Socialist Party Unison
Archive article: 2004
Why We Are Leaving the United Left
Statement by Socialist Party Members in UNISON, march 2006
Withdrawal from United Left
After a great deal of careful consideration and discussion Socialist Party members in UNISON have decided to withdraw from the UNISON United Left group.
It is with some regret that this decision has been taken, given our desire to see the maximum possible unity on the left against the right wing and the right-oriented bureaucracy, as demonstrated by the prominence of Socialist Party members in establishing the United Left group, and its precursor the Campaign for a Fighting Democratic UNISON, and our attempts to work constructively within the United Left group since its formation.
Rightward Drift of United Left
Our primary concern is that the United Left, under the political influence of its largest component the Socialist Workers Party, is drifting to the right at a time when the attacks of the New Labour government on the working class in general and on public sector workers in particular is giving rise to increased militancy and radicalisation amongst the grass root membership.
This situation presents us with major political problems.
Political Fund and the Labour Party
This situation is illustrated most clearly in relation to the Political Fund and the Labour Party.
In less than a yearís time UNISON members will vote in the statutory ballot on the continuation or not of the Political Fund, which against the background of the decision of the RMT to support non-Labour Party candidates and parties, their expulsion from the Labour Party, and a similar debate about to take place in unions like the FBU, is clearly a issue of fundamental importance to the working class.
The Socialist Party believes that the pro-capitalist policies of New Labour have alienated it from vast sections of the working class, and that the destruction of internal democracy in the Labour Party means that attempts to "reclaim the Labour Party" for socialism are futile.
We call for the formation of a new mass workersí party, and believe that the trade unions have a major role to play in this process; we therefore support in principle disaffiliation from the Labour Party.
The socialist party has always been open and honest about our position and have not sought to hide it from the membership.
Whilst calling for disaffiliation we have and will support all steps towards freeing the political funds.
The United Left on the other hand not only continues to support affiliation to new Labour (which saw £3m of union members money handed over last year alone).
It has also singularly failed to even seriously implement the United Left position of opening up the funds to allow support for other candidates as well as new Labour.
United Left Outside Main Conference Debate
Recognising the peculiar nature of UNISONís Political Fund arrangements and the power of the unionís bureaucracy in manipulating the agenda of Conference we advanced a "Third Fund" position as a tactical way of progressing the debate within UNISON.
This was opposed by the SWP and therefore the United Left, and our predictions that the preferred option of the United Left, that of a single fund which could be used for Labour Party and non-Labour Party electoral interventions would not be debated at Conference were brushed aside.
Our predictions, (based on our involvement in this issue over several years) were correct, resulting in the United Left placing itself outside the main debate on this issue at Conference in 2003.
"Donít Mention the Labour Party"!
Given the Conference decision to support the status quo, the Socialist Party now calls for a second, parallel ballot to be conducted along with the statutory Political Fund ballot, which would give ordinary members the opportunity to express their views on how the Political Fund should be spent.
This too is opposed by the SWP, who seemed more concerned with not alienating the handful of Labour "lefts" in the United Left.
These Labour "lefts" have advocated a somewhat dishonest strategy for the Political Fund ballot, arguing in the Greater London Region that the Labour Party link should be played down for fear of losing the ballot! The Socialist Party rejects completely such an underhand approach; our maxim being "Let the Members Decide"! But the united left cannot go to the members saying nothing at all in a political fund ballot about the Labour party.
The United left should make it clear that it thinks that a call for a yes vote to retain the fund should also say that this fund will not be used to finance the Labour party and that in the future the union will consult the members once it becomes clear that a credible workers party develops to replace the Labour party that is more in line with the objectives and interests of the union.
Socialist Party members are also concerned at the increase of sectarian manoeuvring against us within the United Left by the SWP, which is clearly similar to actions within the Socialist Alliance, that have resulted in the splitting and effective dumping of that organisation.
In the Greater London Region the Socialist Workers Party voted to remove Socialist Party member Glenn Kelly from the United Left slate for the Regional Committee, (despite this Glenn held his position, calling into question the support for the United Left amongst activists in the Region).
They then voted with the right wing to remove Glenn Kelly from the trade union side of the Provincial Council in favour of a right-winger.
SWP members in the Camden Branch opposed the election of Socialist Party member Hugo Pierre as a delegate to the London Regional Committee and tried to prevent his election as a delegate to Annual Conference.
In Greater London the SWP have pushed the United Left to oppose UL and Socialist Party member Brian Blake in the elections for the Local Government Service Group Executive, to the extent of printing 10,000 leaflets in support of his opponent who is not even a member of the United Left!
In the event, Brian came within 141 votes of taking the position, an amazing vote given the United Left/Right Wing bloc against him.
Clearly to the SWP left unity takes second place to unity with the right wing against the Socialist Party.
Lack of Influence
Despite the shift to the left among the membership the United Left in reality lacks influence in the union as a whole.
In practical terms on the ground it is only an organised force in the Greater London and North West Regions, (and in the latter case meetings are poorly attended).
This contrasts strongly with the position that the Campaign for a Fighting Democratic Union had built up, where for example it came within a handful of votes of defeating the iniquitous Single Status Agreement at a Special Local Government Service Group Conference.
Given the problems outlined above, this situation is understandable if regrettable.
Whilst defending our right to argue our independent position Socialist Party members in UNISON will continue to seek maximum practical unity on the left against the right wing, and where we can we will cooperate with all lefts including the United Left in this endeavour.
We call for the creation of a genuine democratic left grouping, based on socialist policies, free from sectarian manoeuvring, with a broad base amongst activists and rank and file members.