Chris Knight

Labour take the power!

Chris Knight

Some have described these days as the most seismic since Thatcher crushed the miners in 1985. Others have described them as the most cataclysmic since 1649 – when we chopped off the head of King Charles.

We now surely need to exploit the huge opportunities opening up. The right may have overreached themselves. Let's make them regret the victories they imagine they have achieved:

  • Move on from protest, focus on victory. Power is good – everyone should have it. Join the party, fight to win office in Parliament and let's form a government soon. Make it happen. Labour – take the power!
  • UKIP and the far right have been chanting 'Power to the people'. How far can they risk this? Let's give them more than they were bargaining for. Let's scare the shit out of them by redefining what should be ours by right – housing, education, public and health services, transport, energy, control over our own labour. Free from the EU's legal constraints, Labour can return to our traditions and go the whole way.
  • Join a union – we need control over work and our workplaces. The raid on our rights is coming, as is division between workers including migrant, youth and workfare workers. We all need to organize and collectivize at work.
  • Get involved in local housing struggles – your local anti housing bill campaign, your local tenants and residents association, your community garden. We need to find each other where we live, build relationships there, and resist social cleansing and dispossession of our homes.
  • Black lives matter! Stand in solidarity with all migrants. Have civilized arguments with your neighbours, don't call them racists, prioritize and support working class voices regardless of colour or creed. .
  • Send out a welcome signal to all. We are the party of Labour – which means the party of just about everyone. We are the 99 per cent!
  • Join the party! This should be enjoyable. Bring balloons, cordon off the street, make your presence felt. Whatever direct action you have in mind, know that we, the Labour Party, will be with you all the way. With the old political class in a state of indecision and chaos, occupations, sit-ins, pickets, street parties and other forms of direct action are likely to play a key role.
  • Fight to move back into Europe but on an entirely new anti-austerity basis, in defiance of the EU bureaucratic elite, in rebellious solidarity with organized labour and with the dispossessed across our continent and across the world.
  • Go international! It would help ease the migration crisis if countries like Britain and France stopped bombing neighboring peoples out of their own countries. Prepare for the Chilcot report. See if we can put Tony Blair on trial for tearing up international law. Everyone should be guaranteed the right to live in their country of first choice. For most of us, that means staying safe where we have lived all our lives. 

The nature of the Labour Party

In 1899, a Doncaster member of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, Thomas R. Steels, proposed in his union branch that the Trade Union Congress call a special conference to bring together all left-wing organisations and form them into a single body that would sponsor Parliamentary candidates. The motion was passed by the TUC, and the proposed conference was held at the Memorial Hall on Farringdon Street on 26 and 27 February 1900. The meeting was attended by a broad spectrum of working-class and left-wing organisations, with trade unions forming the majority. In the general election held early in 1906, the recently formed Labour Representation Committee won 29 parliamentary seats. On 15 February 1906, at their first meeting after the election, the group’s Members of Parliament decided to formally adopt a new name – ‘The Labour Party’.

So here we are today – the Labour Party, the party of organized labour. That brief review of our history reminds us that from the outset, unlike typical social democratic parties across Europe, we have always been organized first and foremost in our trade unions, trades councils, cooperative societies and other bodies outside parliament. Whereas continental social democrats began life as political theorists seeking to attract outside popular support, in Britain it was always the other way round. We, the organized labour movement, needed to find representation in parliament. We needed people in the class enemy’s parliament who would be accountable to us. That meant sponsoring MPs strictly on the understanding that they would champion policies decided not in Westminster’s corridors of power but in the democratic structures of our affiliated organizations and rank-and-file membership. For us, Labour Party Conference – the sovereign body of our movement – was always our own ‘parliament’. In short, we have always been a people-power organization, vesting ultimate sovereignty in the membership.

Central to our party, therefore, was the project of electing MPs not merely to assume office but to exercise power on behalf of our class. Our socialist founders were well aware that a Labour government attempting to implement its mandate would face ferocious opposition from the old ruling élite, who would stop at nothing to maintain their traditional monopoly of power. But it was always the aim, in theory if not always in practice, to insist that democracy came first. If a Labour government were to be elected, it would have every right to govern, drawing as necessary on itsextraparliamentary resources to do so. In 1918, shortly after the Russian revolution, the ultimate aim of the Labour Party was expressed in its constitution as follows:

“To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”

This commitment to social ownership remained until ‘New Labour’ architect Tony Blair succeeded in scrapping it in 1995.

Today, we have a situation in which a substantial number of members of the Parliamentary Labour Party, not content with the ditching of Clause Four, are attempting to remove our democratically elected leader through a coup.

Deny them the name we chose for ourselves back in 1906 – the Labour Party. We don't want a split, but as Ken Livingstone has said, 'it's a free country'. If they want to go, let them call themselves ‘New Labour’, ‘Euro-Labour’, ‘moderate Labour’, ‘modernizing Labour’ or whatever. We, the party of organized labour, are standing with our class and preparing for power.

Dulwich and West Norwood CLP