An open letter to the Socialist Party - Do you support McDonnell?

Submitted by Anon on 7 April, 2007 - 11:00

Dear comrades,

Do you support John McDonnell’s campaign against Gordon Brown for the Labour Party leadership?

When John McDonnell declared himself a candidate for Labour leader to succeed Tony Blair, you wrote:

“McDonnell is the Labour MP with the most consistent record of voting against New Labour’s anti-working class policies. Potentially a McDonnell leadership challenge could play a role in raising the profile of socialist ideas amongst sections of working-class people”. (Hannah Sell, The Socialist, 27/07/06).

Seven months on, there can be no doubt that the “potential” has become a reality, on a modest but very important scale. Almost every city has seen large public meetings with McDonnell speaking.

Left-wing unions, like RMT, ASLEF, and FBU have backed McDonnell. So have most of the organised left groupings inside the unions. Left-talking union leaders like Derek Simpson, Billy Hayes, and Tony Woodley have been put on the spot by the McDonnell campaign.

Of course, as everyone knew from the start, it is very far from certain that McDonnell can surmount the undemocratic hurdle which requires him to get 45 nominations from Labour MPs before he can take his campaign into the ballot with his name on the ballot paper.

Whether he can get those 45 nominations, and whether his left-wing message can make an impact with the masses of trade-unionists, depends a lot on the amount of backing he can get from trade-union organisations.

For example, if the TGWU - where the Broad Left has a majority on the General Executive Committee, and a declared position of support for McDonnell - were to give McDonnell official backing, that would vastly increase his profile.

In the battle going on in the unions over whether they should back McDonnell, where do you stand?

Unions like the RMT, which has been expelled from the Labour Party, and the FBU, which voluntarily disaffiliated, have vociferously backed McDonnell. So have many trade unionists in other unions who are not individual Labour Party members, for example PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka.

Where does the SP stand?

In the CWU, deferring to the majority opinion in the Broad Left, SP members have backed McDonnell. In the TGWU, likewise.

But in the PCS, where the SP is strong in the full-time official union machine, officials close to the SP have sought legal advice in an attempt to have a pro-McDonnell motion ruled out of order for the PCS conference.

In Unison, where the SP organises separately from the rest of the left, the SP has pointedly refused to back the campaign for McDonnell, describing it as a diversion and counterproductive.

What is your actual position?

Is it that, insofar as you can affect events, you want McDonnell to fail, so that then you can joyfully declare to trade unionists who take an interest in Labour Party affairs that they are wasting their time? That you positively want the Labour right wing to prevail so that you can score a debating point?

But that in those unions where your integration into the left, and the strong left majority for McDonnell, would make that position embarrassing, you opportunistically switch over to supporting McDonnell?

Or is there some other explanation for your different positions in different unions?

We urge you to change your stance in PCS, Unison, etc., and to take there the same position that you have rightly (if maybe only for opportunist motives) taken in CWU, TGWU, etc.

Yours for socialism,

Martin Thomas on behalf of the AWL

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