Editorial: Break the Link With Labour
Should Labour cut its links with the unions? The Labour Party can do what it likes, but if the question is put the other way round – should the unions cut their links with the Labour Party – the answer is yes, they should have done this years ago. In fact they should never have set up and financed the Labour Party in the first place.
Unions and the Labour Party have different aims which in the end are incompatible and antagonistic. The unions seek to get the best deal they can for the sale of their members’ labour power to employers. But wages, working conditions and terms of employment can only be improved at the expense of profits.
The Labour Party, on the other hand, now more openly and obviously than ever, seeks power to run the capitalist system. But running the system – the profit system – inevitably involves giving priority to profit-making over everything else. This is why the Labour Party, when in government, has always opposed strikes, imposed wage restraint and clashed with the unions.
The mystery is why the unions haven’t broken with Labour years ago. Why didn’t they break with Labour in 1924 when the first Labour Government threatened to use the Emergency Powers Act against striking tram-workers? Or in 1931 when the second Labour Government cut unemployment benefit? Or in 1950 when the post-war Labour Government prosecuted gas-workers for going on strike? Or in 1966 when Harold Wilson imposed a wage freeze? Or in 1979 when Callaghan urged workers to cross picket lines?
Despite this appalling anti-working-class record, the pressure today to weaken the link between the unions and Labour is coming not from trade unionists but from the Labour politicians. For crude vote-catching reasons, John Smith wants to reduce the way the unions have in selecting Labour Party candidates and in formulating Labour Party policy. But he doesn’t want to go all the way – he still wants the unions to finance him and the rest of his gang of political careerists.
The way this is done is a scandal in itself. Unions are voluntary organisations maintained by the contributions of their members. But unless union members go out of their way to sign a declaration that they don’t want any of their contributions to go to the Labour Party, a part of their money is diverted to financing the Labour politicians’ vote-catching machine. As a result many workers who have nothing but contempt for the gang of Labour fakers at Westminster end up paying money to them without being aware that they are.
Since Labour politicians opened the question of union links, trade unionists should seize the opportunity to break all organizational and financial links with the pro-capitalist Labour Party. These have served no useful purpose in the past and certainly will not in the future.
It is not the concept of the working class taking political action that is wrong. On its own, trade union activity, though essential, is a never-ending battle which at best can only mitigate but never end our exploitation for profit. It does need to be supplemented by political action but of a quite different kind to electing Labour MPs.
We need to organize ourselves, democratically without leaders, into a political party dedicated solely to replacing capitalism by a system based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources. In other words, into a real Socialist Party. Not the fake socialist party Labour once claimed to be, nor the openly pro-capitalist party is now so obviously is.