Unions move to forge new links

Last week the Fire Brigades Union passed a motion to change its rules so that it can financially support candidates opposing the Labour Party. In future, the FBU will support only those candidates who back ?the policies and principles of the union?. Brilliant. This is great news.

Last week the Fire Brigades Union passed a motion to change its rules so that it can financially support candidates opposing the Labour Party. In future, the FBU will support only those candidates who back ?the policies and principles of the union?. Brilliant. This is great news.

Ever since its inception a century ago the Labour Party has made sure the trade unions that established it have had to pay through the nose ? at best for petty reforms. Capital and wage slavery have remained intact and, more to the point, unchallenged. While the trade union bureaucracies have intercoiled with the Labour Party?s reformism, the link with Labour has not brought the working class one step nearer taking power. On the contrary, it has put precious resources - exclusively - into a bulwark against socialist revolution.

Now times are changing. Last Friday?s FBU resolution was carried at its conference in Bridlington against the recommendation of the union?s executive by a card vote of 27,000 to 23,000. Moved by the London region, the resolution was backed by several Socialist Alliance supporters who spoke in the debate. This reflects a growing mood amongst a militant minority of trade union activists that political funds should no longer be used for promoting market values and Blairite class collaborationism. Similar moves are taking place within the Communication Workers Union and the RMT. Second-term Labour promises to launch a PPP civil war against the public sector workforce. Why finance the butcher?

FBU delegate Neil Thompson and prominent St Helens defector from Labour to the SA, said afterwards, ?This historic vote is an expression of grassroots disgust with New Labour?s attacks on public services and trade unions. Trades unionists are clearly looking for an alternative to New Labour and every day increasing numbers are coming out in support of the Socialist Alliance. It?s not surprising. After all, unlike New Labour, the Socialist Alliance actually supports and campaigns for the policies of the trade union movement.?

Comrade Thompson was adopted last week as the Socialist Alliance candidate for St Helens South, standing against ex-Tory Blairite Shaun Woodward, who was parachuted in after sitting MP Gerry Bermingham was persuaded to stand down to make room for him in this safest of Labour seats

Firefighter Steve Godward, who is standing for the SA in Birmingham Erdington against another New Labour ?parachutist?, added: ?We have firmly rejected the view that there?s only one party to support. The Socialist Alliance proves it is a real alternative to the big three.? And Joe Hearne, another firefighter and Socialist Alliance candidate, in Luton South, commented: ?This was a vote of no confidence against the Labour Party from a leading union. This clearly flags up the possibility of a break-up of the constitutional links with the Labour Party.?

Comrades Thompson, Godward and Hearne are joined as SA general election candidates by fellow leading FBU member Dick Duane, who is fighting Basildon.

The growing number of trade unionist supporters of the Socialist Alliance is immediately evident on our website (www.socialistalliance.net). Those listed now include the senior elected officers (chairs or secretaries) of over 130 trade union branches (including more than 30 Unison branches), of more than 20 trades councils, and of more than 200 public sector shop stewards/workplace representatives. One current general secretary of a major national trade union, two past presidents of other major unions, and a number of current national executive members of trades unions (including RMT, Unison, NUJ) bolster the list.

The most obvious destination for our union funds is the Socialist Alliance. However, for that to occur on a permanent basis the SA itself would have to be endowed with the kind of permanence that only a party represents and can provide.

As long as the Socialist Alliance continues to become more inclusive, continues to allow open discussion and debate and establishes proper accountability in carrying out tasks - in short, as long as it continues to operate democratically - then it becomes more and more worthy of financial support from militant trade unionists.

Neil Thompson has issued a call which is applicable to all trade unionists: ?It?s high time Unison members, in particular, asked themselves why their dues are being used to fund a New Labour campaign whose main election pledge is to privatise the services they work in and undermine their jobs and conditions.?

It is up to Socialist Alliance comrades in the unions to make the argument for a new approach to politics. Open the way to fund non-Labour candidates. Affiliate to a Socialist Alliance party.

But the Socialist Alliance itself needs to begin to debate and map out a serious attitude towards to the Labour Party. It remains a workers? party - albeit with bourgeoisie ideas and thoroughly obnoxious semi-Thatcherite leaders. Peter Taaffe, general secretary of the Socialist Party, is wrong.

We should not simply play into Blair?s hands by resigning from the Labour Party dispiritedly in ones and twos. Keep the trade union link with Labour and send Socialist Alliance delegates to meetings and conferences. Keep dual members in the Labour Party - organise them around our programme.

Leaving the Labour Party in dribs and drabs is useless. We want a Socialist Alliance movement inside the trade unions and in the Labour Party. That way we can - if the right historical conditions present themselves - lay the ground for a mass split of the working class - not just from the Labour Party, but from Labourism.

Jim Gilbert