The May Day March that made its way from outside Marx House on Clerkenwell Green to Trafalgar Square last Monday was the largest for decades and showed that Britain’s trade union movement can still turn out thousands when it has a mind to.
Here was the real British working class united and in upbeat mood to fight to defend pensions, education and the NHS; to oppose privatisation and to demand backing for a new Bill of Workers’ Rights. It was a far cry from the image of ignorant, apathetic racists that much of the media – and some Blairite Labour MPs – regard the working class to be. There were also plenty of colourful international contingents on the march as usual; reminding us that in celebrating May Day we are part of a global movement supported by billions.
As one speaker in Trafalgar Square put it, “How can we hope to win against people like Bush and Blair? We’ve only got six billion on our side!”
Organisation is the key. The power and strength of millions of workers can only be effective through unity and organisation. In 1848 the Chartist leader Ernest Jones told a rally in Manchester: “Some tell you that teetotalism will get you the Charter: The Charter don’t lie at the bottom of a glass of water. Some tell you social cooperation will do it; cooperation is at the mercy of those who hold political power. Then what will do it? Two year ago and more, I went to prison for speaking three words. Those words were: ‘Organise – organise – organise’… And this day again I say: ‘Organise! Organise! Organise!’”
Organisation is power and the ruling class know that once the working class is properly organised, they are doomed. That is why ever since the Chartist days they have sought to destroy and undermine working class organisation. They have sent splitters into our movement to foster faint-heartedness, reformism, revisionism, confusion and ultra-leftism.
The front line of the class struggle is inside the labour and trade union movement because the ruling class know that spreading disorganisation here is the key to them holding on to power.
The Labour Party was founded to be the political expression of the trade unions, the organised working class. And the ruling class set out to subvert it from the beginning. The correct strategy of the working class must be to combat that subversion and throw out the treacherous Blairites. But that cannot be done by quitting the arena of struggle. That is to surrender the labour movement to the enemy.
One small group calling themselves communists were calling on the unions to “Break the link with Labour! Defy the anti-trade union laws!” Nothing would suit ruling class better than to have the potential power of organised working class further fractured and splintered. Break the link with Labour and the movement will be fragmented and working class unity virtually impossible to achieve.
We owe it to our predecessors from the Chartists onwards, who struggled to build the labour movement we have today – and to the rank and file trade unionists and Labour Party members who are still working hard to save the party from a catastrophe in the local elections and keep the BNP at bay – to defend the unity and strength of the movement.
The current spate of scandals surrounding John Prescott and Charles Clarke – not to forget Tessa Jowell and the cash for coronets scam – have brought disgrace on the Labour leadership. The privatisation policies of Patricia Hewitt and Ruth Kelly are an attack on the working class. But all of them put together pale into insignificance compared to Blair taking the country into an illegal war on false pretences.
The trade union and labour movement leaders throughout the country must be aware that the leadership of their party is in the hands of the class enemy – and that they have the power and the organisational tools to throw out Blair and his clique. The rank and file have made their feelings clear on May Day. By the time you read this, it is likely that voters throughout the country will have made their views clear. The labour movement must use that power and deliver the movement from Blairism.