Not Another Labour Party
Some trade unionists, fed up with Labour’s increasingly obvious anti-working class stand, have suggested that the unions should once again set up their own party. For, of course, this was how the Labour Party began. At the turn of the century union leaders, alarmed at the anti-union bias of the Courts, took up the suggestion of men like Keir Hardie for a party, independent of both the Liberals and the Tories, to represent Labour. It was not until 1918 that individuals could join the Labour Party. Before then the Party was little more than a trade union parliamentary pressure group (generally backing the Liberal government).
It has always been Labour’s claim to be the political arm of the Trade Union Movement. This claim is wearing a bit thin now. But many unionists still accept that the unions needs some political arm. If the Labour Party no longer represents them, why not set up another party?
In May 1966 Danny McGarvey, the boilermakers’ leader, said that the unions might have to put up their own men against some official Labour candidates. Last November, Joe Gormley, the Lancashire miners’ leader, suggested that, in view of the Labour government’s policies, the miners and others might have to consider forming a new party — “a trade union party”. Of course Gormley, a member of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee, did not really mean this. Only a few days later he was elected chairman of the NEC’s organisation sub-committee (which deals with discipline). All the same he did start off some discussion. A few miners’ lodges did break with Labour. Pottery Workers’ Union secretary Alfred Dulson, whose union has already stopped financing Labour, said:
“I am sure this is the way trade unionists have got to go. The Labour Party no longer represents the interests of trade unions” (Financial Times, 13 November 1967).
But the Scottish miners’ leader, Lawrence Daly, wrote in the Morning Star of 17 November:
“Withdrawal of the political levy is a mistake which can bring joy only to the Conservative Party and the millionaire press. The suggestion that miners might have to consider forming a new trade union party is totally irresponsible.”
Daly’s love for Labour is only recent. Unlike McGarvey and Gormley he did not just talk about opposing Labour; he actually did so. After leaving the so-called Communist Party Daly and some supporters set up a “Fife Socialist League”. In 1958 he defeated Labour (and Communist) candidates to become a county councillor and in the 1959 General Election he polled nearly 5,000 votes in West Fife against the sitting Labour man or, as he would have put it, the Labourite. One of the reasons he gave as to why miners should vote for him was that W. W. Hamilton. the Labour MP, had refused to support a miners’ wage demand! But times change and Daly is himself now a Labourite.
Of course trade unionists and workers generally have nothing to gain from supporting Labour. And of course they need to take political action to solve their problems. The question is: what sort of political action? To suggest setting up another party along the lines of Labour is stupid. For the Labour Party, by its very nature, was doomed to failure from the start. It has failed to protect the interests of the working class—and has in fact done just the opposite—not through any lack of sincerity but because any party that takes on the task of governing under capitalism must face the fact that capitalism is a class system and that it runs on profits. Governments must protect this system so that inevitably they are brought into conflict with the working class. This was the whole fallacy of Labourism. It held that a party of workers could run capitalism differently from a party of businessmen or landowners. But, as experience has shown, they cannot.
Labour MP’s are not elected on a Socialist (many are too scared even to use the word in their vote-catching campaigns) but on a reform programme. Returned to power all they can do is, as Mr. Wilson never tires of telling us, to govern, to keep capitalism going. In the process even mild reform plans and links with workers’ organisation go by the board.
What is needed is not another Labour Party but a Socialist party: a party that is quite opposed to capitalism: a party that takes its stand on the interests of workers elsewhere; a party that struggles for Socialism and nothing less. Such a party already exists in the Socialist Party of Great Britain.