Draft statement for the Socialist Alliance trade union activists conference

1. Over the last 18 months there has been a significant increase in militancy inside the working class. This has manifested itself in a series of strikes, particularly in the public sector (teachers, local government workers, college lecturers) and threatened strikes over pay. But it has also been evident in a growing political hostility to Blair and New Labour, particularly over the issue of privatisation, inside the unions. The form this hostility has taken has been a questioning by large sections of the membership, and some sections of the leadership, of unions affiliated to the Labour Party of why they are continuing to fund a party which is directly attacking their members, flouting union policies and pursuing an openly pro-big business agenda. The GMB and CWU have both reduced their financial contributions to New Labour as a result of this development. The FBU conference in 2001 took a decision to open up its political fund to parties and organisations which more closely supported union policies. Unison conference voted to review its relationship with Labour in 2001 and in 2002 the conference agreed to censure the leadership for failing to implement that review within the agreed timescale. Inside the RMT the leadership has reviewed its sponsorship of MPs who are against the renationalisation of the railways and in favour of the privatisation of London Underground. Both the strikes and the political hostility to New Labour have taken place against a background of growing opposition, worldwide, to the policies and institutions of global capitalism. This opposition has resulted in a wave of huge demonstrations across the world - including general strikes in Italy, Spain, Argentina, for example - most recently in Seville. And a focus for uniting this opposition, building links internationally - and for trade unionists building international networks that can produce coordinated action (as shown by the recent air traffic controllers strike in Europe) - will exist at the European Social Forum in Florence in November of this year. 2. These are all positive developments for socialists in the unions, and the Socialist Alliance is committed to building support for socialist policies inside the trade unions. In the context of New Labour's current monopoly over the political funds of all affiliated trade unions the Socialist Alliance has begun a campaign to democratise the fund. We want to end the position where funds automatically go to New Labour, which is attacking union members. The funds should be opened up to other campaigns and working class organisations that are actively helping the unions to defend the jobs and conditions of their members. This is not a campaign to disaffiliate unions from Labour, but to ensure elementary democratic control over the political fund by rank and file union members. As our campaign gathered pace - demonstrated in particular by the successful conference of trade unionists on the issue on March 16 - the bureaucracy struck back. We were accused of trying to get disaffiliation through the backdoor, of letting the Nazis in by dividing the labour movement and our supporters in the unions were subject to attacks and even witch-hunts. As a result of this counteroffensive the FBU rescinded its decision to democratise its fund. And, in a parallel development, rightwingers in the PCS attempted to undemocratically oust Mark Serwotka. Socialist Alliance supporters and other militants in a number of unions are now facing disciplinary charges, launched by the national leaderships, in a bid to isolate them and undermine their support within the membership. 3. This counteroffensive against the left is testimony to the success of our campaign. It demonstrates a real fear amongst the bureaucrats that we were connecting with the mood of a large number of members. The fact that the campaign ran alongside our support for the growing number of strikes against Blair's policies, particularly in the public sector, intensified this fear and intensified the attack against us inside the unions. 4. The lessons of our campaign and of the attempt by sections of the union leadership to undermine it are: * The bureaucracy's attack enjoyed some success because it was a well organised and well coordinated response by the bureaucracy, which had the full resources (financial, political and administrative) of the national unions at its disposal. It was aided and abetted by the media, which ran a series of witch-hunting articles directed at left leaders and at the Socialist Alliance itself. * That we have not yet mustered widespread enough support to win a majority of union members to our position of democratising the funds. * That we must therefore step up our efforts and organisation in the run-up to next year's conference season. * That we must identify the Socialist Alliance with support for all workers' struggles and campaigns, coordinate our efforts within the broader left and rank and file movements within the unions and build support for socialist policies inside the unions as an alternative to the Blairite agenda. 5. To these ends this meeting proposes that: * We implement the executive proposal to establish Socialist Alliance networks in each union, with elected convenors. The first stage of such networks could be e-groups (the Natfhe comrades have set one up). We must also increase our coordination of Socialist Alliance supporters in the unions, locally and nationally, to maximise our chances of success. * These networks are not and should not be built as alternatives to existing broad left and rank and file groups within unions. In the first place they are the means of organising and coordinating our campaign on the political fund (and where possible on other issues that arise). Indeed we would encourage Socialist Alliance comrades to be involved in existing left and rank and file groups, building them on a broad basis of union democracy and a commitment to militant action in defence of union members' interests. * The networks should set themselves a small number of immediate tasks. In our view the key tasks between now and Christmas are: o establishing e-groups to communicate o drafting model resolutions for all comrades to move in preparation for next year's conferences o selling the Whose money is it anyway? pamphlet inside the unions, trying to get branches/stewards' committees, etc to take bulk orders o organising branch and workplace debates on this issue with invited speakers from New Labour, ourselves, etc, and trying to win our position in the branches, workplaces and regions o working inside broader left and rank and file organisations, where possible around agreed goals, but always with the aim of building support for workers' struggles o coordinating our work with other Socialist Alliance members to build as large a rank and file delegation of trade unionists to the ESF in Florence as possible, so that the voice of militant trade unionism is heard, networks with trade unionists in other countries built up and the possibilities of internationally coordinated action increased o urging local Socialist Alliances to support wider trade union and labour movement strikes, struggles and campaigns both in order to help these actions win, and also to publicise the existence of the Socialist Alliance within the wider labour movement. 6. In the immediate future we should also build support for Mark Serwotka against the right wing in the PCS. Mark has openly identified himself as a supporter of the Socialist Alliance. He has operated on the democratic principles we called for in our manifesto (People before profit) and that we support in the unions: namely full accountability of all elected union officials (subject to regular election and recall and paid the average wage of the workers they represent). He has supported his members when they have gone on strike. For this the right wing have tried to throw him out. This is a test case for union democracy and the Socialist Alliance calls on all its supporters in the unions to do all they can to back Mark with resolutions, messages of support and financial support. * Getting the politics right * Building rank and file organisation