They echo the New Labour spin. “If [RMT general secretary] Bob Crow wants to sit at the table with a bunch of Trots, that’s up to them,” said Labour chairman Ian McCartney.
But the fact is that the union-Labour Party link is the most important relationship on the left of British politics. It is one of the main reasons why there has never been any effective pluralism in the political representation of the labour movement.
This makes holding Labour prime ministers to account depend on the democracy or otherwise of the party. And Westminster’s relatively strong institutions of scrutiny that Adam Tomkins invokes (-House of correction) have been rendered void by a neutering of democracy in the Labour Party.
In reality, the union-Labour link has always been more a force for bolstering the party leadership than of democratic pressure. Parliamentary leaders have always been able to exploit the fact that the unions have nowhere else to turn, and union leaders have commonly used the unions’ dependence on Labour to isolate dissent.
Imagine a scenario in which the union-party link was made democratic: able to fully express the variety of ways in which the unions might further their goals politically. If political funds could be spent on campaigning irrespective of the fact that they might lead to electoral challenges to Labour, the momentum for a left political alternative would grow beyond “the bunch of Trots” in the caricature. A movement for electoral reform would gather unstoppable momentum. England and Wales would then have, as in Scotland, a left challenge to Labour working alongside the Greens. Never again could Labour whip rebels into line and spin any challenge as “letting in the Tories”. The Parliamentary institutions that Tomkins details would really be tested and, as Stuart Weir advocates (-Let the people decide), probably radically strengthened.
Any shift in this direction would involve fierce conflict with New Labour. On the one hand, New Labour’s authoritarian, managerial view of politics drives it to cling fervently to the party’s historic dominance over centre-left political representation; indeed, it seeks to extend this monopoly rightwards.
On the other hand, Labour has contempt for the institutions on which this monopoly has traditionally rested. Tony Blair has long wanted to end the union-party link. This goal was always a central plank of “the project”. Hence, Blair and his henchmen will do little to discourage moves to disaffiliate. Communications Workers Union general secretary Billy Hayes and Fire Brigade Union leader Andy Gilchrist cannot expect support in their efforts to hold the line on affiliation.
The unions’ frustration with their essentially masochistic relationship with Labour is at boiling point, especially in public-sector unions. In Scotland, the Scottish Socialist Party offers an obvious escape route. South of the border some unions are tentatively experimenting, through working with campaigning social movements like those against the war and occupation of Iraq, racism and fascism. In some localities there are growing relationships between unions and community groups over issues like privatisation and also low pay.
Followed to their logical conclusion, these moves towards a more independent and plural political stance imply much deeper changes than a simple reallocation of funds. As Labour became the party of government, the unions” special link became a route for union leaders to become subordinate members of the British establishment – whether as members of the House of Lords, national quangos or the predominantly male elites that hold sway in many cities and localities.
In other words, the union-party link has often pulled union officials into a routine away from the needs of their members. As for the growing awareness among the new generation of union leaders that the renewal of the left requires a new relationship with radical campaigning and cultural movements, there is much to learn from the international social forums (see From Mumbai with hope). The RMT was a founder of the Labour Party, if it opens itself to the radical social movements, it could help found a new, open, plural left politics in Britain, willing to challenge rather than defer to the power of the establishment.
Hilary Wainwright argues against reclaiming populism for the left and for a leadership that supports people’s capacity for self-government
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
Glenn Greenwald was interviewed by Amandla Thomas-Johnson over the phone from Brazil. Here is what he had to say on the War on Terror, Trump, and the 'special relationship'
In 1972 David Widgery wrote about the bitter intensity of love in capitalism
Andrew Dolan on how the left must match the anti-establishment rhetoric of the right, but with a different politics
Emma Snaith speaks with directors Emer Mary Morris and Nina Scott about the power of theatre to encourage community resistance to estate demolitions.
In the first of a series of interviews with migrants' rights and racial justice activists from the US, Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Peter Pedemonti, co-founder and director of the New Sanctuary Movement in Philadelphia
Photos from The World Transformed festival in Liverpool, by David Walters
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
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Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
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Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform
Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out
Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant