Editorial. Clause 4: the dress rehearsal

Submitted by martin on 24 March, 2007 - 2:40

We go to press just before Labour’s special conference vote on Clause Four.
Our supporters will do everything they can to maximise the vote in support of common ownership on April 29, and win, lose or draw the serious left will keep up the fight for socialist policies inside the Labour Party.
It is worth spelling out why.
Marxists worked in the Labour Party before it adopted Clause Four. We will continue to work inside Labour if Clause Four is abandoned.
We do so because of what Labour is.
Labour is the political wing of the multi-millioned trade union movement. Despite all its many limitations it represent the first faltering steps of the working class movement on the road to political independence.
Though all Labour governments have — fundamentally — served the interest of capital the party remains rooted in the bedrock organisations of the working class.
It provides the only actually existing governmental alternative available to the working class movement here and now.
If our politics are centred on the working class and the fight for its self-liberation then they, necessarily, relate to the working class, and to its organisations as they actually exist. Therefore serious socialists have to relate to the Labour Party. If Blair is successful in winning the abolition of Clause Four none of this will change.
The fact that the party had written into its constitution a formal commitment to common ownership, which is one pre-requisite of socialism, did not make the Labour Party socialist. On the contrary, the party’s overall contradictory nature is defined on the one side by its actions in government and by policies and on the other side by its social base.
It is thus a “bourgeois workers party”. [The definition is Lenin’s].
Labour reformism has always been a reflection of trade unionism. Labourism is merely the extension of the trade unionist principle of bargaining within the existing capitalist system into the bourgeoisie’s own parliament. Whereas unions bargain with individual employers or across particular industries, Labourism has represented “trade unionist” bargaining at the level of society and the overall running of society.
The abolition of Clause Four in itself will in itself do nothing to change this basic nature.
Much of Blair’s “New Labour” Labourism is still, in part, a form of trade unionism in politics — the particularly degenerate, decayed and uninspiring variant of the Christian democratic social market philosophy of the professional civil-service opportunists who run some of Britain’s bigger unions.
If Blair wins over Clause Four it will be precisely because he has relied on classic old Labour methods and techniques. The dirty politicking of Blair’s campaign shows how little “new” Labour has really changed and how far Blair still has to go to achieve his goal of cutting Labour’s roots.
It is worth detailing what has happened so far step by step:
l June ’94: Blair stands for election as leader. His manifesto talks reassuringly of “re-affirming traditional socialist values”. When asked point blank, he denies that he has any intention of getting rid of Clause Four.
l October ’94: Blair slips a coded reference to the abolition of Clause Four into his maiden speech as leader.
Two days later, conference votes to re-affirm Clause Four.
l November ’94: Undaunted by the conference vote for common ownership, Blair presses for the NEC to call a special party conference on the issue, though the NEC has no constitutional right to call special conferences. Only Conference itself can do that.
The April special conference has been timed to take place before most unions can hold their own annual conference, thus making it easier for the bureaucrats in unions like GMB, AEEU, MSF and CWU to short-circuit a discussion in their unions. New Labour? Old chicanery!
l December ’94. a Tribune poll shows the tide turning in Á favour of Clause Four in the constituencies. The NEC launch its bogus “consultation”, which doesn’t even ask members if they want to retain Clause Four! The NEC’s document specifically directs people to discuss the themes chosen by Blair: “social justice”, “a dynamic economy”, “equality of opportunity”. Because the document is sent out at the end of December most party branches have just one meeting to discuss it (if that). New Labour? Old chicanery!
l January ’95: Blair starts his Clause Four roadshow in Gateshead. This is a media event tightly policed by Walworth Road officials. Most local leftwingers are denied access. Those who get in have pro-Clause Four material confiscated. No pro-Clause Four speakers are allowed any time to explain conference policy.
Tens of thousands of pounds of party funds are being spent unconstitutionally in order to put over the case of one faction!
l February ’95: Blair’s roadshow runs out of steam. Meetings in Wales, Bristol and Birmingham are dwarfed by pro-Clause Four rallies. The press latches on to a rigged pro-Blair vote atYoung Labour conference to boost the campaign for abolition.
l March ’95: the media dirty tricks campaign continues. London and South West regions vote for Clause Four, but receive no press coverage. The pro-Blair vote in Scotland is heralded as proof of certain victory for the abolitionists.
As the consultation ends, the papers are not examined by NEC members, who simply allow Blair and Prescott to produce their own draft for the new clause. Less than 1.5% of party members have responded to the consultation. Of those who did, most want to see “common ownership” and “redistribution of wealth” in the new clause. Blair’s draft mentions neither, but instead praises the “enterprise of the market” and the “rigour of competition”.
The TGWU executive decide to oppose the draft. Bill Morris is denounced by the Blair camp. The media campaign goes into overdrive. A Blair victory is declared “inevitable”.
The NEC sends out ballot papers which do not include the words of the old clause or any statement in its defence. Instead, there is a letter from Tom Sawyer, Labour Party general secretary, advocating abolition. This NEC is so frightened of opposition that it did not put the question: “Do you want to keep Clause Four?” on the ballot paper.
l April ’95: UNISON votes to keep Clause Four. Despite appeals from John Prescott and Clare Short, the low paid public sector workers won’t buy “the rigour of competition”. Frank Field, Gordon Brown and other “modernisers” start to talk about launching new attacks on the union link. Blairite UNISON officials tell Clause Four loyalists not to expect any seats on quangos from the next Labour government! New Labour? Old chicanery!
Consider the forces that Blair has had on his side! The entire bourgeois establishment and the media, as well as the whole Labour Party machine and the great bulk of the trade union bureaucracy have been behind him.
He has the shackled, no-choice goodwill of many party members and trade unionists who desperately want the Labour government which they believe — even under Blair, even after all Blair has said and done — will rebuild the welfare state and create jobs.
Taking all this into consideration, the real surprise is the massive scale of the opposition that has been generated in defence of Clause Four.
It is now vital to focus that opposition on a series of immediate demands around which we can mobilise and organise in the Labour Party and the unions:
* Defend and democratise the Labour/union link.
* A minimum wage of at least £4.15 per hour.
* Renationalisation of the utilities and of British Rail without compensation, and under democratic workers’ and consumers’ control.
* For the repeal of the anti-union laws and a charter of positive rights for workers, including the legal right to picket effectively and organise solidarity action.
* An immediate cut in the working week to 35 hours and a massive expansion plan for the public services and housing to provide jobs and homes for all. Rebuild the Welfare State!
If the left fails to pull together in a broad based alliance around such demands, all initiative will be in Blair’s hands. It makes more likely an attempt to take up the really serious task facing the “modernisers” — to break the link with the unions — at a time and in conditions of their choosing.
We cannot allow that to happen!
The battle over Clause Four has not just been a dress rehearsal for what the next Blair government is going to do, when promises on jobs, the minimum wage and trade union rights are likely to be broken and to provoke labour movement opposition. It has also been a dress rehearsal for the decisive battle to come — the battle over whether or not a political labour movement continues to exist: whether or not Blair and his yuppie friends will succeed in wiping from the face of the earth all the gains that remain from 100 years of independent working-class action.
Blair and his friends know that the policies of their government are going to provoke large scale opposition inside the labour movement. Crucially, they fear that this will be reflected inside the union delegations in the Labour Party. As a result they want to break the union link and switch over to state financing of political parties. But they can only abolish the union link with the co-operation of a significant section of the union apparatus. The fact that a large section of the working class’s bedrock composition — UNISON, TGWU, RMT, GPMU, FBU, ASLEF etc — have rallied against Blair on Clause Four promises that they will have no easy passage here, but a battle royal.

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