Debate: Labour and the unions. Why we should not back CWU disaffiliation

Submitted by AWL on 14 May, 2009 - 11:10 Author: Sean Matgamna

The world economic crisis, which already is devastating economies, causing mass unemployment, widespread bankruptcy and business failures, and crises of government finance, is in its early stages yet. How deep, how prolonged, how destructive it will be, nobody now knows.

See below for AWL National Committee text that this article relates to.
Barring an improbably political miracle, New Labour is heading for a crushing defeat in next year’s General Election. It will get a first instalment of that defeat in the upcoming Euro and local government elections.

There will be a Tory government. That government will attempt to slash public spending, including welfare spending. It will attack the working class in a way patterned on the Thatcher government at the start of the 1980s, and perhaps more so.

For many years New Labour and the Tories have, in terms of policy, been Tweedledum and Tweedledee — identical twins, with minor differences. Not so now. The Tories are the party of “economy” and “budget-balancing”. They have radically separated themselves from New Labour government economic policy, gambling that government measures to limit the effects of the second Great Slump will be a failure.

They will face the electorate with more right-wing policies and intentions than the Tories have had for many years. Already they are promising to rip up all the agreements about public sector workers’ pensions.

The main fascist organisation, the BNP, is growing, and looks set to register further advances in next month’s European and local government elections. On all past experience, the economic and social conditions now coming into existence will help the BNP to grow. Britain has anyway long lagged behind other European countries, for instance France, Italy, Austria, Belgium, in the “development” of a sizeable fascist movement. Now we seem to be on the eve of “catching up”.

It would be too mechanical to expect an exact repetition of the early 1930s, when mass fascist movements attacked and destroyed bourgeois democracy in many European countries. Nonetheless, the elements that shaped the politics of the 1930s are identifiable, and they are growing.

The current scandal about MPs’ expenses further increases the likelihood of a crushing New Labour defeat in the general election. Polls show that the Tories, no less than New Labour, have been discredited in the expenses scandal. But New Labour is the government, held responsible for everything including the world slump and its impact in Britain.

It is not inconceivable, even, that New Labour will suffer “meltdown” — reduction to 100 or so seats in Parliament.

What does all this mean for the prospects of creating a new mass workers’ party based on the unions? And for the prospects of a revolution within the moribund and occluded channels of New Labour?

In the last few years AWL has argued that the longer the ultra-bureaucratic New Labour structures survived unchallenged by the unions, the less likely would be any Labour renewal by way of internal revolt to break those blockages to rank-and-file involvement in the Labour Party on which New Labour rests — its abolition of the democratic channels of the old Labour Party, its dispensing with Annual Conference in all but name, its transforming of the National Executive Committee, its choking-off and isolation of local Labour Parties.

It seems to me that the developments outlined at the beginning of this article demand that we revise our assessment, or at least open our minds to a serious possibility that things may move in a different direction from the more-or-less straight tracks they have followed for 15 years.

Labour will fall from power to a right-wing Tory government in the worst slump for 80 years. According to former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown (2 May), some leading Blairite MPs may hive off to the Lib Dems (in the same way as the old Gaitskellites formed the SDP in the early 1980s, and later amalgamated with the Liberal Party).

If there is any life at all in the Labour structures, there cannot but be indignant questioning of the record of the Blair-Brown government. The move towards state interventionism by the Government in recent months is and cannot but be seen to be an indictment of all the “wasted years” when Blair, Brown, and their gang were unashamed bag-carriers for bankers, capitalists, and every sort of profiteer and rip-off merchant. The system of unregulated bandit capitalism has already been widely discredited. So has the government.

Within the labour movement — in the first place the unions, but also in what is left of the constituency Labour Parties — criticism of all that the Blair-Brown regime fostered and served is surely going to go much further in the balance-sheet-drawing period after a general election defeat.

Working-class people facing an onslaught from the new Tory government will look for organised means to protest and resist, and — the activist left outside the Labour Party still being weak — may turn in some numbers to the unions and Labour for that.

With that situation, the prospects for a revival within the Labour Party cannot but be better than they have been for the last 15 years. How much better? With what outcome? I can’t judge.

The tragedy of the situation in the last 15 years has been that any political action by the unions has depended on the union leaders. The layer of union leaders before the current one supported the Blair-Brown coup within the Labour Party which created New Labour; without their support the coup could not have happened. Their successors, the current generation of union leaders, have made “oppositional” noises sometimes. But they have done nothing. The “working-class” aspect of the Labour Party has withered almost to nothing

It is not ruled out that the union leaders will do nothing to restore the functioning mass trade-union party that Blair and Brown stifled. In that case, remnants of the old Labour Party imprisoned in New Labour will slink their miserable way towards the political grave.

No-one should paint up the New Labour of today by “reading back” from the possibility of a revival after 2010. AWL will be running Jill Mountford as an independent working-class candidate against Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman in the 2010 general election, and we will call for the maximum coordination and mobilisation of socialists to run as a broad a spread of such candidates as possible.

Even so, as responsible socialists, we must orient to the new situation that may be shaping up with the larger forces beyond our control.

Over the last dozen years AWL has argued that the best thing would be for the unions to raise the banner of revolt against New Labour, rally those who could be rallied to recreate the old, relatively open, Labour structures that Blair and Brown cemented over — and hive off the New Labour element.

We conceded that it was unlikely that more than a smallish part of the Parliamentary Labour Party would adhere to such a revived union-based Labour Party. But against those who were intimidated by the prospect of a “new 1931” — a repetition of the Labour split when Ramsay McDonald broke away in 1931, which was followed by huge election losses for Labour in 1935 — we argued that without the 1931 split there would never have been the Labour victory of 1945 which created the modern welfare state.

As year followed year of New Labour governing for the bankers and the rich, AWL began to argue that politically dissenting unions should regroup, creating in the political field something like (in the industrial field) the Congress of Industrial Organisations which organised the mass unionisation in the USA in the 1930s — recreating a party of working-class parliamentary representatives.

We edged towards supporting moves in the unions to disaffiliate from New Labour, saying that if and when it became clear that no moves would be made to reverse the New Labour Bournemouth conference decision of 2007 to ban political motions from unions and local Labour Parties, disaffiliation could not be opposed.

The seriously increased prospects for an explosion within the New Labour structures demand we reorient.

We have polemicised — and we need to take back not a word of it! — against those who argued for an indefinite policy of waiting passively for the union leaders to “do something”, of opposition to any political initiative by the more dissident unions, on the grounds that eventually, in a year or a decade or two, “something” might turn up, and the unions could then act in lock-step to recreate a real Labour Party. That policy of “waiting” for an indefinite time would have ruled out anything other than a slow “bio-degrading” of revolutionary socialists into mere trade-unionists and labour movement routinists.

What is new now is that it is not a matter of indefinite waiting. There is a definable, and short, time with which, as a result of the slump and New Labour’s likely crushing defeat, things will move in something like the way we want them to. Or they won’t.

One practical conclusion: it makes no sense to continue along the straight lines we have mapped for the last 15 years or so, which would suggest, for example, supporting the disaffiliation motions which are coming up at the CWU conference in June (counterposed to a motion for a campaign to restore the trade-union right to push political motions at Labour Party conference).

We should oppose disaffiliation. To those who support disaffiliation, for reasons with which we have very great sympathy, we should say that now the only sensible policy is wait and see. Not to wait indefinitely; to wait until we see how things shape up with the big unions and the Labour “base” after the general election. If there is then no revolt within the Labour structures, or only a feeble one quickly suppressed, then the question of disaffiliation will be back on the agenda.

Were we wrong in the past? I don’t think so; but prospects have, maybe, changed, as a result of the slump, the radical discrediting of New Labour, and the opening up again of a clear political gap between the Tories and Labour. The question is: if they have changed, maybe, are we flexible and “tactical” enough to register that and respond?

So far, only maybe. But if the possibility exists of reclaiming the Labour structures, or sections of them, from the New Labour hijackers, then that is by far the better, most economical, quicker development, compared to the path of building working-class political representation anew from zero. We should, for now, orient to that "maybe".

AWL National Committee text

This is the AWL National Committee text in relation to which the article above is opening a discussion:

We should support Labour-disaffiliation motions in the unions, while (a) explaining that the consequences of disaffiliation are not necessarily positive; (b) seeking to link disaffiliation proposals to positive measures by the union to advance workers' representation.

So long as anything like the union leaderships' relation to the Labour Party continues, Labour affiliation is as "de-politicising" for the union as any alternative: it means that the union's political activity is defined by being yoked to the New Labour machine without the union even seeking to have an open, public political voice in the matter. In that situation, it would be sectarian to oppose disaffiliation motions, and wrong not to initiate them ourselves. We cannot contend that workers have no right to unyoke their unions from the New Labour machine unless and until those workers have a clear Marxist perspective.

The negative slogans "disaffiliate from the Labour Party" or "leave the Labour Party" do not thereby acquire positive content. Rather, it is a question of the positive fight for working-class political representation. We seek to add positive direction to disaffiliation motions by linking them to our positive proposals - fight for a workers' representation movement, affiliation to LRC, etc.


Submitted by Daniel_Randall on Sun, 17/05/2009 - 23:35

What Sean's position here amounts to is a recipe for perpetual inertia. For never doing anything, ever. When will the time come for the unions to finally make a break? How long is Sean prepared to wait for the "openings" in the Labour Party to emerge?

I don't deny that such "openings" are a possibility. But acknowledging the possibility and basing your immediate activist orientation on it are two very different things. Because of the long process of destruction of the potential channels of democracy in the Labour Party (culminating in the Bournemouth conference changes), and the entirely legitimate and incredibly widespread bitter hostility to the Labour Party by most politically minded working-class people, the likelihood of the sort of revival Sean imagines is extraordinarily remote.

I'd like to know concretely how Sean imagines this revival taking place and where the people rushing into the Labour Party to carry it out are going to come from. I don't know if he's been to a CLP meeting recently but the picture is not pretty; for a thing to "revive", it needs in the first place to be, well... not dead. And the CLPs are dead. In 2006, I went to a meeting of an Islington CLP that I was reliably informed to be one of the most left-wing and active in the country (in Jeremy Corbyn's constituency, no less). There were less than 12 people at the meeting and apart from one of the platform speakers, I was the youngest person by at least 30 years. And that's the best-case scenario. That is not something that's going to "revive" almost spontaneously just because Labour are forced back into opposition. If anything, I think the opposite is more likely - despair will increase, and the tiny, dwindling number of decent people still left in the Labour Party will drift away.

And against the backdrop of all of that, Sean wants us to oppose a historically militant and at least semi-political union (the CWU) making a clean and concerted break with the New Labour machine and rather pin its hopes on something that a) might not happen, b) it has no real power to make happen and c) even if it does happen, may take years. It is inconceivable that the kind of openings Sean talks about could ever have happened without a significant process of self-assertion by the union within the Labour Party - a coordinated campaign of resistance to the Bournemouth changes, for example, might've forced open some space. But no such resistance took place (quite the opposite, in fact), and now the channels the unions might've used to force such openings have either been concreted over or simply done away with.

The New Labour leadership in opposition might dress itself in vaguely social democratic looking clothes to counterpose itself to an aggressively right-wing Tory government, but that is not the same as an "opening" for us. The New Labour leadership is not going to voluntarily return the party to the sorts of structures that in the past allowed for socialist and working-class struggle within it, and the means by which it might have been forced to are now, as I say, precluded.

This is all to say nothing, of course, of the fact that it is CWU policy that it will disaffiliate if Labour privatises the Royal Mail, which is it in the process of doing. Don't we want to hold the CWU leadership to account on that policy? Not only should we be generally in favour of disaffiliation as a perspective, but in unions like the CWU where it is posed as an immediate question we should initiate the move and fight for it ourselves as a matter of priority, or else risk being outflanked by either the Socialist Party or right-wingers who have an apolitical or anti-political conception of disaffiliation. Clearly, our lack of implantation in the CWU may prevent us from being able to carry this out practically but as a perspective I think it still holds.

The Labour Party has shuffled off this mortal coil, Sean. It is not resting. It is not pining for the fjords. And it is not the business of revolutionaries to tell worker-militants, rightly disgusted beyond the point of all toleration with the actions of the Labour Party, that their unions must continue to pay huge sums of money for the privilege of being shackled to its corpse on the off-chance that, sometime in the indeterminate future, someone might discover a method for raising the dead.

Submitted by AWL on Tue, 26/05/2009 - 14:53

Daniel: You begin your first polemic with this passage: "When will the time come for the unions to finally make a break? How long is Sean prepared to wait for the 'openings' in the Labour Party to emerge?"


a) I specify the time-frame I have in mind - a year, probably, to the General Election, and a year or two after the defeat of the Labour Party and the return of a Tory government that will pit itself starkly against the labour movement.

b) I argue that one of the key changes is that the slump and New Labour's imminent defeat make trade unions' retaining Labour Party affiliation no longer a matter of indefinite waiting.

I assume that the questions "when will the time come...?", "how long to wait...?" are meant to be "rhetorical". But rhetorically asking questions that are answered clearly in the text you criticise, and where the answers are pivotal to my case and that text, is self-defeatingly flaccid rhetoric. It is evidence that you can't or won't deal with the case I made. All the more so when you yourself, eventually, accurately cite the timetable I gave.

Wildly, you accuse me of proposing "perpetual inertia" and "never doing anything". I do not propose "waiting" in any sense except "waiting" before a decision to change our policy since 1994 (the Blair-Brown coup) of opposing disaffiliation. I do not propose that the unions "wait" in any other sense. I propose, as AWL has proposed since 1994, that they use their affiliations to kick over the tables inside the Labour Party.

I do not assume that the unions will do that instantly, or, even in the best case, ever do it more than partially and in ways we will find unsatisfactory. Do you seriously - as distinct from frivolously, fueling yourself with god-awful rhetoric - want to maintain that a policy of backing disaffiliation, and then hoping something good will come of it, is less passive than what I propose. In any case, it isn't. It can't be.

Daniel, here you let your misunderstanding of what your pro-disaffiliation policy means, and in practice must mean - a slide by the union away from politics accompanied by a speculative hope from you that it will somehow help a move to better politics - get in the way of understanding what I am saying. The argument cannot be dealt with by rhetorically counterposing "activity" to "passivity".

In fact your whole contribution is awash with ill-thought-out and mildly abusive rhetoric, whose prime function is to sustain you in your mistaken conviction that you have something sensible or coherent to say. Remove the self-fooling rhetoric and there isn't much left! Daniel, you'd do better to lay off the rhetoric, and think a little more about the political issues raised for us by the new situation shaping up. Bad, obfuscating, self-sustaining rhetoric, used in lieu of thought, like its degenerate offspring demagogy, rots the mind.

That you have not troubled to think about what I wrote is shown by your exposition of what you think I said. You crudely and foolishly oversimplify it; you translate it too much into your own terms and your own preconceptuions. Re-read what I wrote!

You write in your second polemic: "Sean's entire hopes are pinned to... some vague, indeterminate 'fight back' by 'the unions'... supplemented by an influx of angry anti-Tory workers into the Labour Party".

But my projections are neither "vague" nor "indeterminate". I spelled out the elements in the situation that will, perhaps, "determine" the things I read as possibilities.

You continue: "In the 1980s, when the unions were a more significant social forces than they are now, their (limited) attempts to "fight back" against Kinnock rarely got them anywhere". What you are talking about here, I don't know: an essential aspect of what happened under Kinnock and Blair-Brown was that the unions acquiesced. "Why does Sean expect that (necessarily even more limited) 'fight back' by the unions (atrophied, shrivelled, decayed) now will be any more successful?"

What I find interesting here is that you erect your molehill of rhetoric, bits of ultra-leftism, and angry caricature of what I wrote, on the defeatist perspective that there will be no official labour movement response of any vitality to the slump and the future Tory government assault. There is nothing "indeterminate" in you about that! Even if there is a fightback by the unions, you insist it will not be the sort of fightback we want, and nothing good can come of it.

"The sort of 'fight back' we'd positively want in a situation of Tory government is a rank-and-file one that takes its lead from struggles like Visteon. The sort of possible 'fight back' that Sean wants us to put everything else on hold for is actually one that would necessarily be carried out by the trade union bureaucracy. That's not a 'fight back', it's a power play".

No matter how “intoxicated with the exuberance of your own verbosity” you are, you can't really think that I, or the comrades who agree with me on this, counsel workers to put strikes and occupations "on hold" to wait for broader political developments! Why then do you say it? The charge is just empty rhetoric, used to dress up a refusal to think about the arguments I made. And strikes, occupations, etc. are not, Comrade Randall, an alternative to large-scale political shifts!

I repeat: I propose to put nothing "on hold" except moves to disaffiliate trade unions from the Labour Party.

You think AWL can afford to "shop" for the best sort of "fight back"? Can we? We can snobbishly dismiss official trade union activities and initiatives that may be the trigger for rank and file actions with: "no, no, that is not the best fightback, not the sort of 'fight back' we want! Put that back in the attic! AWL will remain 'on hold' until the right fightback comes along". (This, by the way, is the daddy of all "wait-around" policies).

The mixture here of ultra-leftism and utter defeatism - defeatism dressed up in ultra-leftism - is toxic, or will be if we let it take hold in AWL.

Daniel, the idea that trade union bureaucratic initiatives and rank and file fightback are in separate compartments - or counterposed, exclusive, alternatives to each other - and that we can only look to initiatives "from below" and not from "above"is nonsensical in terms of the history of the labour movement. It is nonsensical in terms of Marxist politics. It is an impulse, or a half impulse, towards know-nothing Anarchism!

Take the upsurge against anti-union laws in the early 1970s - the "spontaneous" general strike of a quarter-million workers in response to the jailing of five illegally picketing dockers in July 1972, for instance. It had in serious part been prepared for by an official trade-union campaign against the Tory anti-unionlaws. It had also been prepared for by the fight of the unions and the union officials against projected Labour government anti-union laws in 1969 - an intra-labour-movement campaign, in fact. What may be "power play" to bureaucrats can turn into rank and file initiative and action. It can prepare the way for that action, even if that is the last thing the union leaders want.

(And it isn't just action "on top" at the level of trade union bureaucrats that can trigger rank and file action. The US black civil rights movement was given an immense boost by the 1954 Supreme Court decision against racial segregation of schools; the way for the eruption of the industrial union movement in the USA in the mid 30s was prepared by Roosevelt government legislation on trade union organising (National Industrial Recovery Act, June 1933).)

Of course we don't trust or rely on either trade union bureaucrats or governments. I wrote that it was part of the tragedy of the labour movement over the last 15 years that power and initiative has lain with the union leaders. But not to take account of such interactions when mapping out or projecting political terrain on which we cannot hope single-handed to shape events to our "best choice" is ultra-left foolishness.

You spell out your defeatism, dressed up in your insistence that it must be the right sort of fightback, further as follows: "To the extent that Sean's hope for a 'union fight back' against an opposition Labour Party has any grip on concrete possibilities, they are not ones that appear in reality likely to carve open space enough for Marxists to reorientate to the Labour Party as something like the site-of-struggle it was until the 1990s".

And? We must wait until until the right kind of "fight back" comes? Telling CWU militants that it now makes sense to put disaffiliation from Labour (nothing else) "on hold" until we see how things shape up after the General Election - that will hinder the right sort of fightback developing? It is positively undesirable for a fightback initiated or fostered by the union leaders to develop? (Whether you know it or not, that is what you are saying here).

I can't, unfortunately, offer you any guarantees that there will be a union fightback, still less an adequate union or working-class fightback, in the two or three years ahead. It is only too possible that even under the new pressures the union leaders will be as worthless here as the union leaders have been in the last 20 years of Tory and New Labour Thatcherism. The idea - or the instinct, or the impulse - that we must accept in advance that this is what will happen is crass defeatism. It is not made any less toxic by being painted over with jejune ultra-leftism and "rank-and-file-ism" and the recitation of the general points about the iniquities of New Labour and the trade union leaders which we have been making, and making again, all the way through the Kinnock and Blair and Brown phases of the Labour Party.

No, Daniel; we have spent not the last two, but the last 26 years, since the turn in the Labour Party in 1983, developing towards the policy you think you defeat. Until the last AWL NC document, we had not positively advocated disaffiliation.

Our 2008 conference document, with hindsight, is less clear than it should have been, but it did locate disaffiliation as a future next step, not the current one. "Where a union leadership has made it clear that it is committed to the Bournemouth rule change, and attempts to reverse that policy have failed, then... it would be sectarian to oppose disaffiliation motions, and wrong not to initiate them ourselves", although "the negative slogan 'disaffiliate from the Labour Party' [does] not thereby acquire positive content". Only in the recent AWL NC document did we say flatly that: "We should support Labour-disaffiliation motions in the unions".

That policy went through the NC "on the nod", as the next step to all the other steps we had taken. None of us had thought through the new situation and its implications for union-Labour relations. The author of the document passed at the NC is among those who think we made a mistake and should back-track on the issue. So is the "author" of every step we had taken towards that NC decision over the last 20 years and more.

For what I am saying to be, or more or less amount to, a speculative gamble - a gamble of "wait and see" - it would have to be counterposed to useful activity now (which it is not) and there would have to be some better policy open to us. But "disaffiliation now" is no less of a gamble, no less dependent on forces beyond our control for a positive outcome. In fact it is more of a gamble, more speculative.

If the CWU disaffiliates, and then something of the general species of a union-Labour political ferment develops, we then tell the CWU to reaffiliate? We would have to. Better "wait", on the specific question of disaffiliation, not indefinitely, but for the definite period I argued for.

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.

Submitted by lynn f on Sat, 06/06/2009 - 12:44

I have been estranged from the hurly burly of the political chaise longue for some time now, so please forgive a lack of polemical zeal.
As an active trade unionist however, I fail to see that a political version of fantasy football is really going to take us very far. In the union I work for we are, indeed belatedly, pushing to take up the bits of democracy left for us.This may seem small scale and hopelessly tedious to Daniel, but if we begin to take up the places on CLPs we are entitled to be can at least begin to move some furniture, if not kicking over the tables.
Short cuts do not exist, and working on the principle of starting from where we are rather than where we would like to be a hard slog is inevitable.
We could of course disregard the last century of labour movemant history and start again...
I would hope the AWL would support comrades attempting to engage in productive renewal work in the movement, however undramatic that may appear.
Disaffiliation seems to me to be an attempt to look clean.It's demagogic and populist.Its easy to be a crowd pleaser, rather harder to come up with a real strategy for revitalising our movement.
By the way, if Daniel finds Labour Party ward meetings poorly attended and bureaucratic, he should try the average TU branch meeting. But we are not looking at bypassing those - are we??

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