Monday, November 30, 2009

Coalition to stand general election candidates

A coalition to stand trade union and socialist candidates in the general election has been launched by organisations and individuals who participated in ‘NO2EUYes to Democracy’, the left-wing coalition that stood in the European elections. We call on everyone who wants a working-class alternative presented at the general election to get involved.

Following the European election in June participants in ‘NO2EU-Yes to Democracy’ have continued to discuss the possibility of constructing a coalition for the general election. Given the current lack of political representation of ordinary working-class people in British politics, the organisations and individuals involved in those discussions regard it as vitally important to organise a general election challenge. As a minimum, we intend to stand against as many current cabinet ministers as possible, together with other ministers and prominent ex-ministers who have been complicit in New Labour’s anti-working-class policies.

Our intention is to put forward candidates in the coming general election as a federal coalition under a common name, with a steering committee of participating organisations and trade unionists that operates by consensus. The coalition’s name has not yet been decided. The issue of its name and core policies still will be the subject of further discussions. Efforts will continue to secure the further participation of trade union organisations, prominent trade unionists and all those who want to see a pro-working-class alternative presented at the election. If you want to get involved or help in any way, please contact us at


‘No2EU-Yes to Democracy’ was a left-wing coalition of the RMT transport union, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), the Alliance for Green Socialism and others formed specifically to fight the 2009 European elections. This coalition has the backing of the Communist Party of Britain, the Socialist Party, the Alliance for Green Socialism and is supported, all in a personal capacity, by Bob Crow (general secretary RMT), Brian Caton (general secretary Prison Officers’ Association), leading national officers of the PCS civil servants’ union, and national executive committee members of the CWU, UNISON, FBU and USDAW trade unions.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Defend Public Services – make the councillors pay at the ballot box!

Up and down the country, in every town and city, local politicians from the 3 establishment parties – Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrats – are cutting services and preparing to axe hundreds and thousands of jobs. From street cleansing to social services, from meals on wheels to books in libraries, most councils are planning bigger cuts over the next 2 to 3 years than ever before. Every council seems to have the same aim: to deliver fewer services with less employees, sharply shrinking the local council along the way. Not a single local family will be unaffected by their plans.

And there's little serious political challenge from the big 3 parties – apart from some synthetic indignation to embarrass local opponents – as nationally all 3 establishment parties agree that 'deep', 'fundamental', even 'savage' cuts should be made to pay back the billions used to subsidise the bankers, their bonuses and their system. Of course it isn’t the £76 billion cost of Trident that they want to cut, or the billions being spent on occupying Afghanistan; it is our public services. And it could get worse.......

Whoever wins the next general election, Tories or Labour, there will be a sustained attack on public services, and the jobs, wages and pensions of those we all employ to look after our communities, as the next government, of whatever hue, seeks to make our families pay for their economic crisis. Both big parties have a target of £90 billion to be slashed – that's equivalent to the entire year's spending on the NHS, And in spite of past promises, this will extend to all services, including health, education and social care, where in addition to direct cuts privatisation will be extended and speeded up. If the establishment parties get their way, more and more public services will be replaced with charity hand outs in a return to the 1930s.

We can’t accept this. Council workers will have to fight to save their jobs, wages, pensions and conditions – but they shouldn't have to fight alone. We all rely on essential public services; all trades unions have to be prepared to fight alongside the public sector unions to save the services we need.

Under Threat:

- 350,000+ public sector jobs;

- Services sold off to private profiteers;

- More closures and outsourcing – and the biggest winners will be the 'consultants';

- Welfare benefits frozen or cut;

- More young people denied a job – or, if in university education, facing a lifetime of debt.

Build the Fightback:

- For a joint campaign of public sector workers, other trades unionists and community activists, including local TUCs and community groups such as pensioners' oganisations;

- Lobby every Council or Primary Care Trust meeting threatening cuts or privatisation;

- Support direct action, including occupations and sit-ins.

The Campaign for a New Workers’ Party (CNWP) was set up four years ago. We believe that the political opposition to the common agenda of the big 3 parties must now be stepped up. Already a new, national, electoral coalition is being developed, seeking to challenge Cabinet Ministers and dozens of other MPs at the next general election, involving the RMT and other trades unionists, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, IWA, AGS and others.

But we believe every working class community threatened with cuts and privatisation should stand trade union, socialist or community activist candidates against the big parties at next May's council elections. Make the cutters pay at the ballot box!

At the moment the only pressure on the big 3 parties comes from the bankers and big business – that's why Labour, Tories and Liberal Democrats are almost indistinguishable when it come to support for cuts. People are rightly angry at MPs and their lifestyles and expenses, but we can't leave it to a few TV stars to challenge the status quo – we need hundreds and hundreds of anti-cuts candidates – drawn from ordinary people, from our communities – challenging at the next elections. We've prepared a pack on 'How to stand as a councillor' – write to us if you'd like a copy. Let's really break the mould of British politics!

If you'd like to help in our work to build the CNWP in every community, to campaign to break the trade unions from New Labour, and to step up the fight to create a new workers' party, join us – it could be the best way to defend the Welfare State and out Public Services.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Overwhelming support for breaking the Labour link in London CWU

An overwhelming 98% of postal workers in London have voted to withdraw CWU funding from the Labour Party. While this was only a consultative ballot it reflects the alienation and anger most postal workers feel towards the Labour Party.

Naomi Byron, London CNWP

Postal workers in London have been on one day strikes regularly since mid-June against management attempts to slash jobs and casualise the workforce to the extent that no postal worker would have a regular delivery round or duty.

After the first day of strike action the CWU London divisional committee declared that: “We in London will give them till the end of this month to force Royal Mail to agree a National Agreement or we will start ballot London members on whether they fund the Labour Party. ...[We know this will bring us at risk of discipline from the National Union but sod it] we are not going to stand by and fund the Labour Party whilst they allow Royal Mail to attack the workforce in the most hostile manner we have ever seen.”

New Labour and their goal of privatising Royal Mail are behind all the attacks Royal Mail management have launched on the workforce. They want to destroy it as a public service and sell it off to be asset stripped by the same kind of "investors" that destroyed Rover, making a £40 million profit for themselves into the bargain. But with Royal Mail the profits from asset stripping the entire national infrastructure needed for deliveries (including massive depots in city centres) would dwarf those made by the Phoenix four.

The biggest obstacle to privatisation has always been the postal workers' union. This dispute is not about modernisation or combating so-called "Spanish practices", it's about Royal Mail and the government trying to smash the CWU to create a casualised workforce that any private buyer can use and throw away as they please. They want most postal workers to have no regular duties, and to turn up to work just to do whatever management pick for them that day.

This means not only smashing the union but destroying the Royal Mail as a public service. In East London Royal Mail are suspending collections before 4pm from most Post Offices and post boxes, and some people haven't had any post for days. This isn't due to the strike action but because management are trying to force workers to deliver up to twice their normal workload!

For example pickets from the Docklands delivery office explain: "they're getting rid of 10 delivery walks and giving those duties to people on top of their existing work. In one case they took what took another man six hours to do, and said to another do it all on top of your own duty. Even with help he only left the office at 12:30pm to start deliveries, and that was after management told him to stop sorting mail and take out what he'd done already. So far he's bringing work back every day. On top of that he's got about 1000 residential addresses due to open because of a huge new complex."

The reason Peter Mandelson's most recent attempt to privatise Royal Mail failed last July is the fighting spirit that postal workers in London and across the country have shown against these attacks, and the temporary drying up of bids from big business due to the economic crisis.

This temporary postponement of privatisation is nothing to do with the money the CWU has given to Labour – over £6 million since 2001! Instead of increasing the CWU's influence, continuing to prop up the Labour Party's finances has made the union look weak and encouraged the government to attack them. Most CWU members are disgusted that their union continues to fund the party which is trying to destroy them.

The ballot asked members if they agreed with the CWU London Postal Division that the CWU should stop funding the Labour Party. The result is a resounding blow against those within the CWU, and the wider trade union movement, who argue that the unions should continue to fund New Labour. It will enormously increase the pressure on the CWU national leadership to implement conference policy by holding a national ballot on whether or not to keep the Labour link.

The CWU conference in June 2009 voted to ballot members on withdrawing funds from the Labour Party if they continued to privatise Royal Mail. While Mandelson was forced to delay the privatisation temporarily, New Labour is still clearly committed to continue the process as soon as big business bidders available. The government is also backing Royal Mail's current attacks on the workforce as part of the drive for privatisation.

CWU members need to put pressure on their union leadership to implement a national ballot on the Labour levy. But the debate cannot be confined to just stopping funding to the Labour Party. The issues now are achieving a ‘yes’ vote in the present ballot for national industrial action, and how to successfully develop that national action. Also the need for the CWU to develop a political voice to add to their industrial muscle and organisation that has kept Royal Mail in public hands over the last 20 years.

We need a new workers' party. As many CWU members as possible should attend the conference called by the RMT on 7 November to launch a workers' list of candidates to challenge the main three parties of big business in the general election.

The RMT's decision to stand a workers' list (No2EU – yes to democracy) in the Euro elections in June, in a coalition with other trade unionists and socialist groups, which the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party supported, was a historic step forward. It's the first time since the founding of the Labour Party that any trade union has stood a national list of candidates against Labour.

Standing postal workers and CWU members against New Labour ministers and MPs responsible for attempting to privatise Royal Mail, on a programme of opposing privatisation, job cuts and defending public services would strengthen both the CWU in its fight against Royal Mail management, and the possibility of developing a new party for working people out of this coalition of workers' and trade union candidates.

The Tories winning the next election would be a disaster for working people. But even if Labour somehow managed to scrape through, they will be even more savage in their attempts to cut public services than any party for over 100 years. Whichever party wins the next election will try to force through savage cuts to public services including the privatisation of Royal Mail. The most effective way to build opposition to this is to link the industrial struggle CWU members are involved in to establishing a political voice.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Vote to Break the Link with New Labour!

CWU Members Need a Political Voice

CWU members in the London Region are holding an indicative ballot over whether or not the union should continue to give money to the Labour party. This follows a myriad of attacks on the Royal Mail at the hands of Brown and Mandelson and a concerted attempt to push through the privatisation of the postal service.

CWU members across the country are rightly livid at the fact that millions of pounds of their money still goes to lining the coffers of a party that represents the interests of big business and private companies. Since 2001, over six million pounds of CWU members’ money has been paid to the Labour Party, with £417,676.35 lining their pockets in 2009 alone! The huge Anger at this was reflected in successive debates about affiliation to New Labour at CWU national conference. At the 2008 conference, a motion was moved by Judy Griffiths, a supporter of the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party:

“In moving Composite 101 calling for support for the CNWP from The Welsh Valleys and Coventry Branch at the 2008 conference I referred to the number of motions and rule changes appearing on the agenda that were critical of Labour and made the point that this government has acted as viciously towards the trade unions and workers rights as had the Tories.
In the postal dispute Brown made it abundantly clear to the CWU whose side he was on when he told striking postal workers to go back to work.”

At the 2009 conference, the union leadership backed a resolution to ballot membership about withdrawing funds from New Labour if the government went ahead with privatising Royal Mail. This resolution was pushed to avoid an immediate discussion about disaffiliation, but its endorsement by conference was still an important step.

New Labour is still ideologically committed to the privatisation of the postal service, as Peter Mandelson’s actions over the summer attest. However, in the face of the biggest economic crisis for generations, the big business bidders have temporarily dried up. Billy Hayes and the CWU leadership will undoubtedly use this as an excuse to further delay the vital debate about the CWUs political fund and how workers can most effectively further their interests.

But we all know that attacks on our postal service continue, that a national agenda is being pursued to cut back services and attack the union, and that this is fully supported by New Labour.

Whilst the issue of Royal Mail privatisation and Post Office closures are key issues for the CWU so too are the wider issues of the Anti-Union laws, privatisation, cuts In public spending, tuition fees, prescription charges, privatisation of NHS services and the lack of decent council housing.

In addition, BT which was privatised by the Tories has been left in private hands under Labour to be run by fat cats resulting today in cuts in pensions for BT employees, the proposed loss of tens of thousands of jobs in the industry and a pay freeze just to add to the misery. Agency workers have been dismissed overnight with a weeks notice. Workers in the outsourced and divested sector face the same attacks in many cases from a weaker position as they struggle to retain union recognition.

All this points to the fact that New Labour no longer represents the interests of working people. We need to break the link with Labour and make steps towards a new mass political party that can actually fight in our interest. The CWU London Region ballot could be an effective way to force this debate along and activists in the union should be campaigning for a strong vote to withdraw funding. This, along with initiatives being taken up by activists in other unions, could help prepare the ground for a working class electoral challenge to New Labour.

Members of the PCS will shortly begin a consultation on backing trade union candidates in elections. The RMT backed the first ever all-Britain working class challenge to New Labour in the recent European elections and hopefully a similar trade union based electoral list will be put forward at the next general election. It seems the log-jam is beginning to break; CWU activists have an important role to play in this.

  • Not one more penny to big-business Labour!
  • Vote to break the link with New Labour!
  • Support trade union candidates that represent our interests
  • No to cuts and privatisation!
  • For a new mass workers’ party

Thursday, June 18, 2009

No2EU: A step towards a workers' political voice

No2EU-Yes to Democracy held its launch seven weeks ago. Initiated by the railway workers' union - the RMT - this hastily constructed electoral alliance succeeded in winning 153,236 votes in the European elections on 4 June; 1% of the total cast. The combined left vote across Britain was 340,805, 2.25%.

Hannah Sell

No2EU-Yes to Democracy brought together the RMT, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party of Britain, the Socialist Alliance, the Alliance for Green Socialism, supporters of the CNWP, some branches of Respect, and others. Amongst its candidates were leaders of the most militant struggles in Britain this year including the convenors of the Enfield and Basildon Visteon plants, members of the Lindsey construction workers' strike committee, and Rob Williams, victimised convenor of the Linamar car components plant.

Many workers reached by No2EU were enthused by it. In the short time of its existence however, especially given the media blackout it suffered, No2EU was only able to make a very limited impact on the political consciousness of the mass of workers. No2EU has had more coverage in the capitalist media since election day than it had in the whole campaign!

Of course, no new left formation will be able to instantly gain the confidence of workers, even once it has gained visibility or 'recognition', workers will still rightly want to test it out in action over a period of time. The RMT is one of the most militant trade unions in Britain. Many of No2EU's candidates, not least the Socialist Party members, have a long and proud record of campaigning in the interests of the working class.

However, the campaign itself was very new. In these circumstances, convincing more than 150,000 people to vote for it indicates the possibilities that exist for the creation of a fighting left alternative. In areas where candidates had an established electoral record No2EU received higher results, polling 4.5% in Coventry, for example.

Given the little time there was to establish No2EU's profile, the name of the campaign was a certain disadvantage with some. It was very attractive to a layer of workers who are angry with the way European law is being used by employers and the government to undermine their pay and conditions - including the Lindsey construction workers who raised £400 to help fund No2EU. However, there were other workers - consciously looking for a left or socialist alternative - who if they had not heard about No2EU did not realise that this was what it represented. Undoubtedly some of these voted for Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party (SLP), which polled slightly more than No2EU.

While still modest, the combined vote for the left was the highest ever on a national basis in a European election, and represents a step towards building independent political representation for the working class in Britain.

Many workers looking for a left alternative to New Labour will be understandably disappointed that there was more than one left list standing. Sometimes such clashes will be unavoidable; unfortunately the SLP were unwilling to come together in a common campaign for the European elections. However, the desire to create the strongest possible electoral voice for the working class is completely correct. No2EU was an electoral bloc that aimed to do just that - bring together different organisations around a common programme in order to maximise its electoral impact. The programme of No2EU was inevitably limited as a result, although not, as some have suggested, nationalist. On the contrary it called for 'international solidarity of working class people'.

At the same time, the different component organisations had complete freedom to produce their own material. The Socialist Party, for example, produced leaflets putting forward our socialist programme and explaining that our candidates, if elected, would only take a workers' wage.

A similar approach is needed in the general election. We want to make sure that - in as many seats as possible - socialist and working-class fighters are on offer as alternative to the establishment parties. The CNWP appeals to all trade unionists and socialists, including the SLP, who want to see such a challenge to work to create an electoral bloc on a bigger scale than No2EU was able to achieve.

Opposing the BNP

One of the main motivations for No2EU was a desire to provide a left alternative to the far-right racist BNP. It is clear that, in some working class communities significant sections of the population were so angry with all of the pro-big business establishment parties that they turned to the BNP, which is falsely posing as a party of the 'white working class'. In Barnsley, for example, traditionally a strong Labour area, the Labour vote collapsed from 45% to 25% and the BNP vote increased from 8% to 17%. In reality, as their opposition to last year's public sector strikes and the historic miners' strike shows, the BNP is anti-trade union and anti-strike, nor does it effectively challenge the domination of Britain by a tiny, massively wealthy, capitalist class.

However, the BNP will not be defeated by just pleading with workers not to vote for it. It is necessary to begin to create a mass party that genuinely stands in the interests of all workers, regardless of nationality. No2EU was a step towards creating such an alternative. In response to the results, Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT and No 1 on the London list, put the blame for the BNP's gains firmly at the feet of the big "pro-business, pro-EU" parties and went on to point the way forward:

"Along with our colleagues from the SLP and other left groups we won nearly a third of a million votes. From No2EU we won over 150,000 supporters from a standing start in the teeth of a media blackout. That gives us a solid platform to build from. We now need urgent discussions with political parties, campaigns and our colleagues in other unions like the CWU to develop a political and industrial response to this crisis."

The CNWP believes that the next step has to be to build a workers' challenge to the establishment parties in the general election. Yet some have argued that No2EU was wrong to stand in the European elections, particularly in the North West, because, it is suggested, had No2EU voters voted Green, the racist BNP would not have been elected.

The reason that the BNP won two MEPs was the complete collapse of Labour's vote. As a result the BNP took two seats despite having a lower vote in both the North West and Yorkshire than in 2004.

Moreover, it is wrong to suggest that No2EU should have stood aside for the Greens. The Green Party nationally has never been willing to reach electoral agreements with socialist or left candidates, despite attempts by organizations on the left to discuss doing so with them.

If No2EU had simply stood aside it is wrong to image all of its voters would have transferred to the Greens. The majority of those who did vote Green undoubtedly saw them as a left alternative. At local level Green councillors have supported neoliberal anti-working class measures, but on a national basis, unlike in Germany or Ireland where they have entered neoliberal governments, they are as yet untested and are seen by some as 'left'.

However, in the North West, despite New Labour's vote collapsing compared to 2004 by more than 230,000, the Greens were only able to increase their vote by 10,000. In Yorkshire the Greens only increased their vote by 14,000.

Nationally the Green vote increased by more than half a million, but this was disproportionately concentrated in areas with a larger urban middle class. Across Yorkshire, Greens polled 104,000 compared to the BNP's 120,000.

However, the picture is not the same in the working class, deprived South Yorkshire towns where the BNP made the biggest gains. In Barnsley, where the BNP received 17% of the votes the Greens received 6%.

This is a reflection of the fact that the Greens are not seen by most workers as a party that stands in their interests, and are therefore not capable of cutting across the growth of the BNP.

No2EU was only one step towards creating a new mass workers' party that could cut across the BNP, but it was nonetheless important for that.

For the first time since the foundation of the Labour Party, a national trade union took the decision to stand, alongside others, in a national election on a left programme.

It was the duty of socialists to support such an initiative. The RMT has now established the idea that the labour movement can stand its own candidates in elections.

The civil servants' union, PCS, is currently discussing moving in a similar direction. All such steps should be encouraged.

When workers begin to find their own political voice it is the duty of socialists not to stand on the sidelines criticising, but to engage and work to make sure that those first steps can develop into a mass movement.

CWU members need a political voice

The return of Mandelson to the Government and the proposed privatisation of Royal Mail emanating from the Hooper Review should be the final confirmation to the leadership and activists in the CWU that the Unions relationship with Labour is an abusive one.

Judy Griffith, CWU (personal capacity)

For a decade the issue of funding of Labour has been the subject of discussion at the Communication Workers Union (CWU) Annual Conference. Varying degrees of support have been won for breaking the link with the Labour Party culminating in the 2008 conference agreeing to ballot CWU members over support for Labour if the government moves to privatise Royal Mail.

In light of Labours intent to carry privatisation through, conference policy should be implemented immediately with a recommendation by the NEC to vote to withdraw funding.
The issue of “what alternative?” has always been used by the leadership as the cover for remaining affiliated to Labour.
In moving Composite 101 calling for support for the CNWP from The Welsh Valleys and Coventry Branch at the 2008 conference I referred to the number of motions and rule changes appearing on the agenda that were critical of Labour and made the point that this government has acted as viciously towards the trade unions and workers rights as had the Tories.
In the postal dispute Brown made it abundantly clear to the CWU whose side he was on when he told striking postal workers to go back to work.

The Government pushed through ‘market freedom’ for the break up and privatisation of Royal Mail -something even Thatcher was scared to do. This allowed cheap-labour delivery firms to cream off profitable business, leaving Royal Mail with unprofitable parts, leading to the attack on pay and conditions.
From the minute MPs’ voted for that, a battle between the workers and government appointed bosses was inevitable as they sought to close Mail offices and reduce the workforce. The ‘relationship’ with Labour got us nowhere except a life or death battle for our union and jobs.
Now, precisely when the bankers ‘free market’ is most discredited Labour propose to privatise the Royal Mail! They want to leave the taxpayers with the debt and hand the profitable parts to private companies. They want to further hammer our conditions and our union.

Labour has voted for and continue to close Post Offices. Closing 2,600 by April 2008. We have to witness the hypocrisy of Labour MP’s (and now even Tories who closed 3,542 while in office) turning up to ‘protest’ at closures they have voted for! Like Tony Soprano when he covers his backside by attending the funerals of people he’s had bumped off! Saying one thing, but doing another, the government is at the forefront of these attacks on our union and it’s members.
Whilst the issue of Royal Mail Privatisation and Post Office Closures are key issues for the CWU so too are the wider issues of the Anti Union Laws, Privatisation, Cuts In Public Spending , Tuition Fees, Prescription charges, Privatisation of NHS Services and the lack of decent council housing.

In addition, BT which was privatised by the Tories has been left in private hands under Labour to be run by fat cats resulting today in cuts in pensions for BT employees, the proposed loss of 10.000 jobs in the industry and a pay freeze just to add to the misery. Agency workers have been dismissed overnight with a weeks notice, so much for the ‘Power Up For Agency Workers’ campaign. Workers in the outsourced and divested sector face the same attacks in many cases from a weaker position as they struggle to retain union recognition.

The unions’ policy on Public Ownership of the Telecommunications Industry once again has been ignored by the union when considering its political strategy.

Any remaining doubt that the funding of Labour is in any way beneficial to our members in the CWU must now surely be cast aside. While some in the leadership may still believe that there is no alternative, this position is becoming more and more difficult for them to defend.
If individual members and activists in the CWU wish to remain in the Labour Part
y, including the General Secretary who has stated that he “will die in the Labour Party” then that is their prerogative, however it should not be the determining factor in relation to the political strategy of a union that faces thousands of job losses across the Postal, Telecoms and Financial Services Sector.

The leadership of the CWU in referring to the proposed job losses and the financial position of the union have raised merger with other unions as the solution to secure the unions’ financial stability.

The real alternative surely would be to stop financing Labour to the tune of millions of pounds, and to launch a huge political campaign jointly with other unions such as the RMT, PCS, FBU and POA etc to begin to construct a New Workers Party to contest elections. One that could provide an alternative to the current main parties who all ultimately defend capitalism and the private sector which is so spectacularly failing the working people of Britain and the world.

This is the alternative that is required to provide our members and workers generally who have not bothered voting or have turned to the BNP to protest at being ignored by Labour.
Given EU laws are the fig leaf Labour ministers hide behind to justify privatising the Post Office it would clearly have made sense for the CWU to support the RMT-initiated No2EU – Yes to Democracy European elections list with its anti privatisation and pro workers rights stance and mobilise our members behind it. The CWU should be at the forefront of ensuring that a workers’ alternative such as this is offered at a general election when it comes.

Dave Ward the Deputy General Secretary of the union made the point at the National Protest against Royal Mail Privatisation in Wolverhampton on the 14th March when he said that “there is a need for a political alternative to what is currently on offer and it doesn’t necessarily have to be through Labour” this to huge cheers from the crowd.

The issue will be on the agenda again at the 2009 conference, by then however the union should already have carried out the mandate from 2008 conference and have balloted its members. Failure to do this would be extremely damaging for the current leadership of the union as the onslaught of job cuts and privatisation takes its full hold.

Unions no longer have a political voice and face 3 establishment parties who oppose us. Currently the union gives money to the Labour Party, but what for when they vote to attack us? When they keep the most anti union laws in the western world that make it harder for us to fight to defend our conditions?

Trades Unions should work for new party to stand up for working people, a party that would stand up for the millions not the millionaires. The CWU should be playing its’ part in building such an alternative.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

For a workers' alternative to the bosses' parties

THE NATIONAL UNION of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) has initiated an electoral alliance for the European elections that will be contesting all of the seats in England, Wales and Scotland in the elections on 4 June. This is a temporary platform for the European elections, entitled No2EU-Yes to Democracy, with initial support from the RMT, Socialist Party, Solidarity–Scotland’s Socialist Movement, the Indian Workers’ Association, the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), the Morning Star newspaper, the Socialist Alliance, the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party and others.

The Campaign for a New Workers’ Party’s steering committee urges all CNWP members to support No2EU-Yes to democracy. This is the first time since the formation of the Labour Party that a trade union has taken an electoral initiative on an all-Britain scale. The transformation of the Labour Party from a workers’ party at base – albeit with a capitalist leadership – into an unalloyed party of big business has left the working class without a mass party for well over a decade. The absence of such a party has been a central factor in holding back the confidence of workers to struggle in defence of their pay and conditions. The fact that the RMT has taken this step, however tentative, is therefore enormously positive.

The candidates for No2EU-Yes to Democracy include leaders of the Lindsey oil refinery construction workers who went on strike in January and of the Visteon car components workers currently blockading their factories. Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, will be heading the list in London, and a number of RMT regional officers will be standing around the country. Coventry Socialist Party councillor and CNWP chair Dave Nellist heads the list in the West Midlands. In the North West, the regional UNISON NEC representative and CNWP secretary, Roger Bannister, is heading the list. In Scotland, Tommy Sheridan is second on the list. Other candidates include car workers fighting job losses, postal workers resisting privatisation, health workers, teachers, fire-fighters and other public-sector workers. This list offers an alternative to the pro-capitalist parties, and its candidate lists are dominated by some of the most combative sections of the working class in Britain today.

No to the BNP
The campaign is partially motivated by an understanding of the urgent need to provide an alternative to the far-right racist British National Party (BNP). There is a real danger that the BNP could capitalise on the anger with New Labour and succeed in winning one or more MEPs in this election. The BNP will never be cut across by bland campaigns pleading with people not to vote for racists. The implication of such campaigns is that workers should vote for the pro-capitalist parties in order to stop the BNP. Only the development of a genuine working-class alternative, combined with a serious campaign against the BNP, will be able to effectively undermine them. This electoral initiative is taking an important step in that direction by offering a left, anti-EU alternative.

Keep Britain out of the eurozone
The programme of No2EU-Yes to Democracy is limited. Nevertheless, it seeks to oppose the European Union (EU) from a working-class, non-nationalist standpoint. The EU has not been central in most workers’ minds up to the present time. However, recent developments have made it more of an issue, at least amongst those workers who have been directly affected, and perhaps increasingly amongst a wider layer. It was central to the Lindsey construction workers’ strike. It was under the EU Posted Workers Directive and subsequent European Court of Justice (ECJ) rulings that the Italian-registered company, IREM, was able to employ workers not covered by the union-enforced national construction industry agreements.

No2EU’s programme takes up the different aspects of the EU’s neo-liberal laws. These laws arise from the support of this government, and all European governments, for neo-liberal anti-working class policies. EU laws provide them with an additional lever with which to drive through their pro-big business programmes. For example, the EU's public spending criteria gave New Labour an excuse to privatise capital projects like new schools and hospitals, by means of private finance initiatives and the disastrous public-private partnership on London Underground, which increase the costs of public services and subsidise corporate profits. The government’s plan for the part-privatisation of Royal Mail, the first step to its complete sell-off, is linked to the EU’s 2007 Postal Services Directive to introduce a deregulated postal services market.

Step forward
In Britain we do not yet have a new mass left party – or a significant step towards one such as exists in Germany, France and Greece. However, we are faced with an important beginning. We have the leadership of a militant trade union that is prepared to take the responsibility for initiating the development of a political voice for working people – at least in the European elections – that will oppose all the capitalist parties and provide an alternative to the far-right, racist BNP. They will undoubtedly face attack from the capitalist media for daring to stand up. All those who are serious about building a new mass workers’ party should offer every assistance in ensuring the campaign is a success.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What do union members get from Labour link?

A growing number of left activists in the trade unions are frustrated with the continued financial and political links between the unions and the Labour Party. This is hardly surprising given the attacks on working-class people carried out since Blair's New Labour government was elected in 1997.

A UNISON member
Privatisation of the NHS and other public services continues at a frightening pace, funding for local government has been cut, welfare benefits have been slashed and public-sector workers have had their pay held down, all to pay for the growing crisis in the capitalist economy.

In reality, though, the mood of a layer of activists about the Labour link drags behind that of the union rank and file, most of whom no longer see the Labour Party as a political voice for the working class. This can be seen in the good votes gained for candidates in union elections who call for the link to be broken.

But with a few notable exceptions, the union leaderships are reluctant to abandon Labour. Unwilling to face political reality, they exaggerate both the differences between Labour and the Tories and the importance of the 'concessions' they have got from Labour. These concessions are exemplified in the 2004 Warwick Agreement and subsequent agreements. Many clauses in these deals are minimal and some are laughable in the light of events.

The commitment to work in Europe "for the introduction of employment protection for temporary and agency workers" rings hollow when you consider the massive pressure on Labour MEPs from Downing Street to oppose the ending of the UK's opt-out from the European Working Time Directive. This has forced many temporary (and permanent) workers to work in excess of 44 hours a week.

Equally contradictory is the agreement to "engage in effective dialogue over the future of public-sector pensions". In March 2006, local government workers had to resort to a massive strike in defence of the local government pension scheme.

Public-sector union Unison has described the government's agreed protection against a two-tier public sector workforce (due to privatisation) as a lottery, and recently conducted a survey of Unison branches to ascertain just how meaningless it is.

Yet many of the union leaders talk vaguely about the need to "reclaim" Labour, with no plan, nor any programme to set about this. In fact, at Labour's last conference the trade unions actually agreed to reduce their voting influence at the conference!

Many trade union leaders actually prefer the fact that the power of conference has been replaced by the 'behind the scenes' activity of the Policy Forum, where they can hobnob with ministers and party big-wigs.

Lost members
Labour has lost millions of members, most of them drifting away disillusioned. Its constituency parties are largely dead, engaging in little local activity. Any that still have the temerity to move against right-wing MPs face suspension and/or witch-hunts of activists.

For example the Labour Party national executive recently suspended East Lothian constituency Labour Party after it passed a motion of no confidence in its Labour MP, former Unison president Ann Moffat.

The trade union leaders are stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. They know that New Labour is a lost cause for the working class, but they are frightened of the alternative.

A new democratic party of the left would draw in precisely the left activists that they fear within their own organisations, those socialists who are being witch-hunted in Unison for example.

Knowing how unpopular the link with Labour is, the union leaders often attempt undemocratic, bureaucratic manoeuvres to prevent debate on this issue within their own unions. This is the case in Unison.

The Fire Brigades Union pulled out of financing the Labour Party following the Labour government's attitude to its national strike, the RMT was expelled from Labour for supporting the Scottish Socialist Party, and the PCS has recently set up a political fund on the basis that it will not be used to support Labour.

What is now needed to boost the campaign for a genuine, left political voice outside Labour is for unions such as these to call together trade union and community activists, and others on the left.

They should discuss the current political situation with a view to establishing a broad anti-cuts, pro-public service platform to start to mount electoral challenges to Labour from the left.

Such a move would serve as a pole of attraction to shop stewards and other union activists, renewing the campaigns within the unions to withdraw support from Labour.

The Campaign for a New Workers' Party (CNWP) was launched by socialists, trade unionists, community campaigners and young people who had had enough of the establishment parties and wanted to fight for a working-class political voice.

It is pushing for Labour Party affiliated unions to break the link with the Labour Party and is popularising the idea of a new, independent mass party for working people.

A new mass workers' party would play an important role in linking up many different struggles taking place across the country and giving more working people the confidence to fight back.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Labour's abandoning of the working class

Increasingly, the media and politicians talk about the 'disadvantage suffered by white working-class people', and the need to 'listen to their concerns'. Hazel Blears, the government's Communities Secretary, says New Labour should fight to win back support in white working-class communities that feel abandoned by all mainstream political parties, in order to halt the rise of the far-right, racist British National Party (BNP).

Naomi Byron
But rather than change its policies - like reversing privatisation, ending the housing shortage by a massive expansion in council housing or socialist nationalisation to save jobs - New Labour is cynically playing the race card.

Instead of listening to the real concerns of working people, these big business politicians are going along with the sensationalist and divisive way that the media has begun talking about the "white working-class" as something separate and distinct from working-class people of other races.

A useful report by the Runnymede Trust refutes the false 'racialisation' of these issues and pointed out that from housing to education to health "where the white working-class are losing out, it is to the wealthy rather than to migrants or minority ethnic groups."

Contrary to media headlines that white working-class boys are losing out dramatically to black and minority ethnic groups in the same income bracket when it comes to GCSE results, the biggest gap by far in education results is social class.

Wendy Bottero, one of the report's contributors, points out: "We should look at the impact of the closure of the manufacturing industries which once dominated working-class communities; the neo-liberal deregulation of the labour market which has made their jobs less secure; the sponsoring of middle-class advantage through 'parental choice' of schools and the marketisation of education; the sell-off of council housing which concentrates the most disadvantaged in the remaining estates; and the stalling of incomes and expenditure at the bottom of society while the wealth of the rich rockets."

The current media debate, says the trust report, "exaggerates the differences between ethnic groups and masks what they hold in common. By stressing the whiteness of the white working-class, the class inequality of other ethnic groups also slips from view.

"This sidesteps the real issue of class inequality, focusing on how disadvantaged groups compete for scarce resources, rather than exploring how that scarcity is shaped in the first place. If we really want to understand disadvantage, we need to shift our attention from who fights over the scraps from the table, to think instead about how much the table holds, and who really gets to enjoy the feast."

Working-class people of all races and backgrounds have no organised political voice and are marginalised, frustrated and angry. The real question is what can be done about it. That is why we are fighting for a new workers' party that can act as a channel for working people to take collective action to defend our rights and fight for a better future.

Attempts to whip up the racial divide between working-class people are extremely dangerous, and must be fought. The only rights and improvements working-class people have won have been through our own collective struggle. The fight against racism and division is an absolutely essential part of this. The question of racism, particularly racist discrimination in the workplace and attacks against black and Asian people, is still a burning issue and one that needs to be taken up by the whole workers' movement.

Racism is deeply rooted in capitalism because the profit system makes use of 'divide and rule'. The more big business and the media succeed in creating resentment and division along racial lines, the harder it is for working people to fight back and improve our lives.

The more the main parties try to play the race card to prop up their collapsing votes, the easier it is for poisonous groups like the BNP to look respectable, gain support, and divide working people further. Help us in building a genuine alternative for all working people in the form of a new mass workers' party.