Steve Hedley, assistant general secretary of the RMT, outlines why the railway workers’ union should re-affiliate to the Corbyn-led Labour Party.
I refuse to fall out with anyone over the debate in the RMT about re-affiliation to the Labour Party. I am going to address the issues as I see them whilst maintaining the utmost respect for those who have an alternative point of view, maybe for very good reasons.
For many years I myself wouldn’t have dreamed that I would ever be campaigning to rejoin Labour. I hated Blair with a passion and stood as a local councillor against Labour for the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).
I was proud to be part of our annual general meeting, and later special general meeting, that took the decision to sponsor Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) candidates, knowing that this would lead to our expulsion from the Labour Party.
New Labour was an anti-worker, anti-union, neo-liberal party that was practically indistinguishable from the Tories.
So what has changed? Well, in a word: Corbyn.
No one predicted the rise of Jeremy to become the leader of the Labour Party and (probably, if we all get behind him) the next prime minister.
Of course Corbyn is not a one-man band. Supported by fellow long-term RMT parliamentary group leader, John McDonnell, Corbyn is representative of a radical movement that has now taken control of the National Executive of the Labour Party and key posts within the organisation like the general secretary.
Influencing from within
In my view we must do all in our power to support the Corbyn revolution. RMT re-affiliation can help in three main ways.
Firstly, as an affiliated union we would have an extra vote in every Constituency Labour Party (CLP) we attend.
Secondly, we can stand a candidate for the party’s National Executive Committee.
Thirdly, we can – as an affiliated union – help shape the Labour manifesto in regards to transport policy. (Other rail unions already do this. Do we really want a situation where Unite, TSSA, and Aslef are influencing policy and we are not?)
Many may argue passionately that we are better off giving our money to selected candidates, and that our parliamentary group do a great job already.
There is truth in this. But to shape and influence the party as it develops, we have to be fighting for pro-union, pro-worker candidates in every council, mayoral, and MP selection. We can only do this from the inside.
Similarly, people say we would pay a lot of money, which would leave us short on funds for political campaigns. But we do not have to affiliate all our members. The Fire Brigades Union have a separate arrangement for Scotland. This allows us to be flexible if we do re-affiliate.
Others still argue that we should stay as part of TUSC. If TUSC was ever going to be an electoral alternative, it would have gained a breakthrough when the Labour Party was in the grip of the right-wing Blairites. The fact is, it did not, and its percentage of the vote is very small indeed. It is frankly incredible to believe that TUSC would now gain more votes when Labour has arguably its most left-wing leader ever.
Bob Crow helped set up TUSC, and at that point in time, in those circumstances, it was absolutely right to do so. But times have changed. And as someone who worked closely with Bob, I honestly think he would have a very different view now.
No sitting on the fence
For those looking for evidence of progress, the Labour manifesto has already changed massively. The commitment to renationalise the railways is what we have been campaigning for as a union since privatisation. In addition to this, Labour have now guaranteed that there will be no extension to Driver Only Operation when they gain power.
The Labour Party is far from perfect. There is still a very dangerous right wing in the party seeking to undermine our allies – Jeremy, John, and other left-wingers.
In my view, we cannot sit on the sidelines singing “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” and do nothing practical to help. No – we must be on the battlefield defending our friends.
After the next election we will either have a Labour-led government or a Tory-led one. We cannot sit on the fence. This is far too important.
We will either have another five years of vicious Tory attacks on workers, our families, the most vulnerable people in society, and everything we hold dear, like our NHS. Or we can have a socialist-led Labour government, working with trade unions for a better society for us all.
We need to reaffiliate to win the battle in the Labour Party, and then to beat the Tories.
This could be our last chance for a generation to build the type of society we want. We need to seize our opportunity to deliver for the many and not the few. We have to join the battle to win the world we and our children deserve.
This letter was taken from a public Facebook post written by Steve Hedley in a personal capacity.