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Report from the RMT Conference on the Crisis in Working Class Political Representation 07/11/09


Pete McLaren

Socialist Alliance National Secretary 


Alex Gordon (RMT Executive) was in the Chair and opened the Conference by introducing the Platform speakers.

The first speaker, Brian Caton (POA Gen Sec), argued that the left needed to unite, which might involve compromises.  We needed a left alliance that mattered which needed to concentrate on major issues.

Susan Press (LRC Vice Pres – speaking in a personal capacity) argued a consensus on the left was needed to fight cuts and privatisation.  Although Labour was not doing what it should be, the Tories would be worse.  All Parties wanted massive spending cuts - according to Brown, Labour only because it had to, whilst the Tories wanted to.  Labour's policies encouraged abstention or voting Tory.  The left needed to work together against the cuts and for the return of socialist MPs.  The Labour Left will continue to campaign for left wing policies within the Labour Party, try to retain the few socialist MPs and support workers in struggle.

John Foster (No2EU lead member in Scotland and CPB) suggested No2EU had been an example of unity across the left.  It was significant as it was attempting a working class perspective on the EU Parliament, and because the RMT had made a historic stand.  It was a propagandist platform for trade union rights, against privatisation and military spending, and had been the only effective challenge to the BNP on the ground. He went on to explain why the campaign must continue because of the policies of the EU and the European bankers which had to be opposed.  He concluded by stating that the TUC had opposed EU Work Directives and had supported the Peoples Charter (PC), and the PC could unite the left.

Joe Higgins (Socialist Party MEP, Dublin) congratulated the RMT for hosting the Conference.  The move to the right of all social democratic parties had left a vacuum.  He described the mass demonstrations in Ireland against the Public Spending cuts being imposed by the Fina Gael/Green Party government.  The SP had been successful in Ireland standing on a bold socialist programme, and this showed what the left could achieve.  We must work for a new mass workers party with real forces behind it, democratic with a socialist perspective, and this should be organised now, we should take the next step.

In the discussion which followed, Gerry Byrne (SA) argued the importance of socialists uniting across their differences, going beyond organised labour by also reaching out to pensioners, youth, carers, migrant workers and asylum seekers.  We needed to stand for the unionisation of all workers.  Pat Sikorski (RMT Ass Sec) suggested that TUs should be the bedrock of a new mass Party which must have roots in all communities.  There was no possibility of reclaiming Labour.  We needed a new Party and it must be democratic.  It could unite around the PC which was already frightening the establishment with its call for nationalisation of the banks.  Rob Williams (NSSN & SP) described how workers were now fighting back.  Many have seen through New Labour.  The TUs needed a political platform - an electoral coalition which was broad, inclusive and socialist.  Dave Hill (No2EU South east candidate) argued it had been a privilege to work together with so many left groups in No2EU.  We should follow the example of Die Linke and fight for left unity around a socialist programme.  Dot Gibson (Nat Pensioners Convention and tUSP) described the massive social problems in Britain today and the need for a socialist response.  She announced the Demo to Defend the Welfare State on April10th.  Peter Daniels (RMT) argued we needed a new Party as Labour could not be reclaimed - there should be one party of the left.  He reminded Conference of the slogan 'Workers of the World Unite' Roger Bannister (UISON NEC & SP) described the successes of the No2Eu campaign, a coalition of militants and trade unionists with a working class banner.  He explained that Griffin had been elected in the NW, not because of the No2EU intervention, but due to the massive collapse in the Labour vote.  Also, the Green vote had mainly come from rural and middle class areas, whereas No2EU had polled strongly in working class areas.  No2EU had held the only TV broadcast to attack the BNP - we urgently now needed to build an alternative to stop the BNP.  Pete Firmin (CWU & LRC) described how TUs had supported Labour's right wing policies.  Ironically, the London CWU, which had called for disaffiliation from Labour, had also supported this week's postal "settlement". 

The speakers briefly responded to the debate.  Susan Press (LRC) suggested some delegates needed a reality check - the alternative to Labour at the next General election would be the Tories.  We could unite around the Peoples Charter.  The LRC acted as a bridge between the Labour Party and the rest of the left.  Joe Higgins argued we must not leave it until the last 4 weeks if there was to be a left challenge at the general election.  A profile needed to be built locally and nationally, and policies needed agreement: he suggested, to much applause, doing as he did by representatives only taking the average workers wage.


Dave Nellist (SP) began by announcing he was also national chair of the CNWP, and explaining what that meant.  The next General election was important because there would be a common agenda of massive cuts whoever got in.  Capitalism was in crisis and the working class was being made to pay.  All Parties would be looking at cutting around £90 billion annually, the amount put into the NHS each year.  We must not just leave it to public sector workers to defend services.  He described how the RMT initiative for the General Election had developed out of No2EU, which had been supported by the SP, AGS, CPB, RMT and SA.  It was not the launch of a new Party because it was not broad enough, and it would not be standing everywhere.  He referred to the leaflet from the Core Group which had been distributed to the Conference announcing the setting up of a Coalition for the General election calling for wide involvement from all who support the need for a working class alternative.  The intention was a federal coalition with a common name and a steering committee of participating organizations and trade unions that would operate by consensus.  The issue of the name and the core policies would be the subject of further discussion.  Those who want to get involved should contact the Coalition at ‘”.

Dave Nellist argued that this leaflet should be taken into trade union branches.  He suggested we start raising funds and expectations, and aim to involve a wide layer.   After the General election, which may well split the Labour Party, we should be arguing for a new mass alternative which is socialist.   He concluded by suggesting that everyone should now help build the Coalition.

Bob Crow (RMT Gen Sec) began by criticizing the TUC for not supporting workers in struggle, such as the CWU.  He described how anti TU laws had worsened under Labour, and there was now talk of making it even harder for public sector workers to strike.  It was right wing Labour policies that were letting the BNP in.  We need an alternative for the General Election.  All the establishment parties supported privatization and cuts.  We needed our own Party.  Policies should include withdrawing the troops from Afghanistan, opposing Identity Cards, and the redistribution of wealth.  An alliance for the General election would still enable us to support socialist Labour MPs like Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.  He saw the Coalition as a continuation of the Euro election campaign, and hoped it would lay the foundations for a new workers party.

Matt Wrack (FBU Gen Sec) pointed out that the response of the three main Parties to the economic crisis was to argue how deep public spending cuts must be.  Profits were being put before people.  The crisis had been caused by capitalism.  TUs must defend the working class and develop an alternative vision.  The FBU would discuss any new Alliance, but it would be cautious.  He argued that the Peoples Charter, an initiative from the FBU, RMT, PCS and others would help build an alternative.  As attacks on the working class increase, more people will seek an alternative, and the Peoples Charter could help provide it.  It was more than a petition – it was a way to build a movement.

Jeremy Corbyn MP described the weak understanding most Labour MPs had of the labour movement’s history.  Labour has traditionally been seen as the voice of the working class, but New Labour with its concentration on PFI, the free market and wars had moved it away.  It was important to stand up for labour movement principles such as public ownership of the banks.  Internationally, the growth of the free market and the oppression of workers had divided communities – we needed an international working class movement.  He concluded by calling on all left Labour MPs and short term alliances to stand up for socialism.

 In the discussion, Andrew Billington (RMT) complained that this was the 3rd RMT Conference on the Crisis in working class political representation.  He felt the Peoples Charter provided opportunities to work together.  Labour MPs would have to represent the Labour Manifesto, and we needed a new alliance.  It needs to be started now – we must not wait for another RMT Conference. 

Andy Price (UCU and SP) congratulated the RMT for initiating the discussion.   TUs should not be supporting Labour now that it has abandoned socialism.  No2EU had been a small step in the right direction, and a General Election Coalition was now being endorsed today.  Nikki Gilbert (Newcastle Metro Campaign) explained that she would have to be thrown out of the Labour party, as she would not leave.  We need to unite against the far right.  An SWP member from Cambridge felt there had never been a better time to build.  Joe Higgins was correct – there was an audience waiting for us.  Local alliances were being built: a national structure was needed.  Richard Howard (RMT Branch Sec) described how they had already decided to stand a candidate on the Peoples Charter in Portsmouth.  We should agree to have left candidates in every constituency.  Trade unions would need longer to change their constitutions and form a new Party, so we should set up a Steering Committee with a short term constitution and stand candidates on the basis of the Peoples Charter.  This could lead to a new Party – we need to take the next step now.

The Chair closed proceedings by explaining that the Conference had provided an opportunity for opinions to be voiced.  It must lead onto other things.  A report from the Conference would go to the RMT Executive, along with the call to endorse the General Election Coalition

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