AWL discussion on "After Bournemouth", 2007: "From MR"

Submitted by martin on 1 November, 2007 - 1:56 Author: MR

First of all, it's good that this discussion is being taken seriously. At the open NC session last weekend it became clear that there are many opinions and not a little confusion within the group on the Labour Party and I hope everyone in the group will write something about it on this list, and everyone will read everything everyone else has to say (political culture and the clogging of inboxes being, alas, inseparable in this day and age!)

In the spirit of that I'll proceed to give my twopenn'orth in response to the below. First of all, I agree with S and C that active membership of the Labour Party still provides a good platform for communicating with working-class people, trade unionists and even students. I've often heard it said within the group that the glaring contradictions of the position of a socialist within the LP make it next to impossible to communicate effectively with working-class people. Let me say that in my experience that is absolute nonsense. It may be the case in some places with Tory New Labour councils that make constant cuts - and in those places community campaigns against those cuts are the best way of approaching people. But we should be doing that anyway. Even in Oxford - where there are four "Independent Working-Class" councillors elected due to the local LP's lack of engagement with certain estates - this has been my experience. It is not the people interested in socialist ideas, or organising as workers or anything else, who vote for the IWCA but the apathetic and the frankly racist. Not a single active trade unionist here is a member or active supporter of the IWCA, although numerous trades council delegates and branch officers are members of parties that most working-class people have never heard of! (One of the best all round socialist-feminist union activists in Oxford stands every time for Blackbird Leys as a Green candidate. Last time she got 19 votes). I am also unable to see that there has been a qualitative change in the relationship of the union leaders to the Labour Party. They have abandoned the unions' right to submit contemporary resolutions to Conference - resolutions they were never prepared to lift a finger for in any case, even when there members were on strike against the government. What matters is the relationship between the rank and file and the leadership in both unions and party - to quote Humpty Dumpty (!) "who is to be master - that's all". We all know how deeply complicit the union leaderships, whether right or "left" have been in the rise of New Labour, and their latest abject surrender is an extreme _expression_ of that tendency. The "disaffiliationist" (or "stay out") union leaders are equally guilty of complicity in the rise of New Labour through their "we're outside the LP, we're all right, let's sit back and do nothing" attitude - or does anyone believe that Mark Serwotka has made a serious contribution to working-class political self-assertion?! Is the union leaders' surrender reversible? Who knows. When the union grassroots become anything like politicised enough for a real mass workers' voice in politics to be on the practical immediate agenda, whether it claims descent from today's Labour Party will become a secondary question. But we have to base out day-to-day politics on the situation now; a perspective has to stand on today whatever the possibilities in the future. I would say that it has now become a bit more likely that the supersession of the Labour Party will prove a necessity for the labour movement in the medium to long term (though we know it's nowhere near this in the short term). But even we are still very much feeling our way. For this reason I have to disagree with Stephen and Chris' bald statement that independent socialist candidacies are a waste of time and resources. Even before September's LP conference we have done this with no harm and at least some good to out political work. I canvassed for Janine the last time she stood in Hackney and certainly didn't get the impression that I was wasting my time. Where it is possible to stand independent candidates (i.e. someone like Janine who is very well-known and respected in the particular area, and incidentally has a link to a union considering standing candidates) why should we not do so? Acknowledging the great importance of the Labour Party. which I think we should continue to do as before (indeed more seriously and consistently) doesn't mean fetishising it. There will undoubtedly be more pressure in some unions, e.g. the CWU, to disaffiliate, and our argument against this is that it is likely to involve a new form of political passivity, not that we should stick with the current political passivity of the leadership. The agenda we want to advance is that of working-class political representation, and it strikes me that independent candidacies represent, in the right combination of circumstances, an important pressure point that can be used by a small group like ours. It is right, therefore, that the group should devote resources to it. I agree, of course, that the LRC must be a major priority for us. S and C ask how we can operate within it if we are to leave the LP. Well, quite so, but I don't think anyone is proposing this - at least not yet. Proposing such a thing would be manifestly silly. However, the fact that Janine stood against Labour, and other AWL comrades previously have, has done our work in and around the LRC no harm. Although I have said that working-class people in general and union activists in particular don't have a negative reaction if you approach them as (among other things) a LP activist, neither is there a negative reaction to anti-Labour candidates. With the right candidate there can be a very positive reaction. As long as it is "among other things": I'm sure no-one in the group would sink into electoralism of either the Labour or independent working-class variety. There are actually more important things than elections in the life of the labour movement and remembering that is important to keep the debate in proportion. Standing in elections, whether as Labour or as an independent socialist candidate, has to be justified in terms which include areas not confined to the election campaign.

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