Wednesday, 8 November 2006

Richie Venton's response to RMT disaffiliation

SSP Trade Union Organiser, Richie Venton, wrote this response to the decision by the RMT to disaffiliate from the SSP in last weeks Scottish Socialist Voice.
The national executive of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union last week voted to disaffiliate from the Scottish Socialist Party. This decision is deeply regrettable to all those who fight for genuine political representation of the working class against low pay, privatisation, anti-union laws and wars for oil. It is an undeniable setback - not just for the SSP, but also for the RMT’s membership, who need a genuine, organised political voice in the face of ruthless railway and shipping bosses, and New Labour’s anti-union government. It is all the more regrettable given that the policies of the SSP remain unchanged and totally in tune with those of the RMT. The RMT affiliated to the SSP in the first place because they had the courage to break from New Labour and recognised that the SSP’s policies on privatisation, workplace rights, public ownership and the bloody war in Iraq matched the union’s own aims and aspirations. They also took that historic decision in acknowledgement of the outstanding solidarity the SSP had shown to RMT members and other trade unionists in struggle over the years. None of that has changed. Close vote. The decision at the RMT’s national executive arose from a vote to disaffiliate at the union’s Scottish Regional Council. That vote was about as close as it gets; just two delegates voting the other way would have meant continued affiliation to the SSP. And as SSP national convener Colin Fox commented after the RMT vote: “I also regret the union never offered the party any opportunity to put our case.” In fact, the case for staying with the SSP is overwhelming, and where individual RMT members have presented it, other members and RMT branches have wanted to stay affiliated. Where else are they supposed to go? Back to New Labour? That, of course, would be the preferred option of some of those who voted to disaffiliate from the SSP - but certainly not of the vast majority, including a number of principled trade unionists who still vote Labour but argued for the union to remain with the SSP on the grounds that its policies remain the same, and match those of the union. When Tommy Sheridan, the SWP and some others decided to split off from the SSP, I warned in a letter to trade unionists: “This is an act of utter disloyalty and irresponsibility to the hundreds of thousands of working class people whose hopes have been raised by the Scottish left uniting into the one party - the SSP. It would be a particularly cruel deceit of those courageous trade unionists who fought for and won affiliation of the RMT to the SSP. “These workers did not affiliate to Tommy Sheridan - they affiliated to the PARTY whose working class socialist policies and fighting record matches their aims and aspirations. Why should they be dragged off into the wilderness by a split-off from the SSP?”Their split-off had no political justification, but one of its consequences is the RMT’s decision. The RMT’s national executive quite explicitly and unanimously voted NOT to affiliate to Solidarity. That reflects the widespread distrust felt by RMT members. But by splitting from the SSP, Solidarity disheartened and confused enough RMT activists to allow the narrow majority on the RMT Regional Council to vote for disaffiliation. The only victors in this are the enemies of socialism and trade unionism. This is not the end of the story, however. The reasons the RMT broke with Labour and affiliated to the SSP in 2004 remain with added force. RMT members face the same attacks from the employers and the war-mongering, privatising, anti-union New Labour. Picket lines. They will be forced into industrial action in the months and years ahead - and the SSP will continue to stand on their picket lines, organise solidarity with them, and act as the voice of RMT members in the streets, workplaces, councils and parliament. Disaffiliation does not suddenly mean we will sever all links with the RMT or its members. As Colin Fox said last week: “All the reasons the RMT gave for affiliating remain entirely valid. We share a mutual loathing of New Labour and all it represents.”This setback changes nothing in our determination to join with others in breaking the insidious link between New Labour and the unions. Pouring millions of members’ subs down New Labour’s throat does even less for the affiliated unions now than when the RMT dared to defy New Labour’s diktats two years ago and were subsequently expelled. And union members are increasingly reaching breaking point in their link with Labour. The fact that the TGWU leadership has taken the unprecedented step of putting a case for continued affiliation to Labour on their website this month is proof of the clamour of discontent from TGWU members. The working class needs an organised political voice and vehicle for socialism more than ever.The SSP remains that party, and we will continue to campaign shoulder-to-shoulder with the RMT and other unions on the daily struggles and bigger socialist aims that unite us. By Richie Venton SSP Trade Union Organiser

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