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From The Socialist newspaper, 7 February 2004

The Trade Unions And The Labour Party

TRADE UNION links with the Labour Party will be under intense scrutiny this week.

Fire Brigade Union (FBU) branches have just submitted resolutions to their annual conference calling for the union to break with Labour. 

The RMT railworkers' union debated the threat of its expulsion from the Labour Party at a special conference. This is after deciding last year to support other political parties, like the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). 

On 6 February this year the RMT conference voted 42 - 8 to re-affirm its decision to allow branches to support other political parties, despite an ultimatum from the Labour Party, and on the 7 February the Labour Party disaffiliated the RMT.

On 7 February the trade union Convention of the Left took place, called by the Socialist Alliance (SA), where those who want to keep the link with Labour will debate with those who are in favour of breaking or loosening it. 

A full analysis of these events will be posted on our website soon. Here, Ken Smith, (writing prior to attending these conferences) explains the Socialist Party's position on these issues.

RMT special conference

FBU GENERAL secretary Andy Gilchrist, who faces increasing criticism of his handling of last year's dispute, says he intends to keep the union affiliated to Labour. However, rank-and-file firefighters have other ideas after the way they were treated in the dispute.

It's essential that left-wing activists in the RMT, as well as reaffirming the decision to begin the break with Labour, also campaign at every level in the union for support for its campaign to end the link.

Similarly, many railworkers in the RMT have drawn the conclusion that New Labour is a party that directly attacks their interests and their union. Last year the union's conference took an historic decision to change its rules and allow branches and regions to support other political parties, notably the SSP.

Labour says it will immediately expel the RMT, one of the founder unions of the Labour Party, if it reaffirms its decision to affiliate to the SSP. But the Communication Workers' Union passed a resolution at its national executive last week condemning Labour's stance and calling for urgent talks to find a "mutually acceptable solution", something Bob Crow has said he is open to.

Labour's expulsion threat is intended to provide ammunition to all those union leaders who want to retain the Labour link. Andy Gilchrist has already hinted that the union would lose influence 'like the RMT' if it is expelled from Labour.

Inside the RMT, where a branch consultation exercise is underway, the right wing are raising similar arguments.

Some branches in northern England have argued that the union would effectively be impotent at the very time when it should have more influence over Labour's alleged 'renationalisation' of rail - a claim hotly contested by many railworkers experiencing the current conditions on the mainline rail and in London Underground.

Right-wing officers in another branch talked about "no return to the days of the loony left" and warned it would campaign in next year's political fund ballot for the union not to have any political fund rather than be affiliated to the SSP or break with Labour.

These voices are unrepresentative of their own members at present and of railworkers in general. But they are a warning sign of arguments that need to be urgently addressed by those who are pushing for a break from Labour in some form.

Where genuine consultations have taken place, railworkers have shown real hostility to Labour and expressed surprise that the union is still affiliated to the party.

It's likely that the RMT special conference on 6 February will reaffirm its decision of last July's conference; though it is also likely to be a more sharply contested debate.

The socialist argued, when the expulsion of RMT was first raised, that it was also intended to isolate Bob Crow, RMT general secretary and the union itself. Blair's government, like Thatcher in the 1980s, wants a bogeyman to persecute to show that the threat of militancy will not pay.

It's essential that left-wing activists in the RMT, as well as reaffirming the decision to begin the break with Labour, also campaign at every level in the union for support for its campaign to end the link.

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In The Socialist 7 February 2004:

War and occupation

No More Lies

War Crimes and Whitewashes

We demand a real investigation

BBC Workers Angry At Hutton Attacks

Socialist Party workplace news and analysis

The Trade Unions And The Labour Party

Trade Union Left Convention

Civil Service Strike: Around the Picket Lines

Strike threat forces negotiations in civil service pay battle

Leicester Lecturers On Indefinite Strike

Stop These Council Cuts

International socialist news and analysis

Brazil - Movement For A New Workers' Party Is Launched

Venezuela: Workers Struggle Against Reaction


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