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Whistling To Keep Their Spirits Up
THE FOUNDING conference of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) took place at the TUC headquarters in London last Saturday. The aim of the LRC is to "reclaim" the Labour Party for the left and for socialism. The speakers included several Campaign Group Labour MPs and a number of left-wing trade union leaders.
The conference discussion document stated that: "New Labour has meant simply a continuation of the reactionary political agenda of the past." The 10 June election results had brought New Labour "to the verge of destruction" and "voters in Labour heartlands are deserting the party in their millions at the polls". Yet the conference were in denial about New Labour being a capitalist party.
Delegates were at one in saying a Tory government would be worse than the Blair government. However, a member of PCS civil service trade union pointed out that in 1992 when Tory minister Michael Heseltine announced the axing of 30,000 coal miners' jobs there was protests by Labour. But, when Gordon Brown announced in Parliament 100,000 civil service job cuts by 2008, Labour MPs cheered!
Former ASLEF general secretary and LRC convenor Mick Rix described the dire situation facing the Labour left: "Party membership has collapsed... organisation is dysfunctional... individuals have been frozen out..."
Billy Hayes, general secretary of the CWU, admitted to feeling "depressed" after the expulsion of the RMT railworkers' union from the Labour Party and with the recent decision of the fire-fighters (FBU) union to quit Labour.
But he said there was no alternative to supporting Labour, citing the 1.8% national vote in the recent Euro-elections obtained by the Socialist Workers Party-led Respect coalition. He didn't, however, consider the demand campaigned on by the Socialist Party (which did win council seats in the recent elections), that the trade unions disaffiliate from Labour and instead use their financial resources and activists to build a socialist alternative to Labour.
The case for building a new workers' party was actually put forward, inadvertently, by Mick Shaw of the FBU (who supports restoring the Labour link). He said the FBU's decision to disaffiliate was not only the firefighters' seething anger at the government's attacks on the union during and since their pay strikes, it also reflected anger at Labour's policies - the war in Iraq, privatisation, top-up fees, etc.
He reported the question Tony Maguire (a member of the Northern Ireland Socialist Party who had successfully moved the disaffiliation resolution) had put to the FBU conference: "Are they 'our' bastards or just bastards?" Ironically, the LRC delegates applauded!
In The Socialist 10 July 2004:
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