Blair speaks for the rich: We need a workers' voice (2003)

Submitted by Anon on 22 October, 2003 - 6:09 Author: John McDonnell MP

There were two Labour Party conferences. One was the official conference, organised as a publicity event for the leadership of the Labour Party. It had quite an unprecedented degree of ruthless organisation to engender the maximum televised exhibition of support for the leader of the Party. And there was a more important second and separate conference: where trade unions formed a coalition with the Labour left. For the first time in fifteen years we had an effective vehicle for left action inside the Labour Party. Every left fringe meeting was packed with delegates. Our coalition worked together to drive policies through on the floor of conference.
In the coming period - the next six months - like-minded Labour MPs, left constituency activists and the major trade unions will have both ideological and organisational work to do. We want publish a left Labour prospectus which can articulate key political slogans and has detailed policy to back up the slogans. In drawing up that prospectus we need the widespread involvement of the rank and file and country-wide activity: unions and constituency activists coming together in conferences and seminars.

There is a recognition now that the attempt by Blair to hollow out the Labour Party has had an effect - large numbers of constituency Labour Parties are now either defunct or meeting in a way that makes them inoperable. That gives us an opportunity to bring together people in a new organisational framework - trade union activists and Labour activists - to take over the constituencies and consolidate at the local level the sort of coalition that has taken place at the national level.

We want the Socialist Campaign Group to work with the trade unions and others to take policy discussion out, through conferences to use policy discussion conferences to develop organisation on the ground - e.g. take positions in constituency Labour Parties. We want to reactivate party activists and link them up with trade union struggles, so that party activists are involved in any strikes, on picket lines, collecting money etc. We also need to look at community involvement, broadening the discussion about policy, getting over people's disillusionment with politics.

The trade unions recognise that they have resources on the ground-officers, campaigners-who can be mobilised into community politics and also directed towards the local Labour Party.

We want a situation at next year's Labour conference where the CLPs will be sending delegates again, and sending delegates who reflect the views of their party and are properly mandated. We want the left can regain a dominant influence among the constituencies.

We launched our left prospectus idea on the Monday night of Labour conference, on the Tuesday Blair launched his own policy consultation process and even used the word "prospectus". Quite extraordinary! I think it was a deliberate attempt to divert people from what will be a democratic policy discussion into something that will be little more than a publicity stunt to head off party opposition. But the leadership have misunderstood the mood of the rank and file in the trade unions and Labour Party. A lot of people are very angry, not just about the war but also the policies that the government are pursuing domestically.

We are going to use the review of Partnership into Power to re-establish democracy in the party. We will be putting forward a programme: restore the sovereign right of Labour Party conference to determine policy, the right of the NEC to draft the manifesto, the right of CLPs to submit motions to party conference and the National Executive Committee. Some of us want a recall conference on policy issues.

What should our policies be? There is a clear dividing line between us and New Labour. We believe in a planned economy rather than free market neo-liberalism. We believe in public services and are opposed to privatisation policies. We believe in a welfare state based on rights rather than on means tests. A basic state pension, restoring the link with earnings protecting private pensions, as against private sector pensions and the means test. We believe in free education, not the increasing privatisation of the education system-abolish tuition fees, restore the grant. We believe in international policy based on peace and international law and democratic global institutions, as opposed to pursuing the imperialist policies of George Bush. There is a stark divide here.

But the key thing is getting involvement in developing the policies. We believe in employment rights. But we need trade unionists to demonstrate what employment rights mean, how they can be implemented so that they can really protect workers.

At Party Conference Mick Rix came forward with the idea of the Labour Representation Committee, a framework that can bring together all the strands that originally founded our conference: trade union and constituency activists, academics, other affiliates. The LRC seems to me to be quite an appropriate name, because it goes back to the roots. But the key thing is to bring everyone together to play their individual role-as left activist, academic, trade union rights campaigner, whatever-right across the board while being co-ordinated and united around the central objective of restoring the Labour Party as a vehicle for socialism in this country.

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