Euro-election slate backed by unions? Yes, but on class politics!

Submitted by martin on 3 March, 2009 - 11:14 Author: Martin Thomas
Workers' unity

A circular letter dated 24 February (see below) announced the convening of a "delegate meeting" on Tuesday 3 March to discuss a challenge in the 4 June Euro-elections. Rank-and-file trade unionists who turned up to the meeting, however, were excluded on the basis that it was open only to those delegated to a previous (unpublicised) meeting.

Another meeting is promised for 14 March, though the scope for democratic debate there still remains uncertain. Attached below is the leaflet distributed at the 3 March meeting by AWL members, arguing that the proper political basis for a slate should be something like "Workers' unity for jobs, services, democracy".

About ten people attended the 3 March meeting. Where they had been "delegated" from is a mystery. RMT general secretary Bob Crow and Executive member Alex Gordon were there (the meeting was at the RMT's headquarters), but the RMT Executive has not yet taken any decision on the initiative.

Dot Gibson was there, presumably from the National Pensioners' Convention, and people from the Communist Party of Britain (CPB).

The circular letter had gone out under the letterhead of "Trade Unionists Against the EU Constitution" - a shadowy body, with little record of previous activity, in which the CPB is influential - and over the signature of Brian Denny, a leading CPB member. (He is also the editor of "RMT News", appointed rather than elected, but did not sign the letter in that capacity).

The letter announced - pretty much in take-it-or-leave-it terms - that TUAEUC had decided to run a slate in the Euro-elections. It indicated that the slate had been endorsed by the RMT Executive (though in fact it has not been).

TUAEUC, so the letter reported, had registered the ballot-paper description with the Electoral Commission: "No to EU, Yes to Democracy". It had decided a political platform, almost exclusively of anti-EU demands. Only a phrase about "fighting racism and fascism", and the fact that the platform does not explicitly draw the conclusion of British withdrawal from the EU, mark it off from UKIP and BNP on the EU issue - which is the only issue the platform addresses. The letter further defined the character of the slate by saying that any candidates elected would refuse to take their seats in the European Parliament.

However, the letter did announce the delegate meeting on 3 March (though with very short notice!), and ask for trade union branches and Trades Councils to send delegates.

AWL became aware of the letter through copies being brought to a meeting on Thursday 26 February of the union-based Merseyside Campaign Against Racism and Fascism. The copies were brought by Wirral Trades Council secretary Alec McFadden. We don't know who else the letter was sent to.

The sixty-strong meeting reacted with mixed feelings: pleased that a major union was discussing a major electoral challenge, disconcerted and dissatisfied that this was being proposed on a narrow anti-EU rather than a class political basis. A few people talked of going to London for the 3 March meeting.

Elaine Jones, a local activist, discussed it with her TGWU-Unite branch (6/522) at its meeting on Monday 2 March. The branch was interested in the initiative. It felt it could not formally delegate Elaine to attend the 3 March meeting, since union rules prohibit delegacies to any political party other than Labour, but Elaine decided to attend anyway.

Once in the meeting, she was told to leave because she had not been a delegate to the previous meeting. Other trade unionists who came - Vicki Morris from Barnet Trades Council, Anita Downs from Guy's and St Thomas's Unison, and Becky Crocker from RMT Camden no.3 branch - were simply refused entry. Another rank-and-file RMT activist, Adrian Finney, got into the meeting, but decided to leave when Elaine Jones was excluded.

The circular letter announced another meeting on 14 March. Before being excluded from the 3 March meeting, Elaine was able to ask whether the 14 March meeting would allow for open discussion on the basis of the electoral initiative. She was told that hadn't been decided yet.

The 14 March meeting has also been described as a launch rally for the CPB-initiated People's Charter, which does not augur well. Nevertheless, the job of all trade-union activists interested in mobilising the unions as a political force is clear: to get along on 14 March and use every opening there is to argue for an initiative based on class politics and democratic organisation, rather than a narrowly anti-EU stunt concocted behind closed doors.

Much about the whole initiative remains a mystery. How is the TUAEUC - a body whose entire previous activity consists of not much more than issuing one scrappy pamphlet several years ago - going to muster the resources, human or even financial, for an operation as big as a Euro-election campaign (getting to 24 million doorsteps, and spending at the very least a million pounds)? We don't know.

There was not a whisper of anything like this Euro-election initiative at the conference on working-class political representation which the RMT organised in January this year.

At the RMT London Transport Regional Council on Thursday 26 February, Oliver New, the region's representative on the RMT Exec, reported discussions on the Executive of such a project (though, he made clear, without any decision as yet).

At the Regional Council meeting, Janine Booth (recently elected Regional Council secretary, and an AWL member) called for an electoral initiative based on class rather than narrowly anti-EU politics.

Jared Wood (Socialist Party) found the narrow anti-EU focus not ideal, but supported the project as it stood because, come what may, it was "workers breaking with Labour". Unjum Mirza (SWP) thought that the project was too narrow as it stood. The discussion ended with Oliver New promising to argue on the union's Executive for broader working-class content to the electoral initiative.

However, no RMT branch, to our knowledge, was informed of the 3 March meeting, and on present lines the only real democratic right RMT members will have as regards this project will be to comment on it after all the key decisions have been made.

At a meeting of the SP's "Campaign for a New Workers' Party" on Sunday 1 March, the SP insisted on full support for the TUAEUC project as it is, against some non-SP people in the CNWP who wanted "critical support". We understand that the SP's plan is to wriggle their way onto some of the "No to the EU" slates and win licence to produce their own supplementary literature.

The SP's stance does not help the cause of an authentic revival of independent working-class representation. On present lines, the TUAEUC initiative will be a feeble stunt dominated by old-style-CP nationalist politics, something that will discredit rather than boost the idea of unions mobilising themselves politically.

AWL urges all socialists concerned for serious working-class representation to mobilise for the planned meeting on the 14 March, and to argue there for a turn to class politics (as against narrow anti-EUism) and to democratic procedures capable of actively involving rank-and-file trade unionists.

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Comments

Submitted by martin on Wed, 04/03/2009 - 12:18

This slant on the process comes from Pete McLaren, secretary of the Socialist Alliance. Pete's report that the Euro-slate is an "RMT decision" is, as indicated above, inaccurate (though we're sure Pete is reporting accurately what he was told at the CNWP meeting). As far as we could observe, the SP was not represented at the 3 March meeting.

On a very general level, Pete's notion that "the Left should be involved... to try and inject some socialism into the programme" makes sense. The experience on 3 March, however, indicates large obstacles to that involvement, unless it is "involvement" simply to echo the anti-EU politics being promoted by the CPB.

"My knowledge about these developments comes from the CNWP [the SP's Campaign for a New Workers' Party] which had a Steering Committee on Sunday [1 March]. The RMT decision to stand candidates was announced at a meeting the weekend before last [21 February?]. They invited the SP, CPB and a handful of left Trade unionists to to announce this. They presented a list of their 10 key demands, which concentrate on rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, opposing racism and fascism, opposing EU directed privatisation, opposing EU militarism, restoring democracy to EU states (whatever that means), defending manufacturing and keeping Britain out of the eurozone. The SP have asked for an 11th point on internationalism, partly to counteract the largely anti EU stance of the RMT. The CNWP was informed that there will be further meetings (I understand there was one on Tuesday night [i.e. 3 March]) to develop these RMT policy points, and maybe add others. The SP will be calling for the RMT "Committee" to be expanded.

The RMT are calling this a platform for the election, not the start of a new party, and that whatever regional organisations are put in place, that will all end the day after the Euro Elections. However, the RMT have agreed that they will sponsor Rallies/Public Meetings in every town, which the left can work together and build for. Regional "structures" could well be put in place to organise these meetings and promote the campaign. There is every possibility we could keep the momentum going after June 4th even if the RMT will not not do so.

The initiative is not, in my view, without serious flaws. The registered party name is "No2EU-Yes2Democracy", which I think could send out the wrong message - the very word "socialism or left" should have been included, for a start. The politics behind this was described at the CNWP meeting as 'Trade Unions against the EU constitution', with some left politics against privatisation and racism added. The RMT key points are very anti EU and do not give alternatives.

However, this is an evolving process, and hopefully there will be changes, with some democracy and accountability, and a more progressive programme. But, in any case, the initiative could offer real possibilities. There will be a momentum created in every region, with the left and trade unionists hopefully working together and structures may well appear on a regional basis. These do not have to disappear after the elections just because the RMT leadership wants them to. The initiative could become a step towards a new left party. The Rallies could be used to push that whole process forward. As a bottom line, it would ensure a serious resistance to the BNP, and might help prevent the BNP gaining any MEPs.

Other Trade Unions are being consulted. The PCS executive is discussing involvement. The initiative is independent and trade union based, and could become something most of us would all want to be part of as part of the process of building a new left party with a working class base.

Clearly there are issues which will need to be resolved. Apart from the political programme, as important as that is, there is also the issue about avoiding clashes in regions where Left Organisations will be standing. Some of this may have become clearer by March 28th, as candidates will need to be selected soon after - and we do not know the process for that within the RMT initiative.

My own view, for what it is worth (!) is that the Left should be involved - initially to try and inject some socialism into the programme, and to take an active part in any Regional structures and the Rallies/Public Meetings which should flow out of them....."

Submitted by martin on Wed, 04/03/2009 - 16:15

[This is the text of the letter sent out, we don't know to whom, in advance of the 3 March meeting. Typos are as in original. Note that the indication that the RMT Executive had already decided to support the TUAEUC plan is inaccurate].

Trade Unionists Against the EU Constitution
c/o Unity House, 39 Chalton Street, London NW1 2JD

Report of meeting on standing in the 2009 June European parliamentary elections

24/02/09

Dear colleague,

The TUAEUC meeting last Saturday at Unity House voted to endorse the proposal to stand candidates in the euro elections in June 2009 on the platform No2EU - Yes to Democracy as outlined below. The RMT executive committee has also called on other trade unions to support the initiative.

No2EU - Yes to Democracy has been registered as a "party" for the purposes of being able to stand in the elections. The meeting agreed that the campaign would be a "platform" in which parties, trade unions, trades councils and appropriate campaigning organisations could participate.

A steering committee will be established on Tuesday March 3 at 6pm at Unity House on the basis of one delegate per organisation. A further meeting will take place on Saturday March 14 at noon to proceed with the campaign.

If you can/cannot attend please contact to Brian Denny, c/o Unity House, 39 Chalton St, London NW1 1JD. Email: bdenny@rmt.org.uk.

Yours in solidarity,

Brian Denny.

Standing in euro elections in 2009

At the December 2008 EU summit the Irish government agreed to hold a second referendum by October 31 2009 on the same Lisbon Treaty rejected by Irish voters last June. It is likely this second referendum will take place some time in October 2009.

This anti-democratic move requires solidarity and assistance to the democratic forces in Ireland. In France progressive forces have come together to stand anti-Lisbon Treaty candidates in June to give a voice to the majority of French voters that rejected the original EU Constitution in 2005.

The question is how can progressive forces assist and mobilise support for an Irish No vote in Britain. UKIP and possibly Libertas will be standing candidates in the UK on a neo-liberal platform. This will be used by the Irish government, New Labour and Brussels to paint anti-EU forces as 'right-wing' and weaken the Irish No vote.

If a temporary platform was created in order to stand candidates the election could be turned into a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. It would also take votes from unhelpful forces like UKIP and expose the deeply anti-democratic and neo-liberal nature of the EU.

Such a platform could confront the real threat to democracy posed by the EU and fill the present political vacuum which plays into the hands of the BNP and other enemies of democracy.

The platform would be called No2EU - Yes to Democracy and its unique selling point would be its progressive demands and it would not take up the seats in the event of winning. The European "parliament" is a very expensive fraud. It has no law-making powers and all laws come from the Commission and are drawn up by EU committees heavily influenced by corporate lobbyists.

A democratic and anti-privatisation message could attract support way beyond the "left" and strike a chord with millions of disillusioned voters. In the event of winning any seats a convention would be called to deal with the matter.

No2EU - Yes to Democracy platform

* Reject the Lisbon Treaty
* No to EU directives that privatise our public services
* Defend and develop British manufacturing
* Repeal ECJ anti-trade union rulings and no to social dumping
* No to racism and fascism
* No to EU militarisation
* Restore democracy to EU member states
* Replace unequal EU trade deals with fair trade that benefits developing nations
* Scrap EU economic rules designed to stop member states from implementing reflationary policies
* Keep Britain out of the eurozone.

Submitted by martin on Thu, 05/03/2009 - 10:29

The RMT Executive has now (4 March) voted to back the TUAEUC slate and donate £45,000 to it.

Despite being put around as an "RMT initiative", the enterprise has much more the shape of an initiative by someone else (TUAEUC) to which the RMT gives a donation.

The RMT money will be a tiny proportion of the costs of the campaign - about £1 million even for the scrappiest "paper" campaign - and nothing so far suggests that the RMT leadership will be able to (or even make much effort to) mobilise RMT rank-and-file activists on a big scale for the campaign.

RMT insiders point out that RMT (like Unison, but unlike most other unions) has a strong EU-phobic culture. Anti-EUism is established RMT policy. However, questions should and will be asked inside RMT about the wisdom of the Executive backing an electoral campaign based only on the anti-EU element of RMT policy - a campaign, for example, that opposes "EU directives that privatise our public services", but has nothing to say about the made-in-Britain privatisation of rail and Royal Mail, or the made-in-Britain creeping privatisation of the NHS and schools!

A campaign that in the midst of an epochal capitalist crisis has nothing to say about capitalism or about any other economic issue, other than the bland phrase "defend and develop British manufacturing"!

Questions have been asked about what will happen in the (unlikely) event that a "No2EU" candidate wins a seat and refuses to take it. The initial effect will be that the seat will be offered to the next "No2EU" candidate on the regional list.

Neither the Electoral Commission nor the UK Office of the European Parliament is sure what happens after all the "No2EU" candidates on that list have refused to take the seat, but the best bet is that there would then be a by-election in the region (probably run on PR, but with only one seat up for contest rather than several).
Martin Thomas

Submitted by martin on Thu, 05/03/2009 - 13:32

The basis of the meeting on 14 March remains unclear. Tony Byrne, who is political officer of East Midlands RMT branch and Midlands region RMT, phoned RMT HQ on 5 March to inquire. Bob Crow told him that he should not attend on 14 March.

Only Trades Councils affiliated to TUAEUC, it seems, are supposed to send delegates. RMT branches can't.

No2EU, yes to... what was that?

Submitted by martin on Tue, 10/03/2009 - 12:50

We welcome the fact that the leadership of the union have been discussing a union-based slate for the Euro-elections. We believe, however, that for such a slate to make a positive contribution to renewing working-class political representation, it must be based on class politics, not on narrow anti-EUism. We therefore call on the organisers of the 'No2EU' slate to reopen the question of the title and platform of the slate, and allow for a democratic discussion at rank and file level in the union on that question.

Submitted by martin on Wed, 18/03/2009 - 22:43

[From Tony Byrne, delegated from Notts Trades Council]

I attended a meeting on Saturday 14 March at Unity House. It was a report-back meeting of the No2EU – Yes to Democracy platform steering committee to supporting organisations.

I was initially refused entry by RMT EC member Alex Gordon because I had been told not to come and he had read our website. When I told him that I had been delegated from my local trades council (it hasn’t discussed the platform yet so I had only come to gather information and ask questions), he turned his attention to Vicki Morris who was also a delegate from her trades council, but was refused entry because she had been "disruptive" previously (i.e. complained when she was not allowed into the 3 March meeting).

When the meeting started there were 16 people in attendance. They included Judy Beishon and Clive Heemskerk from the SP, Geoff Martin (now RMT press officer, formerly a well-known figure in Unison), at least three people from the Communist Party of Britain, and one each from Solidarity Scotland [the Sheridan organisation], Scottish Campaign Against Euro Federalism, and Worcester TUC.

There was some campaign material available (I’ll send them when I get my scanner working). The ten points have been altered a bit. Point 3 now adds “agriculture and fishing industries in Britain”. Point 5 now adds “Yes to international solidarity of the working class”. Point 7 now reads “Repatriate democratic powers to EU member states”.

Most of the discussion was around the technical issues of election and media strategy, with a report back from the steering committee on participants and correspondence; Brian Denny (who is apparently the "Campaign Organiser") led on all items. He said that the campaign was talking to a number of organisations, including the Indian Workers Association and the Alliance for Green Socialism.

I said that the 10 point plan was too narrow, and didn’t differentiate the campaign from UKIP and BNP very much. Geoff Martin "reassured" me by pointing out that the mock up of the platform’s website did mention workers rights!

Everybody was at pains to mention how this campaign would give a voice to working people, but no-one answered my point that it was strange then that the ten point plan doesn’t mention the working class. (Though I suppose that, strictly speaking, it does now that point 5 has been changed).

I commented that the ten points fail to say anything about the capitalists and their crisis. Alex Gordon responded that in a EU election it is right to concentrate on what part EU policies are playing in making the situation worse.

I am still a bit confused about what will happen in the event of winning a seat. Alex Gordon said that a successful candidate would take the seat but only “nominally”, so a N2EU MEP would not draw the wage or any expenses or sit in the parliament but would take the oath of office. [In fact, apparently there is no oath of office for the European Parliament as there is for the British Parliament. So long as a member state reports an MEP as elected, the European Parliament considers him or her a member even if they never turn up to the Parliament].

Bob Crow will be the "convenor" and top the London No2EU list, but since the RMT rule book forbids him from being a member of parliament the next person on the list will be offered the position in the event of No2EU winning a seat in London.

There was an expectation, from a non RMTer, that the RMT will be able to deliver a skeleton organisation for each electoral region, but outside London and Scotland I’m not sure if that is possible. It was also said that this campaign was going to have to rely on the web and email to make contact with voters. Is the strategy that Crow will generate some kind of Scargill/Sheridan effect?

Brian Denny gave a speech about how big business doesn’t like democracy and neither do EU bureaucrats, but No2EU did. But that just took me back to how the RMT had decided to join the platform, without any discussion in the rank and file. Maybe the initiative was so timed that the urgency to do something could be used to override all democratic concerns.

From the point of view of anyone who takes elections seriously (and if you don't take elections seriously, why run?) RMT joining this platform at this time just doesn’t look serious. I know strategy isn’t the RMT’s strong point, but common sense should tell us that if you wanted to involve more than a handful of members in a political campaign you need a much longer lead time.

However, if an opportunist political organisation like the CPB wants some electoral activity beyond what its small numbers can generate, and has access to enough cash to float it, this may be a good way to do it.

Submitted by martin on Wed, 18/03/2009 - 22:49

It turns out that on 23 February, RMT's Executive passed a resolution that while not yet deciding that the RMT should support the No2EU slate, did urge other unions to support it.

This odd decision means that Brian Denny's 24 February letter was technically accurate in claiming that RMT was asking for other unions to support No2EU.

Brian Denny's letter did not explain that the RMT Executive had not decided itself to support No2EU, so many, perhaps most, readers of the letter took it as telling that RMT backed No2EU. Even now, many people describe No2EU as an "RMT initiative". It is not.

Submitted by martin on Thu, 19/03/2009 - 13:42

We've just received a press release (from Dave Nellist of the SP, not from "No2EU" as such) announcing the public launch of this "No2EU" list as today, 19 March.

"Coventry socialist councillor, Dave Nellist, will this Thursday return to the House of Commons to help launch a new national challenge to the big 3 political parties in this summer's Euro elections.

The anti-EU campaign “No2EU - Yes to Democracy” is planning to contest every region in the EU elections on June 4th, with a range of candidates drawn largely from that section of the trade union movement most disillusioned with government and EU policies.

No2EU - Yes to Democracy intends to contest seats on a platform of 'opposition to the Lisbon Treaty, against the EU led privatisation of public services, for workers’ rights and in protest at the corrupt EU gravy train'.

Cllr Nellist, who was a Labour MP from 1983 to 1992, before being expelled by Neil Kinnock for his left-wing views, said today:

" No2EU - Yes to Democracy offers ordinary people a real choice. Without it the debate in the election would be sterile - as all the 3 big parties, Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat, agree with an EU constructed for the benefit of big companies and their profits, not for the needs, in particular the protection of jobs, of ordinary people.

“Without a working class, internationalist opposition to the EU in June, the field would be left clear for groups of the far right to falsely pose as the champions of working men and women".

The campaign is believed to already have funds to run candidate lists in over half of the country, including the West Midlands, to produce an election TV broadcast, and to organise public meetings and rallies in most major towns and cities. But the organisers are still appealing for more funds to extend the campaign over the whole country.

At the press launch on Thursday, Councillor Nellist will be joining:

Bob Crow, General Secretary RMT (rail and transport union)
John Hendy QC (advisor to several trade unions on employment law)
Professor Mary Davis (specialist in Labour History)."

Submitted by vickim on Mon, 23/03/2009 - 23:03

The website for this campaign is here: http://no2eu.com/press.html - link is to the press page where there is a pack giving some details of the launch event. Held in Parliament. Were you invited? I wasn't.

Submitted by Matthew on Tue, 24/03/2009 - 08:44

I've just looked at the website, the politics are predictably awful, it looks awful in black and white but more than that who chose the slogan 'No2EU...yes to democracy...it's a black and white issue' in an election where they're running against the BNP?

Submitted by AWL on Wed, 25/03/2009 - 16:26

It's well worth having a look at the links page on the No 2 EU website here.

It links to "Team - the European Alliance of EU Critical Movements", which - in addition to just not being in any sense, you know, left-wing - includes UKIP.

It also links to the Democracy Movement, which argues that "a broad popular alliance including democrats from the left, centre and centre-right will be needed to safeguard liberal democracy".

And who does this Democracy Movement link to? Among others, the Freedom Association.

That's right, the far right Tory, "libertarian", anti-union organisation which cuts its teeth helping George Ward break the Grunwick strike in 1976-8.

This is the logic of abandoning any semblance of working-class politics and focusing your campaign on opposition to the EU!! Comrades, look who you are getting into bed with! Socialist Party comrades - are you going to let your leaders get away with this?

Sacha Ismail

Submitted by martin on Tue, 31/03/2009 - 23:17

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