by Colin Turbett • Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard reiterated his party’s recent commitment to bring ScotRail back into public hands at April’s STUC conference in Aviemore.
A press release prior to the conference stressed his wish to ‘reforge’ the alliance between Labour and the trade unions.
Without doubt, Leonard was addressing such remarks to RMT activists who are currently considering re-affiliation to Labour—a decision will be made at a special national delegate meeting before the end of May this year.
The RMT are a strong and active trade union with a proud campaigning record including a willingness to lead their members into strike action when this is necessary.
However they are not, as some trade unions have been in the past, neutral on political issues and their distance from Labour has been based on sound socialist principal.
A turn back to Labour at this time is not therefore a turn to the left but will correctly be seen by many as a move rightwards.
The RMT did not leave Labour voluntarily when they parted company in 2004—they were expelled under Labour Party rules for daring to support the Scottish Socialist Party north of the Border—a decision confirmed at a special national conference by an overwhelming majority of 42-8.
Although subsequent division over the Sheridan Court case resulted in their disaffiliation from the SSP a few years later, they continued to support socialist candidates on an individual basis, principally through TUSC (the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition) but also on occasion, SSP and Greens.
Such support was based on the candidates record of socialist campaigning alongside RMT activists and allowed some freedom for Branches and Regions—albeit such support had to be endorsed by the Union’s Executive. This was of course important financially as the RMT would back its support with cash.
However the ground within the union changed after General Secretary Bob Crow’s untimely death in 2014. Bob was replaced by Mick Cash, a Labour Party member who had been on Labour’s NEC at the time of the expulsion in 2004.
It has been no secret that Cash wanted the RMT back in the Labour fold and the rise of Corbyn and the left in the party has given such arguments a credence they had previously lacked.
After papers were circulated that cast a deliberately poor light on TUSC’s electoral performance, the 2017 AGM of the Union decided that the pros and cons of re-affiliation should be considered though widespread membership discussion. Labour’s NEC took advantage by formerly inviting the RMT to reaffiliate in March of this year.
Following this a ‘Discussion Paper’ was circulated which provided Labour’s responses to question posed by the RMT. This paper is entirely one-sided and provides no comparative case for the present policy.
It talks up the gains of the left in Labour and the impetus this gives to policies and structures a left leaning trade union would support, but nowhere looks at the issues that might arise should Labour lurch back to the right—it assumes that RMT influence might prevent this.
The situation in Scotland, where the RMT decided to support Scottish independence following consultation with members in 2014, is not even mentioned.
The rider in the document that if in Labour, the union could still support the campaigning activities of other parties, is negated by the bold statement that it could not support anyone standing against any Labour candidate in elections. RMT members face a crucial decision that will be made by delegates following local Branch meetings taking place just now.
Affiliation to Labour took place initially over a hundred years ago and since then left wing trade unions have never achieved any lasting influence.
The history of the party suggests that it is incapable of leading a lasting fight for socialism—a move to the left is always followed by a move back to the right and Corbyn’s party is full of individuals and groups, especially within its parliamentary group, intent on doing just that.
Corbyn’s Labour may be a positive break from New Labour’s legacy but it still has a way to go if it is to match the RMT’s position (and for that matter the SSP’s stance also) on the anti-trade union laws.
Within Labour the RMT could well become a prisoner to reaction—shackling its ability to challenge right wing Labour candidates in public elections.
The SSP urges RMT members to retain the political freedom they presently enjoy.
We have a proud record of active support for RMT members over such issues in Scotland as CalMac privatisation and Driver-Only trains and would want to maintain the links that have been made—unrestrained by ties to a Labour Party whose support at ground level has often been absent.