Friday, June 4, 2010
That TUSC’s vote would be squeezed in the context of a polarised general election was recognised by its participants when it was formed in January this year. The ‘Americanisation’ of British politics, with the capitalist New Labour party no longer seen by workers as ‘our party’, has created a deep sense of powerlessness amongst millions of working class voters. A report by the Department for Communities and Local Government, published without comment during the election, revealed that just 22% of people now feel they can at all ‘influence decisions affecting Britain’. (The Guardian, 30 April) What is this if not an expression of the effective disfranchisement of the working class, in the absence of a mass workers’ party that had the confidence of the working class to fight on their behalf?
An upsurge of workers’ struggle, which will come, could dramatically transform that consciousness – and create the basis for a new workers’ party to develop with mass traction. But, in this election, TUSC could not fill the vacuum. Those workers who did come out to vote – and the turnout rose in this election from 61% in 2005 to 65% – plumped for ‘the lesser evil’ against the threat of the Tories. Creditable votes were won by TUSC candidates in Coventry North East (1,592), Tottenham (1,057) and Glasgow South West (931) but generally TUSC polled no higher than Socialist Party and other left candidates had in previous elections.
The main purpose of TUSC, however, was to reach the most militant workers, in the trade unions and the unorganised as well, with the arguments for independent working class political representation. And in this it achieved some important successes. Twenty-one TUSC candidates were officially endorsed by the executive committee of the most combative industrial trade union in Britain today, the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers’ union (RMT), and a similar number of RMT branches backed and donated to local campaigns. Outside the RMT, support was won for individual candidates from branches of the Communications Workers’ Unions (CWU) and the GMB and UNITE general unions, and the Scottish region of the Fire Brigades Union. This follows – and, indeed, deepens – the process started by the formation of the No2EU-Yes to Democracy coalition, backed by the RMT, which contested last year’s European elections.
The TUSC steering committee includes, in a personal capacity, the RMT general secretary Bob Crow, and fellow executive member Craig Johnston; the assistant general secretary of the PCS civil servants union, Chris Baugh, and the union’s vice-president, John McInally; the vice-president of the National Union of Teachers, Nina Franklin; and the recently retired general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, Brian Caton. Amongst the TUSC candidates were nine branch officers of the UNISON public sector union, a CWU branch secretary and an assistant secretary, a University and College Union branch secretary, and three RMT branch officers. These latter included Bill Rawcliffe, the RMT senior steward at Jarvis Rail, who only decided to stand, after a mass meeting of rail engineering workers, when Jarvis went into administration on March 25th and made 1,200 workers redundant.
Significantly, it was not until the Jarvis workers decided to stand a candidate that Bill received a concerned phone call from his local New Labour MP Ed Miliband! This fear the capitalist politicians have of workers taking ‘politics’ into their own hands is just a hint of what a trade union-based workers’ party could achieve in the future, in beginning to change the balance of forces in favour of the working class.
TUSC exists precisely to be a ‘Doncaster on a national scale’, in other words, a banner available to be taken up by workers moving onto the political plane. The steps that were taken in this election – small though they were – on the road to re-establishing independent working class political representation, alone justify the TUSC campaign.
The outcome of the election, with a Tory-Lib Dem government and the Labour Party now in opposition, does not change the task that TUSC has set itself. The character of the Labour Party, transformed in the 1990s into New Labour, has not been changed by the election vote. There was, in some areas, a return – very limited at that – of its working class vote, out of fear of the consequences of a Tory government. A detailed survey of voters conducted by Greenberg Research confirms this, concluding that people “voted Labour to defend public spending” but that there was no “ideological content” to this, “no vision that brought people to Labour”. (The Guardian, 17 May). How could it be otherwise after 15 years of New Labour consciously counter-posing itself to ‘Old Labour’ as a pro-market, ‘business-friendly’ party? The actual result still saw the biggest fall in seats for Labour since 1931, the lowest share of the vote since 1983, and 4.9 million fewer votes cast for Labour than in 1997.
Most important, however, is the fact that the nature of a party is not determined just by the composition of those of vote for it – otherwise the US Democrats would arguably be a workers’ party (and the 19th century Liberals too). Another critical factor in the dual character of ‘Old Labour’ as a ‘capitalist workers’ party’ were the possibilities that existed in its structures for its working class base to assert their interests against the party’s pro-capitalist leaders. Those channels were systematically destroyed in the past two decades and the election result has not changed that. The crisis of working class political representation persists and will be starkly revealed in the events ahead, as the new government unleashes its ‘savage cuts’.
While all analogies are limited, because different conditions effect how social processes unfold, Hardie found himself contesting the 1888 by-election as a local miners-nominated independent labour representative because the Liberal Party, then in opposition to a Conservative government, refused to accept him as their candidate. Other ‘labour representatives’ had been allowed as Liberal candidates on other occasions but Hardie’s candidature had developed out of bitter strike movements against local Liberal-supporting mine-owners and was not acceptable to the Liberal Party leadership. In the ‘Greek-style’ battles to come, with the new wave of Labour-controlled councils, for example, passing on Tory-Lib Dem cuts, the prospect of independent trade union and anti-cuts candidates will grow.
TUSC emerged out of discussions by those involved in the No2EU election coalition – launched, it should be remembered, just 15 months ago – which in turn was a response to an upsurge in workers’ struggle in early 2009, particularly the Lindsey oil refinery construction workers’ strike and RMT battles against European Union directives undermining workers’ rights. No2EU, involving the RMT, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party of Britain, Solidarity–Scotland’s Socialist Movement, and others, worked on a ‘federal’ basis, with decisions being reached by broad consensus while each participant had the right to produce their own material supporting the coalition. The Communist Party, which was an active member of No2EU, eventually decided not to be involved in TUSC – while the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), after some debate, was invited to join in March – but the consensus method of organisation was carried on into TUSC. While discussions will no doubt take place on the best way to organise the coalition as it develops in the future, certainly for the next period the federal approach must continue.
By continuing to group together in an electoral coalition the most militant leading trade unionists in Britain today, TUSC can be an important catalyst in furthering the process towards independent working class political representation.
Friday, January 22, 2010
The last CNWP Conference eighteen months ago agreed a resolution from the Socialist Alliance which committed the CNWP to start the discussion as to how we develop from a campaign for a new workers' party into that actual party. The full text of the resolution is below.
Briefly, the resolution recognised the urgent need for the left to get its act together and campaign for a new workers' party given Labour's shift to the right, the vacuum that leaves, and the threat posed by the Far Right. It was agreed this would be achieved by bringing the left together whilst building the party within the wider working class, and that therefore the time was right to start moving towards a pro-party alliance or a pre-party formation that would begin work to determine the structure and rules for such a party. Part of that process would be to turn Declaration signatories into members, with branches where there are enough members.
So why did the SA want the CNWP to move forward in his way? There has clearly been some frustration at the gradual rate of progress since the Campaign for a New Workers Party was launched in March 2006, nearly four years ago. That Launch Conference asked the CNWP Steering Committee to start considering “which type of structure would best suit a Campaign for a New Workers' Party that would encourage supportive left groups/alliances, unions, independents, tenants, community groups and others to work towards unity at their own pace”. A Steering Committee meeting in September 2007 agreed to begin “longer term discussions on the structure of a future party.”
However, these discussions have not yet started. This is partly because the CNWP, quite rightly in my opinion, put most of its energies in 2009 into 'No2EU-YestoDemocracy' and subsequent Post-No2EU developments. Both represent a huge step in the right direction - Left Coalitions with Trade Unionist backing for both the Euro and next General Election moves the whole party building process significantly forward, and, indeed helps shape that Party. This puts renewed pressure on us as the campaign for a new workers' party to start sorting out exactly what sort of party we want - and what sort of party would work.
THE TIME IS RIGHT
This is not about declaring a new workers’ party now. It is about starting the discussion about what that Party should be like and look like so that we are ready when the base has been built and/or conditions dictate that we move a lot faster.
Present conditions are indeed making the need for a new left party more urgent. On the one hand, workers are suffering from the worst Recession in living memory. All establishment parties are striving to make workers pay for the crisis. With no left alternative being offered, workers are turning to the Far Right in significant numbers as a protest vote, many of whom could be won back if there was that working class alternative. On the other hand, there is a new mood for unity across the left, not seen since the high point period of the original Socialist Alliance around the time it stood 98 candidates in the 2001 General Election. Calls for the left to work together, and for a unified left electoral challenge, have been made recently by a number of Trade Union leaders, including Jane Godrich (PCS Pres), Bob Crow (RMT Gen Sec) and Mark Serwotka (Gen Sec PCS). Leaders of socialist organizations have gone further, calling for a new workers’ party. Bob Crow stated in a No2EU Supporters Bulletin on June 8th that we “now need urgent discussions with political parties, campaigns and trade union colleagues (e.g. CWU) to develop a political and industrial response to the crisis.” Dave Nellist has been more explicit in calling for a new party. The SWP called in the summer for a left conference to discuss a "single, united left alternative to Labour”, and the AWL have called for a new Socialist Alliance.
FIRST STEPS ALREADY TAKEN
With growing support for the notion of a new left party, we really do need to start discussing the type of structure we would prefer. We have already agreed a new Party must be open, inclusive and democratic, representing all strands of the movement – including left organizations, trades unionists, those opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those campaigning on environmental issues, pensions, racism and tenants rights, encouraging all such organisations to work towards unity at their own pace. The only structure that could possibly reflect and represent such diversity would be federal, recognizing the traditions and backgrounds of each ‘sector’ whilst campaigning together on agreed policies and projects – around the 80 or 90% we can all agree upon. That may, especially in the short term, mean accepting that organizations would act in their own name whilst making it clear they are also a part of the Party as a whole. In elections, for example, if an organization has built roots under its own electoral title, it may wish to retain that title – taking the Socialist Party as an example, this could mean standing as ‘Socialist Alternative (the SP’s registered electoral title) as part of the 'Left Workers Party’ or whatever.
We have also agreed to become a Membership campaign and that process has begun with a number of the 4,000 CNWP Declaration signatories having formally become members. Membership itself confers rights and responsibilities which need to be defined in a set of rules or some sort of Constitution. We have already agreed a minimum membership fee and to organize regional CNWP meetings at which all CNWP members will be entitled to vote. We have also agreed to set up local branches where sufficient membership exists. What we now need to do is to encourage more and more supporters to become members, to hold the regional meetings on a more consistent basis, and set up the local branches of the CNWP. We will then need to define the relationship of these branches to the regional meetings, and vica versa, and the relationship of both to the national Steering Committee. That will be the first steps towards defining a structure that suits the Campaign for a New Workers' Party and be able to evolve as we move into a being an actual Party.
LEARN THE LESSONS - WE MUST AVOID DOMINATION BY LARGE ORGANISATIONS
It is also CNWP policy for no single group or organization to be allowed to dominate a new Party, and to put in place mechanisms which ensure that full and frank discussions are allowed and a wide range of opinions are represented on all policy making bodies. This was agreed to prevent any takeover as happened within the original Socialist Alliance in 2001. Decision making bodies thus need to represent all opinion by including representatives from each affiliated organization, and I suggest representation, along with affiliation fee, be proportional to size, and representation for independents elected directly by independents. There also needs to be agreement that whereas it would be hoped decisions would be made by consensus, if consensus did not exist nothing could be progressed without the formal approval of, say, 51% of affiliated organizations and 51% of the representatives of independents. This may sound cumbersome, but more often than not decisions would indeed be by consensus. In any event, with such a diverse number of organisations being represented - political organisations, trade unions, tenant and community groups, women, black groups, organisations opposed to racism and other forms of exploitation, and, of course, independents, all separately and in their own right, no one group is so likely to dominate anyway.
MY SUGGESTED MODEL - AFFILIATION AND REPRESENATION BASED ON SIZE
This would require a structure that included a large enough Steering Committee type body for all affiliated opinion to be represented. I would suggest one representative each for those organisations affiliating with less than 100 declared members, two representatives for those with up to 250 declared members, and one additional representative for each additional 200 members above that number - with an affiliation fee that reflected those declared numbers. For example, the affiliation fee could be set at £50 for organisations declaring up to 100 members, and an additional £30 per additional 100 members. That would mean an organisation with 50 members would pay £50 affiliation and have one representative; an organisation with 350 members would pay £140 affiliation and be entitled to three representatives. An organisation with 1,000 members would pay £320 and have five representatives. These figures are purely suggestions.
In addition, independent individual members should be entitled to elect one representative for every 100 individual independent members. An 'individual independent member' being a "Party" member who is not also a member of an affiliated organisation. Each local branch should also be able to elect one representative per 100 members up to a maximum of three representatives. Branches could elect on a similar basis to Regional meetings to be held when necessary, there being no need for Regional bodies to themselves send representatives to the Steering Committee. Regional views could be articulated by Branch representatives within that Region.
There will need to be an agreed minimum number of national and local meetings. Given the importance of 'bottom upwards democracy' within a new left party, there should be regular Branch meetings, monthly or bi-monthly, an annual Conference open to all members and at least one other national meeting of members each year. Conference and national members meetings would be the supreme decision making body, with the Steering Committee responsible for policy between Conferences and national meetings. Annual Conference should directly elect functional Officers as deemed necessary by Conference following recommendation from Branches and the Steering Committee, with nominations from individual members, Branches and the Steering Committee. Conferences and national meetings should be open to all fully paid up members, with voting weighted as within the Steering Committee, and not individual, so that voting becomes proportional to declared size of organisation, with the same proviso that 51% of both organisations and individual independent members would need to support a policy before it could be enacted
CONCLUSION - LET's CREATE THE PROTOTYPE
The CNWP has already agreed a number of initial steps towards determining a structure for a new workers' party. The crisis of capitalism, and growth of support for the far right, make the need to develop such a Party that much more urgent. Events, including the experience and performance of No2EU and its successor, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, will help promote and shape that Party. We must be ready to be able to suggest the outline of a structure for such a Party which has already been debated, modified and broadly supported by those at the forefront of campaigning for that Party. The ideas expressed here are very much open to debate within our ranks over the next few months - they are but the start of a lengthy process. Their essence is federalism based on consensus and proportional representation of all traditions and backgrounds which become part of the new formation, and is very much part of the process of moving from a campaign for a new workers' party into a pre-party formation which, shaped by events, could become the prototype for the real thing.
The actual resolution passed which commits us to start this debate
1. This Conference welcomes the initiative of the CNWP Officers in organising a Discussion Forum on the Way Ahead for the Left at the start of Conference.
2. Conference recognises there is an urgent need for the left to get its act together given the fact that:
Workers increasingly accept that Labour can no longer be reclaimed
Labour’s shift to the right – or far right - means there is a vacuum which the left could, and should, fill.
Recent election results would, if replicated in a General Election, return a Tory Government with a large majority, its policies influenced by an increased vote for the far right
There is the growing threat posed by the racist/fascist BNP
3. Conference confirms its view that the best way to confront these issues is to campaign for a new socialist party – a new workers’ party. In fact, that is essential. Conference agrees that, as part of the process of building a new workers’ party, it is necessary to bring together as many of the disparate left forces as possible, in addition to the work being done to build the Party within the working class – within Trade Unions; tenants and community groups; the black community; women; youth; and all those oppressed by capitalism.
4. Conference therefore agrees that the time is right to start moving towards a pro-party alliance or a pre-party formation that, as well as campaigning for a new party, will also begin work to determine the structure and rules for such a party. Conference recognises that this not only requires that declaration signatories be more involved in the work of the CNWP, but also requires a democratic legitimacy that the present signatories/supporters based system fails to give. To address this, the CNWP will become a membership based campaign, with branches where sufficient membership exists. This is part of the process which will lead, sooner rather than later, to the formal launch of the new workers’ party.
5. Existing and new Declaration signatories/supporters will be asked to take out membership of the CNWP, the fee being determined by Conference or, between conferences, the Steering Committee.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
The result is that there will now be an election challenge, under the newly-registered electoral banner, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).
No2EU was an alliance for a specific election, registered as a party as required by electoral law, involving the RMT transport workers' union, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party of Britain, Solidarity - Scotland's Socialist Movement, the Socialist Alliance, the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party and others. This time the RMT is not formally backing the coalition. However, RMT branches and regional councils will be able to apply to the union's national executive to support, politically and financially, individual candidates in their area. And Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT, is supporting TUSC in a personal capacity, and will serve on its steering committee.
Places have been reserved on the committee for the core organisations which participated in No2EU, who will now decide on their involvement in the new coalition. Also involved in a personal capacity are other prominent trade unionists, including Brian Caton, the general secretary of the Prison Officers Association (POA), and leading national officers of the PCS civil servants' union. While there is no formal involvement of a national trade union, this is still an important coalescing on the political plane of the most fighting trade union leaders in Britain today.
A number of local RMT branches, and other trade unionists too, have already declared that they intend to stand candidates in the general election but have not registered a 'party name'. Now, if they wish, such candidates will be able to appear on the ballot paper as Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition rather than as 'Independent'. Candidates from community campaigns, and other socialist organisations that have not been involved in the discussions to date, will also be able to stand under the TUSC banner.
The coalition has agreed a core policy statement which prospective candidates will be asked to endorse. As a federal 'umbrella' organisation, however, coalition candidates and participating organisations will also be able to produce their own supporting material. This was the approach successfully adopted by the No2EU campaign, which allowed the different organisations involved to collaborate under a common banner.
The core policy statement reflects the differing perspectives of those involved in the discussions leading to TUSC's formation. It recognises that amongst potential coalition supporters there will be "different strategic views about the way forward for the left in Britain, whether the Labour Party can be reclaimed by the labour movement, or whether a new workers' party needs to be established", the latter being the position of those in the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party.
But with the coming ferocious attacks on public spending, wages, living standards and workers' rights, regardless of which party (Tory or New Labour) forms the next government, the coalition aims to bring home the urgent need for "mass resistance to the ruling class offensive, and for an alternative programme of left-wing policies to help inspire and direct such resistance". The coalition is also needed to check the growth of the Far Right by providing a socialist anti-racist alternative for those who are fed up with the politics of the establishment parties and are looking for ways to protest
The core policies include, amongst others, opposition to public spending cuts and privatisation, calls for investment in publicly owned and controlled renewable energy, the repeal of the anti-trade union laws, and the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
The statement makes a clear socialist commitment to "bringing into democratic public ownership the major companies and banks that dominate the economy, so that production and services can be planned to meet the needs of all and to protect the environment".
Coalition candidates will offer a credible challenge to New Labour, for example, in the contest between Socialist Party councillor and former MP Dave Nellist and the defence secretary Bob Ainsworth in Coventry North East. But while in some cases its vote may be squeezed, in the context of a polarised election the coalition will still have a significant impact particularly inside the trade unions in forcing a debate on the crisis of working class political representation. This itself is important preparation for the events to come.
The lack of formal endorsement of the coalition from even left-wing trade unions like the RMT, the POA, the PCS or the Fire Brigades Union will be a disappointment for many workers.
The trade union leaders involved in the coalition, who enthusiastically back it in a personal capacity, felt that more time is needed to convince a broader layer of their memberships to take such an important step at this stage. This is a reflection of the ambivalent consciousness of many workers about the coming election, with a deep hatred of New Labour but also fear at the prospect of a Tory government. But we can be confident that big events, both before the election and after, will at some point compel the unions to move decisively onto the political arena.
What is clear is that without a qualitative change in the situation in Britain, through the development of independent working class political organisation to initially at least check the pro-capitalist parties, the ruling class will have a freer hand to impose their austerity policies. Many commentators have referred to the 2010 election as a 'turning point' contest and for the working class it will indeed herald the onset of a new age of 'savage cuts', whichever establishment party wins. The launch of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition is a modest but important step in the development of a movement of resistance.
To sign up as a launch sponsor of TUSC, in a personal capacity, send the necessary details (name, address, trade union/position, etc) to TUSC, 17 Colebert House, Colebert Avenue, London E1 4JP or e-mail the firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, November 30, 2009
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 email@example.com
‘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
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.
- 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.
SAVE OUR SERVICES
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
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
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