I spent the weekend at a festival titled “Marxism 2008“, sponsored by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which is a large bastion of support for many unionists that have become disillusioned with the Labour Party as the representative party of the working class.
This is a particularly interesting time for labor union-party relationships: in 2004 the Fire Brigades’ Union disaffiliated with the Labour Party, and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) was thrown out for supporting other parties. Just this year in June, the GMB voted to end funding to 35 (out of 100 or so) Members of Parliament that they support.
I attended the following lectures:
“Is America Moving to the Left” by Jonathan Neale, spokesman and organizer for Globalize Resistance, the main anti-capitalist umbrella group in Britain, and author of You are G8, We are 6 Billion and What’s Wrong with America?
“The Unions, Resistance and the Rank and File,” given by Alex Kenny, from the NUT national executive committee; Laura Miles (NEC & Bradford College) and Caroline Johnson, , UNISON Branch Secretary
“Pay Cuts, recession and resistance”, Charles Kimber, Journalist International Socialism
“You can’t be neutral on the moving train”, Howard Zinn, author of “A People’s History of the US”
“US Labor in trouble and transition”, Kim Moody, Workers of the World
“Capitalism in Crisis- How should the Left respond?”, by Tony Benn, former MP and President of Stop the War Coalition
“Is Britain moving to the right?” Chris Bambery, Journalist
I had the good luck to speak with an individual from the Fire Brigades’ Union at the conference. He explained to me their new electoral strategy- fund the MPs who support their issues. Rather than just offering support to any Labour candidate, they cherry-pick their candidates. He told me this strategy has so far been successful, managing to secure the integrity of their pensions in recent voting.
Tony Benn offered a particularly interesting speech. When pressed about voting Labour, or many of the alternative Left parties, like the Socialist Worker Party (SWP), he recognized that parties are supposed to represent the interests of the membership, and much of the public was to the Left of the Labour Government.
But he emphasized that without winning the Labour Party, you will not get what you want. This is somewhat surprising from someone considered far to the Left.
Indeed, this was echoed by Chris Bamberry, a bona fide socialist, who expressed concern that by not voting for Labour, this may create a vaccuum for far Right forces to gain power. Although some in the Left certainly want this, thinking (I believe wrongly) that it will create the opportunity for Left groups to take power in the longer run.