Off the Rails favours unions backing independent working-class challenges in elections - but No2EU was not such an initiative. It did not speak up for our class, and its main union backer was the RMT executive which did not consult the membership before making its decision.
Our Executive supported the campaign in response to a letter from Trade Unionists Against The European Union Constitution (TUAEUC). Having done nothing for several years the circular letter announced a very ambitious plan to stand candidates in the European Union elections. Called ‘No2EU – Yes to Democracy’, its ten-point platform set out the political direction of the campaign. Dated 24 February it announced a ‘delegate meeting’ on 3 March to discuss a challenge in the Euro-elections. But rank-and-file trade unionists (some were RMT members) who turned up to the meeting were excluded on the basis that it was open only to those delegated to a previous unpublicised meeting. Not a very auspicious start for a campaign claiming to champion democracy.
A few years ago when one RMT member wanted the union’s backing in an election, the Executive rightly consulted all branches with members in the constituency on whether or not the union should endorse this candidate. Yet when it comes to the RMT supporting a nationwide campaign, the Euro elections, the Executive endorsed the proposal without any period of discussion. In at least two regions, the EC member made the decision without consulting any of the people he is supposed to represent. Nationally nothing was sent to branches to hear their thoughts on the matter!
Technically this is within the rules of the union as the Executive controls the day-to-day running of the union but come on, most MPs’ expenses claims were within the rules but it does not make them right. It seems like there is one rule for the rank and file and another for the Executive and full-time officers when standing in elections. The EC’s commitment to the democratic process has been brought into serious question by these actions. Our union gave £45,000 to this campaign without asking the members. Perhaps the RMT’s President should have intervened to protect the members’ interests?
The campaign was set up in such an undemocratic way largely because of the central role of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB). At January’s conference on the ‘Crisis of Working Class Political Representation’, called by RMT, a CPB speaker responded to calls to set up a new workers’ party by saying that now was not the time, as it would be difficult to get agreement on its politics.
Thinking thus, and with their trademark top-down disdain for democracy, but still wanting political profile, the CPB’s solution is to present a fait accompli to the RMT (cutting out all that time-consuming need to consult and convince). Selling this to the RMT Executive was made easier by the General Secretary’s support, and is clinched with the offer of places as Euro election candidates.
The CPB’s baneful influence is also in evidence in No2EU’s political platform. Its original ten points did not mention workers once, but the Socialist Party settled for an additional ‘international solidarity of working people’ as their price for joining. Like the ‘Peoples Charter’, it gives the impression that most of those who lead the working class are ashamed to say our name. This is not mere semantics: using the word ‘people’ instead of ‘workers’ is a political choice. When the CPB uses it they are telling us that they want to include some bosses as part of the solution.
In the context of a Europe-wide election, No2EU’s defence of ‘British’ manufacturing can only mean defending it against other European manufacturing. This sets worker against worker and lines us up behind our own national bosses. Since when did our bosses become our allies?
The platform calls for nationalisation of a few industries (railways, post office, NHS and energy). But in the present crisis, shouldn’t the program say nationalise all the failing companies; that would protect those British workers being made redundant. Or would British bosses recoil from such a demand?
We needed an election campaign advocating EU-wide workers' unity for socialist policies: jobs and services for all under workers’ and users’ control; level up trade union rights. Such a campaign would also have given a political dimension to our industrial struggles to defend jobs, pay and conditions: we could have made the same points on the picket line and in the polling station. Sadly, the union missed the chance to run such a campaign and instead plumped for a narrow anti-EU stunt.
Just as managers exploit our division into different unions on the railways, the capitalists exploit our division into nationalities in Europe and the world. The problem with the EU is not that it exists but that it is run for the benefit of the bosses: we should use it to forge closer ties with all EU workers by focusing on the class issues which unite workers rather than old-fashioned nationalist anti-EUism which just divides us. It makes more sense to fight to improve the EU and build a workers’ Europe than to fall back into economic nationalism that in some cases comes dangerously close to what the BNP and UKIP say?
No2EU’s opposed the free movement of labour, on environmental and economic grounds and concern for workers’ rights. But we should favour the free movement of labour - it is a right that every workers should have. When it appears in the same sentence as ‘the social dumping of exploited foreign workers in Britain’, it can be read as a kind of ‘left-wing’ version of the chauvinist cry: ‘Kick out migrant workers’.
In the last issue of Off the Rails we expressed concern that RMT’s political work would be side-tracked from what should be its main political task of helping to bring about the creation of a new workers’ party. Sadly, the RMT Executive’s support for the No2EU was just such a diversion. Being anti-EU rather than anti-capitalist, pro-British more than pro-worker, the platform’s stated position is left nationalist rather than socialist. We are pro-worker and anti-capitalist, internationalist and socialist and that is why we could not support No2EU.