New Labour moves to expel railworkers

Submitted by Anon on 5 February, 2004 - 4:56

Put Blair on trial, not the RMT!

For pdf of AWL bulletin for the RMT special conference on 06/02/04, click here.

The Labour Party will expel the RMT (the rail, Underground workers and seafarers' union) on 7 February unless revokes the union's decision to allow Scottish RMT branches to affiliate to the Scottish Socialist Party.

The clash arises from a decision at the RMT's Annual General Meeting last year to let the Executive authorise branches to affiliate to organisations outside the Labour Party.

At Labour's National Executive on 27 January all but three delegates - Mark Seddon, Christine Shawcroft and the RMT's Mick Cash - voted for expulsion.

On 6 February the RMT will hold a Special General Meeting (SGM) on the issue. As we go to press it is not clear what positions will be represented and which motions will be discussed, but delegates are expected to uphold the 2003 AGM decision.

What is the significance of the Blairites' actions? And what should these events mean for the labour movement?

From the Blairite point of view, they cannot let the RMT get away with this. They do not want other unions to do as the RMT have done. Funding from the RMT is now minimal, but other unions contribute more to Labour's coffers.

Once again the Blairites have shown how alien they are to the grass roots of the Labour Party. They are a group of middle-class careerists, spin doctors, advisers and political fixers, most with no roots at all the in the labour movement, who have hijacked the party which the trade unions founded. The RMT have done no more than stay loyal to the principles that motivated the union's predecessor when it initiated the founding of the Labour Party back in 1900.

The union has fought and continues to fight the privatisation of the London Underground. And it fights for the renationalisation of the rail.

What has New Labour done? It has given money to the shareholders of the train operating companies to provide a lousy cut price service. New Labour are not prepared to make the investment in public transport that will improve the service. That is because they are not prepared to tax the rich to pay for that kind of investment.

The RMT, on the other hand, represents its working class members. That is why Scottish branches are looking to the SSP - a party which has a working class base in Glasgow, which backs renationalisation of the railways and repeal of the Tory anti-union laws.

A vital and important debate is now going to open up in the TUC and Labour Party about the fact that one of the founding unions of the Labour Party has been expelled.

Solidarity talked to two delegates to the SGM about the issues posed. We also print the motions that have been submitted which seek to map out a new political direction for the union.

FIGHT TO RESTORE LABOUR REPRESENTATION

Motion from East Midlands RMT branch

We note the historic decision of the 2003 RMT AGM to open its political fund to candidates and organisations outside of the Labour Party. While applauding this decision on its merits, we believe that the union needs to take the issue further and establish principles as to who we should and should not back.

A century ago, the pioneers of our union took the historic decision that trade unions should form our own political party, so that working people could be directly represented in Parliament, rather than relying on other parties who served the employers not the workers. Despite the betrayals of the Labour Party since then, we believe that this is still the right policy: workers need our own party.

With this in mind, we believe the Council of Executives should not authorise support or payments for nationalist, religious or liberal organisations or personalities, or support coalitions with any of these.

We have seen these groups at work around the world and when in power they attack the working classes as much or more than the Tories.

Further, we would like to see the union taking the initiative to stand our own candidates, along with other unions and socialists, rather than tagging along with non-socialist non working class parties or personalities.

Motion from Finsbury Park RMT branch

This SGM resolves to defend the decisions of last year's AGM against the threat by the Labour Party to expel the union. We also defend the right of the Scottish branches to affiliate to the Scottish Socialist Party within our new rules, and endorse the Council of Executives' decision to allow them to do so. This union will not give in to the threats from the Labour Party bureaucracy either by rescinding our decisions or by allowing Labour to disaffiliate us without a fight.

We reaffirm the principle that led this union's predecessors to initiate the Labour Representation Committee in 1900 - that the working class needs its own distinctive and socialist voice in politics, independent of all parties of the wealthy classes. We believe that the current Labour leadership has no right to put the RMT on trial, after it has privatised the Tube, refused to renationalise the railways, and betrayed and attacked the working class. Instead, the labour movement should put Tony Blair and his cronies on trial - it is they who should be removed from their place in the labour movement, not the RMT.

This SGM therefore instructs the Council of Executives to immediately launch a campaign within the labour movement to defend the RMT's affiliation to the Labour Party against the Party's threat to expel us. In particular:

  1. All our representatives on Labour Party bodies should raise this issue as a matter of urgency.
  2. We call on other Labour-affiliated unions to demand the Labour Party withdraw its threat.
  3. We call on other unions to take an RMT speaker at their conference this year.
  4. We call on other Labour-affiliated unions to ensure that this issue is debated at Labour Party conference this year, with an RMT speaker there.
  5. We call on Constituency and Regional Labour Parties to continue to recognise RMT delegates even if the expulsion goes ahead.
  6. An initial meeting to organise this campaign should be held within one month of this SGM.

Communication Workers Union condemns expulsion

The Communication Workers' Union National Executive on 29 January 2004 passed the following motion on the RMT's expulsion from the Labour Party:
"This Executive deplores, condemns and regrets the backward step for the labour movement of the decision of the Labour Party to expel the RMT without giving them an opportunity to put their case against expulsion to the NEC of the Labour Party and notes that this will not become effective until after the RMT Conference on 6th February.
"We therefore call on the Labour Party to instigate urgent talks with the RMT, with a view to finding a mutually acceptable solution.
"The Executive further instructs the General Secretary to write to the Labour Party General Secretary and Chair outlining the terms of this motion and circulating the terms of his letter as a LTB" [letter to branches].

Other unions' representatives on the Labour Party NEC voted with Blair on the expulsion. Those unions should call them to account. The RMT should work for the strongest possible trade-union and socialist united front against the New Labour clique - maybe a new Labour Representation Committee, a 21st century version of the one our predecessors helped launch in 1900.

"Labour sees the RMT as a special threat"

Two Special General Meeting delegates respond

A

"The resolution on the rule change (to allow RMT branches affiliate to organisations outside the Labour Party) was passed by a massive majority last year. It may not be quite so simple at the Special Meeting, as the right-wing may be looking to run for cover. Still the National Executive, which has a fairly even left-right split, will do what the SGM tell it to do. They could slow the decision-making down, but that did not happen with the AGM rule change. That must have been because our people in Scotland were particularly keen to use the union's political fund to support people who are far more socialist.

"There is no middle way on this. Do as you are told or you're out. Labour sees the RMT as a special threat. They are going to manipulate and use this issue to try and isolate our approach to industrial relations. The two other rail unions are going the other way. All of the other unions backed the Blairites. We are in a minority among the unions. They are going to try to demonise us, label us as a bunch of nutcases - 'look at them, they're so extreme.'

"Most trade unionists, rather than trade union officials, will be with us in their hearts. They will be more sympathetic to what we are saying, that is, 'We cannot back this Labour Party government and what it is doing to working people'.

"If you walk into a Town Hall or a factory and asked the workers there, 'Do you think your union should be giving money to the Blair government?' most people would say 'No, I don't!'

"The left in other unions should campaign within their union to get their leadership to expose the Labour Party for what it really is. This is a point for the labour movement to re-examine where the Labour Party, where the labour movement goes from here. I don't believe in supermarket politics. I don't believe in walking away and saying 'oh well, we'll have some of this now'. There is no real political alternative available, except perhaps in Scotland."

B

"The Labour Party NEC trade union delegates should be castigated for their role. If they were to consult their members on the issue they'd find demands to vote with us. You would have thought in the so-called awkward squad unions they would have been told what the union policy is, and it would not be the way they voted.

"I hope the union will be organising a campaign from here. There is a great opportunity to open the debate up. Why this expulsion came about, why the decision was made to affiliate to the SSP. We should also use it as a tool for the Reclaim the Labour Party campaign as well. We should be impressing on the so-called awkward squad union leaders and members to get back into the Labour Party and to campaign for our reinstatement and for socialist policies inside the party.

"At the time of the AGM several of us said that our action could be used as a took to expose the chasm that has opened up between the working class and the Labour Party.

"Some people will want to walk away from the Labour Party and say 'Sod you'. But people are not going to follow that line.

"Blair's original plan was to set up a version of the American Democratic Party, to link up with big business and to leave the unions alone altogether. I think he wants the unions to disaffiliate. The right in the unions have covered him quite well.

"But the working class has been held back for so long, things are beginning to bubble up - we've seen the election of left wing General Secretaries as part of the change of mood. We will have a big industrial struggle before long, particularly in the public services. It depends how the left does its job.

"Our problem in the RMT is that we don't have an organised broad left. Everything that happens in the union is fragmented."

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