The Campaign for a New Workers’ Party (CNWP), which began at a conference on May 19th, 2006 and is online at www.cnwp.org.uk, is rapidly gathering support from trade union leaders and members. So far, over 3000 have signed up as supporters of the campaign. Their aim is to create a viable party of the left in the right-shifting world of British politics to address New Labour’s program of privatisation, spending cuts, and war. Labour, they claim, has long ceased to represent the interests of the working class; instead, it represents its big businesses allies. The CNWP is campaigning for a party that can fight for trade unions, public services, a living wage and the environment.
What is your response to Minister of State Sir Digby Jones’ statement about unions, “They are an irrelevance. They are backward looking and not on today’s agenda”?
Digby Jones was possibly the most Neanderthal head that the CBI has ever had. He vigorously opposed the introduction of the minimum wage, attempted to block corporate killing laws and has campaigned to curtail maternity leave. All this before you get to his support and promotion of privatisation. If anyone, it is Jones who is backwards looking – and this man has been taken into Brown’s cabinet! Faced with a government agenda to turn the clocks back in terms of workers rights, pay and living conditions the trade union movement is more relevant than ever. Those trade unions willing to give a lead in the fight-back against these attacks, such as the RMT or the PCS, are rapidly growing and demonstrate clearly the importance of trade unionism today.
How have Labour and the Liberal Democrats failed Trade Unions?
The Liberal Democrats have always been a party of business – the labour movement drew the conclusion over 100 years ago that workers needed an independent political voice and split from the Liberals to found the Labour Party. However imperfectly, in the past the Labour Party did provide a voice for working class people. But today that is no longer the case – New Labour is an out and out party of big business, its policies a continuation of Margaret Thatcher’s attacks on the lives and living conditions of working-class people. Public services are being sold off; the occupation of Iraq has led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of ‘coalition’ soldiers; democratic rights are being undermined in the name of fighting terrorism; and the Tory anti-trade union laws, the most repressive in the European Union, have been left almost completely intact.
What will CNWP do to assist them?
We believe that the chance to ‘reclaim’ Labour for the left is long past. Labour Party Conference no longer has any power to influence policy, most genuine lefts and socialists have either been witch-hunted or have left in disgust, party membership has hemorrhaged and what is left is little more than a shell. Despite this, millions of pounds of ordinary trade union members’ money go into the coffers of New Labour every year. Considering the contempt that New Labour holds for working-class people and the attacks that we have faced whilst Labour has been in power, this is the equivalent of buying your boss a shiny new pair of Doc Martins for him to kick you with! One of the key tasks of the CNWP is to break the link with the Labour Party in the affiliated trade unions. But we don’t want non-political trade unionism. On the contrary, we think this money should go towards funding independent lefts, socialists and trade union candidates as a step towards the creation of a new mass party that puts the interests of the working class above those of big business.
“Old Labour” was also a party of the working class. What will the CNWP do to serve the interests of the broader public?
The working class makes up the majority in society, we’re the ones that do the real work, we’re the ones that create the wealth in society. But to look at the political establishment, you’d think that we were the minority – working class people have no genuine mass party with a national profile championing their views and interests. If it is to be successful, it is crucial that a new party, and any pre-party formations, be open, democratic and welcoming to all those who want to work together against the neo-liberal onslaught on the working class. This means that all groups and individuals, provided they are in agreement with the basic aims of that party, should have the right to democratically organise and argue for their point of view. This approach will help to ensure that any new formation is attractive to trade unionists, community and environmental campaigners, and anti-war activists. Most importantly it will assist in reaching out to workers and to young people who are not yet active in struggle. A new workers party would serve the interests of the broader public because for it to be successful it would have to be the thousands, and then hundreds of thousands, of working class people that make up its ranks who determine its campaigning priorities and policies, and they are the ‘broader public’.
What cuts would the CNWP seek to prevent?
The CNWP is opposed to all attacks on our public services. Our supporters across the country are engaged in campaigns against cuts and privatisation, whether that’s against school closures, cuts in local leisure facilities, post office closures or the onslaught of cuts and privatisation aimed at the NHS. The majority of ordinary working class people are opposed to these sorts of cuts as well. But privatisation is accepted by all of the establishment parties and their debate is limited to how these sorts of pro-big business policies should be implemented. A new mass party that stands clearly against all cuts and privatisation, as well as for increased investment into public services, would immediately widen the public debate by bringing the question of public ownership and democratic control of services on to the agenda. A party that working class people see as their own, that puts forward positive policies would play a very important role in increasing workers confidence to struggle and fight back against the bosses agenda.
What is the CNWP’s position on involvement in the Iraq War?
Those who were involved in launching the CNWP back in 2006 were opposed to the invasion of Iraq right from the very beginning. It was a war for power and prestige on the part of US imperialism, with the UK government compliantly tagging along. The continuing barbarism in Iraq unleashed by the occupation makes it very clear to most people what’s necessary – get the troops out now. However, in some ways the anti-war movement was a missed opportunity. On the big anti-war march in 2002, with millions of people on the streets of London, there was an opportunity to launch a new party. If, at the height of that movement, the call had been put out to create a new party that was clearly opposed to war, as well as taking up issues such as privatisation, trade union rights and the like, you can safely say that tens of thousands would have signed up there and then. This was something that many of those who went on to launch the CNWP argued for at the time and unfortunately it represents a missed opportunity to both the anti-war movement and the fight for a political voice for working class people.
On your website, www.cnwp.org.uk, you mention a need for a more democratic republic. What kind of electoral reforms do you push for?
Electoral reform, such as proportional representation, is something that has been mentioned by a layer of representatives of the establishment parties. For those politicians, it’s been mooted as a ‘quick fix’. That is, electoral turn out is low, in their eyes, because people see their vote as useless and a proportional representation system would ‘make their vote count’. In the CNWP, we would welcome proportional representation and more, but it is by no means a solution as and of itself. Voter turnout is low because voters aren’t given any real choice. Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems are so close politically that it seems like we have three wings of one party that artificially split for elections! For workers to feel engaged with politics we need a party that clearly represents and fights for our interests, without this any amount of electoral ‘quick fixes’ will come to naught. If the bosses have got three parties, isn’t it about time that we had one of our own?
The “spinning” of Murdoch-owned news papers and Peter Mandelson contributed to the popularity of Tony Blair’s government. How would the CNWP campaign and compete in an era of media moguls?
The establishment parties are in the pockets of big business; this has been shown time and time again. New Labour’s “cash for honors” scandal and the continuing investigation into David Abromovich’s illegal donations are just the latest in a long line of sleaze that all the bosses parties are mired in. Its true that the capitalist press wouldn’t offer the same sort of coverage or ‘spin’ to a new workers party that they afford pro-business parties. Indeed, the opposite is the case, as you can see through the Murdoch press’ vendetta against the Scottish socialist Tommy Sheridan. Any new political formation would have to gain support and build its profile through active campaign work, by proving itself to be fighting for workers interests in the community and in the workplace day in, day out and by offering solidarity to workers in struggle. In this way, a new party could prove to working class people that it’s their party and garner more genuine support and participation than any amount of media spin could generate.
How do you respond to the contention that a new party would split the Labour vote and win seats for the Conservatives?
New Labour has been losing votes by the millions since they first came to power in 1997. Of the votes that they still have, many of those are working class people who hold their nose and vote Labour not because they support that party but because they hate the Tories even more. New Labour realize this and, without any mass opposition to the left, feel like they can get away with anything and then fall back on the threat of the Tories to get re-elected, yet to look at their respective policies you could barely get a cigarette paper between them. This was a key feature of last year’s council elections; people didn’t like the party they were voting for but hated the party they were voting against! Of course, a huge number of people didn’t even turn out to vote – who can blame them when in most areas they don’t believe it will make any difference? What we need is a new party on a mass scale that actually represents our interests and can bring together different workers’ struggles and help build support for them. Instead of ‘negative voting’, where workers are forced to make do with what they see as the lesser evil, we need a mass party with positive policies – one that stands up against cuts and privatisation, that opposes war and occupation and that fights for the millions, not the millionaires.
What can the average person do to assist the CNWP in attaining its goals?
Firstly, you can become a supporter of the CNWP by signing our declaration for a new workers’ party at www.cnwp.org.uk and collect names of others who want to support the campaign. After that, there are many different things you can do to further the aims of the campaign. If you’re already involved in any community campaigns, you can raise the aims of the CNWP within those campaigns. As a trade unionist, you could organise a debate in your trade union branch on the question of the political fund and get a CNWP speaker invited to it. You could get actively involved in the campaigns trade union caucuses, which are coordinating work in the different unions to build support for a new working-class, trade union based party. In the local elections later this year, you can help campaign for independent left, socialist and trade union candidates whilst raising the idea of a new workers party on doorsteps across the country. There’s lots to do, but in the face of the anti-working class onslaught on the part of the main three parties the question of building a working-class political alternative is more vital than ever.
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This post was written by Cristina Brooks