Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/356/5881
The Socialist Party And The United Left
AT THE United Left (UL) meeting at UNISON conference, Socialist Party members in UNISON announced that they were withdrawing from the UL. They give their reasons for this decision below.
After a great deal of careful consideration and discussion Socialist Party members in UNISON decided to withdraw from the UNISON United Left (UL) group.
Socialist Party Members in UNISON
It is with some regret that this decision was taken, given our desire to see the maximum possible unity on the left against the right wing and the right-oriented bureaucracy. This was demonstrated by the prominence of Socialist Party members in establishing the UL group, and its precursor the Campaign for a Fighting Democratic UNISON, and our attempts to work constructively within the UL group since its formation.
Our primary concern is that the UL, under the political influence of its largest component the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), is drifting to the right. This is 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- roots 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 year's time UNISON members will vote in the statutory ballot on the continuation or not of the political fund. 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, this is clearly an 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 workers' 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 UL on the other hand not only continues to support affiliation to New Labour (which saw £3 million of union members' money handed over last year alone). It has also singularly failed to even seriously implement the UL position of opening up the funds to allow support for other candidates as well as New Labour.
Outside main conference debate
Recognising the peculiar nature of UNISON's political fund arrangements and the power of the union's 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 UL, and our predictions that the preferred option of the UL, 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 UL placing itself outside the main debate on this issue at conference in 2003.
"Don't 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 UL. 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 UL cannot go to the members saying nothing at all in a political fund ballot about the Labour Party. The UL 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 UL 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 UL slate for the Regional Committee, (despite this Glenn held his position, calling into question the support for the UL 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 UL 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 UL!
In the event, Brian came within 141 votes of taking the position, an amazing vote given the UL/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 UL 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 UNISON 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 UL 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.
In The Socialist 17 July 2004:
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