'Save our party' conference: Labour left gains in confidence

On July 5 the Labour left came together for a well attended conference called by the Socialist Campaign Group. Mark Fischer reports

Packed into the lower hall of Congress House, in central London the 500-strong audience heard an impressive range of trade union leaders and prominent Campaign Group MPs pledge themselves to “work together to reclaim the party”, as Tony Woodley, newly elected general secretary of Transport and General Workers Union put it.

Convened under the slogan ‘Save our party!’, the meeting underlined that the reconstitution of the Labour left has gathering substantial momentum. Compared with the previous conference last July, this represented a big step forward. Not simply in terms of numbers, but hammering out a political strategy.

This year’s event reflected a more cohesive approach to politically challenging the New Labour leadership. The election of a string of leftwingers to top trade union positions over recent years has massively reinforced the once beleaguered parliamentary Labour left and has moved things beyond the verbal criticism of Blairism. Of course, whether the battle plans of Labour’s new left will result in victory or not remains to be seen. What cannot be denied though is the growing confidence.

This found its expression in self-perception. Communication Workers Union leader Billy Hayes advocated burying the phrase “awkward squad” in favour of the “new left majority” - a suggestion that struck real resonance with delegates. While conference chair John McDonnell is no doubt correct that we are seeing the accumulated effect of growing disillusionment over a whole range of issues, the war has been the catalyst.

There was some talk of coordinated fringe meetings at the Labour Party conference in September and joint interventions. Other plans include for a national campaign for unions to affiliate to Constituency Labour Parties; forcing representatives to actually vote according to union policy; and a nationwide alternative policy road show.

True, many admitted that constituency organisation is at an historical low. The Labour Party has been “hollowed out” by Blairism, as one comrade said. Unlike the 1980s, the constituencies are trailing behind developments in the trade unions.

It is surely inevitable that the growth of the left in the trade unions will soon impact upon the Labour Party in a profound way - it does after all remain a bourgeois workers’ party with organic links to the organised working class, not least via the trade unions. Things could go in a variety of directions. Perhaps we will witness the final, apocalyptic mother of all political battles that sees Tony Blair finally severing the party’s links with the working class. On the other hand, perhaps the “new left majority” will sweep aside Blairism.

Then again, the renewed left-right battle in the Labour Party opens up the opportunity for revolutionaries to gain a hearing and the prospect of a totally different - genuinely proletarian - stripe of politics winning hearts and minds. The result is not a foregone conclusion, but the product of struggle.