As the BNP fascists win two Euro-seats: Unions should call the Labour Party to order

Submitted by martin on 7 June, 2009 - 3:22 Author: Martin Thomas
Vote slumping

The fascist BNP has won two Euro-MPs. Labour has hit a record low in the Euro-elections. New Labour is crumbling - to the advantage of the fascist BNP, of the right-wing and xenophobic UKIP, and of the Tories.

The affiliated unions should call the Labour Party to order. John McDonnell, who ran as a left candidate against Gordon Brown for leader in 2007, has called for "a recall Labour party conference - one that is properly open to all our members, supporters and progressives - at which we can debate the policies, democratically agree a new way forward and motivate our supporters once again with the high ideals that our party was founded upon".

The Labour Party's crisis is not one to be resolved by Gordon Brown being deft about reshuffling. The unions which form the essential underpinning of the Labour Party have the right and duty to intervene.

Socialists should fight for the unions to move - for the labour movement to transform itself. We can not wait for the big battalions to move before we ourselves, as a pioneering minority, take initiative. The political crisis, the gains for the BNP, and the looming threat of a Tory government elected with a big right-wing mandate, call for socialists to unite in a new Socialist Alliance, campaigning on the streets, in the workplaces and unions and Trades Council, and at the ballot box. But we must also come forward with proposals for the mainstream unions affiliated to the Labour Party.

Peter Kenyon and Ann Black, representatives on Labour's Executive elected from the local Labour Parties, have called for a special meeting of the Executive.

The unions should demand, not just a conference, but a conference that is "properly open", which means that it can debate political motions from unions and local Labour Parties, and take decisions on them which bind the leadership. The unions should insist on rescinding the Bournemouth conference decision of 2007 which banned such motions. That decision is due for review this year. So far most union leaders are tacitly agreeing not to challenge it.

Union activists should also demand the opening-up of their unions' political decisions to rank-and-file discussion and control. In the unions not affiliated to the Labour Party, activists should push debate on working-class representation (of the sort the RMT has done only tentatively, by calling two conferences), and work to remove barriers to union political activity.

The unions affiliated to the Labour Party have an umbrella body, called TULO or "Unions Together". It operates only as a cabal of top leaders. Shouldn't TULO cease being just a cabal and call a properly representative emergency conference?

John McDonnell says that he will stand as a left candidate when there is a new Labour leadership contest. This time, unions which on paper support left policies should endorse McDonnell and press their sponsored MPs to give nominations to make sure McDonnell gets on the ballot paper.

The MPs' expenses scandal has hit Labour especially hard because it is, as it were, a human-scale picture of New Labour's global orientation. Peter Mandelson declared in 1998: "We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes” (taxes which Mandelson and his friends were meanwhile keeping low!). Little wonder that New Labour MPs themselves have been "relaxed" about playing the expenses system to the limit.

Now several Labour ministers have resigned, coming out against their prime minister in a way not seen in living memory. Brown has seen off demands to quit, but only for now.

New Labour deserves to crumble. For 15 years it has told us that it has found a new way of managing capitalism, resolutely "pro-business" but shinier and smoother and eventually (it promised) more "social" than Thatcherism.

Now it finds itself floundering in a huge capitalist crisis. Piecemeal it resorts to state economic intervention, but always in as free-market-biased a way as it can. So the banks get huge hand-outs, credits, and guarantees; they are effectively nationalised; but then they are left to operate just as the bankers think will suit their future profits, not used as an instrument to finance public ownership under workers' control of enterprises that will otherwise close and cut jobs.

Figures published at the start of May showed that inequality has increased steadily under New Labour.

Now, over the past nine months, 27% of UK workers have had their pay cut, 24% have had their hours reduced and 24% have lost benefits. 54% of workers have suffered at least one of those cutbacks. Hundreds of thousands have lost jobs.

New Labour offers neither its once-promised smooth, shiny, new capitalism, nor the crude "old-capitalist" line which the Tories are falling back on. Gordon Brown appoints Alan Sugar, who was one of Thatcher's favourite business people, as "enterprise tsar", and, macabrely, reshuffles administration so that universities are now to be run by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (what, in the days when governments labelled their activities in plain words, was called the Board of Trade).

Although a poll published in the Independent on 9 June suggested that with Alan Johnson as leader Labour could improve enough to deny the Tories a general election majority, the most probable danger is that the Tories will win a general election mandate for an old-style market-capitalist platform of "budget responsibility" and "hard choices", meaning huge public service and welfare cuts.

The shift is to more and more people becoming disengaged from politics or drifting to parochialism and resignation to what will always be the "default" political recourse in a capitalist society - unashamed rule by the wealthy.

Tory Shadow Chancellor George Osborne tells his friends: "After three months in power, we will be the most unpopular government since the war" (Financial Times, 8 June). The Tories themselves expect that their cuts will make them even more unpopular than the Brown government is now! But the Tories still have good cause to expect an election victory.

For the left to try to deal with this by going along half-way with the backwash will not win us greater support, and will only compromise our message.

In the Euro-elections the Socialist Party and the Executive of the rail union RMT backed a "No2EU" slate designed by people round the Communist Party of Britain - not on a socialist or working-class platform, but on one of blaming "Europe" and "the so-called free movement of labour". "No2EU" got just 1% of the vote, a bit less than Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party, which has been practically defunct as an active party for many years but still had the cash to put names on the ballot papers.

The unions need to find a way to move on from New Labour in the opposite direction - towards restoring working-class political representation and towards a real campaign for a workers' plan to deal with the capitalist crisis, based on public ownership and workers' control.

Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, called for the Labour Party Executive to allow reselection of candidates in every constituency where Labour MPs have abused expenses, even if technically within the rules. He has said that he expects at least 50 sitting Labour MPs to quit.

Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of the general union Unite (Amicus-TGWU), responded to the resignations by ministers by saying: "The resignation of Blairites gives Gordon Brown the opportunity to bring in some real Labour people to the government which could give it a new progressive impetus to tackle the real economic and social problems concerning working people. I hope he takes the chance.”

Unite has (in 2007) launched a campaign to get its members to join local Labour Parties and take up the union-delegate positions they are entitled to there. But unions like Unite and GMB have not used the positions they already have in the Labour structures - at the conference, in the Policy Forum, on the Executive - to fight.

Union activists should press for the affiliated unions to make a clear break from the morass of the New Labour machine, and to use their positions to launch a battle in the Labour Party for labour-movement policies, starting with an end to plans to privatise Royal Mail, an end to cuts in local government funding, and democratic control over and use of the effectively-nationalised banks. The unions should fight to rally forces in the Labour structures. If necessary - and with a serious fight, almost certainly it would be necessary - they should push it to the point of a split which separates out a genuine union-based political party from the New Labour machine.

Comments

Submitted by paulm on Mon, 08/06/2009 - 09:48

How can we demand calling on the unions to exercise their power in the Labour Party when calling for disaffiliation?

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