As the trade union conference season draws to a close we take a look back and analyse and counter the double talk, propaganda and lies that have been peddled in the name of progress for the working class. The reader will soon pick up the thread of the trade union case for continued support for Labour. We cannot stress enough that this support must be challenged and the link with Labour broken if working people are to fundamentally challenge the system of exploitation.
In May, ASLEF (the train drivers’ union) proudly boasted that, if Blair ignored their campaigns, he would have to be replaced. The campaigns referred to included demands for better pensions and a renationalised railway network. However, with the applause still ringing, the conference voted by 2-1 to stay affiliated to Labour on the grounds that “to have any chance of influencing policy we have to stay part of the ruling party”. So said Keith Norman, ASLEF’s acting General Secretary. Norman went on to stress that “while there was considerable anger over the Prime Minister’s refusal to renationalise rail, we are not going to improve our position by walking away”. So not only is there an admission that Blair has already ignored the union’s call to renationalise rail, but ASLEF now has to support the “ruling party”. Does this include support for a future Conservative government, we wonder? After all, Keith Norman doesn’t even argue that Labour are the party of the working class.
The Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) also decided to stick with Labour, warning that “we will use our affiliation to actively campaign for a fundamental change in direction of government policy” This fundamental change of direction obviously didn’t include the government’s criminal policy in Iraq. Delegates voted for the soft option of an “early date for withdrawal”, the union’s executive arguing that “any withdrawal should be set in conjunction with the Iraqi Government”. So much for active campaigning.
The BFAWU (bakers’ union) met in June and their General Secretary Joe Marino proclaimed that “without the trade unions, Labour would have not been elected”, adding “Warwick [the agreement struck between union chiefs and the government that acted as a sop to get Labour elected] was just a down payment; it’s now payback time.”
One thing’s for certain: the trade unions did give overwhelming support to Labour. Not because of Warwick and the few crumbs that it might bring to the more privileged workers, but because of the opportunist and collaborationist outlook of the leadership of the trade union movement. – the bribed upper strata of imperialism’s workers, as Lenin referred to them. Why else would these scoundrels support a government that drops bombs on innocent men, women and children and calls it an act of humanity? Why else would they support a government that, within weeks of winning the election, reneges on part of the Warwick agreement and sets in motion changes to party rules to reduce and even eliminate trade union influence? (We’re not sure, however, who is deluding who with the assumption that trade unions have any influence in determining Labour party policy today.) Why else would they give tens of thousands of pounds in financial support to Labour only to keep silent on issues affecting workers until after the election?
Following the AMICUS conference in May, the union’s leader Derek Simpson wrote a column for the Morning Star entitled ‘True Labour, the voice of the majority’. (No explanation was given as to what “true” Labour might be or to which “majority” Simpson was referring.) “Now, with a third term Labour government in place, our aim is to ensure the early implementation of this Warwick agenda and make rapid progress toward Warwick mark II.” Unfortunately, Simpson gives no indication of what “Warwick mark II” might be either. We can only assume he’s proposing to offer the workers crumbs for tea again.
Pilger lets out the best-kept secret
A lone voice amidst all this Labour-friendly back slapping was John Pilger. In June, he accused the NUJ (National Union of Journalists) of compromising their integrity when they accepted £80,000 of government funding to work in ‘partnership’ with the government to “promote awareness among journalists of the issues that surround the struggle against poverty on a world scale”. “We want to help tell it like it is,” said John Fray, the NUJ’s deputy General Secretary. Nobody at the NUJ was saying anything about what was stopping journalists “telling it like it is” before receiving this funding, of course. It says a lot about bourgeois journalism in Britain that Pilger seemed to be the only prominent NUJ member not buying the government’s alleged wish to “struggle against poverty on a world scale”. He went on to question the union’s independence and concluded that, in accepting the money, the NUJ and its leaders were guilty of collaboration with the government’s clear aim of covering over the reality – that they play a vital role in not only the continuance of poverty but its expansion on a world scale. (‘Sleeping with the enemy’, New Statesman, 13 June 2005)
Within days of the article’s publication, a letter appeared in the Morning Star of 25 June 2005 asserting that Pilger was “misplaced and wrong” (without explaining how Pilger was “misplaced” or “wrong”, however). Getting to the heart of the matter, the letter went on to state that “all our organisations have received government funding for training work, international and other campaigns and other vital initiatives on behalf of trade union members”. As if aware of the raised eyebrows this admission might inspire, the writers asserted defensively that “None of us has compromised one ounce of our independence as a result.” This letter was signed by such ‘uncompromising’ luminaries of the Labour ‘left’ as Bob Crow of the RMT, Mark Serwotka of the PCS, Paul Mackney of NATFHE, Mick Rix of Justice for Columbia, Ruth Winters of the FBU and Keith Norman of ASLEF. Comment is superfluous – we will leave our readers to decide whether trade unions compromise themselves when accepting ‘grants’ for imperialist-sponsored initiatives.
The ‘radical’ position on Iraq
In a previous column (Proletarian No 3, Dec 04), we referred to the shameful defence of the occupation of Iraq by the General Secretary of the T&G (Transport and General) Tony Woodley. Mr Woodley maintained at the TUC 2004 conference that “the T&G are in favour of a speedy withdrawal of troops from Iraq”. Within weeks, however, he told the Labour Party Conference 2004 that “after taking advice from Abdullah Muhsin, it would be a disaster to withdraw troops before the Iraqi trade unions felt their country was secure”.
It gives us no pleasure to report that Mr Woodley is up to his old tricks. At the T&G conference in July, Woodley told a fringe meeting that “troops should be withdrawn possibly before Christmas”.
Mr Woodley wants to have his cake and eat it. He wants to retain his credibility as a ‘left-wing radical’, but he wants to keep in with the Labour Party too. What matters to Woodley and his ilk is not the brutality of imperialism or the rights of those trampled at home and abroad by their beloved Labour Party, but only that they should retain their places on the imperialist gravy train.
The challenges our party faces are immense, but they can be achieved. Our work within the trade unions is vital to the development not only of future party workers but of the working class as a whole. If we want to defeat imperialism and build socialism, we must first expose the forces of opportunism that exist throughout the working class movement and start to eradicate the deadly imperialist prejudices that infect all workers, to a greater or lesser degree, under the conditions of capitalism.
The first step on this difficult path is clear.
Break the link with Labour!