Wednesday, 4 March 2009

RMT and the European Elections

The prospect of the RMT launching a nation-wide European election bid from the left is certainly an exciting one, and has already generated some discussion and speculation. The report below from Pete McLaren is of last weekend's CNWP steering committee meeting that went out on the Indie SA discussion list. Needless to say the process is far from finished, so readers and comrades ought to keep that in mind.

I want you to be the amongst first to hear some potentially quite exciting information.

It was announced at the CNWP Steering Committee on Sunday that the RMT are putting up the money to stand TU/left "lists" in every Euro constituency. Their main reason is to ensure left opposition to the BNP. They invited the Socialist Party, Communist Party and a handful of left Trade unionists to a meeting last weekend to announce this. They presented a list of their 10 key demands, which concentrate on rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, opposing racism and fascism, opposing privatisation, opposing EU militarism, restoring democracy to EU states (whatever that means), defending manufacturing and keeping Britain out of the eurozone. I know the SP have asked for an 11th point on internationalism, partly to counteract the largely anti EU stance of the RMT.

The RMT are calling this a platform for the election, not the start of a new party, and that whatever regional organisations are put in place, that will all end the day after the Euro Elections. However, the initiative is independent and trade union based, and we could keep the momentum going after June 4th even if the RMT will not not do so.

The SP have asked for the group organising this initiative to be broadened, and this was backed by the CNWP today, along with general support for the project as an independent TU challenge. As I understand it, the RMT organising group has already agreed to support Rallies or Public Meetings in every region. The RMT are discussing media publicity.

I suspect that this will be a left anti EU TU programme, and I suspect there will be a lack of democracy about how candidates are selected and the manifesto agreed - but I could be wrong. The registered party name is "No2EU-Yes2Democracy", which I think could send out the wrong message - the very word "socialism" should have been included, for a start. The politics behind this was described today as 'Trade Unions against the EU constitution' , with some left politics against privatisation added.

CNWP Steering Committee members, whilst welcoming the initiative, were critical of its probable programme and its concentration on the EU, and the lack of democracy so far.

There is even an idea at present that anyone elected under this banner would not take up their seats - this is already being challenged within the group around the RMT.

This is an evolving process, and hopefully there will be changes, with some democracy and accountability, and a more progressive programme. But, in any case, I do think the initiative offers real possibilities. There will be a momentum created in every region, with the left working together and structures may well appear on a regional basis. These do not have to disappear after the elections just because the RMT leadership wants them to. The initiative could become a step towards a new left party. The Rallies could be used to push that whole process forward.

As long as the politics are within the 80/90% we can all agree upon, I think this could open up real opportunities. I may be wrong. I had no idea this was coming, although those at the the LULC will remember that Rob Griffiths did say that the CPB was discussing with others the possibility of standing a TU/left list in two constituencies. I guess this is what he was referring to. It has now multiplied!

The Socialist Alliance will get regular updates from the SP and CNWP on further developments, so I will keep you informed.

Interesting times, maybe!

In Unity


Photo by Marc Vallée


Matt Sellwood said...

I think this is an extraordinarily inept and worrying development.

Some people might stop reading there and think "Well, Matt's a Green, he would say that". However, there are a number of good reasons that this move is baffling:

1) It's only three months until the elections, and they are talking about scrapping everything immediately after June 4th? How on earth is this a helpful, strategic or sensible approach to movement building?

2) There is a *sitting MEP* who has an unimpeachable record on workers rights and opposition to privatisation - a record acknowledged explicitly by the ETUC. Her name is Jean Lambert, and with the reduction in Euro seats in London this time, her re-election is not yet assured. The most likely impact of this intervention, particularly given that it aims to build nothing for the future, will be to strike a blow against one of the most progressive MEPs in the entire Parliament.

3) The formation and programme of this platform is completely undemocratic and seems to be being handed down on high by a few people in the RMT. This is surely a really bad thing?

Just a few, very concerned thoughts.

Best wishes,

Matt Sellwood

Jim Jay said...

I'm still not convinced this will happen.

As far as I'm aware the RMT has never made a democratic decision to stand in elections and if I were a member of the RMT I'd be very concerned that my membership money was being spent in this way.

Are we in favour of the top brass of unions taking decisions like this without consulting their members?

Come to that are we in favour of 'red unions' where workers of different political perspectives feel they have to join other unions?

As Matt says you simply can't organise an effective camapign at such short notice, and you certainly can't organise democratic selection procedures in smoke filled rooms without those who are financing the project not even being aware that the project exists. Which makes a platform of democracy a little thin frankly.

Anyway, I'm wary of being too down on this as I'm already commited to supporting other candidates but I do think that if the left is going to organise around elections it should do so in such a way that doesn't lead to demoralisation, poor results and bad feeling.

Jon said...

The problem with this initiative is that there is nothing inherently left-wing about the single issue name "No2EU-Yes2Democracy". This sort of thing has been done before, e.g. "Vote 2 Stop the War" who stood in 2003, with poor results. It doesn't look like the RMT intend this slate to evolve into a political party, although the networks created during the campaign may aid such a process.

It's also a simplistic name for the left to use. Although the left is opposed to many aspects of the EU it seems odd to reduce socialist policy to that one issue. I expect the slate will take votes primarily off UKIP and maybe even the BNP- not a bad thing in itself but not really where we want to establish a new party!

Phil BC said...

I'll have a go at answering your questions, Matt.

1) I'm afraid there's a depressing tradition on the left outside of Labour to leave election planning to the last minute, one the RMT shares, it seems.

Why the RMT would not be involved in any organisation after the elections is down to internal RMT politics. Despite everything (and as far as I understand it) there remains a Labour loyal wing in the union. For comrades in favour of the initiative it might be easier to convince them of a one off challenge - of it being a shot across Labour's bough - but very difficult to commit them to a united left outside Labour. This is probably true of the CPB as well.

The task of lefts involved is to build something sustainable out of the space the RMT are affording us.

2) I don't think the RMT/left list will unduly impact on Jean Lambert's vote. If Respect were standing, then maybe. If anything it will pull votes from the stay-at-homes, Labour, and the BNP. It would have been nice if an accomodation could have been reached with Jean and the Greens had the initiative developed earlier on, but assuming political differences could have been overcome, isn't this ruled out a priori by a Green Party clause that prohibits it from standing joint slates with other forces?

3) Pete's report says three organisations - the RMT, SP and CPB are involved. A contribution to the Socialist Unity discussion says three more political organisations have signed up. In addition I understand there are other participants involved too, representing a broad spread of the left and trade union movement. The final platform has yet to be agreed upon and will be hammered out by the representatives of these organisations. But I do predict the 'No2EU' name will stick, unfortunately.

How this has come about is not ideal - it takes us back to point one and the left's slipshod culture of electoral challenges.

Jim - nothing's set in stone. It might not happen, but now there's a bit of momentum I think it will.

Phil BC said...

Trade Unionists Against the EU Constitution letter/report that has been circulated:

Report of meeting on standing in the 2009 June European parliamentary elections


Dear colleague,

The TUAEUC meeting last Saturday at Unity House voted to endorse the proposal to stand candidates in the euro elections in June 2009 on the platform No2EU - Yes to Democracy as outlined below. The RMT executive committee has also called on other trade unions to support the initiative.

No2EU - Yes to Democracy has been registered as a "party" for the purposes of being able to stand in the elections. The meeting agreed that the campaign would be a "platform" in which parties, trade unions, trades councils and appropriate campaigning organisations could participate.

A steering committee will be established on Tuesday March 3 at 6pm at Unity House on the basis of one delegate per organisation. A further meeting will take place on Saturday March 14 at noon to proceed with the campaign.

If you can/cannot attend please contact to Brian Denny, c/o Unity House, 39 Chalton St, London NW1 1JD. Email:

Yours in solidarity,

Brian Denny.

Standing in euro elections in 2009

At the December 2008 EU summit the Irish government agreed to hold a second referendum by October 31 2009 on the same Lisbon Treaty rejected by Irish voters last June. It is likely this second referendum will take place some time in October 2009.

This anti-democratic move requires solidarity and assistance to the democratic forces in Ireland. In France progressive forces have come together to stand anti-Lisbon Treaty candidates in June to give a voice to the majority of French voters that rejected the original EU Constitution in 2005.

The question is how can progressive forces assist and mobilise support for an Irish No vote in Britain. UKIP and possibly Libertas will be standing candidates in the UK on a neo-liberal platform. This will be used by the Irish government, New Labour and Brussels to paint anti-EU forces as 'right-wing' and weaken the Irish No vote.

If a temporary platform was created in order to stand candidates the election could be turned into a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. It would also take votes from unhelpful forces like UKIP and expose the deeply anti-democratic and neo-liberal nature of the EU.

Such a platform could confront the real threat to democracy posed by the EU and fill the present political vacuum which plays into the hands of the BNP and other enemies of democracy.

The platform would be called No2EU - Yes to Democracy and its unique selling point would be its progressive demands and it would not take up the seats in the event of winning. The European "parliament" is a very expensive fraud. It has no law-making powers and all laws come from the Commission and are drawn up by EU committees heavily influenced by corporate lobbyists.

A democratic and anti-privatisation message could attract support way beyond the "left" and strike a chord with millions of disillusioned voters. In the event of winning any seats a convention would be called to deal with the matter.

No2EU - Yes to Democracy platform

* Reject the Lisbon Treaty
* No to EU directives that privatise our public services
* Defend and develop British manufacturing
* Repeal ECJ anti-trade union rulings and no to social dumping
* No to racism and fascism
* No to EU militarisation
* Restore democracy to EU member states
* Replace unequal EU trade deals with fair trade that benefits developing nations
* Scrap EU economic rules designed to stop member states from implementing reflationary policies
* Keep Britain out of the eurozone.

Mark P said...

I'm extraordinarily uninterested in the views of Green activists on this. They are against any left slates in regions where they have an MEP and in narrow party political terms that's fair enough, but they don't have anything to say to those of us who don't give a shit whether the Greens keep a seat or two in the European Parliament.

Jim Jay said...

Mark P - if you read the first two contributions there is plenty in there that should concern those who don't care whether the Greens get any MEPs or not.

Perhaps you should read them rather than just dismissing those contributions out of hand. For example are you in favour of "the top brass of unions taking decisions like this without consulting their members?"

Do you care whether unions take democratic decisions or not? Or does the fact that the question is asked by a Green Party member make the question, by definition, uninteresting.

Anyway - I wanted to reply to Phil's point 2. Yes. The Green Party is constitutionally unable to stand in a joint slate at the moment. That clause should be up for discussion at the September conference and may well change.

Brother S said...

I am feeling supportive to this initiative but I share Pete's concerns about the name which will sound very attractive to xenophobic Daily Mail readers! Maybe something more like- anti bosses' EU, pro democratic peoples' EU. Just a thought.

And I do feel that any successful candidates should take up their seats. There must be some percentage in it.

Phil BC said...

Jim, re: the RMT's role in the slate it hasn't actually been endorsed by its exec yet! These are exploratory talks which Bob and co will have to sell to his comrades, so it's not as undemocratic as appearances suggest.

Jim Jay said...

Well, they have until May the 7th to organise a democratic emergency meeting of the RMT, then organise selection, funding, campaign materials etc.

Personally I don't believe you can rush through democracy like that.

Phil BC said...

I'm not familiar with the RMT's structures but it probably won't require an emergency congress or anything like that. I don't think they called one when it decided to fund SSP and Green challenges in the past (or had they already gone through at conference? I forget).

Anyway, as I've said it's a shame they've left it this long but better late than never.

Jim Jay said...

In the case of the SSP affiliation (which was the cause of the RMT's expulsion) it was the Scottish RMT conference that made the decision. (from memory but I'm pretty sure that's right)

Surely a decision like this *has* to be approved by the members? Otherwise it's meaningless and dangerous. It certainly goes far further than funding an already existing project.

If he pushed forward without members' backing Crow could destroy one of the handful of militant unions in this country all for a half organised, anti-EU vanity project.

Phil BC said...

I don't know, Jim. Perhaps someone with a knowledge of RMT rule can tell us? But I'm convinced there's precious little danger of this challenge screwing up the RMT. Bob Crow's been gensec for a while now, I'm sure he knows what is and what isn't acceptable to his union.

I think it's unfair to describe this as a vanity project. I understand there are others in the union movement involved aside from the RMT (and I'm not just talking about lefties hiding behind a union figleaf), and as such it is an extremely significant development.

nationofduncan said...

I'm sceptical about this as well.

I think this would have been a fantastic development had it happened 6 or 12 months ago but there is only a short period of time before the election. This means I suspect this list will garner an atrocious set of election results as most voters won't have a clue who they are.

Jim Page said...

As a "dummy list" to confuse BNP and UKIP voters, on reflection, this could be useful. Its not as good as putting better politics over, but considering the left havent any other better plans for June, this may have to do

Mick Hall said...

Jim Page

You just about sum it up, it is pathetic that after ten plus years of this government the left has no viable alternative in place. Why is that, any thoughts?

If the tories get in next time I can see the 'force the LP leftwards' merry-go-round starting up all over again; and when the LP eventually gets back in power they will betray us all over again.

Merry-go-round politics, at times what an ineffective bunch we are.

Ah well, I have got that off my chest,

Lutta continua.

tim f said...

This won't damage the Greens. It probably won't damage Labour significantly either.

It might take a few votes of the BNP and UKIP, and encourage some stay-at-homes to get out and vote.

Realistically there is zero chance they will get enough votes to get a seat, but by altering the total vote count, total vote of parties who are near the threshold for candidates or different numbers of candidates, and shares of the vote, this could help the Greens and could even help Labour.

So both as a Labour supporter and as someone who welcomes any development that makes it more difficult for the BNP, this could be a good thing.