Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Labour Representation Committee Conference

Planning for the Post-Blair era

THE MAIN item on the agenda at the annual conference of the Labour Representation Committee in London last month was MP John McDonnell’s announcement that, on Tony Blair’s retirement as prime minister, he would stand against Gordon Brown as successor.
This would force a vote and a full debate of policies within the Labour Party. All individual members would have to be balloted and all affiliated unions would have to ballot their members.
Given the current level of dissatisfaction among Labour rank and file members with both Blair and Brown, this would mean that Brown’s succession would be far from secure. It could lead to a dramatic change in the party and its policies.
The current LRC has now been in existence for just two years and is based on the historic Labour Representation Committee that first founded the Labour Party.
The conference began with a review of the LRC’s progress since last year’s conference. Individual membership now exceeds 1,000; it has more than 100 affiliated organisations and claims to be the biggest rank and file left Labour organisation.
Among those attending the conference were four delegates from the New Communist Party, which is affiliated to the LRC.
The LRC issued an executive statement for the conference, which said: “The Blair era is slowly grinding to an end. It is increasingly accepted that within 12 to 18 months the Prime Minister will resign. Events my even overtake him sooner. This presents the Left with two serious challenges:
“First, how the Left responds to the present attempt by the Prime Minister to secure in his last months his ‘legacy agenda’.
“Second, how the Left challenges for the future of the post Blair Labour Party.”
It covers the New Labour intentions to eradicate the last vestiges of the social and political model inherited from past labour governments and to install the foundations of a market state.
And it issues a call: “For the next 12 to 18 months the aim of the Left must be to campaign in the party, in our unions and in every organisation available to us to hold back the ‘legacy agenda’ of privatisations, attacks on civil liberties and nuclear risk.
“The LRC commits itself to supporting at local and national levels campaigns to protect public services such as ‘Keep the NHS Public’ and ‘Public Services not Private Profit’.”
This statement was endorsed unanimously – as were 10 other resolutions submitted by affiliated organisations.
These included opposition to state funding of political parties or a cap on donations – which would undermine the link between the unions and the party.
Other resolutions called for the renationalisation of the rail transport system, commitment to public services, opposition to civil service cuts, for a Trade Union Freedom Bill, support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, opposition to the “war on terror”, support for Venezuela and an emergency resolution on the Middle East.
But the key resolution, on which all the others hinged, was backing for John McDonnell’s leadership challenge.
If this succeeds, it could result in a Labour leadership both willing and able to implement all the other resolutions.
Among the organisations present at the conference were the Fire Brigades Union and the RMT transport union. Both of these unions are no longer affiliated to the Labour Party in protest at cuts and privatisation policies which have had an adverse effect on union members. The PCS union, which never was affiliated to the Labour Party, was also there.
There were calls for these unions to affiliate to the Labour Party in order to play a fuller role in fighting for change. The three general secretaries – Matt Wrack, Bob Crow and Mark Serwotka – indicated their personal agreement.
This was a conference marked by its unity of purpose and without divisions or splits. There were rousing speeches from John McDonnell, veteran campaigner Tony Benn, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Bob Wareing MP, Alice Mahon MP, Lyn Jones MP, RMT general secretary Bob Crow, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack, PCE general secretary Mark Serwotka and NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear.
John McDonnell and Tony Benn were both cheered when they expressed outrage at Tony Blair’s joining George Bush in being the only two national leaders outside of Israel to fail to condemn the bombing of Lebanon or call for an immediate ceasefire.
“The US and Britain are totally isolated in not calling for a ceasefire. Bush could stop this war immediately with one phone call,” said McDonnell.
And explaining his decision to challenge Brown for the leadership of the party, he said: “I did not work for 18 years to get rid of the Tories to elect a Labour government that would privatise more jobs in 10 years than the Tories did in 20.”

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