The Socialist 2 May 2018 |
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RMT members reject Labour affiliation calls at London debate
Affiliation to Labour does not gain anything for the RMT or assist Jeremy Corbyn against the Blairites under the conditions currently on offer, photo Paul Mattsson (Click to enlarge)
Socialist Party members in RMT
The RMT transport union will hold a special general meeting on 30 May to discuss the issue of affiliation to the Labour Party. RMT was expelled from Labour in 2004 after supporting Scottish Socialist Party candidates.
The pro-affiliation move is being resisted by a campaign to defend RMT's existing political strategy which was launched by the two biggest RMT branches. Socialist Party members in RMT are opposing affiliation on the terms being offered.
As part of the campaign for affiliation, a debate was organised featuring RMT assistant general secretary Steve Hedley arguing for affiliation and London Underground Engineering branch secretary Paul Jackson against. Around 50 attended. RMT members who spoke from the floor spoke ten to six against immediate affiliation.
The debate revealed that the pro-affiliation campaign is relying on assertions that not to affiliate will jeopardise Labour's prospects at the next general election and that unless we're affiliated Labour will not include RMT policy in its manifesto.
They ignore the current constitution of Labour - inherited from the Blairites - and say that only by affiliating can RMT members intervene in constituency Labour Parties (CLP) to deselect Blairites.
But most speakers saw through this. The idea that the affiliation of RMT will make any difference at the ballot box is tenuous. So is the influence RMT could expect once affiliated.
A seat on the Labour national executive committee would require negotiations with other trade unions and would be extremely difficult even if the RMT affiliated the majority of its members (at significant cost). And affiliated members cannot vote at CLPs - they must also be individual members.
One pro-affiliation speaker claimed he could take 85 RMT members to vote in one constituency! But it does not require a national affiliation of RMT to do that.
As RMT's general secretary Mick Cash told the 2017 annual general meeting, RMT has already influenced Labour to include renationalisation, repeal of anti-union laws and the maintenance of guards on trains in its manifesto. It is ridiculous to suggest that Corbyn is going to dump these policies if we don't affiliate.
The crux of the question for those who are opposed to immediate and unconditional re-affiliation is this - we all support Jeremy Corbyn and Labour's 2017 manifesto, but will affiliation now materially help to fight right-wing coups and bolster the left in the party? The answer is no.
RMT does not need to be redirecting our political fund away from those candidates we choose to support to instead fund the national Labour machine.
Why give RMT money to the Mersey mayor and councillors who are removing guards from trains? Or Sadiq Khan who is imposing savage cuts on Transport for London and London Underground?
Those who mistakenly believe the affiliation proposal is about building the left in the Labour Party should look at the way in which the pro-affiliation campaign demands we support the right wing.
Those of us in the Socialist Party and RMT prefer to stand, as London's Finsbury Park branch recently agreed to, with those who oppose austerity. In spite of opposition from some pro-affiliators, the branch agreed to support expelled Labour councillor Rachel Heywood.
She was prevented from defending her council seat in the London Borough of Lambeth after she defied the Labour whip to oppose privatisation and library closures. Rachel was following RMT policy, which is to oppose all cuts.
Are we really going to tell her, and others like her, that we will now leave her to fight without us?
We would rather keep the freedom to back candidates, including Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidates and others, who support RMT policy.
And all this before we even consider Scotland, where the vast majority of members are opposed to affiliation. A drive to force through affiliation at this time and on the terms offered is an unnecessary risk to the coherence of RMT.