Britain: “A socialist alternative to New Labour can get mass appeal”

Union-sponsored conference debates way forward for working class and youth

It was unanimous: New Labour does not represent working-class people. It was nearly unanimous: New Labour cannot be changed. During three hours the discussion centred on what can be done to address the issue of political representation. Over 300 people attended. Over 100 could not get through the door.

Bob Crow (RMT general secretary) said that anyone who thought that New Labour could be reclaimed should explain how. He denounced the establishment parties for having one agenda: the market economy. He stated the need for a socialist society. He said that trade unions can only go so far, they cannot change society. And he made the point that the rail unions a century ago helped lead the campaign to set up the original Labour Party. However, in terms of practical initiatives he concentrated on rebuilding the shop stewards movement rather than steps towards a new party. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Lois Austin (housing campaigner and Socialist Party Executive) explained that if union leaders with a good record fighting for their members, such as Bob Crow and Mark Serwotka (PCS), called for an alternative to New Labour, it could quickly gain mass appeal. She suggested a national speaking tour to promote such an initiative and emphasised the role the railway workers’ union had played in the foundation of the Labour Party.

Hilary Wainwright (Red Pepper editor) felt that a structured movement was for sometime in the future. Agreeing with John McDonnell MP, she suggested that just because New Labour was finished as a vehicle for working-class people, did not mean those in it were wasting their time or should have a strategy to change it.

Yet there are many compelling reasons why putting our energies into a campaign for a new mass workers’ party is essential. Robbie Segal (Usdaw NEC member) explained that 100,000-plus Tesco workers are daily suffering systematic increases in workload and worsening conditions, while their union takes little action and Tesco bosses scheme with Blair. A new party is not just a good idea; it’s an absolute necessity for millions of low-paid, ripped-off people.

Jared Wood (RMT) said it was essential that any new formation was open, democratic and welcoming, organised on a federal basis. Again, trade unions are in prime position to give such a campaign credibility. Andrew Price (Natfhe NEC member) contrasted the relative democracy of old Labour Party with New Labour’s regime. Bill Sutton was the only Labour Party councillor to speak. He said he had tried for years to change the party, but failed miserably. He should not feel personally responsible! Now, he backs the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party and wants to stand as a Socialist Party candidate in next May’s local elections.

After the main conference, the Socialist Party held a meeting to give people an opportunity to find out more about the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party. More than 100 people packed the room, indicating the interest and potential. Dave Nellist chaired and shared the platform with Roger Bannister (Unison national executive council member), Mick Barry (Socialist Party Ireland, councillor), and Hannah Sell (Socialist Party executive committee).

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales

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January 2006