The Trade Union Movement, New Labour, and Working-Class Politics: Part IX. FBU, RMT, and AWL

Submitted by AWL on 14 November, 2006 - 1:24


“There is another issue. Which concerns the advocacy of trade union candidates against Labour, without the preliminaries of a fight for the Labour ticket.
This is an area of great confusion. For instance, we still await a clear answer from John Bloxam and John O’Mahony on whether they wanted the AWL to intervene into the current fire fighters dispute by calling on the FBU to stand official union candidates against Labour in the recent local government elections (which we think would have been a disastrous counterproductive diversion), or whether they just thought it would have been nice if it had happened, just as it would have been nice if the TUC had called a general strike! They really should explain what they mean by the sentence: ‘We support any solidly based moves by trade unions to counterpose themselves electorally to New Labour, for example FBU candidates in local elections’.”

The first thing that strikes you here is the tone of it. This is the tone of incumbents, of office-holders. The second is the unrealism of the way they pose it: “advocacy of trade union candidates against Labour, without the preliminaries of a fight for the Labour ticket”.

In principle, as we made clear, we “support any solidly based moves by trade unions to counterpose themselves electorally to New Labour, for example FBU candidates in local elections”.

It is possible, in specific cases like that of the FBU, to think candidacies more or less a good idea for reasons of practical calculation. Would the votes which a hasty FBU challenge to New Labour be likely to get strengthen the position of the FBU against the Government, or be so few, because of lack of time to prepare it and rally wider trade-union backing, as to weaken the FBU’s position?

One of us thinks there might well be a strong practical case for thinking it most likely that such candidacies would demonstrate FBU weakness rather than strength, and that therefore it might be wise for that reason to reject the idea.

The other believes that advocacy would be clearly tied to, and conditional on, careful selection and proper preparation. Given this, standing targeted FBU candidates could have added an important political dimension to the dispute that J & S effectively rule out.

All specific suggestions for anti-Labour candidates will have to be assessed in this way. That is not what exercises J & S, though!

They reject the idea of FBU candidates out of hand “without the preliminaries of a fight for the Labour ticket”. Here the urgencies and exigencies of a class-struggle union confronted with this neo-Tory government are, as a matter of high and general principle, subordinated to the rhythms and norms of the Blair party!

And in fact they are largely fantasy norms! What does “the fight for the Labour ticket” mean here? It is not as if the FBU could enter an equivalent of the US primaries, in which alternative bidders compete for the candidacy of a party.

In fact they mean that the FBU, if it came to the conclusion that it made sense to stand in elections, should have started a process of politicking and lobbying among local Labour Party members and affiliated trade unions to win the nomination within the New Labour Party. It should not think of standing against the Labour Party unless after winning the nomination according to the LP’s “normal processes” — how else? — they then had it blocked by Labour Party HQ.

Timescale? God knows. And what if a majority of the affiliated unions and CLP members — the branches and officeholders, who would decide — rejected the FBU candidacy?

What if the FBU comes across a CLP — like some of those still known to have some life — where the majority of the individual activists, though opposed to the Iraq war, were middle-class enough to oppose the firefighters? What if they came across what the bulletins of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, for example, describe as a typical CLP these days, its members mostly young middle-class careerists and elderly people who dislike Blairism but have been Labour all their lives and can’t summon up the energy to attempt a new course now? With trade-union delegates “as rare as hen’s teeth”?

What if in some constituencies where it was proposed to have FBU candidates it proved impossible to convince a majority of the local Labour Party members and affiliated union activists to see things the FBU’s way? Why then, the embattled FBU, or any similar union, would just have to pretend this was the old Labour Party and meekly accept the veto!

The central foolishness here would lie in acting towards the Blair party and its “processes” as though it is still the pre-Blair Labour Party.

Just as with J & S’s general idea that socialist or labour-representation candidates should only be promoted when they have the prior backing of a local majority of the labour movement, here the same approach is applied to a union that might choose to take its conflict with the Government to the Labour electorate. It should “accept the discipline of working class organisation…”

The reason for standing such candidates would be to help workers in the class struggle, but in J & S’s pixillated version of things the rhythm of the class struggle would have to accommodate itself to the rhythms of the Blair Labour Party.

The point is not whether or not it would be good to mount a campaign to get local Labour Party backing. Other things being equal, of course, it would. The point is that J & S would make any initiative dependent on the prior persuasion of the majority of the local labour movement bodies, as measured through the very imperfect processes of the Blairite Labour Party, skewed as they are by the fact that the incumbents will have been selected over the last period for conformism, conservatism, and compliance.

The idea of using an election campaign to drum up support for the FBU — support from rank and file trade unionists and others who would not be part of any official union consideration on whether to support or reject an FBU proposal for a candidate — that is ruled out, like the more general idea of using socialist and labour-representation candidates to pioneer political change.

But more. In what conditions would the FBU (or any other union) be likely to get the support of a majority of the unions across the country in every relevant area for a break and then an electoral challenge to the Blair Labour Party?

When there was intense and active support for the FBU and active hostility to the Blair Party because of its attitude to the fire fighters; when the majority of the trade unionists throughout the country were convinced, beyond mere discontent with the Government, of the need for a positive break with the Blairites; where there was active support for choosing FBU candidates. (And, therefore, where necessary, for upending the normal timetable for candidate selections and pushing aside the existing candidates, who might have trade-union support. Or would J & S like to argue that such an electoral challenge to Blair could only be mounted at a certain time in the normal political cycle for choosing candidates?)

Here too, their approach would more or less absolutely rule out any trade-union candidates against Labour until the whole or most of the labour movement — including not only trade unionists but also individual members of the Labour Party — was already in an advanced state of ferment and willing to break with Blair.

The practical implication is the same as with everything else we have examined: nothing but propaganda can be done as a minority labour-movement initiative, or just a revolutionary-socialist, initiative to win labour movement support. The support must already be there and willing to break with the Blair party.

In the FBU case, if what is being discussed is standing in a wide range of elections, J & S would require that much of the existing trade-union movement is already ready for a break, or can in the brief course of a campaign to win support for the FBU candidacies be incited to a break.

The consequences are:

a) Nothing like such trade-union candidacies can ever be done in conditions such as ours, or indeed in conditions far more advanced than ours;

b) Electoral activity as a tool of winning support from a low starting point — for labour representation or socialist candidates, or for independent trade-union candidates or embattled trade unionists — is simply ruled out;

c) Meanwhile we accept (and, for J & S, we defend and propagandise for) the Blairite-trade union bureaucracy monopoly of labour-movement politics.


“The RMT rail union leadership proposes a set of rule changes that would open the way to the union supporting SA and SSP candidates, left Labour MPs and elements of Plaid Cymru. It is not unreasonable to suspect that Bob Crow and friends are attempting to engineer a situation in which the Labour Party will disaffiliate the RMT. This will give them plenty of opportunities to play the brave socialist martyrs, a role normally carried out in real life by their members who have to live with the shoddy deals they stitch up.

Should the RMT be disaffiliated it would go without saying that socialists will campaign for the union to be re-admitted to the Labour Party. We should advocate that the unions do everything in their power to force the re-admission of the RMT. The fear though, is that the RMT leadership may not help the fight for re-affiliation and therefore winning the argument will be difficult especially with Labour voting trade unionists who will want to see the union stop supporting anti-Labour candidates”.

J & S take exception to having their position described as that of conservatives defending the status quo, but here they seem bent on caricaturing even our picture of them.

Bob Crow and his friends may be trying to engineer the RMT’s disaffiliation from the Labour Party. If the RMT is disaffiliated “it goes without saying that socialists will campaign for the union to be readmitted to the Labour Party” and advocate that “the unions” do “everything in their power” to force that readmission.

But they “fear” that the RMT leaders “may not help the fight for reaffiliation” and “winning the argument will be difficult especially with Labour-voting trade unionists who will want to see the union stop supporting anti-Labour candidates”.

Of course we advocate that the RMT should resist disaffiliation, that other unions should vote against it on the Labour Party National Executive, and so on. But what world do J & S live in? What decade are they in? Where and how will “socialists” “campaign” for RMT readmission to the Labour Party? In the local Labour Parties?

One of the central determining facts is that such a campaign would count for nothing.

In the unions? How would “we” answer those who would say: “only if they stop supporting non-Labour candidates”?

Do we urge the affiliated unions to act as go-betweens, negotiating a change by the RMT back to exclusive support for Labour? Would we support making that a condition of their readmission?

How could J & S, given their whole argument, not support making it a condition?

Or would we advocate that the affiliated unions campaign to get rid of exclusive support for Labour as a condition of affiliation? Plainly, for J & S, that option is ruled out. They would have to take the other one, urging the RMT to return to accepting the Blairite monopoly (or what would the “Labour-voting trade unionists” say?)

Could anything illustrate better the foolish, fussing, sheepdogging, “inspectors-general of history and of the labour movement” role which we accused them of wanting to impose on Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty?

Even if we thought it sensible to want to pull the RMT back into Blairite line — and that is absurd — we simply could not play that role to any effect.

If the RMT and the Labour Party break the link between them, then, not forgetting the political peculiarities of Bob Crow and the RMT leaders, in “objective “terms” it will fundamentally be the natural working-through of the consequences of the Blairite hijacking of the Labour Party.

To do what J & S want would be to commit ourselves to campaigning to put Blair Labour back together on the pretence that it is Old Labour — or that Old Labour will eventually re-emerge out of it!

They started off arguing that we should live with the status quo because it is allegedly based in “overwhelming” working-class support, and only “a tiny minority with extremely tenuous connections to the working class” want to change it. They shaded over into defending that status quo against “sectarian” challenges which, so they evidently believe, might well win support from much more than “a tiny minority” of the active union members. They invoked the inactive members: even if the active members want to change things, the status quo must remain, so long as the incumbent bureaucrats can command a ballot majority of inactive members to sustain it.

Now they want to commit us to putting the status quo back together again if moves for change break through all those defences!

Do they really mean all this?

To be guided by their ideas would be to make ourselves the die-in-the-last-ditch guardians of the Blairite/union-bureaucrat status quo ante — the very opposite of the role we must play now!

Our central political role is to try to identify and indicate the way forward from Blairism for the broad labour movement.

Right now, we should be mapping the way forward from the condition of political disenfranchisement which is enshrined and buttressed, as well as being disguised, by the union-Labour links (which J & S regard as sacrosanct, even though the political content of those links has changed into the opposite of what it was throughout the prior history of the Labour Party).

J & S would replace that role with its very opposite. AWL would become guardians of an untenable status quo, frantically jumping up and down and pointing backwards!

And how would we argue it? “Don’t go ahead of the class”? Preserve the formation in which the unions support an anti-Labour government so that one day the unions can go forward in the same formation to “reclaim” the Labour Party?

We would be turning ourselves inside out politically!

We would not be the vanguard on any level, but the boneheaded rearguard lost in our own daydreams — foolish, hectoring grand-strategists (in our heads).

We are nothing like that. We are militant socialists, trying to educate militants and regroup the militants so that they can lead the class forward.

These are incompatible roles.


“In reality the rule changes are a huge diversion. The union should be fighting to secure the selection of rail workers as Labour candidates on a programme of re-nationalisation and union rights and be prepared to stand them independently if they are bureaucratically blocked. Labour NEC reps who oppose union policy shouldn’t just be removed from the NEC, they should be removed from union office. The RMT seems set to go from having no democratic control over its representatives in the Labour Party to no representation at all. Taking the debate on the rule changes into the workplaces and having a ballot on them would surely be too good an opportunity for a left wing union leadership to miss”.

J & S’s alternatives to the rule changes may be “good ideas”, albeit routine ones — but for a different situation than ours, indeed for a different political world. Here Jack is like someone in a state of traumatic denial, fussing over tomorrow’s menu as the Titanic sinks under his feet.

Why stop at proposing railworkers as Labour candidates? What about stipulating that they should be MPs on a workers’ wage?

Would a few such MPs now make a difference to the overall situation? Not much.

What would prevent those railworkers becoming replicas of Alan Johnson, the former General Secretary of the CWU who is now a Blairite minister? Union control? “Union control” has never done that. In fact it would do nothing of the sort — less so now than in the past.

The idea of the union standing against Labour if the candidate is bureaucratically blocked is there for cheap effect as the analysis above shows.

Would a candidate emerging through the New Labour structures be likely to be blocked?

Or is the argument that the union should claim the sole right of selecting the candidate, and demand that New Labour nods it through?

In practice this is a proposal for the union to reconstitute itself politically and then work through the New Labour party. The programme? Renationalising the railways is an attempt at tame “state capitalist” reform. Someone speaking for that would not necessarily be unacceptable to New Labour.

J & S want tame tinkering that might have had some grip twenty years ago but has little now, as the sole and sovereign remedy for a situation in which the TU-founded party has been hi-jacked and the working class politically disenfranchised. And the controlling, regulating element would be “the union”.

This is the equivalent of playing fantasy football!


“It would, of course, be contemptible for Marxists to run scared from threats of Labour Party disaffiliation issued to a union that dared to back trade union candidates against New Labour. The problem is that comrades entirely miss the point about how the issue of disaffiliation is used in the unions. It is not that workers fear it as a threat. They want the union to stay in the Labour Party and distrust as manipulative schemers those who deny it is an issue. Many militants would be prepared to face down the threat over a big issue—Livingstone for instance—but they will not do so for the Socialist Alliance”.

So, don’t let anyone think that this is just an anachronistic trade unionist’s perspective on the labour movement offered to counter a “sectarian” one.

It would they boast be “contemptible” to “run scared” from threats of disaffiliation? Yes, but only so long as they are “issued to a union that dared to back trade union candidates against New Labour”.

Given all the qualifications and restrictions which J & S have already insisted on before any trade-union candidate should be run, this is a promise of a firm stand against the threat of disaffiliation — in some future time when the trade-union opposition to Blairism is already far advanced and the unions are confident enough to break with Labour in order to run their own candidates.

They promise to be very militant and brave in a future situation that is — in terms of political development — a very great distance ahead of where we are now. Meanwhile? If the RMT is disaffiliated, we focus on a campaign to get it reaffiliated, and, by way of persuading the RMT to return to accepting the Blairite monopoly on working class “representation”?

At the end of 5000 words they tell us that:

“It is not that workers fear it as a threat. They want the union to stay in the Labour Party and distrust as manipulative schemers those who deny it is an issue. [How do they know? How do they know in advance the outcome of the ballots of inactive members which they recommend?] Many militants would be prepared to face down the threat over a big issue—Livingstone for instance—but they will not do so for the Socialist Alliance”.

Big issue? “Livingstone, for instance”, they write. Last time round Livingstone could be said to be a big issue. Despite his politics, but by virtue of the fact that he was clearly the choice of the majority of the unions and individual Labour Party members.

This time? From a socialist point of view, our point of view, what good reason could we have to back Livingstone, the GLA coalition-monger, if he were standing against New Labour, or an independent socialist candidate?

Here, despite all their self-gratifying claims that we are wrong because we, unlike brave Jack, “fear to be out of step with the left”, it is they who passively fall in with the left consensus.

The thing that hits you again and again here is the absence of a stable overview, of clear principles, of an overall viewpoint about the development of the labour movement and where it is now — or about the development and role of the AWL.

There are only prejudices and phobias, likes and dislikes. They hate the SWP — as indeed they should — but perversely they like the maverick Popular Front careerist politician Livingstone. If the RMT supports Livingstone, it is all right to risk disaffiliation, but not if it supports a genuine left-winger!

“There is a perfectly simple way of dealing with the question of non-Labour working class candidates. We apply the criterion of workers’ democracy. If the workers support the candidate the union should. There is nothing to be gained from trying to get artificial trade union support for limited and selected socialist candidacies”.

This is entirely apolitical! How can we know in advance of the election if “the workers” — which workers? — back the candidate?

Why do we rule out in advance that socialists can stand before they get majority working-class support, as part of our effort to win that support?

Where would this criterion leave us in the early days after 1900 of the Labour Representation Committee, when the big majority of “the workers” — and important trade unions like the Miners Federation — still backed the Liberals?

Where would it leave socialists in the USA now, where most unions ally with the Democratic Party?

Are there no political criteria? The unions should back candidates which the majority of the workers support, and to hell with what J & S have written about the importance of staying with the Labour affiliation, which this idea contradicts, or at least seriously (and arbitrarily and subjectively) modifies?

Why is trade-union support for “limited” and “selected” socialist candidates “artificial”? Is this passage anything other than a rationalisation for supporting Ken Livingstone?

Whatever it is, it shows that J & S have no coherent or consistent view of any of these issues.


“The example of the FBU 2002 conference discussion is also misunderstood. Andy Gilchrist and the EC majority overturned the 2001 conference decision on non-Labour candidates by touring the branches and securing mandates which pointed out that the rule changes requested were not practical, because a union couldn’t be affiliated to the Labour Party and also affiliated to another party that stood candidates against it. The union would have to choose between pursuing policies through the Labour Party or standing candidates against it. It wasn’t that the firefighters sunk back in fear at the prospect of being disaffiliated—they positively wanted to stay in the Labour Party and fight. They accepted the honest argument that you can’t do both. In fact, in the trade unions you will find only a limited number of master dialecticians who think that you can do both. The experience of the dispute means that it is now much more likely that the union will respond with some kind of demonstrative gesture—like totally withholding funds. This is totally understandable, but risks failing to face up to the task of the FBU leading a movement in the Labour Party to try to hold Blair and Prescott accountable for their actions in the dispute”.

As above, the crux is: can you combine the two policies — advocacy that the trade unions fight in the Labour Party and, where appropriate, the running of independent candidates?

For AWL they oppose advocacy of anything other than “internal” politicking within the unions. Such a policy could only make sense for AWL if we were to ignore what the Labour Party now is in relation to working-class representation and working-class interests.

J & S’s is not just a conservative policy. It is a make-believe conservative policy — rooted in the pretence that the Labour Party is still what it was before the Blairite coup.

Miseducate ourselves and others, in the unions and outside, about where things are at; don’t “tell the truth to the masses” — ignore the overall picture and focus on “tactics” and tinkering?

An FBU leadership that then had immense credit with a membership in which no rank and file opposition was organised manages to win a majority on the basis of promises to fight within the Labour Party — promises which they have not kept. And J & S paint up that outcome as a healthy revolt by the bedrock membership against the leftists who had won the 2001 conference motion!

Gilchrist is a man with a realistic strategy... Is he? Does he have a strategy? Did he actually carry through the fight in the Labour Party which he counterposed to the 2001 conference resolution?

At the end of the paragraph we again lapse into a dreamworld of make-believe, of not knowing what decade this is in terms of the evolution of the Labour Party.


“The experience of the dispute means that it is now much more likely that the union will respond with some kind of demonstrative gesture—like totally withholding funds. This is totally understandable, but risks failing to face up to the task of the FBU leading a movement in the Labour Party to try to hold Blair and Prescott accountable for their actions in the dispute”.

It is common ground that we want the affiliated unions not to disaffiliate but to organise and fight to assert themselves within the Labour Party structures. But what does trying “to hold Blair and Prescott accountable for their actions in the dispute” mean?

It is business as usual, or as of old in a common party? But it can’t be, short of an orchestrated fight — which would, as we have argued, certainly split the party.

Jack’s instinct here is to sheepdog the FBU away from hitting back at the Blairites, after he has endorsed Gilchrist’s campaign to reverse the decision to back non-Labour candidates.

What he counterposes here as everywhere to the untidy forms taken by the unravelling of the old union-Labour relationship is to hold the status quo in place and repair it.

And AWL? AWL’s chief role is to be a voice of caution, counselling unions and even union leaders against precipitate, hasty, and impetuous action against New Labour!

This is not rooted in a realistic picture of where we are at in the Labour Party.

It is rooted in an anachronistic working model of the Labour Party which does not correspond to what exists now.

It is based on “forgetting” what the purpose of AWL itself is.


“Bloxam and O’Mahony fail to focus clearly on the tasks before the class... Their... logic... is that... we should not even aspire to play a role in initiating, organising and preparing the ground for what they describe as the “epochal” battle for control of the Labour Party. No, that is for the future and to be organised “from above” by the official leaderships.. We must know our place. We build the new party “from below”. In the here and now all we can do is get involved in small scale local electoralism, or travel as reluctant passengers while Bob Crow and his friends derail the RMT as a political force in the workers’ movement”.

And what do J & S counterpose to “building from below”? A propaganda campaign to get Crow and others to “reclaim” the Labour Party “from the top”!

A small propaganda campaign fuelled by a tankful of fantasies of the sort dissected and analysed throughout this document.

The central fact of what we are discussing is that the RMT and the other affiliated unions have already ceased to be “a political force” in the sense that they were one throughout the 20th century. That is what the Blairite hijacking, whose class political nature is made very clear by the record of the government, means.

The “task before the class” is to restore working-class representation. Political fuckwits or not, Crow and his friends can do the sort of thing J & S describe and fear because the old relationships between the unions and the Labour Party have already been politically disrupted.

Because the discipline of the rank and file that would in the past have stopped any of the old CP trade union leaders from breaking with the Labour Party, is not — to say the least — what it was.

J & S want AWL to assume the role of telling the unions to pretend that things are what they once were. That is not serious politics.

It is not Marxist politics because it does not, despite their bluster and patter about “realism”, start from political reality. It starts from denial and then goes deep and deeper into fantasy politics.

We oppose such “Crowisms” as supporting Plaid Cymru or Galloway because we want the union to foster independent working-class politics not popular-frontism. We do not do that from the standpoint of second-string Blairites, guardians of the status quo.

But that is what J & S counterpose to what we all object to in Crow.

At every turn, you peel away Jack’s obfuscating (in the first place, self-obfuscating) words, and you reach the idea that Blairism, the now-Blairite Labour Party, is positively better than groups like Plaid Cymru, the Greens, the Liberals, the kitsch-revolutionaries of the SWP.

The point is that it isn’t any more.

Observe the underlying train of thought in what is said about the RMT — “while Crow and his friends derail the RMT as a political force in the workers’ movement”. What are they talking about? What workers’ movement, outside the RMT and the other unions? The Blairite party is the workers’ movement?

By being independent of the Blairites, a trade union ceases to be a political force in the workers’ movement?

The idea that this trade union can only be a force in the workers movement if it works through the anti-Labour machine that still calls itself the (new) Labour Party is absurd!

As a comment on the real world, a decade after the Blairite hi-jacking of the LP, this is sheer gobbledegook!

The only way the unions can become a force again is by taking steps which, if they are seen through to the end, will split the Labour Party.

Once again, the starting point of this discussion should be the fact — and it is a fact — that “The Labour Party” is Blair’s New Labour, not “the workers’ movement”!

They mean that the RMT is getting out of step with the other unions? Our role then is to shepherd the RMT back in line with the other unions... and the Blair Labour Party?

Certainly we want concerted trade union action. Playing the sheep dog’s role will not secure that. It will politically derail AWL, in the first instance by involving us in Jack’s fantasy-football version of “big” politics (as counterposed to the “small-scale local electoralism” which they so contemptuously dismiss).


“The Socialist Alliance are proposing motions to union conferences calling for the political funds to support non Labour candidates as long as they make a vague commitment to ‘support the policies and principles’ of the union. We believe these proposals should be voted down. It is not just that they are a manipulative back door way of proposing trade union funding for the SA and George Galloway MP, and in reality inseparable from that. Or that they are pitched in such a way as to appeal to people who want to open the door for support for Plaid Cymru, the SNP, Greens and Lib Democrats. Nor is our objection based only on the fact that the proposal deliberately ignores the need for a fight to control what the unions’ representatives do in the Labour Party and is usually motivated by people who would rather such a fight didn’t happen. Nor are we opposed just because we think that if the people proposing the motions were serious, they would put forward an actual rule change, which workers could support or not on its merits, rather than a vague gesture.

The most powerful objection to what the Socialist Alliance proposes is that it misses the central concern of Marxists—not just in relation to the fight for a workers’ party, and workers’ candidates but in relation to all our work in the class movement—the idea of workers’ control and democratic accountability. We want candidates, councillors and MPs who are answerable to the trade unions and accountable to them. One cautious pro-Labour proposal that seeks to impose a measure of control and accountability on union representatives in the Labour Party structures or Parliament, or which seeks to get more workers into parliament to promote union policy, embodies more of our programme than the Socialist Alliance’s ill-disguised gambit to get its hands on union money. We should vote accordingly”.

The Socialist Alliance is supporting George Galloway, you see, and — therefore! — proposals for supporting non-Blairite candidates are proposals for funding Galloway!

So: we should vote down Socialist Alliance resolutions at union conferences calling for the funding of non-Labour candidates who support the policies and principles of the union because these “appeal to people who want to support Plaid Cymru, the SNP, Greens and Lib-Dems”?

J & S exclude without comment the idea that we should amend those Socialist Alliance motions to stipulate support for working-class and socialist candidates, or propose our own motions, including motions to condemn Galloway as a mouthpiece for the fascistic regime of Saddam Hussein.

They simply urge us to defend the existing union rules.

This takes us back to the core of our differences: the implication that support for the Blair Labour Party is better than support for Plaid Cymru and suchlike. Why? The Blair party is the Labour Party?

Blair’s party used to be the Labour Party: the point is that — even if one believes, as we do, that the ‘process’ of transformation is not over yet — it isn’t any more.

In fact all the groups J & S list are, in terms of policies, better than the Blair party. Even the Lib-Dems are to the left of the Blairites. It is, of course, uncontroversial that we oppose motions specifically backing Plaid Cymru or similar, as we did at the RMT conference.

To the question, why should we be for unions backing the Labour Party exclusively, traditionally we would answer: it is the trade unions’ party. So now, in the era of New Labour, we oppose motions which seek to move the unions away from an exclusive political relationship with the Labour Party and might have the effect of giving funds to the parties listed because Labour is the unions’ party?

That argument is now a vicious circle. It is a nonsense...

What J & S need to make it not nonsense, is a reason that is consonant with our politics why we want the existing link with New Labour to continue.

We have already listed the possible reasons: to keep the stumbling, mumbling, brain-damaged Tories out, and the smart, glib, effective Blair Tories in; or, to preserve the concentrated mass of union funds that now goes to finance this anti-Labour, anti-working-class government so it can pass as an intact heritage to new owners “when” the union leaders have “reclaimed” the Labour Party or split it and founded a replacement for it.

The crux of the whole argument is that J & S want us to play the role of guardians of the Blairite/union-bureaucrat status quo in a situation where a breakup of the old concentrated mass of union political money is already starting, and where we cannot control events or steer them so that the controlled, coherent break of the unions from New Labour that we would like is the definite and visible alternative to the status quo.

Because we can’t control the results of the recoil from Blair’s Labour Party, J & S want us to devote our political energies to defending the status quo until such time as the unions are ready for the desired tidy and coherent “reclaiming” of Labour. And, in fact, since we are not strong enough to be decisive here either, all we could achieve by following their policy is to turn ourselves inside out politically. That is the crux of it.


J & S:

“Some comrades will no doubt argue that despite everything, we should back the SA motions because they establish the principle that the union will support working class candidates against New Labour. True, but the motions also establish the principle that George Galloway and any other skilful opportunist from say the SNP, PC, the Greens or the Liberal Democrats who says they support the “principles and policy of the union” can have union support too. So the motion “in principle” supports both genuine working class and faking anti-working class candidates. It allows for the independence of the working class and the subordination of the working class to alien class forces. Some principle”.

Again the demagogic brandishing of an effigy of George Galloway! All right. Let’s discuss that, then. Why does George Galloway have credibility with the labour movement? The answer is another question: would he have that credibility if the ostensible revolutionary left, the left trade-union leaders, and respectworthy Labour MPs such as Corbyn, and McDonnell did not give it to him? No, he wouldn’t.

And it is not only and not even primarily the politically disoriented SWP. In fact, when the Galloway affair “broke” in April, the SWP was at first noticeably cautious. Only after they had checked that Galloway would be backed by the broad Guardian-reading Labour and trade-union left — as he was — did they start being loud and forthright in supporting him.

Some of the best of the new trade-union leaders back Galloway, too. It is a political problem. The paper has been carrying an account of how we were heresy-hunted by the WRP in 1983 with the help of sections of the “broader left” (not the SWP, in that case). That episode, like the current Galloway business, reflects the state of the left and of the labour movement.

Outside our own ranks, the only people who have the proper attitude to Galloway also have a very improper attitude to... Bush and Blair.

Attitudes to Ken Livingstone over many years — though Livingstone is less gross than Galloway — reflect the same problem of political culture.

And why do J & S not mention Livingstone here too? Because Jack’s “favoured” union leaders, the “reclaim-Labour” types, back him. A “reclaim-Labour” line, and a stern defence of the general rules enforcing a Blairite monopoly of electoral politics, is no protection against being seduced by demagogues like Livingstone — or Galloway.

Our answer to this political problem of “faking anti-working-class candidates” of the Galloway or Livingstone type is to tell the truth and plug away at defending and spreading it. In other words to conduct political education. Isn’t that what we are here for?

What is their answer? They look to the Blairites to deal with the Galloways! They want to use, or rather to hide in, the bureaucratic structures which enshrine the Blair-Labour-union entwinement!

Never mind that those structures serve the Blairites, and that a system set up originally to secure working-class representation in Parliament now acts to block working-class representation!

This is a strong recurring theme in J & S’s piece, not something accidental that has glitched its way into a text to which it is alien. In this passage Jack sounds like a tired old world-weary one-time radical seeking refuge, security and peace in the tried and tested old structures (which no longer exist, or exist only in qualitatively changed forms).

He is actually seeking refuge from living politics and from the political rottenness of the kitsch-Trotskyist left — for that is what the widespread tolerance of George Galloway means. And politics is the answer to it. AWL is the answer to it — vigorous and combative assertion and reassertion of our politics.

When they list the problems and difficulties of a political opening-up of the labour movement, as they do here, and offer as a “solution” sticking with the poisonous Blairite/union-bureaucrat status quo, it is a laughable example of people looking for succour and salvation to the wisdom of our ancestors enshrined in the ancient rules and laws.

It is an expression of political hopelessness and demoralisation.

When we said that they were “conservative”, we meant that they were caught up in a logic that inexorably led them to advocate conservation of the status quo lest worse succeed it. Here we have conservatism on a far more profound psychological level.

It is a state of mind that many will recognise who have encountered the writings or conversations of chastened ex-radicals.

Do they mean it? We hope they don’t, but it is impossible to know for sure. What you can know from this passage is how deep a part of their psychology — in any case, T’s — it now is.

T wants the manifold political problems we face in the flux and uncertainty of the labour movement at its present conjuncture to just go away.

The result for Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty, if we ourselves were to follow the implications of what they say and half-say, is that we would politically “go away” — far away from revolutionary politics.


A vote of no confidence in Blair is not, despite what they suggest, an alternative to voting to allow support for non-Labour candidates. Both can and should be pushed. The truth is that the Blairites could, if they had to, live with votes of no confidence provided the union didn’t follow through with practical blows against the Blairites. One of the most important blows would be backing non-Labour candidates.

If that is excluded in principle — or in all circumstances short of those where we are strong enough to break those same rules which, according to J & S, we should now strongly defend — then the Blairites know that they always have a monopoly of political representation and government.

If others in the unions besides us want to back not socialist or labour-representation candidates, but, say, the SNP — that is something we will have to fight politically, by reason and argument and struggle to elect our and not their delegates.

It is apolitical and bureaucratic to seek refuge from that political struggle in the rule-enshrined “wisdom of our ancestors”.

What does the idea of resolutions of no confidence in Blair, coupled with active resistance to any proposal to strike at Blair by backing anti-Blair candidacies amount to? For example, opposition on principle to backing a socialist or labour-representation candidate against Blair in his own constituency unless we had first won a local Labour Party vote to deselect Blair?

In the Marxist tradition, such a “mixed” approach is called centrism. It is also the typical evasive method of the trade-union bureaucrats and left-faking old-style Labour MPs!

No, we aren’t arguing: agree with us on motions for supporting non-Labour candidates, or you are a centrist! We have argued that issue on its merits. We are pointing out the evasiveness of the idea that a vote of no confidence in Blair is more of a threat than a proposal for action.

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