The Socialist 14 January 2009 |
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Conference: 'The crisis in working class political representation'
But no progress towards a new workers' party
The rail union RMT-organised conference to "discuss the crisis in working class political representation" which took place on 10 January, was initiated by a resolution passed at last year's RMT conference.
Unfortunately, the meeting did not bring any closer the setting up or even the first steps towards a new workers' party. Neither were there any clear proposals to ensure that there will be candidates standing in the next election committed to supporting working class and trade union demands.
At the first RMT conference on political representation three years ago, the idea of a shop stewards' network, rather than starting to build a new workers' party, was put forward by RMT general secretary Bob Crow.
At Saturday's conference Bob Crow re-asserted that the Labour Party cannot be changed. A new workers' party is needed but it may not happen for a number of years.
This time round the 'People's Charter', which contains demands on the economy, jobs, housing and public services, was put up as the alternative to a new party.
Communist Party member Mary Davis invoked the courageous struggles of the Chartists and their huge petitions as the way forward today. She argued that a new party will only bring about disunity whereas people can unite around the Charter.
John McDonnell MP spoke about the trade union co-ordinating group launched at the TUC last year to bring together the trade union-sponsored MPs, which may lead on to a new workers' party.
Right now he argued there is not sufficient support for a new party and the Labour Representation Committee have agreed to stay in the Labour Party.
He also said there would be a slower pace in the process of building a new party due to the splits in previous attempts.
Socialist Party members replied to these arguments. John Reid (RMT) proposed that 10 to 15 seats be contested in the June elections. It would be criminal to wait for five or ten years before building a new party. A new party would not just be for elections but would be a voice for working class people.
Dave Nellist explained that Chartism was before working-class people were given the vote and that although there is a role for petitions, political action and power are also needed. He proposed a national conference be organised to discuss standing candidates and how to build a new party.
Rob Williams answered the sceptics in the room who complained about a weak left and no support for a workers' party. "There is a constituency for a new party": he said, "look at the Gaza demonstration today - many people, including youth are prepared to take action yet not one political party has organised it. If there was a new workers' party on the demo people would join".
While many in the room said they felt it was a difficult period for the working class and the left, Rob reminded everyone that it is capitalism that is in trouble.
Jared Wood (RMT) explained that he did not want a charter imposed from above but one that was open to discussion. We should indentify trade union candidates to stand in the elections.
Bob Crow in his summing up explained that this meeting was not called to launch the charter and there would not be another conference. He said factories are closing, so we can't sit and discuss the content of the charter.
In contrast to many at the meeting, the Socialist Party sees the question of how an independent voice can be created for the working class in Britain as an immediate and urgent issue. This is why the Socialist Party, along with others, is working to build the Campaign for a New Workers' Party.
Around 120 attended the conference, most were members of different left groups and parties. A third left the hall in the afternoon to attend the Gaza demonstration.
While disappointed once again by the fact that at this stage no left trade union general secretaries are prepared to put their weight behind the building of a new party, the Socialist Party will continue to argue for the need for working class representation, while building support for socialist ideas among working class people and youth.