Trade unions need their own political representation

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AMID the media frenzy surrounding the publication of former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s autobiography, A Journey, ballot papers were sent out for the Labour leadership election on Wednesday. Was this a coincidence, or is the figurehead of ‘new’ Labour setting out to influence the vote to try to get his man elected?

A Journey is not a factual memoir, it is political polemic justifying the Thatcherite ‘new’ Labour project, the alliance with US President George W Bush and the war against Iraq, and the anti-working class policies of the Labour government.

Blair writes that Labour would lose ‘even bigger next time’ if it junked ‘new’ Labour. He urges the next leader to rebuild the party’s ‘broken’ coalition, reaching out to middle-class voters and rebuilding the ‘crucial’ link with big business.

Concerning the recent general election, the former Labour leader writes: ‘Tellingly, we lost business. This was crucial.’ He says that former Prime Minister Gordon Brown lost the election by raising the top rate of tax to 50%, signalling a ‘return to tax and spend’, and increasing National Insurance to tackle the deficit.

Blair also greets the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government as ‘a centrist version of a Tory government’. He backs the Tory decision to rapidly slash the budget deficit. It is not surprising that Blair should give tacit support to Prime Minister David Cameron’s government, since prominent Blairites, like former Labour Cabinet ministers John Hutton and Frank Field, have taken jobs with the coalition.

Most significantly, in the context of the Labour leadership election, Blair praises David Miliband, writing about having ‘detailed policy discussions’ with him in the early years of ‘new’ Labour and describing him as a politician with ‘clear leadership qualities’.

The former premier told the BBC on Wednesday ‘it may be fairly obvious’ who he is backing, but David Miliband declined to acknowledge this support, because Blair is the most hated former Labour leader since Ramsay MacDonald.

This raises starkly crucial issues facing the millions of trade unionists affiliated to the Labour Party.

Firstly, they will recall that Blair imposed draconian changes on the Labour Party constitution and electoral system in 1994 as a foundation for ‘new’ Labour. The so-called ‘socialist’ Clause IV of the constitution was scrapped and an electoral college system was set up in an attempt to destroy the influence of the trade unions within the party.

Secondly, with the exception of Diane Abbott, all of the candidates for the Labour leadership are former government ministers under Blair and Brown, and implemented the anti-working class policies.

Thirdly, the trade unions did not put up a candidate for Labour leadership. Instead, union chiefs are endorsing the candidature of one of those ministers who threw their hats into the ring, Ed Miliband.

As the likes of Unite’s Tony Woodley and the GMB’s Paul Kenny have made clear, this is aimed against the Blairite David Miliband, on the basis that his younger brother embraces ‘Labour’s core values’ for a ‘fair society’.

What the Labour leadership election makes clear is that the trade union movement, in order to fight for its members’ jobs, pay, defence of public services and the Welfare State, not only needs new leaders, but the unions need new political representatives too.

Already the railworkers in the RMT, whose forebears helped form the Labour Party, have been thrown out of it and firefighters in the FBU have disaffiliated. The issue of breaking with Labour is being raised continually in unions like the CWU and even in the GMB.

As the Trades Union Congress prepares for its Conference, this is the time to raise in every union the need for the TUC to convene a conference for the trade unions to have their own candidates in elections, to fight for the interests of workers in Parliament.

Central to such a conference will be the issue of organising the full industrial and political strength of the trade unions in a general strike to bring down Cameron’s coalition regime.

With the world capitalist crisis creating a revolutionary confrontation in Britain, the interests of the working class can only be defended by a workers government and socialist policies. This requires replacing the reformist trade union leaders. to win this struggle the leadership of the Workers Revolutionary Party is essential.