In response to Bournemouth, we should initiate a long-term consistent campaign to build or revive Trades Councils as political organs of the labour movement.
The motivation: working-class politics cannot re-emerge without the emergence of more or less broadly recognised pan-worker (cross-union) organisation on a geographical basis.
Trades Councils are no arbitrary or special gimmick, but the basic, obvious form of such organisation.
They were the local organisations of the Labour Party in most places before 1918.
Political initiative is likely to come through Trades Councils — relatively close to the rank and file — before it conquers the inertia of the big national trade union bureaucracies.
Any Trades Council with any life will run anti-privatisation, strike-support, NHS, union-rights, anti-racist or whatever campaigns — maybe through sub-committees — as the issues become hot, with the Trades Council itself representing the ongoing core.
The idea is not based on illusions about the condition of Trades Councils today. No organisational formula can enable us to jump over the general condition of the labour movement. The Trades Councils are weak because the unions are weak. Nothing we can do at will, as AWL, can by itself change that balance of class forces.
But the Trades Councils are a relatively open, responsive avenue for working-class politics as and when - perhaps only patchily or episodically, for while - workers do stir.
An orientation to rebuilding Trades Councils puts us in the best position to make the most of such stirrings.
Our actual experience of recent Trades Council work indicates that the work is hard slog, but by no means barren or hopeless.
The idea does not mean that in a city where our forces are small and the Trades Council is tightly controlled by a clique, we have to sacrifice essential other activity to single-combat with that clique. If a particular AWL branch feels it can’t manage both the AWL basics - branch meetings, open meetings, contact work, educationals, sales, etc. - and a Trades Council effort, then leave the Trades Council in the “pending” tray for now.
Obviously Trades Councils will not resolve the political impasse of the working class — will not even help in resolving that political impasse — unless we can win decisive political influence for the AWL or a future AWL-plus within them.
We should combine all organisational activity to build Trades Councils with activity to win political influence. Immediately, for example, we should fight not only to build Trades Councils but also to affiliate them to the LRC or a reformed Workers’ Representation Committee.
We should fight for Trades Councils to become active, lively forces, with open campaign sub-committees to back strikes, agitate for the NHS, etc.
We should not be fetishists, either. Sometimes ad hoc local committees may have to “go round” shrivelled, cliquey Trades Councils. Sometimes local workers’ representation committees may be formed as ad hoc bodies.
It’s possible the next stage of socialist advance will be the emergence of a small revolutionary party based on a future radicalisation mostly among youth, which can acquire a substantial profile some time before winning hegemony and many Trades Councils.
But, in present realities, in the calculable future, Trades Councils will be a key arena for rebuilding local sinews of cross-union, pan-worker organisation.