The recent death of Tony Benn brought back memories of those heady days in the late seventies and early eighties of the hope of so many that a new socialist nirvana could be built on the backs of the Labour Party being pulled ever leftward. During the "Winter of Discontent" the left both inside and outside the Labour Party joined together to call for the Callaghan Government to be bought down and a "socialist" one to replace it it.
Jim Callaghan was replaced, but not by socialists of any description. This was the beginning of the Thatcher era and all that involved.
At the time the various left-wing groups, particularly those entrenched in the Labour Party held out hope that their gathering of strength would create a more left-wing Labour Party.
What they got was Michael Foot and a left-wing Labour Party Manifesto that was described in the press as the "longest political suicide note in history".
Labour was pushed to the sidelines, the "gang of four" split the Labour Party forming the Social Democratic Party which attracted not only a number of Labour MPs but a couple of more "moderate" Tories too. The SDP allied itself with the Liberal Party promising a new political dawn.
That never came either, with the SDP being nicknamed the Slowly Disappearing Party and eventually merged with the Liberals to form the Liberal Democrats.
Labour re-asserted itself, driving the wreckers of the Militant Tendency out of its ranks, even resorting to closing down the party's youth wing the LPYS and pushing the Labour "lefts back to the fringes.
A number of organisations developed in those stormy days, one of which represented the non-Trotskyist left. The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. They still exist today, though its been a while since any of their activities have caught any ones attention. However the bright sparks that remain in the CLPD have come up with a new "wheeze", to establish a new "trade union party".
The tiny CLPD will be discussing a motion at their AGM this weekend which seeks:
"Exploratory discussions... to seek to establish (after the general election)... a 'trade union party'... along the lines of the Co-op Party - that is to say a political party to further the political interests of the trade unions by seeking an agreement with the Labour Party (rather than by opposing it or replacing it)..
In other words yet another attempt to create a "party within a party" Militant style.
The reason for this is outlined in an interview with Jon Lansman over at Workers Liberty :
The new initiative, he said, would have to be done collectively by the unions, or at least by a number of unions. That is preferable to each union having its own political strategy and its own, often ineffectual, effort to mobilise members politically.
The new initiative would not be a revolutionary party. It would reflect and campaign for trade union policies on issues such as employment rights, union rights, the living wage, and so on.
By "trade unionists" I suspect Lansman means political activists in the unions which is a far narrower view of reps than actually exists on the ground. The vast majority of reps are not aligned to the organised left and the members of the unions are no longer wedded to Labour, even if large numbers will still vote Labour come the general election. But far from all.
The layer of activists Lansman will inevitably end up operating with are the very "revolutionaries" he tries to disassociate himself from. The main trade union leaders in the affiliated unions will see this measure for what it is. A return to the bad old days of the seventies which wrecked Labours electoral chances for a generation.
Such a proposal should be rejected by trade unionists as just another self indulgent move by the discredited remains of the old fashioned Labour left.
Times have changed, including the nature of the often quoted "working class". The need for modernisation of the Labour and Trade Union Movement is more than just structural. It must also be ideological.
The proposals of the CLPD and the forces they are likely attract are part of the problem, not the solution.
Labour needs new ideas for a new direction fit for the 21st Century.
The old left needs to be consigned to the dustbin of history.