The founding conference of the National Shop Stewards’ Network took place in London on 7 July. According to top table, about 270 people took part, of whom 190 were delegates. Most large unions had representation (including CWU, Unite, GMB, Unison), but PCS president Janice Godrich and general secretary Mark Serwotka (who arrived at the tail end of proceedings) and RMT general secretary Bob Crow were in a minority of top echelons to attend.
The day was characterised by lively presentation of ongoing struggles and an unresolved mix of political stances. Godrich, who sits on the TUC General Council, bemoaned the fact that all anyone wanted to talk about there was securing a fourth term of office for Labour. Criticism of Labour was taken up by Unite’s Ian Allison, who suggested we should learn from the way in which the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) had in the past seen its efforts on behalf of its members set to naught by its then Labour link.
Someone from the University and College Lecturers Union (UCU) maintained that the main job of the new stewards’ network should be to organise the breaking of the anti-trade union laws, and that it was time to disaffiliate from Labour. Some who urged unions to break the link supplemented this by urging the creation of a new party. It is probable that, given its strength within the PCS, the Trotskyite Socialist Party aspires to mould that ‘new party‘ in its own image – a case of ‘out of the frying pan, into the fire‘.
Others who spoke from an anarcho-syndicalist perspective urged the repudiation of all parties and theories, all vanguardism – and essentially, of all leadership.
Topping all this off in his closing speech at the end, Bob Crow derided those who recommended “hanging on in the Labour party by their fingernails”, declared himself outraged that (out of 350 trade union-sponsored MPs) only 29 MPs stuck their heads over the parapet for McDonnell’s leadership candidacy, and gave conference the following marital advice: “The marriage is over. Get the divorce out of the way. Move on.”
But move on where exactly? On this point, Crow was less demonstrative, hinting only that, come the next general election, “the RMT may just form a little political party”.
This political striptease might be more seductive had the clothes not been on and off so many times before (on-off membership of the Socialist Labour Party, flirtation with the Scottish Trots etc). But Crow’s contribution has the merit nonetheless of calling time publicly on all the endless chatter about ‘reclaiming Labour‘, and for that reason is welcome – as is the initiative taken by RMT in getting the stewards’ network organised.
Comrades are encouraged to get involved where possible and bring Marxist-Leninist analysis to bear.