Conference for action needed for new mass workers’ party

New mass workers’ party:

Conference for action needed

IN THE first of two articles, PETER TAAFFE, general secretary of the
Socialist Party, says that the time for stepping up the campaign for a
mass workers’ party in Britain is not just ripe – it is rotten ripe.

THE RECENT Labour Party conference has once more underlined how the
New Labour leadership is completely disconnected from the problems and
concerns of ordinary working-class people. This was highlighted by the
thuggish treatment meted out to 82-year old Walter Wolfgang, a refugee
from Nazi Germany, who dared to shout "Nonsense!" in response
to Jack Straw’s statement that opponents of the Iraq War were like
pro-Nazi sympathisers!

Walter Wolfgang was held and questioned by police under Section 44 of
the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The attack on civil liberties by the
New Labour-dominated state is mirrored by its authoritarian and
intolerant approach towards its own party’s members.

Even worse was the brutal restatement in Brighton by the New Labour
leadership – Gordon Brown as much as Tony Blair – of their neo-liberal
mantra of no concessions to the trade union clamour for the abolition of
Thatcher’s law preventing ‘secondary solidarity action’ by fellow trade

Further privatisation, particularly in the NHS and schools, which
will have calamitous consequences, was promised. No action on the
desperate housing problem, support for big business to get its clutches
into children’s education through a massive introduction of academies;
all of this was spelt out in Brighton. In other words, more of the same,
only worse, for working-class people was the unmistakeable message.

Those who hoped that Gordon Brown, like a ‘socialist’ St George,
would slay the New Labour dragon once he was in the saddle were dashed
by his interviews and speeches at the conference. He re-stated his
enthusiastic support for the New Labour ‘project’.

Despite this, the trade union leadership and the Lefts who remain
within the party continue to believe, in the teeth of all the evidence
to the contrary, that New Labour is redeemable and can be transformed in
a socialist direction. They point to the conference decisions against
further privatisation of the NHS, on housing and even on ‘secondary
action’ against the New Labour leadership as proof of this.

But nothing could be further from the truth. No sooner had the
hypocritical singing of the ‘Red Flag’ died down at the end of the
conference than Blair spelt out bluntly his view of his own party. He
said on Sky TV that those trade unionists and constituency delegates –
who voted 99% and 40% respectively in favour of ‘secondary action’ –
were "crazies". This for daring to defend the democratic
rights of trade unionists!

Incredibly, there is less chance today of Blair or Brown repudiating
this and the other ten pernicious anti-union laws introduced by Thatcher
than the Liberals were in 1906. The Liberal government, under pressure
from the newly created Labour Party, did repudiate the House of Lords’
anti-union Taff Vale judgement, which allowed heavy fines – ‘damages’ –
against unions taking industrial action.

Yet the equivalent of Taff Vale today is precisely the prohibition of
‘secondary action’ which effectively neuters workers from taking
industrial action in support of their brothers and sisters fighting
against pernicious bosses and slave-like conditions and wages. This has
been amply demonstrated by the Gate Gourmet dispute and its outcome,
which was unfortunately not a total victory for the working class.

Big business party

THE LABOUR leadership’s stand on this issue alone is enough for
serious trade unionists to decide that this party now represents big
business and is always on the side of the employers on decisive issues.

This is further underlined by the government’s stand on the
retirement age of public-sector workers: "Work till you drop."
Forced to retreat from raising the retirement age of the present
workforce, it still intends to create a ‘two-tier’ workforce for all new
entrants to the public sector.

On top of this, we have the obscenity of the Iraq War with a majority
– 51% at least – calling for the withdrawal of British troops, while
Jack Straw said on Newsnight they could be in Iraq for another five or
ten years.

Is there a chance that all of this could be stopped by a resurgent
trade union movement together with indignant Labour Party members? About
as much chance as a snowball in hell. A fervent and slavish supporter of
Blairism in the past such as Polly Toynbee confessed: "Brighton has
exposed Labour as a sham deserted by its members." [The Guardian]

Even Blair admits that party membership is down from 400,000 in 1997
when Labour came to power to an "official" 200,000 today. In
reality, its only ‘activists’ at local level are usually a dejected
collection of demoralised councillors. These cling to the battered
wreckage of the Labour Party in a stormy sea because there is no other
lifeboat present to pick them up.

A new mass party, even the first steps towards the creation of one,
would attract those who still ‘hope against hope’ that in some undefined
way Labour can be transformed, because no mass alternative yet exists.
It would win greater numbers from young people.

Walter Wolfgang was courageous to raise his voice against Straw’s
lies but not one other delegate on the floor of the conference joined
in, so politically backward, cowered or intimidated are they by the
Blairite machine.

He stated that the party had been "taken over by a gang of
political adventurers. I will remain a member for the simple reason that
we can outlive them." [Daily Mirror 29 September.] The courageous
Walter deserves full marks for his perspectives on his own longevity but
not for the Labour Party itself.

The Campaign Group of MPs also entertains the forlorn hope that the
Labour Party can be transformed. It has been suggested that they put up
a ‘stalking horse’ against Blair that could trigger an electoral contest
for the Labour leadership in 2006. Even if successful, the victorious
candidate that could emerge is likely to be Brown, the replacement of
Tweedledum by Tweedledee.

The disappointment of the last eight years of Blairism will be
compounded by an epoch of Brownism. It could pave the way for the return
of the hated Tories, perhaps given a facelift by some kind of
Cameron-Clarke duumvirate. At the same time, the daily drip-feed of
attacks on the working class, which can be enormously aggravated by a
new world economic recession or slump, will continue apace.


NO! THIS is not the time for false hopes or prevarication. Bob Crow
(below), who has courageously planted the flag for a new mass
working-class party, has suggested recently that the RMT could call a
conference in early 2006 of organisations and parties to discuss this

Bob Crow, RMT General SecretaryThe
Socialist Party supports all steps of this kind which bring together
genuine left, fighting and socialist forces to discuss the programme and
character of a mass party in Britain, or even, in the first instance, a
serious step towards such a party.

If Bob Crow is unable or frustrated in calling such a conference,
then the Socialist Party will explore – through a campaign with trade
unionists, environmentalists, young people, community activists and
leaders – the idea of calling a conference on the issue of a new mass

The campaign would involve testing out the support for a new party,
the programme, structures and organisation that would be necessary with,
possibly, a consultative conference next spring.

The Socialist Party has championed the idea of a new party for more
than ten years. In this time we have had the experience of the Socialist
Labour Party, set up by Arthur Scargill, heroic leader of the miners in
their battle against Thatcher. However, he unfortunately insisted on
exclusive conditions for membership and activity in this party.
Consequently, it has been sidelined.

That unfortunate experience was repeated in the Socialist Alliance –
which Militant Labour (now the Socialist Party) originally helped to set
up – when the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) entered it. Instead of
opening up, they actually narrowed the structures of the Alliance, so
only those who marched to the drumbeat politically and organisationally
of the SWP could remain.

They have, unfortunately, repeated this experience with ‘Respect’ in
alliance with George Galloway. The basis of this party is too narrow,
appealing in the main to one section of the population, some Muslims,
many of whom have deserted Labour because of the Iraq War and have cast
around for an alternative.

At the height of the antiwar movement the Socialist Party discussed
with George Galloway and expressed our preparedness to launch with him
and other left organisations a broad, left party, so long as it was
open, democratic and specifically socialist. Such a party could, at the
height of the antiwar movement, have attracted broad swathes of left

In discussions with us George Galloway indicated that he was thinking
of the Albert Hall – which holds 6,000 people – for its launch. Nothing
came of this project but after his expulsion from the Labour Party,
together mainly with the SWP he launched Respect.

Contrary to the impression he has given in some of his public
speeches, the Socialist Party did not turn its back immediately on this
initiative but waited, as some other leftward-moving workers also did,
to see what this formation’s political character was and, crucially,
what kind of structures would be set up.

Our suggestion, shared by others, for the setting up of a loose
federal structure that would allow discussion, debate and action was
rejected by Respect. In particular, at the national conference of
Respect a proposal to allow ‘platforms’, as is the case in the Scottish
Socialist Party, was also refused when it was suggested by some lefts
who looked towards Respect initially.

These are amongst the reasons why Respect is unlikely to make a
significant breakthrough amongst broader layers of the working class. It
is not excluded that in George Galloway’s own constituency of Bethnal
Green and Bow in Tower Hamlets council a number of seats could be
gained. However, this is unlikely to be repeated on a similar scale
outside of areas with a high concentration of Asians or Muslims.

It is vital that any new party appeals to this section of the
population, amongst the most alienated and oppressed layers. But nowhere
can a viable mass party be built on just one section of the working

Fighting programme

HOWEVER, THE urgency to create such a party is underlined by the
success of the Left Party in Germany with 8.8% of the vote and 54 MPs
following the general election. The repercussions of this development
will be felt throughout Europe and not least in Britain.

The difference in the objective situation in Britain, compared to
Germany, is only one of degree. Blair and Schroeder – despite the
latter’s protestations to the contrary – had a shared agenda of
Thatcherism, neo-liberalism.

The main difference was that in Britain these policies have been
introduced over time – Thatcher first, then Major, then Blair – whereas
the German workers have experienced ‘fast-track Thatcherism’. The shock
and consequent political reaction, therefore, has been more immediate in
Germany. However, the same underlying conditions exist in Britain.

The crucial subjective difference is that no major left figure or
trade union leader in Britain – apart from Bob Crow – has called for or
taken action to create the conditions for a real new mass party. It is
urgent for the working class that such a step is taken and is the reason
why the Socialist Party intends to energetically pursue this campaign.

Basic fighting demands for a new party

The programme and structures which will emerge out of a process of
discussion cannot be fully anticipated in advance. We would, however,
suggest that agreement could be reached on a number of basic fighting
demands. The most important of these include:

The immediate abolition of the legal ban on ‘secondary industrial
action’ and the repeal of all Thatcher’s anti-union legislation.

  • No to privatisation in schools, hospitals, the civil service,
  • For a fully funded, democratic socialist health service and for
    the immediate taking into public ownership of the pharmaceutical
    monopolies, compensation being only on the basis of proven need.
  • A living national minimum wage at the level of at least the
    European decency threshold and a living pension for all, as well as
    opposition to the government’s programme to raise the age of
    retirement for public-sector workers.
  • For a socialist, democratic housing programme and a crash
    programme to build cheap, ‘social housing’ for those most in need.
  • For a democratic socialist plan to save the environment, both
    in Britain and worldwide, with concrete measures to undo the
    environmental damage done by unrestricted capitalism.
  • For the public ownership of the ‘commanding heights’ of the

These are just some of the demands around which a discussion could

In relation to structures, as we will explain in an article in the
socialist next week, it is vital that the most democratic, federal and
loose type of organisation is adopted in the first instance. Above all,
the acceptance of the right of all trends and tendencies to participate,
including the right to publish and distribute material such as
newspapers, bulletins and journals, as well as the right to form

These proposals are made in order to set the discussion in motion,
which we hope will take place at all levels of the working-class
movement, amongst young people in universities and colleges, in the
workplaces and union branches, in the environmental movement and amongst
all of those dissatisfied with ailing British capitalism and searching
for an alternative.

Second article: How the Labour Party was formed