On 15 November the Labour Representation Committee meets for its annual conference. The rail union RMT has called a cross-union conference on working-class political representation for 10 January 2009.
And Nottinghamshire Trades Council is planning a local trade unionists' meeting on workers’ representation in February 2009. East Midlands RMT branch is involved in this plan, which, like the calling of the 10 January conference, is in line with a resolution carried at the RMT’s conference in June 2008.
Significant numbers of activists want to move beyond the current alternatives of sullenly voting official Labour, with the knowledge that Gordon Brown has now completely shut down the channels for political input from the organised working class into the Labour machine, or making occasional protests by voting for one-off left candidates.
There’s a chance to make a start towards rallying substantial sections of the labour movement to break with Brown and Mandelson, and to create an open, audible voice in politics for the organised working class.
As the LRC notes in its statement of aims, “the original Labour Representation Committee was formed in 1900 to fight for political representation for the Labour Movement”. (It was, though the statement does not note this, a minority initiative, with affiliations from unions representing only about a quarter of the total trade-union membership. Things are rarely achieved without a minority daring to be pioneers).
“In Britain today we face a similar crisis of representation. The LRC has been re-formed to secure a voice for socialists within the Labour Party, the unions, and Parliament...”
So far the LRC has mainly focused inside the Labour Party, for example with John McDonnell's campaign for the Labour leadership in 2007. But of the six unions affiliated to LRC, two of the most active, RMT and the Fire Brigades Union, are not affiliated to the Labour Party, and have supported socialist electoral candidates against Labour.
The big debate at the LRC's 2007 conference was around a motion from AWL arguing that the LRC should broaden itself into a Workers' Representation Committee seeking to set up local representation committees which would not necessarily be limited to official Labour in their political and electoral options.
That motion was defeated, but the debate will re-run this year with much new urgency added to it by the depth of the economic crisis.
The motion passed at RMT conference came from Stratford no.1 branch and was moved by Janine Booth, a London Transport region delegate to the conference and an AWL member.
This union notes the disastrous results for the Labour Party in the May 1st elections. We believe that working class voters have deserted the Labour Party because it has abandoned working-class people through its policies of cuts, privatisation, war and lining the pockets of the rich at the expense of the poor and low paid.
We are also appalled at the advances made by the fascist BNP in these elections.
The union must respond to this by reasserting our socialist politics and by fighting for working-class political representation.
To that end we resolve to:
* Convene a national conference on the crisis in working class political representation similar to those organised previously
* Encourage our regional councils to organise similar conferences on a regional basis
* Initiate and support the setting-up of local Workers’ Representation Committees which can identify and promote candidates in elections who deserve workers’ support.
RMT called a previous conference on workers' representation in January 2006. Despite minimal publicity, it was packed. Maybe 100 people were unable to get in for lack of space. But there were no decisions.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow argued that the next step should be to set up a National Shop Stewards' Movement. That has since been done, on paper — but to a considerable extent only on paper, and without changing anything on the question of workers' political representation.
AWL will be arguing for the January 2008 conference to start a campaign for a real Workers' Representation Movement, one that can establish strong local bases by working through and revitalising Trades Councils and similar bodies.