Socialist Worker

Debating political representation for workers

Issue No. 2027

Valerie Wise

Valerie Wise

During the afternoon of the conference there was discussion over what sort of political representation the unions should have.

Former leader of Preston council Valerie Wise, who has now left the Labour Party, and Respect national secretary John Rees both argued that the left needs to strengthen itself through solidarity with fighting trade unions.

While left candidate for the Labour leadership John McDonnell, speaking earlier in the day, represented those who wished to stay in the Labour Party and fight, the majority of delegates were convinced of the need to build an alternative to Labour.

For many in the conference hall, the burning need for an alternative formed the starting point of the discussion.

Wise described herself as being open minded about what shape the alternative to Labour should take.

She said that after the lies over the war, “New Labour lost its moral authority, it has been lost to the trade union movement. We need to rebuild the Labour movement.”

In his speech, Rees told delegates, “Agreeing with the need to build an alternative outside of Labour is not a precondition for working with people.

“However, we need to build alternatives. In Respect we have made a start. We are throwing our resources into getting the trade union movement to use its strength.

“We need to take the energy of the anti-war movement and the anti-globalisation movement into the trade unions. We need a politicised and political trade unionism.”

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS civil service workers’ union outlined his own union’s fight against the government’s attacks on the civil service. He said, “If fights are to be really successful, industrial action is not enough. We need a political alternative.

“The question of what we replace New Labour with comes to the fore. The unions fund Labour. We want political unions not apolitical unions.

“Labour is no longer the only show in town. We have the election of George Galloway and the election of 16 Respect councillors in the last local elections, and the election of [independent MP] Dai Davies in Wales.”

While emphasising the need for debate he said, “I urge people to join to Respect.”

John Rees (Pic: Ray Smith)

John Rees (Pic: Ray Smith)

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