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AS trade unionists and socialists in Britain celebrate International Labour Day today, it is worth remembering just how far we have come since this time last year.
Theresa May had called a snap general election 12 days earlier and, according to the opinion polls, support for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party was languishing below 30 per cent.
By contrast, support for the Conservative Party seemed to be soaring, with poll ratings putting them at between 19 to 24 points ahead.
It seemed that support for a socialist alternative to Tory austerity was unappealing to voters, just as Tony Blair and his acolytes had predicted.
But the outcome of the election showed a very different picture, with Labour securing its highest popular vote since 1997 and achieving the biggest increase in vote share since 1945.
Contrary to the assertions of those who cling to the New Labour credo, support for Labour’s socialist alternative programme is overwhelming.
For example, the backing for policies like bringing the Royal Mail, water, gas, electricity and railways back into public ownership is around 75 per cent to 80 per cent.
Paradoxically, this isn’t fully reflected in the public’s voting intentions, but it does mean that campaigning is a much easier task than it was when Labour was offering austerity-lite.
Notwithstanding the enormous support for common-sense socialism, the rump that is “Continuity New Labour” persists in its attempts to undermine Corbyn’s leadership.
That is why the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union’s vote later this month on whether to reaffiliate to the Labour Party is so important.
The RMT was expelled from the Labour Party in 2004 after the union, in exasperation with the direction New Labour had taken the party, donated to the Scottish Socialist Party.
The expulsion was followed by the disaffiliation of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) later that same year, but the FBU returned to the fold in 2015 after Corbyn was elected as the Labour leader and I sincerely hope that the RMT will follow suit.
When the FBU reaffiliated, its general secretary Matt Wrack said: “Firefighters recognise that the Labour Party has changed for the better since the election of Jeremy Corbyn, who has given our members and supporters hope that we can shift the political debate in favour of working people.”
He added: “We have a Labour Party leader and shadow chancellor who are vehemently opposed to austerity, who are ready to fight for a fair alternative that doesn’t attack the living standards, livelihoods and the hard-won rights of working people.”
RMT reaffiliation would be a huge boost to that “fight for a fair alternative” about which Matt spoke.
It would certainly help to consolidate Labour’s commitment to common-sense socialism and ensure that a future Labour government changes the balance of power in this country forever.
The stakes could not therefore be higher, which is why the RMT decision is so important.
Labour is now committed to repealing the anti-trade union legislation and restoring collective bargaining rights.
Corbyn is the perfect antidote to the Tony Blair era, who infamously said: “The changes that we do propose would leave British law the most restrictive on trade unions in the Western world.”
That mindset contributed to rising inequality throughout New Labour’s period in office.
But the prospect of a Labour government committed to a socialist transformation of Britain that will start to reverse inequality is now within touching distance.
That is why the Establishment is doing its level best to stop Corbyn getting the keys to 10 Downing Street.
Consequently, the labour movement maxim that “unity is strength” is particularly apposite today.
This is a time for the labour movement to be united and focused to overcome the powerful forces that are being ranged against us.
I want to see the RMT contributing to that goal inside the Labour Party, helping to shape policy and having a direct input into the next general election manifesto.
As an affiliated union, the RMT will be able to help Corbyn, and the hundreds of thousands of members who have joined Labour over the last three years, to reclaim the party for socialism.
The historic links between the Labour Party and the RMT are incredibly strong. It was the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants that gave birth to the Labour Party 118 years ago.
In fact, its general secretary Richard Bell was elected as the first Labour MP in England in 1900 representing Derby. As the current Labour MP for Derby North, I therefore have a particular affinity with the RMT.
Railway workers changed the course of history in the 20th century through the establishment of the Labour Representation Committee and the RMT now has the chance to emulate its 19th century antecedents.
This is an opportunity for the RMT to help the Labour Party to shape the future of the 21st century. I am sure that, if the late great Bob Crow, who was the inspirational RMT general secretary from 2002 until his untimely death in 2014, was still alive, he would be backing reaffiliation.
Socialism in our time is the prize for which the leadership, and most Labour Party members, are now striving. That is a prize worth fighting for and, as Crow once said, “If you fight you won’t always win, but, if you don’t fight, you will always lose.”
So, my message to the RMT is let’s win this fight together.
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