The Labour Representation Committee conference in London on Saturday 16 July voted to support the new trade unions in Iraq and to recognise that: “the dominant military forces of the ‘resistance’ are Sunni-supremacist and Islamic-fundamentalist. They will crush the new Iraqi labour and women’s movements if they triumph”.
Some speakers at the conference — Graham Bash and Mike Phipps from Labour Briefing, and Francis Prideaux from the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy — vehemently opposed the pro-union motion, arguing that key Iraqi trade unions are “collaborationist” and that it is only in US propaganda that the “resistance” is Sunni-supremacist.
But a big majority backed the motion. Tony Byrne, moving the motion of behalf of the East Midlands Central RMT (railworkers’) branch, argued that working-class solidarity should be our first principle, irrespective of political differences we will obviously have with the various currents of the diverse new Iraqi labour movement. That labour movement is central to all hopes for a free, democratic, secular Iraq.
PCS activist John Moloney said that it is not enough to be against the US/UK occupation of Iraq, although of course we are. We must be clear about what we are for.
Maria Exall spoke on behalf of the CWU (telecom and post workers’) caucus which had met at the conference lunchtime, to say that they had decided collectively to support the pro-union motion.
Iraq was the biggest debate at the conference, which was attended by about 200 people. The RMT motion also called for no confidence in the United Nations, implicitly correcting existing LRC policy on Iraq which calls for an “international peacekeeping force” to replace the US troops.
The LRC, launched just a year ago, has affiliations from three trade unions, the CWU, the RMT, and the firefighters’ FBU. RMT has been expelled by the Brown-Blair leadership of the Labour Party, and FBU has disaffiliated; but the LRC aims to mobilise the whole labour movement, including those activists and organised expelled or sidelined by the New
Labour machine, so that (as Katy Clark MP put it from the platform) the trade unions “punch their weight” politically and work to “put the ‘Labour’ back into the Labour Party”.
Encouragingly, both CWU and RMT Executives presented motions to the conference (though uncontroversial ones), and the new FBU general secretary, Matt Wrack, spoke.
Wrack defended the FBU’s decision to disaffiliate, though in terms of explaining it as an authentic and natural response by rank and file members to the Labour government’s hostility during their pay dispute rather than of making it a model for other unions. He stressed that the FBU remains committed to “working-class political representation” and intends to participate actively in the LRC.
Paul Mackney, general secretary of the college lecturers’ union NATFHE, Jeremy Dear of the NUJ (journalists) and Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the civil service union PCS, also spoke, though many at the conference were clearly unhappy with Serwotka’s “we all have our different ways to the same end”-type explanation of his support for George Galloway in the 2005 general election.
CWU and PCS are the two unions were systematic work has so far been done to develop LRC networks within the union. The results — larger and more cohesive attendance from those two unions than from others — should encourage activists in unions like Unison, RMT, and TGWU to make similar efforts.
The issue of Europe was raised at the conference without, unfortunately, time to debate it. Current LRC policy is vague but with an anti-euro tilt. Tiny Kox from the Dutch Socialist Party, a reconstructed-Maoist group, addressed the conference, claiming that France’s and the Netherlands’ “no” votes to the Euro-constitution were great victories for the left.
But the very way he explained it illustrated the ambiguities. The SP had voted no, he said, because it didn’t want to see Dutch sovereignty given up to “a neo-liberal European super-state”. Isn’t the left deluding itself that a fundamentally conservative vote — for “national sovereignty” against a “European super-state” — was really a blow against “neo-liberalism”?