The left in the NUT almost universally celebrated the establishment of the political fund as a (limited) success. But the current fund actually hinders rank and file activists from promoting socialist politics — that is, the only politics working class militants should be interested in, the only politics which can secure the liberation of our class.
Take the coming general election as an example. This will be the first chance to see the NUT political fund in action. The NUT slogan for the election is “Vote to stop the BNP” and posters, stickers and other materials bearing this message have been sent into schools.
In London, the Regional Office is encouraging members to travel to Barking for “days of action” where leafleting and other activities will be taking place under the same political banner, in association with Searchlight and UAF.
The fund explicitly prevents associations/divisions from positively endorsing local socialist or left Labour candidates, as its only purpose is to allow strictly anti-BNP campaigning. To have any slogan other than “Vote to stop the BNP” would require a campaign for a change in the political fund to allow for endorsement of local candidates. The left in the NUT should be urgently organising such a campaign.
Instead, the NUT left are throwing themselves into the “Vote to stop the BNP” campaign. Workers’ Liberty teachers believes this is a mistake, as the slogan is not only inadequate but, in practice, actually counter-productive.
The Barking issue throws this into sharp relief. If ever there was a case for campaigning for a right wing Labour MP, Barking is it (Margaret Hodge). In any case, it is perfectly possible, and legal, for individuals to organise their own campaign materials arguing for a Labour vote while promoting socialist policies (the Socialist Campaign to Stop the Tories and Fascists is an example of this).
We would encourage NUT members in Barking to do just that.
As it stands, members of socialist groups who believe in a Labour vote will be organising NUT members to go to Barking giving out leaflets saying “Vote for anyone but the BNP”. This offers nothing positive to the people of Barking who have real concerns about housing and other issues — not least the attempted privatisation of their community schools — which can only be solved by a working class, socialist programme.
Working class activists, including NUT members, should be raising such a programme and linking it concretely, in this election, to a call for a Labour vote where there isn’t a serious socialist candidate (as in Barking). Evading the issue of who to vote for isn’t good enough — not for a trade union, and certainly not from socialist militants.
A political fund which only allows negative campaigning is worse than useless, particularly as could become a witch hunters’ charter for any bureaucrat who wants to go after activists in associations/divisions which endorse local socialist candidates as this would break union rules.
Will this happen? As a period of serious class struggle approaches, divisions between right and left in the union are likely to become much clearer, and activists need to be prepared for that.
We need to be prepared to defend activists in those associations/divisions which break the political fund rules by endorsing local candidates in this election, and then building a campaign to change the rules of the fund to allow for such endorsements to happen legally in the future.