Ahead of today’s RMT conference on political representation, Steve Freeman responds to our very critical coverage of its “No2EU: yes to democracy” initiative.
The Rail Maritime and Transport Union has fought the bosses. It has taken industrial action many times. It has opposed the policies of New Labour. The union has built a reputation as a fighting union. At the last European election the RMT entered the fray taking the fight into the political arena. The RMT opposed the pro-capitalist EU and the main capitalist parties, Labour, Tories and Lib Dems. It provided a militant working class alternative to the BNP.
The RMT has given a lead to the political left. A weak and divided socialist movement was pulled into greater unity than at any time since the Socialist Alliance in 2001. Around the banner of the RMT stood the Socialist Party, Communist Party of Britain, Socialist Alliance, Alliance for Green Socialism and part of Respect. The RMT should be recognised and given credit for the lead it has given to the working class movement. In the future we need more of this and better next time.
Should RMT contest the election?
Neither the trade unions nor the working class will win the general election. The capitalist class will continue in power either through a Labour or Tory government or a hung parliament and capitalist coalition. If the RMT stands in whatever guise it is highly unlikely to win a seat. Elections cannot be won without years of political work in local working class communities and without a national political profile.
The purpose of an RMT general election campaign is not based on false hope of victory. It is based on political realism. The biggest threat facing the working class is the capitalist crisis. Billions have been spent pumping up zombie banks. The capitalists are determined to make the working class pay. Their next government Labour or Tory will be determined to extract every pound of flesh from working class people. All capitalist parties prescribe the same medicine – major cuts in the public sector, redundancies, mass unemployment, privatisations and tax hikes.
All the capitalist parties will use the election to win the support for a programme of cuts. Each rival party will try to prove its plan for cuts and privatisations is better for business and deserves electoral support. The aim of the game is to soften up the working class and win the argument that there is no alternative. The working class must be ready to accept the nasty medicine or things will get even worse.
The next government will claim a new mandate to attack workers and their trade unions. Capitalist economic policies have to be fought politically and not just by trade union methods. The election is an opportunity to campaign against cuts and mobilise and organise national working class opposition. It is an opportunity to build a more confident and militant movement ready for battles that will follow. Making a powerful case against cuts, privatisation and unemployment and against capitalism itself is one aspect. This is not enough.
The best form of defence is attack. The legitimacy of their political system must be challenged. It supports and sustains capitalism. The rotten and corrupt parliamentary system must be attacked. We must mobilise against it. There must be no more trust in the parliamentary constitution built on the rule of the banks and not the democracy of the people. The reform of parliament must become a great working class crusade. The election is an opportunity to launch the crusade.
Yes 2 Democracy
Many workers agree it is madness to make cuts, redundancies and privatisations at a time of serious economic crisis. It is extremely wasteful to pump money into failed banks, fund imperialist wars and pay for the huge burden of national debt. The alternative is to declare war on unemployment and poverty by redistributing billions to invest in jobs and communities. Action must be taken against failed bosses whose have corruptly stolen millions in pay bonuses.
None of this will be possible under the present parliamentary system. The ‘constitution of the Crown’ enforces the rule of the City and the bankers. Ministers and Whitehall mandarins implement the policies of the City through a powerful executive which effectively controls parliament. Parliament has proved to be corrupt, feeble and ineffectual. Without radical reform which transfers power to the people, the rule of the banks will continue unchecked. Without real democracy the people will continue to be robbed on a huge scale.
Workers need to be organised in trade unions to defend their rights. Anti-union laws must be scrapped. Even so there is no trade union solution to the lack of democracy and the powerlessness of the people. The solution is political and begins with political struggle for radical democratic and social change.
The RMT was pointing in the right direction when it raised the slogan “Yes2Democracy” for the Euro-elections. However we are entitled to ask whether the RMT was serious about democracy. The slogan implies the RMT intended to fight for it. Has the battle now been won? Has the RMT given up on democracy and surrendered? Or was the RMT just being opportunist – simply adapting an easy populist slogan to win a few votes but without serious intention behind it.
The RMT must continue the struggle it began in the Euro election by forming a Y2D alliance. This would be an alliance of trade unionists, socialists, environmentalists and progressive campaigns standing in the general election in defence of democratic rights and civil liberties, against the anti-union laws, in defence of public services, against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for the radical extension of democracy and public ownership in all areas of our lives.
Towards a republican socialist party
Today Britain has a broken society, broken economy and a failing parliamentary democracy. There is a crisis of democracy. The MPs expenses scandal has exposed corruption. There is now a widespread distrust and lack of confidence in parliament. The BNP is ready to exploit this situation. But it brings possibilities for a new movement of the left to win the case for republican socialism.
Chartism was the first working class ‘Yes2Democracy’ party. Chartism was able to mobilise a mass popular movement for democratic rights. It was highly political because it aimed at changing the distribution of political power in favour of the working class. The struggle started by Chartism has not been completed. The system still excludes the working class from power.
Building a mass democratic movement for genuine representation for the working class is now a prime task for the post Labour politics. A new Chartist party for the 21st century will have to go further than the old Chartism and embrace republicanism and socialism. The general election will provide an opportunity to prepare the ground for a new working class party to organise against the next government whoever it is.