Tag Archives: RMT

Socialist Party wants to affiliate to Labour

SPEW has written to the Labour Party asking to affiliate. Peter Manson looks at the background (reproduced from the Weekly Worker)

Those who do not read The Socialist may not be aware that the Socialist Party in England and Wales has applied to affiliate to Labour – a couple of weeks ago the SPEW weekly published correspondence on the matter between Labour’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, and its own leader, Peter Taaffe (September 19).

This is of particular interest, since for more than two decades SPEW insisted that Labour was now just another capitalist party – like the Tories or Liberal Democrats. But in its April 6 letter to Jennie Formby, in which SPEW expressed a wish “to meet with you to discuss the possibility of our becoming an affiliate of the Labour Party”, comrade Taaffe describes the election of Jeremy Corbyn as “the first step to potentially transforming Labour into a mass workers’ party”, standing on an “anti-austerity programme”. So now “all genuinely anti-austerity forces should be encouraged to affiliate”.

While we should, of course, welcome SPEW’s application for affiliation, it is surely pertinent to ask why SPEW stresses the need for an “anti-austerity programme” above all else. It does this even though it correctly states in the same edition of The Socialist: “When the Labour Party was founded, it was a federation of different trade union and socialist organisations, coming together to fight for working class political representation”: ie, nothing so limited as merely opposing spending cuts. I will explore this in greater detail below.

Eventually, on July 27 – ie, almost four months after receiving comrade Taaffe’s original letter – Jennie Formby replied, beginning her letter, “Dear Mr Taaffe”. She pointed out that Labour rules prevent the affiliation of political organisations with “their own programme, principles and policies” – unless they have a “national agreement with the party”. Also groups which stand candidates against Labour are automatically barred: “As the Socialist Party is part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, who stood candidates against the Labour Party in the May 2018 elections, it is ineligible for affiliation.”

In his next letter (August 23) Peter Taaffe answered the first point by saying that SPEW wanted a meeting precisely to discuss the possibility of such a “national agreement”. And, in response to the second point, he said SPEW would much prefer to be part of an anti-austerity Labour Party “rather than having to standagainst pro-austerity Labour candidates” (my emphasis). After all, while Tusc had not contested the 2017 general election, in this year’s local elections in England it stood no fewer than 111 candidates against Labour.

Following this, Jennie Formby replied rather more quickly. On August 29 – this time starting her letter “Dear Peter” – she ruled out any meeting: “Whilst the Socialist Party continues to stand candidates against the Labour Party … it will not be possible to enter into any agreement.” Therefore “there can be no discussions”.

As I have stated, it is good news that on the face of it SPEW has at last started to take Labour seriously. But obviously it needs to stop standing against Labour candidates, including those who it says are “implementing savage cuts”. As the Labour general secretary points out, while SPEW says it wants to affiliate in order to support Jeremy Corbyn and help defeat the right, “The leader of a political party is judged by their electoral success. Standing candidates against the Labour Party is damaging not only to local Labour Parties, but also to Jeremy.”

Nevertheless, Jennie Formby’s second letter appears to leave the door open to affiliation by left groups. Such a change would be highly significant, possibly marking a return to the basis upon which Labour was founded in 1900.

Anti-austerity

Let us now examine why SPEW states that what is needed is not a party of all working class formations, including both trade unions and leftwing groups, but one of all “anti-austerity forces”. This can be traced back to the changing face of Tusc itself.

Founded in 2010, Tusc was the successor to the short-lived Campaign for a New Workers’ Party, and both organisations were open in their aim – made explicit in the CNWP’s name – of establishing a new mass party to replace Labour. However, according to the ‘updated’ statement of aims on its website, Tusc was set up “with the primary goal of enabling trade unionists, community campaigners and socialists to stand candidates against pro-austerity establishment politicians” (October 2016).

But that is being economical with the truth. SPEW was, of course, the prime mover within both the CNWP and Tusc and, in the words of central committee member Clive Heemskerk, writing in The Socialist on February 3 2010:

The Socialist Partybelieves that the Labour Party has now been totally transformed into New Labour, which bases itself completely on the brutallogic of capitalism. Previously, as a ‘capitalist workers’ party’ (aparty with pro-capitalist leaders, but with democratic structures thatallowed the working class to fight for its interests), the Labour Party always had the potential to act at leastas a check on the capitalists. The consequences of radicalising the Labour Party’s working class base was always afactor the ruling class had to take into account. Now the situation is completely different. Without the re-establishment of at least the basis of independent working class political representation, the capitalists will feel less constrained in imposing their austerity policies.

While SPEW was clear that this could not come about immediately, the ultimate aim was stated by comrade Heemskerk to be: “A new mass political vehicle for workers, a new workers’ party”. He explained:

For the Socialist Party the importance of Tusc lies above all in itspotential as a catalyst in the trade unions, both in the structures and below, for the idea of working class political representation. It can also play a role in drawing together anti-cuts campaigns, environmental campaigners, anti-racist groups, etc (my emphasis).

So campaigning against cuts, etc was most definitely seen as secondary. First and foremost was the need to lay the basis for a new workers’ party – the nature of which was made clear in the above quote: “working class political representation” primarily for the unions – in other words, a ‘Labour Party mark two’, as we in the CPGB have always called it.

How things have changed since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader. In her article, posted on the SPEW website following the May local elections, deputy general secretary Hannah Sell writes:

… the support for Corbyn has created the potential for a mass democratic party of the working class, which is desperately needed. If it is not to be squandered, it is vital that there are no more retreats, but instead the start of a determined campaign to transform Labour into a party capable of opposing austerity with socialist policies, in deeds as well as words.

Since SPEW now apparently agrees that the Labour Party itself ought to be transformed, it is unsurprising that it has dropped the call for “a new workers’ party” to replace it – Tusc was supposed to provide the basis for that, remember (always wishful thinking, of course).

So now we find that the purpose of Tusc is suddenly “to stand candidates against pro-austerity establishment politicians” – as if the original aim of “a new workers’ party” had never existed. And, I suppose, that is why comrade Taaffe feels obliged to emphasise the need for all Labour candidates to stand on an “anti-austerity programme” and for the party to welcome “all genuinely anti-austerity forces”. Only if that happened could Tusc shut up shop!

In its statement following the May 2018 election results, Tusc claimed:

This was the most selective local election stand that Tusc has taken in its eight-year history, following the general recalibration of its electoral policy after Jeremy Corbyn’s welcome victory as Labour leader in September 2015.

There was not a single Tusc candidate on May 3 standing in a direct head-to-head contest with a Labour candidate who had been a consistent public supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and his anti-austerity policies. Tusc only stood against rightwing, Blairite Labour councillors and candidates. The Labour candidates in the seats contested by Tusc included 32 councillors who had publicly backed the leadership coup attempt against Jeremy Corbyn in summer 2016, signing a national open letter of support for the rightwing challenger, Owen Smith.

However,

In a situation where Labour is still so clearly two-parties-in-one … – with many local ‘Labour’ candidates standing more ferociously against Jeremy Corbyn than they do the Tories – the task is still there to make sure that politicians of any party label who support capitalism and its inevitable austerity agenda are not left unchallenged.

So that was the position in relation to the (‘pro-austerity’) Labour right – expose them by standing against them. But what did Tusc (and SPEW itself) recommend in wards where there were pro-Corbyn candidates? The truth is, there was no call for a Labour vote anywhere – how was that supposed to aid the Corbyn wing?

What about the unions?

So has SPEW really changed its approach to Labour? For example, why do its comrades in unions like the PCS and RMT still oppose their affiliation to the party? SPEW has argued that, until the Labour right is defeated, it is just a ‘waste of money’ for the unions to spend thousands on affiliation fees. Yet, in its August 23 letter to Jennie Formby, comrade Taaffe wrote:

We see a very urgent need to organise and mobilise all those who support Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity policies into a mass campaign to democratise the Labour Party, allowing the hundreds of thousands who have been inspired by Jeremy’s leadership to hold to account, and to deselect, the Blairite saboteurs.

Surely, if that is the aim, the affiliation of left-led unions like the PCS and RMT could only but help the process.

Perhaps I am being cynical, but the possibility does suggest itself that the principal purpose of Tusc was always something other than its stated aims (either original or amended). Maybe SPEW wanted to work within a broader formation primarily in order to win recruits for itself? It is almost as though SPEW would actually prefer a right-led Labour Party.

However, irrespective of what SPEW is really up to, at least we should be grateful that the affiliation of left groups has been broached once more; and that the Labour general secretary – no doubt after consultation with the leadership team around Corbyn – has left the door open to that possibility.

The Labour Party rules must be changed, so that all the current bans and proscriptions are scrapped. The aim must be to transform Labour into a united front for the entire working class.

RMT union: Join us in battle!

The RMT is debating whether or not to affiliate. Jim Grant of Labour Party Marxists says get back in

“You can take your distance from America,” Tony Blair told the Chilcot inquiry years ago, “but you might find it is a long way back.”

So, also, it seems, is the case with taking of distance from the Labour Party. Close to 15 years after being expelled from Labour, thanks in large part to Blair’s many crimes, the Rail, Maritime and Transport union is to decide whether or not to apply for re-affiliation. The crunch moment comes on May 30, at a special general meeting.

“For many years I myself wouldn’t have dreamed that I would ever be campaigning to rejoin Labour,” Steve Hedley tells us. “So what has changed? Well, in a word, Corbyn.” Hedley is not a nobody in the RMT – he is assistant general secretary, and a long-standing militant and official in the union. He has spent most of that time on the fringes of the far left, briefly joining the Socialist Party in England and Wales (and the article quoted above was published on the Socialist Appeal website). If he has changed his mind on the matter, no doubt many others have too.

In the beginning

The story of the RMT’s relationship with the Labour Party is a long one – indeed, it is about as long as any such story could possibly be. For it was a motion originating in a branch of the Amalgamated Union of Railway Servants, one of the RMT’s ancestors, that led the Trades Union Congress to kick-start the Labour Representation Committee in 1899. Within a couple of years, there were MPs in parliament answerable, in theory, to the labour movement; and, though independence from the Liberal whip was largely a theoretical matter for Labour’s first MPs, the break was nonetheless decisively important in the history of the British workers’ movement – and for that matter in the history of ‘bourgeois’ politics in this country as a whole.

For the next century, the AURS and its successor, the National Union of Railwaymen, were core affiliates to the Labour Party; no less loyal was the National Union of Seamen, the other component part of today’s union. Even 20 years ago, with Jimmy Knapp still in the general secretary’s seat of what was by then the RMT, a break with Labour would have been quite unimaginable.

Knapp presided over some significant industrial battles, but aided and abetted Neil Kinnock and John Smith, as they paved the way for Tony Blair. In 2001, in a move reflecting deep disappointment with the first Blair government in the RMT ranks, the top job was taken by Bob Crow, an avowed communist and militant organiser. Under his leadership, RMT members in Scotland used the union political fund to sponsor candidates of the Scottish Socialist Party, which was riding high at the time; this can only have been a calculated provocation, and the inevitable result – expulsion from the ranks of Labour’s affiliates – followed in 2004.

Since then, the RMT’s political fund has been put to highly eclectic uses. The SSP, of course, collapsed into irrelevance within three years, when it split over Tommy Sheridan’s attempts to sue the Murdoch empire over allegations about his sex life. It continues to exist, just about, today; it is merely a tail of the nationalists, and a well-docked tail at that. The RMT sponsors a smattering of MPs on an individual basis – mostly Labour, but also including leftish nationalists and Greens. It has also been a primary sponsor first of the now disbanded ‘No to the EU’ ‘Lexiteer’ slate in the 2009 and 2014 European elections, and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition on an ongoing basis. Electoral returns for both have been generally awful – which is to say, below the pretty poor historic standard of far-left candidates in Britain’s hostile electoral system.

Though many on the far left greeted the RMT’s break with Labour – in the context of the invasion of Iraq, top-up fees and the rest – as a great step forward, it is clear, on the evidence of the last 15 years, that it was in fact a step backpolitically for the RMT and the labour movement as a whole. The most successful use of the RMT political fund in these years, apart from supporting some Labour MPs, has been boosting petty bourgeois candidates (a matter on which those who urged disaffiliation, like SPEW, are tellingly silent).

Transformed Labour?

On the RMT’s side, then, the opportunity is there to step back into the central terrain of British labour movement politics. But not only that. As Hedley tells us, there is a serious class struggle going on for the very future of the movement itself, and the place where the battle rages is the Labour Party. Merely by making that move, Britain’s most militant union would send a very clear message. The impact of the return could – almost– be worth the wasted years in the political desert.

We are told by another advocate of reaffiliation, however, that “RMT branches are divided, and the vote at the SGM is likely to be close.”1)Jeff Slee in Labour Briefing Indeed, all the signs are of a close contest. Hedley begins his article with a disclaimer – “I refuse to fall out with anyone over the debate in the RMT about reaffiliation to the Labour Party” – that suggests in itself that fur is likely to fly.

A document outlining the terms offered by the Labour Party has been circulated among RMT branches with a covering letter from general secretary Mick Cash 2)Cash’s letter is available here. The document itself is marked “private and confidential”, but seems to have been inadvertently published on the RMT website for a brief period and, at time of writing, was still in Google’s cache. Drawn from the response of the Labour Party to the RMT’s advances, it reads – admittedly to an outsider – like a document written by an advocate of reaffiliation who takes great pains to reassure opponents that their fears are unfounded.

So who are these opponents? We find many grumbles in the comments beneath comrade Hedley’s forthright Facebook posts, but a more systematic argument comes – where else? – from our comrades in SPEW. An article in their RMT members’ bulletin puts their case. “Socialist Party members of the RMT welcome the fact that a dialogue with the Labour Party has begun,” the comrades tell us:

A transformed Labour Party, with full democratic rights and due weight in its structures for trade unions – the collective voices of workers – would take forward the objectives of the RMT, as defined in our rule book: to “improve the conditions and protect the interests of its members” and “to work for the supersession of the capitalist system by a socialistic order of society”.

So far, so good. However, “are the terms of affiliation currently on offer – losing our political independence and handing £240,000 a year to a largely unreconstructed party machine (if we affiliate our full membership) – really the best way to pursue the RMT’s objectives at this moment?” Phrasing the question in that way, naturally, presumes an answer in the negative. The article continues:

There is nothing on what the party will do to stop Labour-controlled authorities implementing driver-only operation (DOO) and sacking guards on Merseyrail and Rail North, massive funding cuts in Transport for London, or privatisation plans for the Welsh railways. The RMT has AGM policy supporting local councils setting no-cuts budgets by using their reserves and borrowing powers. Yet rightwing Labour-led councils continue to slash jobs and local services and nothing is said about it.

There follows a fairly accurate description of the bureaucratic obstacles to Labour Party democracy, and so on, and the conclusions write themselves: “once the cheque is handed over, it’s no longer our money”; worries about the “(extremely limited) opportunities and (still considerable) overheads that affiliation would bring”.

We should start by pointing out that what the SPEW comrades are engaged in here is the spread of what public relations professionals call “fear, uncertainty and doubt”, or FUD. Note that the RMT would “lose its political independence”, apparently: the confidential document, to which the SPEW article refers, explicitly repudiates this, except in the case of standing candidates against Labour. And indeed there is nothing in the Labour Party rules that excludes (say) campaigning for immediate rail renationalisation simply because Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are too timid to call for it themselves.

If we are to identify standing candidates against Labour as the blocker issue, however, then the high-minded openness to reaffiliation affected by the SPEW article is revealed as a sham, for there is exactly zero point in even a politically healthy federal party of the labour movement accepting affiliates who stand against it in elections. It seems that we founder on the great socialist principle of SPEW being permitted to do whatever the hell it likes.

There is something more troubling yet, however, about the SPEW approach to this question, which is its petty bourgeois character. We mean this in the narrowest possiblesense – SPEW behaves exactly like a provincial estate agent, obsessed with getting the better of some petty transaction. £240,000 doesn’t buy enough influence in the Labour Party.

Sectionalism

In a more expansive sense, the petty bourgeois attitude expresses itself, in the trade union movement, as sectionalism– the pursuit of the narrow aims of the union over and above those of the movement as a whole. It is thus highly regrettable that SPEW constantly encourages such sectionalism – what does the RMTget for its money? – above the general interest, which is hardly ideal from the point of view of an organisation that considers itself Trotskyist.

The best exemplar of this is the apparent expectation that an acceptable set of terms for affiliation should contain policy on driver-only operation. The proper way to settle such questions is not in market-stall haggling between the Labour Party bureaucracy and its RMT counterparts, but at conference. (Things are more commonly settled in the now smoke-free rooms of backstage stitch-ups, of course.) Say that there was Labour Party policy to nationalise the insurance industry and, as part of negotiations to get an insurance clerks’ union on board, that policy was struck off. I, and hopefully SPEW, would be less than pleased. Yet it seems to think that the RMT should expect just that sort of behaviour.

Can it really be the case that purported Trotskyists – who aspire to be the most conscious vanguard of the labour movement – should promote sectionalism as a matter of principle? Probably not. The truth is that these sad little contortions are designed for internal consumption; the lukewarm participation of the RMT in Tusc is all that keeps it afloat and, once it is gone, the last 25 years of SPEW strategy are basically buried.

But for the moment SPEW is committed to Tusc. The April 25 edition of The Socialist urged readers to “Vote Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition” in the May 3 local elections in England – without exception, it seems: the front-page article makes no mention of voting for any Labour candidates in the vast majority of seats, where Tusc is not contesting. After all, “Today Blairite councils around the country are implementing huge cuts to public services. That is why the Socialist Party is standing, as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, against some of the worst Blairite cutters at local level.”

Yet, in the same article, we read this:

As we have repeatedly warned, making concessions to the pro-capitalist wing of the Labour Party, and attempting to conciliate with them, will only give them more power to try and defeat Corbyn. Not one inch should be conceded to them. Instead urgent measures are needed to completely transform the Labour Party into a mass socialist, working class party, with a revitalised trade union movement involved at its core through democratic, representative structures.

So how are those “urgent measures” to be won? How about winning the unions to fight for them within Labour itself? Oh no – that would be a waste of money.

Yet, as SPEW’s perspective of creating a Labour Party mark two is progressively invalidated by events, so SPEW comrades are voting with their feet and condemning themselves to a life of ‘poor value for money’ in the Labour Party – those left behind are more and more the irreconcilable and the delusional. The silver lining is that – in precisely the far-sighted spirit of the Communist manifesto– SPEW tends to find it amenable to take its political lead from the RMT, so perhaps a well-advised decision on May 30 will bring Peter Taaffe’s merry men and women finally to the same conclusion.

As already noted, however, a good outcome is far from guaranteed. If it is a close vote against reaffiliation, that will hardly cover SPEW in glory – and we shall say no more than that. To RMT members, we commend the larger view of politics, and hope that those of us wanting to truly transform Labour, rather than wait passively for it to be transformed for us, are soon to be joined by the battered British labour movement’s most militant contingent.

References

1 Jeff Slee in Labour Briefing
2 Cash’s letter is available here. The document itself is marked “private and confidential”, but seems to have been inadvertently published on the RMT website for a brief period and, at time of writing, was still in Google’s cache.

Concrete actions for socialists in the Labour Party

1. Recruiting: 

Supporters and members of affiliated unions and organisations must be convinced to become full members. Those who have been expelled or were not allowed to join must be allowed in. A mass campaign for further recruitment could be combined with a campaign to get local people onto the electoral register.

2. Increasing affiliations to the Labour Party:

All trade unions and workers’ organisations and parties should seek affiliation.

3. Revitalising the branches:

With the help of these new members and affiliates, Labour’s constituency and branches can be turned from crushingly dull, apolitical events into local centres of organisation, education and action.

4. Democratising the Labour Party:

A special conference should be called to radically overhaul the constitution and rules, and undertake an across-the-board political reorientation. We need a new clause four, we need a sovereign conference, and we need to be able to easily reselect MPs, MEPs and councillors. We also need to sweep away the undemocratic rules and structures put in place by Blair. The joint policy committee, the national policy forums – the whole horrible rigmarole should go.

5. Taking on the right-wingers:

As the hard right begins its civil war, the left must respond with a combination of disciplinary threats, constitutional changes and reselection measures. Those in the pay of big business, those sabotaging Labour election campaigns, those who vote with the Tories on austerity, war or migration, must be hauled up before the NEC. If MPs refuse to abide by party discipline, the whip must be withdrawn. We should democratically select and promote trustworthy replacement candidates.

6. Setting up our own media: 

We should aim for an opinion-forming daily paper of the labour movement and seek out trade union, cooperative, crowd and other such sources of funding. We should also consider internet-based TV and radio stations.

Wishful thinking rather than hard truth

Stan Keable was at John McDonnell’s Labour Left Platform roundtable discussion on February 7

An air of desperation and self-deception hung over the 200 or so left activists, MPs and ‘policy experts’ gathered together in the big hall at the University of London Union at the invitation of leading left MP John McDonnell, under his Labour Left Platform umbrella. Simon Hewitt, a young member of the Labour Representation Committee’s Labour Briefing editorial board, expressed this desperation: “Labour will be dead in five years if we don’t sort ourselves out.”

The fragile nature of the lowest-common-denominator (ie, undemocratic) consensus type of left unity achieved was illustrated when former Lambeth anti-cuts councillor and Unite activist Kingsley Abrams announced that he had resigned his Labour Party membership and defected to the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in disgust. He had taken a stand against cuts on Lambeth Labour council in line with Unite policy, but Unite did not fight his suspension from the Labour group, which was now implementing cuts. The ‘emergency budget’ anti-austerity motion to Labour’s national policy forum had been voted down by the affiliated trade union delegates. And, to cap it off, Unite had just made a £1.5 million donation to Labour’s election fund, on top of its affiliation fees.

Comrade McDonnell remarked that he had handed the microphone to Kingsley because “several others have done the same” (eg, Warrington anti-cuts councillor, Unite activist and LRC national committee member Kevin Bennett also defected to Tusc recently), and, ominously, “we do talk about the philosophical question whether to be in or out of the Labour Party”. Since the meeting we have learned that RMT president Peter Pinkney has joined the Green Party and will be standing as a Green candidate for Redcar in the general election.1

Can the left persuade Labour’s front bench to adopt an alternative, anti-austerity economic programme, in the short time available before May 7? Or will Labour continue alienating good class-struggle fighters with its austerity-lite commitments, promising to make the working class carry on paying for capitalism’s crisis? Given the haemorrhaging of Labour votes to the Scottish National Party and the Greens, both posing to the left, against austerity and Trident, an absolute Labour majority now seems unlikely, but, with the Tories losing support to the UK Independence Party, Labour may well end up with the most MPs. Comrade McDonnell’s plan is to make the left into a coherent force which can then negotiate as a player in any post-election coalition negotiations.

In the Marxist tradition of ‘telling it like it is’, I have to say to comrade McDonnell that this wishful thinking is delusional. Unfortunately, if we are to change the world, we must first be truthful about where we are at. Our class is in a weak condition at present – confused, disorganised and disorientated; and so is the left itself. There is no quick fix for this condition, no short cut, no easy road to socialism. A protracted struggle must be undertaken to democratise and rebuild our movement and re-educate our class in socialist ideas and politics before it can deliver effective solidarity to anyone, let alone approach the question of taking state power away from the capitalist class.

Much more than a simple majority of MPs is required: socialism cannot be delivered from above by an enlightened elite. A genuinely socialist government in Britain (not a Miliband/Balls Labour government trying to run an imagined ethical capitalism) implementing its minimum programme of immediate measures in the interests of, and empowering, the working class, could not survive the inevitable counterrevolutionary efforts of capital, unless it was based on the active, conscious support of a substantial majority of working people. Nor could it last long on its own, if the workers’ movement in Europe had not also matured to a similar level, capable of delivering real solidarity action to a socialist government here, under attack.

Alternative

A notable lacuna in the left’s “alternative narrative” (comrade McDonnell’s words) was the omission of any demands for democratisation of the state. The three themes were austerity, rail nationalisation and trade union rights. It was left to the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory (promoted by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty) to proclaim, on its leaflet, the abolition of the monarchy and the Lords, a federal republic, and a worker’s wage for MPs. These demands may not be doorstep vote-winners today, but they are indispensable conditions for the working class to overpower capitalism.

Commendable though it is to attempt to bring the weak, divided, disorganised and rudderless Labour left into the same room – “the first time in a long while that all of the left organisations in the Labour Party have come together”, in comrade McDonnell’s words – this gathering was evidence, to any objective observer, of the palpable weakness of the left and of the workers’ movement as a whole, not our strength.2 As Aslef national organiser Simon Weller remarked, the speeches complaining about anti-working class coalition government policies amount to “preaching to the choir”. Privatisation of public transport has been going on for 40 years, he said – in other words, under Labour as well as Tory administrations. The question not being answered was, “How do we set about changing the Labour Party? – and it is not through the national policy forum!”

The key to developing an effective workers’ movement, and to transforming the party and the unions, is democracy – and democracy starts at home, in the organisations of the left. The ineffective, pretend unity of fudged consensus ‘decisions’ made without transparency, motions, debate and voting, will not do. We need organisational unity in action, based on freedom of discussion and acceptance of majority decisions.

Comrade McDonnell, opening the meeting, said: “People understand that they are being ripped off, and are desperate for a real Labour government”, but they are “not seeing a display of real Labour politics”. The purpose of the Left Platform, as stated on its website, is to “demonstrate practically what a Labour government could do in office”, and “to consolidate a common left policy platform that can give people hope”.3

But fostering hope in a Labour government under present realities means setting people up for disillusionment. History shows that Labour governments running capitalism undermine and disempower the workers’ movement, setting the scene for more rightwing Tory governments. The ‘official communist’ programme (Britain’s road to socialism) of a series of increasingly leftwing Labour administrations is a pipe dream. Our movement must be built in opposition to whatever capitalist government is in office, and the task of transforming the trade unions and the Labour Party into vehicles for socialism, of “breaking the stranglehold of the bureaucracy”, as Brent and Harrow LRC activist Steve Forrest put it, will be hindered by Labour taking government office. We need socialist MPs elected, to give a voice to the workers’ movement. But we need a Miliband Labour government like a hole in the head.

Unfortunately, sectarian divisions amongst the Labour left are every bit as alive as between the left groups outside the party. True, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy had signed up amongst the Labour Left Platform sponsors, and I spotted its secretary, Pete Wilsman, in the hall. But there was no sign of its leading light, Ken Livingstone, while Christine Shawcroft only ventured as near as the pavement in Malet Street, as the brave lone seller of the so-called ‘original’ Labour Briefing – in competition with the one produced by the LRC, whose sales team was out in force.4 Comrade McDonnell alluded to these difficulties when he commented that the event had “showed that we can work together”.

The next step, said comrade McDonnell in his summing up, is to “ask every Labour candidate” to support the Labour left’s “alternative narrative” of “what needs to be done”, which had been the achievement of the event. And we will reconvene in the first week after the general election to take the campaign forward, as that is the time, he claimed, when a new Labour government (if that is the result) will be most susceptible to pressure from the left.

Notes

1. See www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/rmt-union-president-im-standing-8598307.

2. See also Jon Lansman’s useful summary of what was said in each session, and his pertinent criticisms of the left: “While the Labour left continues to work in the amateurish manner described above, the right has little to fear” (www.leftfutures.org/2015/02/reflections-on-the-left-platform-meeting/#more-41075).

3. http://leftplatform.com.

4. When the 2012 AGM of the Labour Briefing magazine voted to merge with the LRC, Jenny Fisher, Christine Shawcroft, Richard Price and three others, instead of accepting the democratic decision, turned the merger into a split. They set up Labour Briefing Cooperative Limited and launched a rival magazine entitled the original Labour Briefing.