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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