SOYMB reads in the Guardian that once again the the Labour Party and their affiliated trade unions are poised for yet another conference confrontation about representation.
For nearly 100 years the Socialist Party has held a clear and consistent position that trade unions and political parties need to remain separate. We have considered it bizarre that trade unionists in public sector unions should hand over their dues money to their, effective, political employers. Feeding the hand that beat them.
Trade unions need freedom to manoeuvre and represent the interests of the membership – distinct groups within the working class. This freedom of manoeuvre means getting the best deal for their members within capitalism, often as against the general policy of a political party.
Desperate though they are to escape from the interests of the trade unions as it limits the party's capacity to manoeuvre between capitalist camps, the Labour leadership find themselves having to go back to them to keep the machinery of their party afloat.
Trade Unions are not political organisations, their main activity being in the industrial field; but because of their interest in trade union law and the laws governing employment, it was inevitable that they would seek political remedies through one or other of the political parties. In the struggle of the working class against the employers, it is not in the workers' interest that their unions should affiliate to or support the Labour Party, or any other political party which is committed to administering the capitalist system. In order to be effective, trade unions have to seek to organise all workers irrespective of the fact that they are divided in their political views. Tying the unions to one or other of the parties of capitalism promotes division not unity. Workers join trade unions in recognition of their common interest against the employers. They need to learn that no matter which political party is in power its weight will be thrown in support of the employers against them in their struggles.
The ideal trade-union, from a socialist point of view, would be one that recognised the irreconcilable conflict of interest between workers and employers, that had no leaders but was organised democratically and controlled by its members, that sought to organise all workers irrespective of nationality, colour, religious or political views, first by industry then into One Big Union, and which struggled not just for higher wages but also for the abolition of the wages system. The trouble is that this cannot become a full reality till large numbers of workers are socialists. In other words, you can’t have a union organised on entirely socialist principles without a socialist membership. However, it is clearly recognised that a union can be effective even without a socialist membership if it adheres to some at least of the features of the ideal socialist union outlined above, and will be the more effective the more of those principles it applies. This is why Socialist Party members in the existing unions have always insisted on recognition of the class struggle, democratic control by the membership and no affiliation to the Labour Party (our members refuse to pay the levy to the Labour Party) . That is why our members join them and work with their fellow workers to get what can be got out of employers. Inside them, we advocate a class approach and internal democracy while arguing that the only lasting solution to the problems is socialism and the abolition of the wages system. The non-revolutionary position of the existing unions is a reflection, not the cause, of the non-revolutionary ideas of their members. However, when more and more workers come to be socialists the unions will be transformed.
We need to organise not just in trade unions but also as a political party with socialism as its aim and policy. This the Labour Party never was, even though it was originally set up and financed by the trade unions. Its policy was to work for reforms within capitalism. Labour governments did bring in some reforms, but they were never able to make capitalism work in the interests of workers. That's just not possible. All of them ended up merely managing capitalism and in the only way it can ever be – as a profit-making system in the interests of those who live off profits extracted from the unpaid labour of wage and salary workers. Instead of Labour changing capitalism, capitalism has changed Labour into the miserable band of self-seeking apologists for capitalism that everybody today can see they are. It’s high time the unions stop financing this capitalist party, as some have already done. Labour reformism has failed once and it would fail again. So, let’s not go down that road a second time.