The working class needs a voice in politics. Labour used to go some way to being a workers’ party: it had workers in it, unions could vote on and make policy at Labour conference. That Labour has long since changed its priorities can be seen from its policies in government and who they have benefited: cuts and privatisation in the NHS, breaking up comprehensive education by letting business people and faith leaders run schools, taking away the right to retire at 60 and attacking the state pension, war in Iraq, keeping Thatcher’s anti-union laws - and, of course, keeping the railways in private hands and entrenching privatisation through re-franchising and PPP. All to the advantage of business and detriment to the working class.
As a result of the most recent Labour Party conference, trade unions don’t even have a say in Labour policy: Gordon Brown’s proposals to prevent unions from submitting motions went through (see next page). Any voice the working class had in our political system has been silenced; we have been carved out of politics. Now, every five years when the elections come round, who can claim to be on our side? Who will fight our corner in this capitalist system which will give us nothing without a fight?
RMT’s London Transport Region has voted to look into standing RMT and independent working-class candidates in the 2008 Greater London Assembly elections. The union will consult all regions of the RMT with members in London. But this is an important step in beginning to plug the hole in our democracy where working-class representation should be.
The motion is for the union to call out to other unions and working-class campaigns, making sure that any election campaign is not just a Bob Crow Show about rail privatisation. It also asks the union to put together a manifesto that speaks to the various issues the working class faces: on education, health, housing, etc. The aim is for a broad, working-class-based campaign.
None of the other parties speak for us. The Tories and LibDems are the same as ever. ‘Ken for Mayor’ promotes business: the Olympics mean ‘regeneration’ of poor areas on business-leaders’ terms, evicting communities and travellers to make space for the ‘greatest show on earth’. The gap between rich and poor in London is obscene, while Ken does next to nothing to end the poverty pay of the Underground cleaners, whose contractor bosses he employs.
‘Respect’ is standing a candidate for Mayor, Lindsay German, and for the GLA. They have some good policies and claim to be more on the side of ‘the people’ than the other major parties. But speaking for ‘the people’ is the most they do. It is communal, not working-class, politics. Some within Respect have questioned the personality cult of George Galloway and the number of its local councillors who are small-business owners rather than workers. In a Council by-election in East London, Respect chose a small-business owner as their candidate. True, he’s not a big capitalist. But given that the biggest problem confronting us is the lack of voice for working-class people, workers should not give Respect our support.
Just because everyone else has stopped talking about the working class, does not mean that we should too! Our task should be to unite the unions and work with other working-class campaigns. We should be part of the fight for greater freedom in society, for sexual liberation, for lesbian/gay/bi/trans and women’s rights, and not compromise on these things as Respect has done. That is what the RMT slate is about, and why the RMT as a whole should take interest in this campaign. If there are local council elections round you next May, think about putting together a slate in your area, and spread the fight for working-class ideas in politics.