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Trade unionists make the break

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Issue 1750

Trade unionists make the break

We’re voting socialist

“MY OWN union, RMT, has donated a total of 180,000 to New Labour this year, as well as sponsoring John Prescott, and ordering local branches to donate their political funds to Constituency Labour Parties. My branch has refused. I am backing the Socialist Alliance, and I think that the whole trade union movement urgently needs to reassess its relationship with the Labour Party.”

  • JAKE WYLIE, RMT rep, London Underground Jubilee Line

“I BELIEVE in the policies the Socialist Alliance is standing for. They are for normal people and are passionate about fighting for working people. For all other parties ordinary working people just don’t matter.”

  • JEAN SHIRLEY, shop worker, USDAW, Chesterfield

“THE FBU firefighters’ union debate on the political fund, the money that traditionally the union pays to Labour, has been building for a number of years. Year after year we have seen our members and our service attacked by Labour controlled-fire authorities. They, and the union leadership, used to argue that the real problem lay with Tory central government. That obviously doesn’t wash any more. Our successful resolution to this year’s FBU conference was about democratising the political fund. It said that our political fund should only be used to support candidates and organisations who uphold our policies and principles-even if that means opposing Labour candidates. I think the thing that finally swung conference was disgust at the stitch-up in St Helens, and the fact that the Socialist Alliance candidate is Neil Thompson, an FBU regional official.”

  • Matt Wrack, secretary of the FBU group committee covering Hackney and Tower Hamlets in London, and member of FBU London Regional Committee

“THERE ARE many reasons why I urge trade unionists to support the Socialist Alliance. One is that they stand against privatisation of the NHS and London Underground. Another is that they stand up for pensioners who are shabbily treated by this government. New Labour and the Tories are attacking asylum seekers. The Socialist Alliance condemns the scapegoating. On every issue the Tories and New Labour have policies which working people don’t want and can’t support.”

  • IFTIKHAR UL-HAQ, leader of fight for union recognition at Pricecheck, London

“TONY BLAIR’S government is worse than any previous Labour government in one respect that matters to the people I represent. It has used anti-union laws to try and prevent tube workers fighting privatisation. Labour did it not just with the Tory anti-union laws, but under new laws that New Labour itself has brought in. That is not what we voted for in 1997. I personally will be voting Socialist Alliance and urging tube workers to do the same.”

  • JOHN LEACH, RMT national executive member for London Underground

“I WAS delighted with the recent vote at the firefighters’ FBU conference. The same debate is taking place in many unions. Why should trade unionists continue supporting a Tory party Mark II? I heard somebody recently make the comment that paying money to Labour was just feeding the hand that bites you. That’s exactly right. I am particularly disgusted with things like the Motorola closure in Scotland. It is disgraceful that it is easier to sack workers in Britain than anywhere else in Europe. These are the basic reasons why I am urging trade unionists in Scotland to back the Scottish Socialist Party.”

  • JIM FRIEL, president GPMU Scotland

“THE SOCIALIST Alliance stand for the little people and they supported us when we were out on strike.”

  • JUNE RICE, GMB shop steward, Team Valley Brush, Gateshead

“FROM MY perspective as a college lecturer, after four years of this Labour government we are no further forward. We’ve still got lousy pay, excessive workloads, no national agreement on conditions of service. I have no optimism that a second term of Labour will be any better. That’s why I am supporting the Socialist Alliance.”

  • PAUL RUSSELL, Bradford college lecturer and NATFHE national executive member

“I JOINED the Labour Party about 20 years ago. I am fed up with the drift to the right. I am supporting the Welsh Socialist Alliance. After Labour got rid of Clause Four I stayed in. Even after two years of the government following Tory policies I stayed. But it didn’t stop. There was the 75p for pensioners. And look what’s happening where I work, in the Post Office. We have already had some areas privatised, and wholesale privatisation is coming round the corner. Labour is not supporting our class and there has to be an alternative.”

  • CHARLIE BALCH, postal worker and CWU area distribution rep, Cardiff

“THE SOCIALIST Alliance provides an enormous opportunity to put forward socialist policies in opposition to the neo-liberal agenda of New Labour. They use the term modernisation, but that’s a subversion of the English language. What they mean is privatisation, going back to Victorian times. The market didn’t work then for working people and it won’t now.”

  • COLIN PATIENT, UCATT regional organiser, Bristol

“THE SOCIALIST Alliance is organised from the bottom up, rather than from the top down like Blair’s New Labour. In education, where I work, it cares for children, teachers and parents rather than tables and tests.”

  • LIZ HUMBERSTON, teacher, NUT, Gateshead

“I WAS brought up with Labour. My grandfather was a miner. I’ve always been Labour. But they don’t stand for working people any more. Manual workers in Newham are on very low wages, and it’s about time we had someone who stood up for people like that. I also hope the Socialist Alliance will stand up against the Labour council here which wants to privatise the housing estates in Canning Town.”

  • TOM NIXON, TGWU branch secretary, Newham council, east London

“I’M BACKING the Socialist Alliance as an ex Labour Party member who thinks the Labour Party has become a capitalist party and gone away from the working class. Lots of members in my union, PCS, back the kind of policies the Socialist Alliance stands for, as you can see with the election of socialist Mark Serwotka as our general secretary. It is putting forward a proper socialist alternative, standing up over important issues like asylum seekers.”

  • GORDON ROWNTREE, civil servant, branch vice chair PCS Stockton-on-Tees

“THERE IS so much anger about New Labour there to be tapped. I used to run a feature in the Journalist magazine pointing out the differences between the main parties on particular issues. I can’t run it now because there is too little differentiation. The Socialist Alliance should set its sights high.”

  • TIM GOPSILL, editor of the NUJ official magazine the Journalist

“IT’S IMPORTANT to have something positive to vote for, not just something to be against. There are a significant number of people who want far more than Blair and his policies. At work the issue of transport comes up a lot. The Socialist Alliance is saying what many people think, that the railways should be renationalised.”

  • JOHN BREEDON, car worker and AEEU shop steward, BMW Oxford

“I DON’T think New Labour has done enough for working class people and families in terms of wealth redistribution. People on low incomes haven’t done particularly well under this government. I’d also like to see a different approach to education policy. Some schools are just not getting enough funding to do what they should be doing. Teachers are not being treated very well. I was out leafleting for the Socialist Alliance and a woman said she would vote for us because, unlike the New Labour candidate, our candidate wasn’t a Tory.”

  • LYNNE MARSH, teacher, executive member of the NUT in Newcastle

“I’VE LOST all faith in New Labour. It’s time for a change.”

  • June Turner, UNISON steward for laundry staff, North Manchester General Hospital

“TRADE UNIONISTS in the public sector, especially in the NHS, face an onslaught of privatisation under different names PFI, PPP. That’s a key reason why people should be backing the Socialist Alliance.”

  • JENNY CHURCH, health worker, UNISON, Colchester

“AS A public sector trade unionist I feel New Labour are not just continuing with Tory policies but are going even further with them. In the health service, where I work, we face privatisation. The Socialist Alliance is the only party standing in the election on a platform of putting people before profit and standing up for our interests.”

  • CLARE WILLIAMS, deputy regional convenor, UNISON Northern Region

“THE SOCIALIST Alliance, unlike New Labour, are promising to put more money into education and help to further access to education for ordinary people.”

  • NICOLE MATTHEWS, lecturer, NATFHE, Liverpool

“The Labour Party was founded more than 100 years ago to give a political voice to organised workers. New Labour refuses to provide that voice today, preferring instead to cosy up to big business. Is it any wonder that grassroots trade unionists are saying they have had enough of Blair’s pro-capitalist and anti working class policies?”

  • DAVE TOOMER, NUJ NEC and president 2000-01

“The recent FBU conference decision to financially support political organisations that support policies of their union gives a great boost to those of us in UNISON that are campaigning to sever the financial link with New Labour. UNISON has a clear policy opposing PFI, yet Labour continues to privatise our services. Effectively UNISON is funding a policy that it is opposed to. We should campaign at all levels within the union to end this hypocrisy now!”


“WHAT IS needed now is a coordinated campaign by public sector unions to stop further privatisations. It is also excellent that working class people now have an electoral alternative to Labour, the Socialist Alliance. For too long the Labour leadership have taken the money from the union wallet whilst attacking the members they represent.”

  • MARK SERWOTKA, general secretary elect, PCS union

“The Socialist Alliance is the only place to be for people who want to campaign for a decent minimum wage. It’s the only place to be if you want to fight for a shorter working week and reduce unemployment. Working class people, and especially working class women, feel New Labour doesn’t represent us, and they want a change.”

  • LESLEY MAHMOOD, until recently women’s officer Sefton UNISON, and former Labour councillor

“The papers and TV tell us we’re apathetic-the postal workers I speak to are angry! They’re furious at New Labour’s betrayals, and at our own union executive’s position of selling out strikes and funding Tony Blair’s party. The government and our union leaders have created a political crisis in the unions because they are failing to challenge the priorities of big business. Now we need to build the Socialist Alliance.”

  • JANE LOFTUS, CWU Transaction Service Liverpool area admin rep

“THE SOCIALIST Alliance supported us in our fight for better wages and conditions on the buses. Of course we must keep the Tories out, but the Socialist Alliance should get the biggest vote possible. They are saying the things I believe in, and I am not exactly over the moon with the way the Labour Party is conducting business.”

  • GEORGE RHODEN, TGWU union convenor, First Group Buses, west London

All individuals speaking in a personal capacity

Socialist Campaign

Forcing media to take notice

“THE NAME ‘Socialist Alliance’ did not seem to worry the mothers from East Sutton estate, who were marching along carrying its placards demanding that their streets be made safe from traffic. This is not Blair country, so perhaps the word ‘socialist’ does not scare the children.”

That was what the Tory Daily Telegraph had to say about the support the Socialist Alliance is getting for Neil Thompson’s campaign in St Helens South. The national press has spent much of the early part of the election ignoring the socialist campaign.

The Daily Record newspaper in Scotland, for example, has a blanket ban on mentioning Tommy Sheridan and the Scottish Socialist Party during the entire election campaign. But the depth of the disillusion with Blair and the vibrancy of the socialist campaign forced much of the press to take notice. They caught on to the massive outcry caused by New Labour parachuting in ex-Tory millionaire Shaun Woodward to stand in St Helens, and the Socialist Alliance candidate, firefighter and miner’s son Neil Thompson was interviewed in most papers.

The Guardian of 19 May ran an interview with music writer Charles Shaar Murray, urging people to vote Socialist Alliance and make “a big loud noise to Labour’s left”. In the same edition lawyer and Socialist Alliance candidate Louise Christian had a powerful letter against New Labour’s shameful treatment of asylum seekers.

The next Monday’s Independent reported on how the Scottish Socialist Party’s campaign was “putting redistribution back on the agenda”. And Tuesday’s Socialist Alliance election broadcast, directed by Ken Loach, generated plenty of comment. After the broadcast Karen Reissmann, nurse and Socialist Alliance candidate in Manchester Blackley, made the BBC1 Ten O’Clock News. The BBC news also showed a lively demonstration of Socialist Alliance supporters shouting, “Tony Blair, shame on you!” as Blair and his suited minders got off the battlebus.

Socialist Alliance supporters in Bristol also made the main news bulletin when they confronted Tory leader William Hague in Bristol over his racist treatment of asylum seekers.

Finally even the right wing press began to take notice. The Sun quoted St Helens South Socialist Alliance candidate Neil Thompson.

And the Daily Telegraph had major stories about the Socialist Alliance both on Thursday and Friday of last week. Indeed, Friday was a bumper day for Socialist Alliance press coverage. The Guardian reported that “Lord Stoddart of Swindon had sent a letter of support and congratulations to the Socialist Alliance candidate in St Helens South, Neil Thompson, for opposing ‘the self serving defector from the Tory Party’, Shaun Woodward.”

In the same issue was Paul Foot’s article on “Why I’m Voting Socialist Alliance”. And in the Independent actor Roger Lloyd Pack, who played Trigger in Only Fools and Horses, said, “If there’s a Socialist Alliance candidate I will vote for them.”

Socialist candidates and supporters have made an even bigger splash in local newspapers, radio broadcasts and TV programmes. As this week shows, socialists can make a big impact in the media, and be a breath of fresh air for those sick of the main parties parroting the same * policies.

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