WPB TU group: Win trade unionists for socialism

Nurses on the picket line in northern Ireland

The Workers Party of Britain Trade Union group discussed recently how to win more workers to trade unionism and more trade unionists to socialism.

The TU group recognises that the trade union movement is both the largest voluntary movement in the country and the single biggest organiser of the working class.

However, we are concerned that the trade union movement’s membership and influence has been in decline for decades and that trade unions have, in the main, been managing their own decline instead of seizing the opportunity to increase their memberships and leverage in the face of years of brutal austerity and the destruction of jobs and wages brought about by the capitalist economic crisis and exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Amongst our priorities the group will endeavour:

  • To encourage existing WPB members to join a trade union if they don’t belong to one and to encourage those who are members of trade unions to become more engaged, including by becoming reps and shop stewards, being active in their branches, sectors or divisions, attending union AGMs and conferences, and becoming members of their executives.
  • To elicit the growth of the trade union movement by identifying workers’ disputes and by educating, agitating and organising working people, particularly in industries and sectors where trade union membership density and activity is low.
  • To grow the membership and influence of the Workers Party inside the trade unions and to make the case for socialism by advancing the two aims stated above.

Anti-trade union laws, introduced by Tory governments and maintained by Labour, prohibit trade unions from undertaking any political activities unless this is paid for from a separate political fund.

We believe that trade unions are entitled to spend their own money on whatever they believe is in the best interests of their members, and the WPB policy of repealing all anti-trade union laws would restore this right to trade unions.

However, the present reality is that political funds do exist and that those trade unions affiliated to the Labour party make considerable financial contributions to the party via their respective political funds.

The Workers Party believes that the Labour party stands as one of the biggest roadblocks preventing the development and implementation of socialism in this country, acting in the interests of capital over workers.

Trade unions have institutionalised affiliation to the Labour party in their respective rule books and have deliberately designed these rules to be extremely difficult to overturn. However, the Workers Party believes that members of trade unions must be actively encouraged and supported in bringing motions calling for disaffiliation from the Labour Party.

At every level of trade union democratic structures, we hope that a debate on the relationship between the unions and the Labour party can be brought about by a campaign to disaffiliate.

Allied to this, the Workers Party urges individual members of trade unions affiliated to the Labour party to opt out of their political levy.

Trade unions affiliate to the Labour party according to the number of members contributing to their political fund, so members can exercise considerable influence on their trade unions if they collectively withdraw their contributions to the political fund for as long as that union remains committed to Labour party affiliation.