Rail unions and politics

Submitted by AWL on 10 June, 2014 - 3:43

Our unions' political strategies need a serious rethink. TSSA, ASLEF, and Unite remain affiliated to the Labour Party, but are meek and acquiescent within it.

When the Collins Report, an initiative sponsored by the Labour leaders to reduce the union vote inside the party, was voted on, our unions voted for it! Turkeys voting for Christmas in extremis. They don't want to rock the boat before an election year, so, unless forced to change course, our unions will be, at best, mildly critical of the Labour leaders' lack of backbone and their promises to maintain most Tory cuts.

The RMT was expelled from the Labour Party in 2004, and has since flirted with a variety of electoral initiatives without ever really developing a coherent strategy of its own. In the May 2014 elections, it ploughed hundreds of thousands of pounds into "No2EU", an electoral coalition which attempted to make arguments against Europe, and immigration from Europe, "from the left".

No2EU gained slightly more than 30,000 votes nationally, a decrease of 121,479 from when it stood in 2009. Off The Rails believes the RMT/No2EU position on Europe is wrong — we don't think "independent" British capitalism, withdrawn from the EU, would be any better, and we don't think more immigration controls would be a good thing.

Arguing against immigration simply plays into the hands of racists and nationalists like UKIP. UKIP is a much more viable option for anyone who wanted to vote "against Europe" or "against immigration", as No2EU's pitiful score shows. RMT also supported the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition. In most places, TUSC popped up a few weeks before the election, ran a paper campaign, and has since disappeared.

In Southampton, a former Labour councillor who ran under the TUSC banner after splitting from the Labour Party after he voted against cuts retained his seat. Those who back TUSC out of disgust with the rightwards drift of the Labour Party have the right instinct, but paper efforts without ongoing roots in local working-class communities don't get us very far. Some argue that TUSC is building for the future, but at the moment its election results (and as it is almost entirely an electoral initiative, with little life between election times, this is all we have to judge it on) show diminishing returns.

Instead of either going along with the Labour leaders, or throwing cash at dead-end election-only efforts, our unions should:• Confront the Labour leaders (within the party where possible, including through use of unions' Parliamentary Groups, outside it where not) to demand they stand in 2015 on a programme of working-class policies, including rail renationalisation, and assert that we will force them to keep their promises in government!

• Stand and support left-of-Labour election candidates in local areas where their candidacy is properly linked and accountable to working-class struggles, such as Southampton.

• Organise public, political campaigns for union policies: the "Action for Rail" campaign is a good initiative but should be expanded and radicalised.


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