his experiences: "Labour is so undemocratic it's unbelievable."
Conference voted to support Labour-left Jeremy Corbyn's leadership challenge (see page 5). Newly elected left-wing Labour MP and BFAWU member Richard Burgon was a guest speaker at the conference. Yet despite his appeals to join Labour, he concluded: "If Labour returns to Blairism - electoral oblivion lies in our future."
BFAWU president Ian Hodson called for trade unions to renew opposition to Tory attacks and new anti-union laws. He pointed out that unions have always had to fight for gains, and said: "We can't wait five years for Labour. The TUC should call a general strike."
Tamil Solidarity activist Janahan Sivanathan - a torture victim threatened with deportation - received a warm welcome. He thanked BFAWU for its support in the campaign to release him from detention.
Thirty delegates and visitors attended a fringe meeting with Socialist Party member and TUSC chair Dave Nellist. Many there signed up for more information about supporting TUSC. We sold over 80 copies of the Socialist.