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.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
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
#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
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