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RMT and the Labour Party affiliation debate
Jared Wood, RMT Neasden
The RMT transport workers' union annual conference (AGM), held in June, recognised the magnificent victory of Jeremy Corbyn in becoming leader of the Labour Party and vowed to continue supporting Jeremy and his allies to transform Labour into a fighting, socialist party of struggle. There was unanimous agreement that the victory of Corbyn raises the possibility of RMT once again affiliating to the Labour Party.
But the discussion and decision of the RMT AGM also recognised that the structures of the Labour Party remain, at this time, in the hands of the right wing. Delegates were opposed to RMT dedicating its political fund to the support of MPs, councillors and mayors who vote for austerity cuts and privatisation, especially those who have direct authority over our members' terms and conditions on Merseyrail, Rail North and London Underground.
The decision of the Welsh Labour government to privatise metro services in south Wales, taken since the RMT AGM, has further highlighted the contradiction RMT would face in funding a party that is carrying out attacks on our own members.
The issue of Labour affiliation is also complicated by the hostility of many workers, including RMT members, to Labour in Scotland.
RMT has a close and long-standing relationship with Jeremy and John McDonnell, as demonstrated by both the leader and shadow chancellor attending the RMT AGM. Ian Mearns (MP for Gateshead), coordinator of the RMT parliamentary group, also attended and spoke.
In a fringe meeting, John McDonnell thanked RMT for being the first trade union to make funds available for Jeremy's leadership election campaign. This relationship has been developed while RMT has maintained an independent political position.
Recognising this, one of the concerns raised at the AGM in relation to any future affiliation, was the potential loss of RMT's ability to fund Jeremy and John's fight to transform the party if our political fund has been dedicated to the central Labour Party machine.
The RMT AGM therefore agreed to begin a process of discussion, both with the members of our union and with the Labour Party to establish on what basis, if any, RMT may want to affiliate to the party.
The resolution below has been passed by the Neasden RMT branch since the AGM and will be discussed at a forthcoming London transport regional council (LTRC) meeting. The resolution seeks to identify some of the key questions that were raised in the AGM discussion and that members will need answers to, in order to consider RMT's formal relationship with Labour.
Resolution from Neasden RMT branch to London transport regional council of the RMT
This branch/LTRC notes the decision of the 2017 RMT AGM to conduct a consultation regarding our union's relationship with the Labour Party.
We endorse the position set out in the resolutions from the National Executive Committee (NEC) on political strategy and the resolution on political strategy submitted by Neasden branch that formed part of the discussion at the AGM.
In keeping with the AGM decision reached, we urge the NEC and general secretary to ensure that discussion with Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and other relevant representatives of the Labour Party are conducted in good time to inform branches and regions of our union during the forthcoming consultation.
In the course of these discussions RMT should seek a response to the following points that were raised by delegates in the AGM discussion:
- Can RMT maintain an independent political position in Scotland if we affiliate in England and Wales?
- Will Labour local councillors be instructed to vote against further cuts to local services and privatisation of services? Is the Labour Party leadership prepared to support the position that councillors should vote against all austerity cuts?
- Will Labour councillors on the Rail North and Merseyrail authorities block the extension of driver-only operation?
- Will RMT be required to support London mayor Sadiq Khan, who is cutting billions from TfL's budget, as a result of affiliating to Labour?
- What rights within the structures of the Labour Party will RMT be granted in return for affiliation?
- Will RMT be free to choose its own delegates to Labour Party bodies irrespective of whether individuals have been accepted for membership of the Labour Party?
- What will be the cost of affiliating all or part of our membership? What will be the effect of affiliating part of the membership rather than the whole membership on RMT's rights to representation within the Labour Party structures?
- What is the Labour leadership's strategy for transforming the Parliamentary Labour Party and Labour Party structures to the socialist position of the leadership?
- What changes would need to be made to the RMT rulebook in order to facilitate affiliation to Labour?
In the light of responses on all of these issues, branches and regions will be better placed to make an assessment on the balance of advantages and disadvantages of affiliation to Labour.