The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has decided to reaffiliate to the Labour Party.
At a recall conference today, the issue was debated and delegates voted to reaffiliate. The FBU disaffiliated from the Labour Party in 2004 after a bitter pay dispute, where the Blair government intervened aggressively on the side of the employers. A combination of disgust with the disgraceful behaviour of Labour ministers, anti-political sentiment, nationalism in the devolved administrations and plans by some activists to back other socialist candidates saw the union voluntarily leave the party. Resolutions at subsequent conferences calling for reaffiliation, mostly from brigades in the North East of England, have been overwhelmingly rejected. The picture began to change before the election, particularly last year after Labour leaders provided some support to firefighters in the FBU’s pensions dispute. Labour shadow ministers also took on board some of the union’s political demands for the fire and rescue service, such as on flooding. The decisive shift has been the Corbyn leadership.
Corbyn and John McDonnell were co-founders of the FBU’s parliamentary group, set up after the disaffiliation. Corbyn has a record of support for the union going back to the 1977 pay dispute. Both supported the union throughout the Blair-Brown and Miliband years. Although the precise form of affiliation will be debated, to take account of differences in Scotland and Northern Ireland, re-engagement will be a tremendous fillip to the left across the labour movement and an important counter to the gathering forces of the right wing who want to depose Corbyn. Socialists should add our weight to the FBU debate as enthusiastic advocates of affiliation to the Labour Party, as part of transforming the labour movement and promoting working class political representation.
Every union, particularly those not currently affiliated, should have this discussion. Socialists should seek these discussions with other activists, rather than leave it to union leaders to make links at the top. Socialist Worker’s editorial (27 October 2015) sagely advises that “affiliating to Labour won’t stop the Tories”, but does not say whether it is for affiliation or against. The Socialist Party, whose TUSC perspective has been utterly discredited by the Corbyn surge, has Rob Williams writing in The Socialist (14 October) that “we believe it is premature to re-affiliate”. Rather than plunge into the living battle within the Labour Party, the SWP and SP advise militants to ponder their doubts from the outside, or wait until things somehow become more “mature”. Their stance is utterly useless in the debates now raging within the unions.
Labour: reaffiliate to unions
Dave Green, National Officer of the Fire Brigades Union, spoke to Solidarity (paper of the AWL) some weeks before the special conference:
Q: It has become public this week that the FBU will be discussing re-affiliation to Labour at it’s special conference on 27 November. What do you think about the affiliation debate?
The FBU disaffiliated from the Labour Party in 2004. This followed the acrimonious pay dispute a couple of years previously where firefighters were regularly vilified by not only the mass media but also Labour politicians. There had been disquiet with the Labour Party and its policies for some considerable time, from the abolition of Clause 4 through to the Iraq war. However, the public attack on firefighters and the FBU in 2002/03 was the final straw. Since then there has been much debate about affiliation. Every year there are motions to our conference asking for affiliation and, so far, every year they have been voted down. We have to be honest with ourselves about this. Firefighters are no different to the general population and are influenced by debates and issues that surround them. Many are wary about any connection with a political party. Distrust in the established political system cuts across all classes and occupations. The move away from the Labour Party reflected that distrust and a general feeling of ″they are all the same″ or ″what have they ever done for us?″ Many of us have fought for years from within to bring the Labour Party back from a party that merely diluted down Tory policies to a party that truly reflected the aspiration of working people and proactively, unapologetically made the case for socialism. We have had a presence at the Labour Party conference for several years now and the heartening aspect of that has been the positive messages we get from delegates there. Not the usual MPs, but active local Labour politicians, many of whom have the same aspirations as us. It is not just a case of the FBU affiliating to Labour, but it is more to do with the Labour Party re-affiliating to the trade union movement. Corbyn′s election has given the trade union movement, and workers generally, a massive opportunity to bring forward, through the Labour Party, policies that we as socialists have aspired to for all our working lives. A awful long time for some of us! However, this needs to be translated into positive action. Those supportive Labour politicians are still enacting cuts across the public sector. They need to be given the confidence to start resisting. An alternative narrative needs to be written, and pretty damn quick. Our Executive Council were clear. We are living through one of the most reactionary, right-wing governments that most of us can ever remember. The Tories are removing all obstacles of opposition to their policies, that are trying to create a society that looks after the elite and them only – they are attacking the only protection that workers have (through the Trade Union Bill), they are gagging the media (through attacks on the BBC), they are engineering the electoral system to ensure a one-party state (in England at least) through denying the poor a vote and re-drawing constituency boundaries to give them an inbuilt majority. If we, as socialists, are serious about creating a different society, one that reflects our wishes and aspirations and is not one that we talk about in pubs and at meetings, then we have to act. Jeremy Corbyn has fought alongside all workers in struggle, both nationally and internationally, for decades. He has supported firefighters and the FBU. He will reject austerity and will protect the vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society. At this still embryonic stage of his leadership, it is essential that all who want a better society do all they can to support him and what he stands for. That is why the FBU believes we must affiliate to the Labour Party. If we can build a mass movement from within, then who knows what we can achieve. However, I know what will happen if we stand back and do nothing, watch it evolve, watch the party machine do its dirty work. Corbyn will be ousted and the hopes of millions will be gone. What will we do then? Stand back and say ″I told you so!″? No, it’s about supporting Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell — not necessarily the individuals, but what they stand for, because it is what we stand for. How can we not be part of that?
Q: How do you think the FBU should organise for its politics within the Labour Party if it was to reaffiliate?
We would need to be active. We would need to ensure that our members and officials across the UK engage with what the Corbyn Labour Party stands for. We need to encourage members to be active within the Labour Party. First of all, join the Party and go to branch meetings. We can then get the fire service back on the political agenda. We would encourage more political schools around the country to discuss the fire service and organise to protect it. In order to engage our membership the Labour Party needs to show what it will do for them — both in their working lives and their lives outside the fire service. The problem with Labour under Miliband (and the others) was that whilst they talked about representing the working class and the disadvantaged they really never did. There was never any real discussion about an alternative. I think many within our movement felt completely powerless as the agenda was set by the Tories and their friends. The Labour spin machine has a lot to answer for. The amazing return for Jeremy Corbyn proves the point about there being a political vacuum as regards an alternative.
Q: The Blairites did a lot to destroy Labour Party democracy. What do you think needs to happen to re-democratise the Party?
The main thing would be conference. That is where members of the Labour Party, be it individuals or affiliates, can make a big difference. If the decisions at conference revert back to being binding on the PLP and its leadership then workers will see a real point in being affiliated. If firefighters can see that moving a motion at their local branch could become national policy, then that will energise and give them hope. It is no use having a democratic conference if there is no substance beneath it. Branch organisation is also key. Any party worth its salt has to be built from the bottom up. It is impossible to have a credible political party without there being democratic accountability on the ground.
Above: Trident nuclear submarine patrolling (Getty Images)
Jeremy Corbyn has suffered his first defeat as Labour leader: and it’s been Unite and the GMB who’ve brought it about.
The decision by delegates at the Party conference not to have a debate on Trident came about because Unite and the GMB, with tens of thousands of their members’ jobs dependent upon the renewal of the nuclear weapons system, made it clear that they’d vote against any anti- Trident resolution.
Today’s Morning Star front page headline declared ‘Dismay As Trident Vote Is Blocked’ while the story beneath quoted CND’s Kate Hudson, at some length, decrying the decision as “bitterly disappointing, not just for the Labour delegates and members who wanted to see that debate take place, but for many, many others round the country who wanted to see Labour stand up unequivocally against the government’s determination to rearm Britain with nuclear weapons … Failure of Labour to change its policy means that in spring next year , when the government seeks Parliament’s approval for Trident’s replacement, Labour policy will be on the wrong side … Labour will give the Tory government a blank cheque for nuclear rearmament.”
Tucked away at the end of the Star‘s article is a brief reference to the role of Unite, the paper’s main funder: ‘Setting out his opposition to unilateralism, Unite leader Len McCluskey said: “I understand the moral case and the huge cost of replacing Trident, especially in this era of austerity, but the important thing for us is jobs and the defence of communities.”
The embarrassment of the Morning Star aside, the significance of the votes of Unite and the other major unions on this issue, is that they seem to be reverting to their traditional role as bastions of right wing pragmatism, against the leftist idealism of much of the Party’s rank and file (although, having said that, only 7.1% of constituency delegates voted for a debate on Trident). It also points to the failure of the anti-Trident left to deal effectively with the questions of jobs: Unite and the GMB in reality regard Trident as a massive job creation scheme and so far (beyond vague references to the Lucas Alternative Plan of the 1970’s) the left has failed to come up with a convincing answer.
Meanwhile the GMB’s recently-knighted buffoon of a general secretary, ‘Sir’ Paul Kenny has lined up with Labour’s Europhobes (some of the most right wing people in the Party) in urging the Party to “keep its options open” on EU membership and, in fact, campaign for withdrawal if Cameron’s renegotiation results in any weakening of British workers’ rights – quite how leaving the EU will prevent the Tories attacking workers’ rights in Britain is not explained by Kenny or his europhobic friends. In fact, Corbyn’s recent clarification on Europe (stating that he “cannot envisage” Labour campaigning for withdrawal and that the Party will re-instate any workers’ rights bargained away by Cameron) is plainly the only rational left-wing position.
For all his fake-left posturing, Kenny’s position on Europe (like his position on Trident) is, objectively, an attack on Corbyn … from the right.
It’s time for Corbyn’s supporters to start organising seriously in the unions.
Above: former T&G leader Bevin and Prime Minister Atlee in the 1945 Labour government
By John Rowe
Introduction: In the wake of the General election disaster we need an honest and clear-sighted assessment of the left’s response to austerity. At present the loudest voices of the anti-austerity movement persist in agitating for the Labour left and the unions to abandon the Party for some, as yet ill-defined alternative – a New Party (NP). These notes are a contribution to this debate. In them I argue our starting point needs to be the organising a truly social democratic tendency within the Labour Party. In putting forward this case I start by looking at the arguments of the NP left.
The NP view of New Labour
The NP left is not a distinct grouping. Rather it is a loose tendency defined primarily by a negative; the call to break from Labour. Inside this tent we find two very different visions. Some understand the new party as the beginning of a mass revolutionary party, a view held by socialist groups within it. Others, mainly trade unionists, view it more as a refounding of Old Labour. Within each sub-set there are myriad different perspectives.
The premise on which NP advocates call for a break with Labour is common to all and founded on a seemingly powerful point: New Labour’s record and policies made possible, according to the NP advocates, by its ability to function largely independently of the unions. Such an analysis is not just factually wrong; it enables its proponents to reduce all the political problems confronting the working class to a simple matter of representation (i.e. the Labour Party), rather than this being just one element in the systemic crisis of labourism encompassing ideology, the unions, and the method by which ‘the movement’ has sought to advance working class interests. Nor are they willing to confront the root cause of this malaise which is located in the changing working class composition.
Rather than starting with New Labour’s record a more pertinent question is what forces enabled New Labour (NL) to dominate? To answer this we need to consider how the Labour Movement functioned and why it is unable to continue in the same way today. In fact any analysis of Labour’s record needs to start not with the Labour Party but with the unions
The decline of union power
Within a decade NL had replaced social democracy as the Party leadership, enabling it to evolve in two complementary ways: while its policies embraced neo-liberalism organisationally the Party machine came to dominate and determine internal Party life. At first sight one of the most astonishing successes of NL was the eclipse of social democracy, replacing its polices with pusillanimous pronouncements about mitigating the worst excesses of Neo-liberalism and trading in its traditions and ideology with a repackaged social liberalism. Read the rest of this entry »
Adapted (by JD) from an article by Theodora Polenta (at Workers Liberty):
Up to Friday 26 June the Greek government of Syriza-ANEL was very close to reaching an agreement with the eurozone leaders. It looked set to abandon its last “red lines” and accept 90-95% of the conditions for a new bailout, including direct wage and pension reductions and explicitly maintaining the framework of the last five years of Memorandum.
The Greek government had accepted the logic that increased tax revenues would be based on VAT increases and the preservation of the regressive property tax; the principle of zero deficit for the financing of the pension system; the gradual withdrawal of the Pensioners’ Social Solidarity Benefit (EKAS), and the extension of the retirement age to 67.
In the end no deal was reached. On Saturday 27th, after a long cabinet meeting Alexis Tsipras announced a referendum. The eurozone leaders would not even cede enough to make a “honourable compromise’ for the Syriza parliamentary group and Syriza’s rank and file and electoral base.
The only talk of debt restructuring the eurozone leaders would accept was a vague reference to a debate on the Greek debt in the future based upon a framework sketched with Venizelos and Samaras back in 2012.
The drama of the negotiation for the last five months has been largely the refutation of the Syriza leaders’ central illusions, of a return to progressive development achieved through rational negotiations and by exploiting the “internal contradictions” within the creditors’ camp. The government’s negotiating team had the illusion that the eurozone leaders were sure eventually to back down, even at the eleventh hour, and concede a poor but nonetheless manageable political agreement, because they feared the economic cost of a rupture and because of their internal contradictions.
The eurozone ministers, accustomed to the servility of Papandreou, Samaras and Venizelos, thought that Alexis Tsipras was a puppy that barked but would not bite.
By John Trickett (re-blogged from his website)
This is a defining moment for the future, and arguably the survival, of the Labour Party. In the coming months there will be much debate about what went wrong and where next.
In 2005 I produced evidence that Labour had lost 4 million voters since the election in 1997. A substantial part of these missing millions were traditional working class voters. This pattern has continued over the last 10 years.
In a minor tidal wave of what looks like pre planned statements, a group of commentators have argued that what lost the election was a failure to tap into the hopes of “aspirational” voters.
However, there is not a shred of evidence for their argument. The explanations for our defeat are deeper than this simplistic assessment.
The truth is that Labour recovered amongst middle class voters but has suffered a cataclysmic decline among working class voters.
It is possible to scrutinise now the initial voting analysis provided to me by the House of Commons Library.
If we compare the election results for our last election victory in 2005 with the result last Thursday and analyse by social class, a very interesting pattern emerges.
Here are the figures.
It is possible here to see that the proportions of AB and C1 voters who voted Labour in the last three elections has held steady. Indeed Ed Miliband’s leadership led to a mild recovery of these voters between 2010 and 2015, (as it did among the C2 group.)
A full analysis of what happened last Thursday is not yet possible but at least one opinion poll has shown that ‘the election result implied by polling would give the Tories 12.5 m votes and Labour 12.2 million. However, in the event the Tories secured 11.3 million votes and Labour 9.3 million.’ There were almost 3 million Labour identifiers that we failed to mobilise.
Labour’s electoral base last Thursday was by far the most middle class we have secured in our history. A strategy based on a misunderstanding of what is happening in our country will not work. We cannot expect to win an election without reaching out to other layers of the population and equally mobilising those Labour identifiers who didn’t bother to vote.
In the coming leadership election, candidates need therefore first of all honestly to demonstrate that they can develop a three-fold strategy in England (Scotland is a very special case):
A) Hold on to and indeed increase our middle class vote
B) Reach out to working class voters, and
C) Mobilise Labour identifiers who did not vote Labour.
I will shortly publish further reflections on what we do next. However, the party should not elect a Leader who cannot concretely demonstrate that they can deliver B) above, since they are the largest group of the electorate whose support we have lost.
Those in the PLP with leadership aspirations cannot remain in denial or ignorance of these facts. They do so at their own peril, but more fundamentally fail to understand why the Labour Party exists.
Above: workers protesting in front of the Iranian Parliament, January 2015
Statement co-ordinated by Codir (Committee for the Defence of Iranian People’s Rights)
On May Day 2015, we, the representatives of trade unions around the world, raise our voice again in solidarity with the struggle of Iranian workers and trade unionists for fundamental rights and better pay and working conditions. In pursuit of our call on 1 August 2013 on the eve of the inauguration of the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, we once again call on him to fulfil the promises he made during his 2013 election campaign to act on the legitimate demands of Iranian workers for a decent living wage and the right to form, join and belong to a trade union of their choice.
We remind the Iranian president that two years after his election on a platform of undertakings to respond to the demands of Iranian people, unemployment is still high and increasing, inflation is sky high, prices of basic and essential goods are out of the reach of workers, wages are not paid on time and destitution has reached catastrophic levels. Conventions on health and safety are openly flouted. Since last July, large groups of workers – including miners, auto workers, teachers, nurses and others, in all provinces – have taken to the streets and demonstrated outside the Iranian Parliament to demand their legitimate rights. These rights are set out in international conventions such as ILO Conventions 87 and 98. It is only by the President and his government responding to these legitimate demands that working people in Iran and their trade union brothers and sisters across the world can be confident that they can rely on his words.
Over the years we have continuously received verified reports of workers and trade unionists being arrested, imprisoned, fired and deprived of their livelihood. Currently, a number of trade union activists are serving prison sentences for the sole ‘offence’ of being trade unionists and campaigning for workers’ rights, decent wages and improved working conditions. We hold that no workers should be detained in prison for demanding their internationally accepted rights.
The trades unions supporting this May Day Call to Action are united in calling upon the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to:
- Release immediately all trade unionists imprisoned for their trade union activities, including Ali-Reza Hashemi (General Secretary, Teachers’ Association), Rassoul Bodaghi (Teachers’ Association), Mahmood Bagheri (Teachers’ Association), Mohammad Davari (Teachers’ Association), Abdulreza Ghanabri (Teachers’ Association), Shahrokh Zamani (Painters’ and Decorators’ Union), Behnam Ebrahimdzadeh (Painters’ and Decorators’ Union), Mohammad Jarrahi (Painters’ and Decorators’ Union), Mahmoud Salehi (Kurdish trade unionist), Ebrahim Madadi ( the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company- Sherkat-e Vahed) and Davoud Razavi ( the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company- Sherkat-e Vahed);
- Halt the sacking of trade unionists and workers’ activists on the basis of their trade union activities and reinstate those who have lost their jobs for campaigning for workers’ rights;
- Remove all obstacles preventing Iranian workers from forming independent trade unions and joining trade unions in accordance with ILO Conventions 87 (freedom of association) and 98 (collective bargaining); and
- Lift the ban on the right of workers to commemorate and celebrate May Day, organise May Day events and mark 1 May as a national holiday.
IndustriALL Global Union,
ICTUR (International Centre for Trade Union Rights),
Amnesty UK Trade Union Network,
PEO (Pancyprian Federation of Labour),
Petrol-Is (Petroleum, Chemical and Rubber Workers’ Union, Turkey),
Tekgida-Is (Union of Tobacco, Beverage, Food and Related Industry Workers of Turkey),
TUMTIS (All Transport Workers’ Union of Turkey),
Deriteks (Leather, Weaving and Textile Workers’ Union of Turkey),
Tezkoop-Is (Union of Commerce Education Office and Fine Arts Workers of Turkey), Belediye-Is (Municipal and General Workers’ Union of Turkey),
Kristal-Is (Cement, Glass & Soil Industries Workers’ Union of Turkey),
Basin-Is (Printing Publishing Packaging and Graphical Workers’ Union of Turkey),
TGS (Journalists Union of Turkey),
CODIR (Committee for the Defence of Iranian People’s Rights).
We’ve put this on Shiraz several times before, but it’s so good I just can’t resist another showing. And today seems the appropriate day:
Enjoy – and learn (or re-learn) the basics, comrades!