Saturday, March 14, 2009

Euro Election: An Opportunity Grabbed Then Wasted

If all the practicalities work out, there will be a list of trade union candidates on your ballot paper in June's European elections - but with the unfortunate title of 'No to EU - Yes to Democracy'. The first half of this statement should be great news, but it leads into a second half which is bad news.

With thousands of jobs being lost every week, workers facing pay cuts and public services being slashed and privatised - and Labour along with the parties that have always backed the bosses allowing this to happen - there is a crying need for an election campaign that stands for the interests and demands of workers. A socialist election campaign for jobs, services and democracy.

This need is even more pressing given the BNP's high chance of getting Euro seats and the big bucks that go with them. Mainstream anti-fascism's slogan of 'Vote for anyone but the BNP' is unconvincing and has limited effect when the 'anyone' is just a range of anti-working-class parties. To hope to mobilise working-class people to outvote the BNP, it seriously helps to have someone who deserves our vote.

So a national campaign fielding lists of trade-union candidates in every region is a great idea. And good on the RMT for looking to officially endorse such a thing.

But there is a problem, and a big one at that. In fact, there are three problems: the politics of the slogan, the narrowness of the platform and the way in which it has been put together.

As the recent oil refinery walkouts showed the need for the working class to fight back but to avoid nationalism, the slogan 'No to EU' encourages that nationalism just when it is important to challenge it. Our priority now has to be to promote and organise Europe-wide (and broader) workers' unity. We should offer an alternative vision of a workers' Europe rather than suggest that isolated British capitalism is somehow better than a European capitalists' club. We should indict capitalism - rather than simply 'the EU' - for the havoc its crisis is wreaking on working-class lives.

Having said that, 'No to EU' is RMT's policy, and I am very much in favour of unions fighting for their policies in the electoral arena. It would be wrong to say that unions should assert only those of their policies that I agree with!

But even if you agree with RMT's policy (as probably the majority of activists and members do), 'No to EU - Yes to democracy' is far too narrow a focus. Although there is some logic to a candidacy in the European Union's elections to focus on the politics of the European Union, there is no reason at all why it should do so exclusively. This is a reckless missing of a good opportunity to fight for a broad programme of working-class demands.

A socialist electoral challenge should not just be a bare political statement. It should be something through which current workers' struggles can express themselves in the electoral field. Current fights such as those against Post Office privatisation or the thousands of job losses in the railway industry will not find an expression in 'No to EU - Yes to Democracy'. On the other hand, workers involved in those struggles could well have used a broader jobs/services/democracy platform to express our grievances and give impetus to our fightback.

It is as though the union has picked up a powerful weapon then pointed it in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, most other unions either continue to wield a weapon that for several years has been pointing at themselves (the Labour Party), or refuse to wield a weapon at all.

RMT's support for 'No to EU - Yes to Democracy' has been agreed by the union's Executive, but not until after a letter from 'No to EU - Yes to Democracy' had circulated implying RMT's support! It was then presented to the union as a done deal, with no opportunity to debate the name or the platform. It came upon us with very little warning: it was not mentioned at the RMT-sponsored conference on working-class political representation in January, and when Bob Crow spoke at our Regional Council meeting at the end of January, he suggested that there might be 'People's Charter' candidates in the Euro elections (a much better, if imperfect, prospect). Many RMT activists are unhappy at having this imposed without debate, and even if there is no outcry, neither will there be a great deal of enthusiasm or active involvement in the election campaign.

The source of both the poor politics and the undemocratic practice is the same: the CPB / Morning Star. Fresh from helping Derek Simpson limp to re-election, the Star has now reverted to the obsession that has gripped it for decades: that All Bad Things Come From The EU. It is a dead-end that leads away from the internationalist socialism we need and which succours the nationalism that divides our movement.

Stalinism casts a long shadow.

By the way, there is already a blog called 'No2EU'. It links to the UK Independence Party and is written by someone called 'Bulldog'.

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