Saturday, October 01, 2016
Working with the far left in the trade unions
A senior official of UNISON once told me that I “could have gone places” in our union if only I had not been “a standard bearer for the Trots.” I took this as a (not very intelligent) criticism of my willingness to stand alongside and defend comrades in organisations such as the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party over a number of years.
I am proud to have defended friends and comrades in both those organisations over many years. Indeed (although I am less proud of this) I stood for election as General Secretary of UNISON in 2004 at the personal request of a friend who was then a member of the SWP (and is now an official exactly as senior as my previous interlocutor).
I have been – and am – proud to have supported Tony Staunton, Yunus Bakhsh, and Glenn Kelly (and others) in the face of unreasonable conduct from union officials. I have never agreed with the politics of these comrades but I did not and do not support the use of administrative means to silence them. I recognise that diverse socialists can and will contribute to the future of our movement.
In 2016 I find myself having though to be very clear about my violent opposition to the absurd support for the “Vote Leave” campaign from those socialist comrades who have also chosen to abstain from the political fight within the Labour Party to support the socialist leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
The referendum result was a victory for racism (which is not to say that every “leave” voter was racist – just that every racist was a “leave” voter). Those who believe themselves to be on the left and who contributed (however inconsequentially) to the victory for racism have been very very wrong – they can and will offer no useful leadership to our class in the coming period having misjudged the most important question of our generation.
Every good socialist who is a member of the Socialist Party or the Socialist Workers Party would do best to shed themselves of that carapace and join the Labour Party and the real struggle (I do not say that they should join Momentum – of which I am not a member – since I do not know that an unappealing gaggle of ambitious people who appear to be the antithesis of Corbyn are worth such support).
Union activists need to develop our socialist politics and organise ourselves to become more effective in defending the interests of our members.