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Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Wed, 27/05/2009 - 16:19

Sean reckons his experiment will probably take around three years. So after those three years, the unions will either have "kicked over the tables" (or at least destabilised them a bit) in the Labour Party, or everything will be exactly as it is now? In which case, nothing's lost and we can go back to advocating disaffiliation in 2012?

Except that it won't happen like that, will it? It's unclear precisely how likely Sean thinks any kind of union fight back inside the Labour Party is (only that he thinks it's sufficiently likely to put the pursuit of other possibilities on hold), but does he imagine that three more years of business-as-usual in terms of the unions' relationship with New Labour (which he must acknowledge as an equally, if not more, likely scenario than his preferred one) will not have a retarding effect on the general political conditions for us as socialists?

Sean says he "cannot offer any guarantees" that any kind of fight back will take place, but disingenuously demands effective "guarantees" of the development of healthy, extra-Labour Party political initiatives from his opponents, which he claims is "more of a gamble, more speculative".

Quite why this is the case is never spelled out or backed-up. And not only do we go no "guarantees" that anything will be shaken up inside the Labour Party, we don't even really get any concrete assessment or strategy for how such things might happen. What we're asked to do is subordinate everything else to something which is not a "guarantee", or even a likelihood, but a mere possibility. And when other, differing, possibilities are presented, we're simply told, without substantiation, that Sean's possibility is more likely.

Sean claims that the "wait and see" advice is meant only for the immediate, specific question of disaffiliation. But given that staying affiliated to the Labour Party necessarily precludes the pursuit and exploration of other options, other possibilities, "waiting and seeing" cannot only be for that question. It necessarily means not only "waiting and seeing" but actively deciding to put on hold the exploration of such things as independent electoral challenges to New Labour initiated or backed by unions like the CWU.

My view is not that such things are guaranteed to succeed (or even exist) simply as a result of CWU disaffiliation. My view is that the CWU disaffiliating will create better conditions in which to struggle for such thing. It is not a question of "hope", it is a question of how to fight for what we want - i.e. a new workers' party or, in the immediate term, a socialist, working-class political formation that raises the perspective of working-class rule (that is, workers' government).

And yes - if the CWU disaffiliates and something real opens up inside the Labour Party, we should "tell" it to reaffiliate. We should also then "tell" the PCS, NUT, RMT and other non-affiliated unions to affiliate, as well. I have no problem admitting this. Sean, however, seems to have a problem admitting that his position does not just imply putting a hold a decision on one particular question but rather a whole set of perspectives. In fact, if he was to take his assessment that a union-led fight back inside the Labour Party within the next three years is sufficiently likely to base an activist organisation's perspectives around it to its logical conclusion now, he would already be advocating that the PCS, NUT and RMT affiliate to the Labour Party immediately. After all, if things are going to open up there, better to be in the tent, right? And if it all comes to nothing they can always disaffiliate again in 2012, right?

For all his bluster (being accused of "ultra-left foolishness" and "mildly abusive rhetoric" by Sean makes me rather proud), the question of why he doesn't explicitly advocate immediate RMT/PCS/NUT affiliation is just one central question that Sean fails to meaningfully address. Let me list some others:

1) How does Sean's position relate to AWL's policy for pursuing extra-Labour electoral challenges? We advocated such challenges even under more favourable conditions for work within the Labour Party (i.e. pre-Bournemouth); presumably pursuing them is still valid? But what about when (as in the case of the RMT's support for the SSP) they test the limits of Labour Party affiliations? Should the unions then hold off from supporting or initiating independent socialist challenges because "waiting and seeing" on the question of affiliation takes precedent? This is just one of the ways in which Sean's "wait and see" policy wouldn't be merely incidental to the question of affiliation but politically limiting.

2) In local campaigns where we are in a position to do so, should we continue to advocate that such campaigns stand in elections on broadly socialist platforms? Or should we advocate that all involved join the Labour Party?

3) Why is the "possibility" of a union fight back against New Labour, and/or an influx of workers into the Labour Party, "less of a gamble, less speculative" than the advocacy of disaffiliation explicitly tied to the exploration of extra-Labour Party political initiatives? Why is this the case, given that there is no recent (within the last 20 years) historical precedent for either thing (union fight back or influx of workers into the LP), and given that the objective experience of recent history massively militates against both possibilities to a far greater extent than it does against the extra-Labour Party "possibilities" posed by Sean's opponents?

That's just three to be getting on with. I have tried to make my own case as clearly and comprehensively as possible, setting it out positively in counterposition to Sean's perspective. But if Sean continues to base himself on mere assertions of possibility without any reference to their relative likelihood, our ability to effect them or the impact they might have on other possibilities, I might well be reduced to the kind of frustrated demagogy Sean accuses me of.

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