The Socialist 14 February 2004 |
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RMT Special Conference:
An Historic Break With New Labour
LAST WEEK a special conference of the railworkers' union,
RMT, voted by 42 votes to eight to reject Labour Party intimidation and
reaffirmed its decision to support other political organisations, including
affiliation to the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP).
Even before the debate took place, the Labour Party held a
gun to the head of the union, saying that if the conference took any decision
other than rescinding affiliation to the SSP it would face automatic expulsion.
These threats backfired on Labour as delegate after
delegate to the conference expressed their anger at the Labour government and
the Labour Party.
Opening the debate, union general secretary Bob Crow said
that the only part of New Labour's programme his union could agree with were
the bits that said "The" and "End".
Bob Law, a London Underground worker said that money going
to Labour was "wasted money" and that not a single member of the union in his
branch wanted to keep the Labour link.
Steve Hedley, delegate from area 20, argued that if Labour
was a new party coming to the RMT for support on the basis of their current
programme, there would be no way the union would consider affiliating to the
Bill O'Dowd, another London Underground worker, said some
arguing to keep the link say it's better to be inside the tent pissing out but,
he added, the problem was it was workers "who were being pissed on and we've
Craig Johnston, a Socialist Party member and delegate from
area 5 where he is a conductor on Arriva Trains Northern, made a devastating
case for the union breaking from Labour.
Craig pointed out how this debate really started in 1997.
He was then still a Labour Party member, but soon realised that it was no
longer delivering for working-class people.
He referred to some delegates supporting continued
affiliation to Labour because it was a marriage that was going through a rocky
patch. Craig said: "If this were a marriage, then we have to face up to the
fact that we are victims of industrial and political domestic violence and it's
time to walk away."
Craig outlined how New Labour Transport Minister Kim
Howells had sent a letter to Labour MP Russell Brown on 25 November last year
claiming, in response to rail union questions, that the Strategic Rail
Authority (SRA) did not know of any threat to close the Leeds and Newcastle
train depots as part of the Trans-Pennine Express (TPE) franchise bid.
But the company later said that the SRA had always known it
was its intention to close the depots as part of the franchise bid - something
which Labour ministers should have known about.
Yet again, said Craig, workers were the victims of "another
shoddy Labour lie".
Peter Skelly from area 16 in South Wales said that the
political fund issue had been debated at a well-attended special meeting. He
said workers were questioning why the RMT (like other unions) gave Labour a
distinct advantage over other political parties, when New Labour had shown such
contempt for the unions.
Peter asked why the unions should give any money at all to
Labour when "it is openly pro-big business and Blair boasts about Britain
having the most restrictive anti-union laws in Europe. The unions gave £200
million to Labour while it was in opposition and we have got nothing for it."
MANY DELEGATES, whilst realising expulsion from Labour was
inevitable, were not at all worried by the prospect. Instead, they argued that
the debate needed to continue about the union helping to create a wider
political alternative outside Scotland.
Half a dozen branches had submitted resolutions to the
conference. Unfortunately, because of the union's rules they were not debated
at the conference but were given to delegates for information only.
However, they show that activists are thinking about the
way forward for the RMT and advocate concrete steps which Socialist Party
members in RMT will support.
One from East Midlands Central branch, while welcoming last
year's historic decision and arguing against supporting nationalist, religious
or liberal organisations, called on the union to take "the initiative to stand
our own candidates, along with other unions and socialists rather than tagging
along with non-socialist, non-working class or personalities."
Another resolution from Bristol Rail Branch called on the
union to build "a national conference of trade unions and organisations of
working-class communities and political organisations to discuss political
representation for workers."
Summing up the debate, RMT general secretary Bob Crow
called on delegates not to panic or be frightened by Labour's threats, or the
statements of other labour movement figures who claim the RMT will be isolated,
because, he said: "Today we take a decision that will give confidence to every
other worker in a trade union in Britain."