British Labour and the Iraq war

by

Bob Gould

When discussing the British Labour Party conference or any other political event, it’s useful to have the facts.

Nigel Irritable is a member of a group that, as the Militant tendency, spent several decades of effective agitation inside the Labour Party, linked to an external group as well. Since leaving the Labour Party, the former Militant groups have become like the reformed drunk of the left on the Labour Party question, defining it as a bourgeois party from the time of their break with it.

This leads Nigel to put a spin on events at the BLP conference that have an unreal quality.

For Nigel, and others who share similar views, it’s now original sin for socialists to have anything to do with Labourism. If the British bourgeois media are any guide, British ruling class might wish more people held this view, as the papers are full of commentary on the reverses suffered by Blair at the BLP conference, particularly the 40 per cent vote against the imperialist drive to war in Iraq and the near 50 per cent vote from the trade union bloc against Blair’s war plans.

>From the point of view of the bloodthirsty British ruling class such massive opposition within the official structures of the British Labour movement to the war plans of British imperialism is an enormous obstacle.

Tariq Ali’s piece on the London protest, posted on this list a few days ago, crisply, succintly and entertainingly illustrates the case for a united front involving the labour movement and Labour Party forces to build a mass movement against Blair’s war plans. I attach a few paragraphs describing what actually happened at the BLP conference on the Iraq war. It’s from an article by Kris Lawrie and Fred Weston.

The second controversial motion was the one on Iraq. It was clear that the Labour leadership were panicking about they way things might go. They withdrew their own motion before it went to discussion and vote because they thought it would be defeated. Instead they put forward a watered down alternative, which implied that any action would first have to seek UN approval. This was eventually adopted by 60 per cent to 40 per cent. The press have characterised this as a tactical withdrawal. It in fact shows their weakness when the Blairite leadership cannot get support for its own motion on the war.

A motion unconditionally opposing the war was put forward and discussed. This argued that military action would increase the suffering of the Iraqi people and worsen the instability in the Middle East. Alice Mahon, MP of the left Campaign Group, made the point that “this isn’t going to be a war about weapons of mass destruction. It will be the first war waged about oil, waged by the world’s biggest oil consumer”.

Conference delegate Eileen Sinclair (Cunningham South), said that the US would go in and bomb everything, creating more misery, and she pointed out that “the Iraqi people themselves, with the pressure of the world behind them, must depose Saddam Hussein — not us with bombs”.

Despite the fact that this motion was defeated 40.2 per cent to 59.8 per cent the Blairites can draw little consolation from such a narrow vote. Forty per cent in favour of the motion shows that there is widespread opposition to the war in the British labour and trade union movements.

However, the vote against the war was even higher among trade union delegates, 48 per cent of whom voted against. This compared to 32 per cent among party delegates. This is no accident, and is fully understandable. In the past the right wing of the Labour Party could count on their friends at the top of the major trade unions for support. An example of this was Sir Ken Jackson, the recently ousted general secretary of the AEEU (now called Amicus, the engineering workers’ union).

One by one these old right-wingers are being ousted. A new, more militant layer is coming to the fore and this is being reflected at every level of the trade union movement. As we predicted, this is now having an effect within the Labour Party itself. It is in the workplaces that workers are feeling the pinch. The process of radicalisation inevitably starts in the trade unions. But this inevitably had to spill over into the Labour Party itself. There is an organic link between the trade unions and the Labour Party. The party could not remain immune to this process.

Already there is opposition in the party branches. As trade union activists draw the conclusion from their struggles that they must get involved politically they will start to fill out the party branches and on this basis opposition will also be strengthened in the constituencies.

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