Socialist Worker

Activists have to learn lessons of Rix's defeat

Issue No. 1862

THE DEFEAT of Mick Rix, the leader of the Aslef train drivers' union, has caused big waves. Many union activists are asking how it could happen. As contentious as what went wrong is the question of what should come next, and what his defeat means in other unions.

Although the result was celebrated in Downing Street, it is not the beginning of a trend towards support for New Labour in the unions. Brady, the winner, didn't win on a platform of support for Blair's policies. Rather, in a nasty right wing campaign, he argued that the union should keep out of politics.

Many Aslef members rejected this, but pinning down exactly what Rix stood for wasn't easy. On the one hand Rix ensured Aslef added its voice to the millions within the unions who opposed Blair's war against Iraq. But on the other he made high profile efforts to maintain the link with the Labour Party.

The crucial fault lay in not building an organisation at grassroots level to win real and lasting change in the union and against the bosses. The tiny network that had helped to elect Rix last time was allowed to wither, and the union machine was used instead in a top-down fashion. There are some voices in Aslef, and outside, arguing for the left to pull out and join the RMT.

Nothing would please Brady and New Labour more than to see the left go. Better to stay, fight, and build from below. The left has had a string of successes in the unions, but in order to build a lasting challenge to both Labour and the bosses, the focus needs to be on the rank and file.
Mac McKenna, RMT member, London Underground

MICK RIX'S defeat is a salutary lesson for all the 'new breed' of left wing union leaders that they cannot afford to rest on their laurels. They must put down roots deep into the rank and file of the unions, and build grassroots support for their socialist politics and policies amongst their members.

Likewise, socialist union activists must recognise the absolute necessity of orienting their work in the unions around the rank and file members, rather than relying solely on the election of left wing leaders.
Simon Midgley, CWU unit rep, Royal Mail, Huddersfield

Army is covering up deaths

AMNESTY International called for a public inquiry two weeks ago into the deaths of 1,734 British soldiers in 'non-combat situations'. The report's author, Livio Zilli of Amnesty, said, 'There is a legitimate and growing perception that there has been an institutional collusion in, and the covering up of, such incidents.'

Some of the deaths are possible unlawful killings, either intentional or as a result of negligence and self inflicted deaths, at times following bullying and other ill-treatment. As my recent case in London showed, the Ministry of Defence can have no duty of care towards its employees.

The Royal Courts of Justice endorsed the ministry's right to abuse, kill, inject and treat its personnel in any way it wishes. Despite all the talk of 'our boys' during the Gulf War, the ministry could not care less and actively obstructs any attempt at obtaining answers and justice. A full public inquiry should be granted to investigate every single death.
Barry Donnan former soldier, Scotland

Brown is no better

THE IDEA of 'reclaiming' the Labour Party by getting rid of Tony Blair and replacing him with someone like Gordon Brown is a non-starter. Brown is no better than Blair. He is determined to defend Blair over the war on Iraq. Only last week he made a speech supporting the war and said, 'Thank God it happened.'

He has just as much commitment to big business and indiscriminate support for George Bush as Tony Blair. We shouldn't have any hope that he'll be any better.
Kerri Parke, East London

Genoa thanks

WHAT A big and pleasant surprise! It was 20 July and I was in Alimonda Place in Genoa (where Carlo Giuliani died two years ago during the Genoa G8 protests). I met the Globalise Resistance and SWP militants with the Greek comrades again during the protests to commemorate Carlo's death.

For me it was exciting to meet again some people that I met two years ago. But it was not the only important thing. I believe in internationalism and solidarity. Yours was a great demonstration of this on that sad day. Thank you all.
Ivano Canuti, Genoa, Italy

Myth of equality is falling apart

FOR ALMOST a decade now you can't help feeling that there has been a post-feminist conspiracy in much of the mainstream media. The new lad/ladette culture of the mid-1990s encouraged young men and women to believe that oppression had been eradicated. It made sexism acceptable again.

In most national newspapers we are provided with examples of what they term 'strong' women - usually individualistic, pro-Tory women or pop singers like Madonna. The fact that women join trade unions and involve themselves in campaigns that are for the good of humanity rarely warrants a mention. We live in a society dominated by class division where equality between the rich and poor is at its widest since 1832 by some estimates.

It is time to reassert something Marxists like Lenin, Trotsky, Clara Zetkin and Alexandra Kollontai recognised a century ago. Working class women and men have a common struggle against the ruling class, who aim to keep them divided.
Jeff Heel, Barnsley

Hayes: I don't back Brown

MARTIN SMITH'S piece in last week's Socialist Worker made the assertion that I as the general secretary of the CWU talk about backing Gordon Brown. This is untrue.

I don't know where Martin gets this idea from, and I trust that Socialist Worker will print this correction.

Billy Hayes, general secretary, Communication Workers Union

No Love lost for Iraqi people

WITH THE establishment of the toothless Iraqi representative assembly, Tony Blair might think he's suckered the country into believing that genuine democratic freedom for the Iraqi people is part of the US/UK plan. Not all Labour MPs are quite as up to date on the spin.

At a recent public meeting Andy Love, Labour MP for Edmonton in north London, made a speech that had the audience's jaws dropping. The prime minister, he said, had never promised democracy in Iraq, and they're unlikely to get it soon. This shouldn't worry us, because a democratic government would be far too anti-Western.

It's nice to see he's still naive enough to tell us the truth. Whether his constituents in the audience will reward him for his honesty at the next election is another question entirely.
Elaine Graham-Leigh, North London

Work should also mean control

THE PROBLEM with Kevin Ovenden's (Socialist Worker, 12 July) citing of Marx was that the definition of 'work' remains strictly within the sphere the boss deems economically useful. Real work can be undertaken in research, creative undertakings, community-based activities.

The real question is workers' control at the point of production, debating what is to be produced, how it is made and what the consequences are of production down the line. Unless we take up this fight, all our words are worth nothing.
John Johnson, Chelmsford

This man should be kicked out

I READ with disbelief about Roger Lyons - the general secretary of the Amicus-MSF union who is about to stand down. I have been a trade unionist for over 30 years. After reading about Lyons' perks I felt betrayed by this parasite.

Trade union leaders enjoy a very different lifestyle to the vast majority of union members. Their pay is a far cry from ordinary union members' wages. I feel the words 'stand down' should be changed to 'kick out', and urge Amicus members to do this forthwith.
John Scobbie, Coventry

Unions have key role to play

THE TRADE unions must harness the deep anger against the occupation of Iraq. My branch of the National Union of Journalists met recently. We had a really good turnout, with several new members present.

The meeting ended with a unanimous vote calling on our union's leadership to support the planned Stop the War Coalition delegation of trade unionists to Iraq.

Our members needed no convincing that the unions have a major role to play in helping fight the occupation and establish workers' rights in Iraq.
Dave Crouch, Central London

No room for remembrance

ARCHITECT Daniel Libeskind won the competition for the new building at the Ground Zero site in New York. Getting it built is proving difficult. Property magnate Larry Silverstein holds the lease on the site. He is insisting that he has final say on what is built. He does not want a sunken memorial site included, saying it will reduce the building's office space, cutting his rent revenue.

This is final proof that there is no room for sentiment in the capitalist system.
John Johnston, Manchester

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Sat 26 Jul 2003, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1862
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