The behaviour of Britain’s two biggest revolutionary socialist organisations where they have trade-union positions is coming to resemble more that of the old Communist Party than any of the best elements of the Trotskyist tradition both the SWP and SP claim affinity with.
Jane Loftus, President of the Communications Workers Union and the SWP’s [Socialist Workers’ Party’s] most prominent trade unionist, recently resigned from the SWP after she supported the Interim Agreement that brought the big strike movement over jobs and conditions in Royal Mail to a halt.
The SWP’s paper, Socialist Worker, denounced the Interim Agreement as “leaving the door open for a further wave of attacks”. “Members of the SWP’s central committee met Jane”, so Socialist Worker reported (24 November), “and asked her to reflect on her position”. As a result she resigned.
The SWP has recently expelled members of its Left Platform for such things as private emails to other members deemed to be “factionalising”, but it did not expel Loftus.
Maybe Loftus’s support for the Interim Agreement was a sudden lapse? Not so. In 2007 Jane Loftus voted against the sell-out deal that ended the major strike wave of that year, but (unlike, for example, left-wing Executive member Dave Warren) refused to campaign against the deal.
Socialist Worker denounced the deal, but did not criticise Loftus. Indeed, the Postal Worker paper, produced by the SWP, toned down its criticisms of the deal, compared to what Socialist Worker was saying.
In December 2003, Loftus voted in favour of the “Major Change” agreement in 2003 which ushered in another round of cuts and speed-ups. She claimed the priority was “unity with the rest of the Executive”!
Again, Socialist Worker opposed the deal but did not criticise Loftus. The contradiction was resolved by a softening of the SWP’s attitude in the offices.
As a postal worker reported for Solidarity back in 2003, “When SWP member, Mark Dolan was elected as Area Deliveries rep in North London a couple of years ago he promised to ‘stand up for delivery members and stop Management forcing our members to take out unacceptable workloads... We should fight for no job losses, no four hour deliveries, maintaining two deliveries’. Today, Dolan is at the forefront of touting the ‘Major Change’ agreement around the sub offices of North London, with its ‘headcount reduction’, 3.5 hour delivery span and ‘Single Daily Delivery’. Offices that were reluctant to help managers’ plans are being encouraged to ‘get involved’.”
Earlier in 2003, at the peak of the movement against the invasion of Iraq, Workers’ Liberty supporter Maria Exall brought an amendment to the CWU executive, calling for the union to declare no confidence in Tony Blair. It might well have passed, and caused significant political turmoil within the Labour Party.
Loftus scuppered the amendment by withdrawing the (uncontentious) motion it was attached to.
Why, when the SWP had “Blair out!” on its posters and placards? Loftus said that she had consulted with leading SWPers and been told to “maintain the unity of the left”. In other words, not to embarrass CWU general secretary Billy Hayes, who was then speaking with the SWP on Stop The War platforms.
Although the 2009 Interim Agreement was widely opposed by rank and file postal workers, Jane Loftus was not quite alone on the left in supporting it. The Socialist Party’s paper The Socialist ran articles backing it. Why?
It looks as if the reason lies with the SP’s thinking that the way to a new workers’ party lies with getting trade union officials signed up to back-room electoral projects like “No2EU”. They may have hoped to get the London divisional committee of the CWU, or even assistant general secretary Dave Ward himself, in on the “son of No2EU” project for the general election.
The Socialist Party ended its Socialism 2009 rally, in November 2009, with a two-hour long series of speeches given almost entirely by trade union general secretaries. One of these was Brian Caton, general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association, who has recently joined the Socialist Party.
While Caton is undoubtedly sincere in his socialist politics, he appears to be functioning just as he did before he joined, as a highly-paid trade-union official representing the sectional interests of prison officers, who are arguably as much agents of the violent machinery of the state, akin to police, as ordinary workers.
Again, there is a precedent: the SP’s decision in October 2005 to use their control over the executive of the PCS civil servants’ union to accept a wretched pensions deal that created a two-tiered pension workforce throughout the civil service, education and the NHS and scuppered a massive cross-union public sector strike to defend pensions.
In another Loftus-like episode, the two SWP members of the PCS Executive voted with the SP on that, despite Socialist Worker denouncing the pensions deal in the most violent terms.
In March the same year, Martin John and Sue Bond had voted on the PCS Executive to support calling off the union’s planned strike action on pensions, jobs, and pay. Socialist Worker condemned the calling-off of the strike, and indeed in exaggerated terms, but without mentioning that SWP votes helped to bring it about.
After the October 2005 episode, the SWP Central Committee tried to call the PCS Exec members to book. Sue Bond “apologised” and was “pardoned”; Martin John refused to apologise, and resigned from the SWP.
How much was Bond’s apology worth? A key factor in trashing the possibility of a united public-sector fightback in 2007 against Gordon Brown’s 2% limit was the decision by PCS, although it already had a live ballot mandate for action, to withdraw into prolonged “consultations” of its membership while the POA and CWU strikes and the Unison health and local government ballots came and went.
Having “consulted” and announced that PCS members supported further national strike action, the PCS leadership then... decided to call off any further national action.
The main force driving that decision was the Socialist Party, but the three SWP members on the PCS Executive, Sue Bond and two new SWPers, also voted to call off action.
Both the Socialist Workers’ Party and the Socialist Party, in the unions, have come to concentrate more and more on winning and holding high-ranking positions in trade unions, or on cementing alliances and deals with the more leftish of the officials who already hold those positions.
The “soft-pedalling” in publications like Postal Worker, the Executive votes for sell-out deals, and the cases of Executive members acting without accountability to the political organisation, all flow from that priority.