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The trade unions must break with New Labour!
Manchester Trades Council recently organised a debate on the Labour Link, which was attended by over twenty-five union activists and saw a lively and important discussion take place.
Paul Gerrard, CNWP Manchester
Pitted against Jenny Lennox, regional organiser for the NUJ and Labour Party member, were Roger Bannister of UNISON's National Executive and CNWP National Secretary and Ben Jackson, a UNISON shop steward and activist in the campaign for the reinstatement of Karen Reissman. All those speaking did so in a personal capacity.
Jenny Lennox argued that there was no alternative to New Labour and that trades unionists could walk in and reclaim the party. Ben Jackson welcomed the support shown by Jenny's union for the UNISON strikers but pointed out that most Labour MPs had been silent on the victimisation of Karen Reissman, despite private assurances that they supported her, and the council viciously attacked strikers in the press. He echoed the question that his members had repeatedly asked: 'why are we giving money to the Labour Party?'
Roger Bannister listed the anti-working class measures that New Labour had taken, including their current opposition to the Private Membersí Bill in support of agency workers. He pointed out that the only way the PCS had been able to win their recent ballot for a political fund was by assuring members that under no circumstances would any money end up in the pockets of the Labour Party!
In a lively but all-too-short debate speakers from the floor pointed out that John McDonnell had failed to even get on the ballot paper in the election for New Labour leader. Peter Keenlyside (National Executive CWU) argued correctly that the left has a job to do ensuring that union leaders are accountable to their members. However, he still supported the Labour Link, arguing that his own union, for example, would be no further forward if they disaffiliated. Jim Cessford (Senior Steward UNISON Manchester City Council) countered by pointing to the popularity of the demand to break the Labour Link with members when he recently stood for Asst. Branch Secretary. CNWP supporters argued in and outside the meeting for disaffiliated unions to take up the campaign for working class representation, just as the unions had to do in 1900.
One or two members of the Labour Party argued for a mass invasion of the party by trade unionists. In summing up Roger Bannister cut the ground from under this argument: ' You won't be allowed!' Regional officials from the party would close down oppositional branches; declare resolutions out of order; impose right wing candidates. It was pointed out that Jenny Lennox herself, though a council candidate, had recently been 'stitched up' for a parliamentary seat in favour of a right-winger from London. Roger pointed out that if elected to the council she would face the withdrawal of the Labour whip and expulsion from the party the first time she broke ranks on a working-class issue.
This was an excellent debate, and CNWP supporters made their presence felt well. One of the platform speakers, Ben Jackson, agreed to sign up to the CNWP declaration. These sort of debates and discussions are an important initiative and CNWP supporters who are delegates to trades councils should press them to organise similar debates and offer a speaker from the campaign.