Workers need a political voice today!

Submitted by martin on 16 January, 2009 - 9:44 Author: Vicki Morris

120 people attended the RMT-organised meeting ‘to discuss the crisis in working-class political representation’, held in London on 10 January. The meeting agreed unanimously that workers need a new political voice, but could not agree on when — or, at least, on the next steps to create one.

Debate centred on 1. whether we should stand working-class candidates in elections soon; 2. the role of a charter in organising working-class representation – alternative to standing candidates, or a way to support them?

Bob Crow, RMT General Secretary, said he wanted a new working-class party, but could not say when. Many people, he said, himself included, had “got their fingers burnt” in left unity initiatives or striking out beyond the Labour Party, and would hesitate to try again — this meeting was a chance to “break down the barriers of the past”. He dismissed prospects for “reclaiming” the Labour Party for the left.

The fact is that Crow and others who could be important to organising working-class representation are not convinced that standing candidates now is useful or viable. But even enthusiasts don’t claim that a workers’ party can be proclaimed now — it must be built in the current and looming struggles. And, while standing candidates is part of our campaigning, political organisation doesn’t just mean electoralism.

John Reid, RMT, said: “We are not just talking about Parliamentary representation: we are talking about a voice in every area that affects working-class life”. For example, we should have had a leaflet for the Gaza demonstration (held on the same day), to reach thousands of people with working-class answers to the issues.

Political representation is needed now like at no other time for decades past! Jared Wood, RMT, said: when the RMT organised the first such conference it was before the credit crunch and economic crisis, and the massive discrediting of capitalism. Another speaker from the floor pointed out that working-class people had no voice to articulate their concerns while there was no scarcity of answers on the left: every group had produced a charter or a plan to respond to the crisis.

On the day, a Charter was heavily plugged as an organising tool in lieu of working-class candidates; we could sign people up door to door. We could use it to get people involved in local campaigns.

Many people said they wanted to debate the content of any charter: would it be a people’s charter or a workers’ charter? East Midlands RMT said that since we were talking about political representation based on the trade unions and articulating the demands of workers, we should call it a workers’ charter. Labour historian Professor Mary Davis, editor of the Communist Party of Britain’s Communist Review, replied we should call it a People's Charter because not everyone was in work — many people were unemployed. (The phrase “People’s Charter” was mooted by the CPB in September 2008, and apparently they are working with sympathetic union leaders on a text — all behind closed doors.)

Davis said that talk about creating a party now would sow division — she didn’t say among whom.

The person least enthusiastic about working-class candidates now seemed to be John McDonnell MP, who came late, had not heard the other interventions, and left before he could hear replies to his speech, which, I think, showed him to be somewhat out of touch.

Speeches from the floor — for example, Elaine Jones from Wirral TUC, describing how public meetings in recent weeks against (Labour and Liberal) council cuts had attracted 2,000 people, many declaring that they could not vote for Labour again — suggested that there is a wide constituency for the idea of working-class political representation.

Even if we would have to work to get a hearing, the need was urgent. Tony Byrne, East Midlands RMT, spoke about the existing threat from the BNP in his area.

But McDonnell had missed all that. He proposed a slow, incremental path of “building trust” — among whom? Perhaps he is talking about circles of trade union leaders, and Labour left activists that he works within the Labour Representation Committee. McDonnell reported how the LRC conference recently rejected the idea of supporting other than Labour candidates. I was at that conference, and I know that the main people opposed were the rump of Labour leftists with a certain analysis of how working-class politics can be advanced: reclaiming the Labour Party or, failing that, staying Labour-loyal and waiting for something to turn up!

Anyone that does not share their analysis is doomed to sit on their hands? It is not likely; steps must be taken now to organise some sort of political representation for working class people.

“Electoral politics may not be where it’s at...” McDonnell said, “Direct action [may be more important now].” In fact, the two should not be counterposed but can reinforce each other.

“Organising working class political representation is not the time scale for the next 12 months”, McDonnell said. It might not be for McDonnell, but it will be important for people out in the country: come the European elections, who are we going to vote for? If a general election is called? Council elections in 2010? If we don't organise now, we won’t have any voice in those political forums.

Although it was not a policy-making conference, some groups — Camden no.3 RMT branch, East Midlands RMT, the Socialist Party — had brought proposals for discussion and the debate was better for them: all called for working-class candidates sooner rather than later.

Comments

Submitted by martin on Tue, 20/01/2009 - 12:31

This is the text of the "People's Charter" currently being circulated. It was first mooted by the Communist Party of Britain (Morning Star) in mid-2008, though with a different text. As we understand it, a number of union leaders were involved in drafting this new version.

1. A fair economy for a fairer Britain. Take the leading banking, insurance and mortgage industries fully into democratic public ownership run for the benefit of all. Regain control of the Bank of England and keep interest rates low. Tightly regulate the City markets to facilitate lending and to stop speculation and takeovers against the public interest. Ban hedge funds, raids on pension funds, asset-stripping and corporate tax loopholes. Restructure the tax system so big business and the wealthy pay more and ordinary people pay less.

2. More and better jobs. Existing jobs must be protected. Public and private investment must create new jobs paying decent money. In particular in manufacturing, construction and green technology. More jobs mean more spending power to stimulate the economy, increased tax revenue and fewer people on benefit. Build full employment. Reduce hours, not pay, to create more jobs. Raise the minimum wage to half national median earnings and end the lower rate for young workers.

3. Decent homes for all. Stop the repossessions and keep people in their homes. Offer 'no interest' loans. Control rents. We need 3 million new homes. Give local government the power and money to build and renovate affordable quality homes and buy empty ones, ending the housing shortage, and creating jobs.

4. Protect and improve our public services - no cuts. Save public money: bring energy, transport, water, post and telecommunications back into public ownership. End corporate profiteering in health, education, social and other public services. Stop the EU privatisation Directives.

5. Fairness and Justice. Free heating and transport for every pensioner. Link state pensions and benefits to average earnings. Protect pension schemes and restore the lost value of private pensions. End child poverty by increasing child benefits and tax credits and providing free nurseries and crèches. Enforce equal pay for women. End racism and discrimination in all its forms. No scapegoating of migrant workers. Invest in young people and give them a real stake in the future. Provide youth, community, arts and cultural centres, sports facilities, and clubs for all. Guarantee training, apprenticeships and education with grants for everyone and no fees. Restore union rights to allow them the freedom to fight the crisis and to protect workers.

6. Build a secure and sustainable future for all
End the cost of war in blood and money. Bring our troops home. Don't waste £billions on a new generation of nuclear weapons. And beyond the current economic disaster, climate change threatens us all. Our future must be based on massive investment for a greener, safer world now. Debt is crushing millions of people forcing them to move and producing war, famine and misery. Get rid of the debt economy in Britain and cancel the debts of the poor of the planet. A better future for all the people of the world.

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