Why we are launching the Labour Representation Committee

Socialist Appeal's deputy editor, Rob Sewell, interviewed Mick Rix, the former general secretary of ASLEF and instigator of the new Labour Representation Committee, about his views and prospects of reclaiming the Labour Party.

SA: Given the Blairite grip on the Labour Party, how do you see things developing in the coming period?

Mick Rix: I believe we are witnessing the last days of Blairism within the Labour Party. Although the project started by New Labour is not over yet, Blairism is nearly over, whether it is next year or the next few years. I think most people recognise that Tony Blair, as leader of the Party, is becoming a liability. This gives opportunity to those active in the Party, those socialists in the Party, to reclaim the agenda.

I wouldn't claim that the Labour Party was always a socialist party, but certainly it was, and is, a mass party of workers. Of course, there are many movements within the working class structure, whether they believe in a socialist programme or social democratic programme. However, over the last ten years, we have witnessed the complete theft of our organisation by people from the right, who have promoted ideas associated with Thatcherism.

The so-called third way is an attempt to control capitalism. But experience has shown you cannot control capitalism. Capitalism is continually in crisis and feeds on crisis. As socialists we believe in control of the economy, whereby those who produce, that is the majority not the minority, get the benefits so that we can build a more civilised society.

The challenge to those in and outside of the Labour Party who want to see a genuine socialist government is do we accept the transition from Blairism to Brownism or whoever is following the New Labour project, or do we put forward our own programme, involving as many as possible, based on socialist values? Surely we must challenge the status quo that defends their own class interests, based upon power, wealth and heritage.

It is high time we now influenced the agenda and organised the Party in ways it was set up to accomplish and represent the interests of working people in this country.

SA: How do you see this coming about? What is the role of the new Labour Representation Committee?

Mick: Firstly, rank-and-file activists in the unions, socialist societies and other bodies need to come together within the Party. At the moment there is a deliberate attempt to keep them apart to prevent dialogue or discussion. New Labour loves moribund Constituency Parties. New Labour wants compliant trade unions. It does not want a powerful national executive committee. They want the Cabinet to determine all policy. To be blunt, we vote for MPs to carry out policy; we don't vote for them to determine policy for the rest of us. Every individual Party member has a right to have an input into policy and should have a vote on the correct way to proceed. That does not happen in the Party. We therefore have to challenge the failed process that has done so much damage to our Party. We need to ditch the policies pursued over the last six years, which a lot of people are fed up with and see as no different to Tory policies, such as involving the private sector in public services.

There is now a growing opportunity for people across the Party to make a difference. We are in power, and it is not a matter of changing that. But why can't we have a different approach, debate and argument? Why can't we choose the MPs we want to represent us in our localities? Why can't we choose the councillors we want? This organisational approach is key to everything.

In the last six years we have seen the Party hierarchy imitate all the worst features of the Liberals and Tories. If you come from a privileged background, that seems to give you an automatic right to get onto the career ladder to become an MP. Yet there are many working class people out there who can do a far better job than they could ever do. The only difference is, they have not had the privileges that these people have had. We have to challenge the status quo on these matters.

SA: You have dealt with the position within the Labour Party, but what about those outside the Party who are at present sadly disillusioned with Blairism?

Mick: Our attitude to them is essential. If we are to maintain a party of government, we have to give hope to these disaffected millions. As we saw in 1997, people rejected the notions of Thatcherism. They wanted a fairer and more just society.

Labour must stand out ideologically from the Tory and Liberal parties, which are capitalist parties. We must not only maintain the Labour-trade union link, but strengthen it. We are one and the same body. We must have the input from the socialist societies, so that we are all working in tandem with each other, which is completely foreign to the New Labour agenda.

There are loads of trade unionists who are completely turned off by New Labour, and there are millions of workers, not in trade unions, who do not identity themselves with Labour because they do not believe there is any difference between the parties. So we have a job to do within the Party, and outside to reach out to those millions who are looking for an alternative. So we have a task of completely transforming the political process, as the Labour Party was set up to do in the first place. This has to be based upon working people and socialist aspirations.

We must have no illusions. It is going to be a difficult task and there are going to be some tough battles ahead. We need to create a united approach amongst the different organisations within the Party. We have to convince them the LRC can deliver. If we can achieve some of our objectives, then those outside of the Party will be enthused and encouraged to become involved. In this way we can be confident of victory.

November 2003.