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Congress Discussion: The Trade Unions

Submitted by Ed Renyard and Lauren Wilson

The Trade Unions

The membership of those trade unions striking over the last year and a half and their continued affiliation to the Labour party stand in contradiction. The interests of workers striving for better pay and conditions in the broader context of the rising cost of living is drawn into contrast with a Labour party which has repeatedly dismissed the strikes, ordered MPs not to join picket lines as well as numerous U-turns on promises.

In spite the Labour party’s hostile stance to striking workers, many union careerists remain in bed with the Labour party. The head honchos of the trade unions have their own interests particular to them and contrary to the broader membership. For some the links to the Labour party secure a further political career, for others there is an ideological link to Labour party social democracy. Regardless of the reason, the stranglehold of these union fat cats is a barrier to disaffiliation.

We understand the necessity of working class organisations exiting the Labour party; we understand that workers must fight free of the shackles that the Labour party impose. But we must also understand how we move from conditions where trade unions are loyal to the Labour party, to conditions where trade unions are loyal to working class interests and to the struggle for socialism. The impatience of some for this change has led in recent times, particularly in the wake of Unite the Union’s conference in July, to them leaving the trade unions altogether.

The struggle ahead is not just a question of winning the trade unions from Labour party loyalty to the loyalty of the Workers Party of Britain. The contradiction between workers interests and the anti-working class interests of the Labour party will facilitate breaking the link with the Labour party. It will be the Labour party’s own inability to support working class struggles for better wages, better conditions and a solution to the cost of living crisis that will continue to lose them support. This split is already taking place and we in the Workers Party must assist in highlighting and deepening this contradiction with patience.

The fight for trade unions to disaffiliate from the Labour party is but the first step in the right direction. In the continued struggle for their interests unionised workers will become more and more conscious of the limitations the Labour party place upon them and the ideological dead end the Labour party presents for workers.

The struggle against the Labour party in the unions and to set them to working for the immediate interests of their members can be understood to be the short-term tactic, the struggle to win those unions to socialism as mid to long-term strategy. In this manner struggle is transformative, it is in the struggle to change and better material conditions that in turn consciousness raises.

In summary, we must uphold trade union membership. Impatience at changing conditions and consciousness cannot be allowed to undo the on going struggles within the trade unions to disaffiliate from the Labour party – leaving trade unions in protest undermines the balance of forces in those unions. Those who understand the struggle at hand must be amongst those workers fighting for their immediate interests, not leaving them to be prey of trade union careerists.

We must be at hand to assist workers in struggle against puppet union bosses. Both within and outside of the unions the Workers Party of Britain can lend itself to this struggle. Our membership within unions must agitate and help organise for political independence of trade unions from the Labour party, and media organs of the Workers Party must continue its campaign of exposing the nature of the Labour party. To sever the ties of organised workers to the Labour party machine will be the single greatest blow to the Labour party and herald a new era of British working class struggle.

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