This year’s TUC has a spate of motions on the BNP. The last time the annual conference of the TUC passed a resolution dealing with racism and fascism was 2005. Then it was still possible to formulate a vague resolution condemning the BNP’s racism, labelling them as fascists and urging for “more to be done”.
It was possible — but not at all accurate — to talk about the BNP as an isolated entity. It was possible to avoid specifics, for all sections of the labour movement to unite around well meaning verbiage.
This is no longer the case. A succession of electoral gains by the BNP cannot be understood or articulated, not even by the most ostrich-like union general secretary, without reference to the economic crisis and the political collapse that preceded it.
So the resolution from Unison to this year’s TUC (14-17 September) states that the growth of the BNP “represents the failure of all political parties to address underlying social and economic problems”. PCS (the civil servants union) is more specific: “the collapse in the Labour Party’s vote allowed the BNP to gain electoral success.” The TUC’s LGBT conference motion notes that “while social democratic parties have failed to slow the rise of the BNP, a prolonged economic recession could be the BNP’s life support machine”.
These declarations give evidence of some political shift. Given the situation in places like Shirebrook, a former mining community in Derbyshire, where an ex-Labour councillor has defected to the BNP taking former NUM members with him, it’s understandable why some “shift” has taken place.
But what remedies are proposed? The PCS resolution calls for “Policies to combat rising unemployment, invest in public services, halt privatisation and promote equality”. Unison states that “only strong local organisation will defeat the BNP” and calls on the TUC to “develop an economic and social programme that delivers for working class communities”. Here, some of the old vagueness remains.
For example, NAPO (the probation service union) calls for TUC affiliates to “re-double ... opposition to the BNP”. Along with more specific demands, PCS calls for an urgent “national demonstration”.
More than one of the resolutions urge unions to use “resources such as Searchlight and Unite Against Fascism.” The presence of such statements presents the danger of damaging compromises when the resolutions are composited. For example, to call for a “re-doubling” of “efforts” rather than “strong local organisation” would be damaging. To call for a “national demonstration” without specifically calling for that demonstration to march behind working-class politics would be damaging. To tell trade unionists to use the “resources” of Searchlight and UAF, when both of these organisations resolutely refuse to engage with working-class politics, is damaging.
If Unison’s leadership think the labour movement needs a plan to fight the crisis and the growth of fascism, then the question of exactly what such a “programme” calls for and how far it goes is posed. If the programme is to be just a repetition in more accessible form of resolutions passed at Congress, then there will be severe limits.
The debate at the TUC conference and the resolutions passed will not be the decisive element in the necessary task of forming a working-class campaign against fascism and racism; but they could strengthen the arm of those seeking to mobilise the labour movement on these terms. If the unions collapse back into a vague and sentimental, essentially right-wing anti-fascism of the sort that David Cameron feels able to support, the anti-fascism of UAF, then the existing problems will remain.