The 50 Years Ago column from the January 2018 issue of the Socialist Standard
Some trade unionists, fed up with Labour’s increasingly obvious anti-working class stand, have suggested that the unions should once again set up their own party. For, of course, this was how the Labour Party began. At the turn of the century union leaders, alarmed at the anti-union bias of the Courts, took up the suggestion of men like Keir Hardie for a party, independent of both the Liberals and the Tories, to represent Labour. It was not until 1918 that individuals could join the Labour Party. Before then the Party was little more than a trade union parliamentary pressure group (generally backing the Liberal government).
It has always been Labour’s claim to be the political arm of the Trade Union Movement. This claim is wearing a bit thin now. But many unionists still accept that the unions needs some political arm. If the Labour Party no longer represents them, why not set up another party?
In May 1966 Danny McGarvey, the boilermakers’ leader, said that the unions might have to put up their own men against some official Labour candidates. Last November, Joe Gormley, the Lancashire miners’ leader, suggested that, in view of the Labour government’s policies, the miners and others might have to consider forming a new party — “a trade union party”. Of course Gormley, a member of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee, did not really mean this. Only a few days later he was elected chairman of the NEC’s organisation sub-committee (which deals with discipline). All the same he did start off some discussion. A few miners’ lodges did break with Labour. Pottery Workers’ Union secretary Alfred Dulson, whose union has already stopped financing Labour, said:
“I am sure this is the way trade unionists have got to go. The Labour Party no longer represents the interests of trade unions” (Financial Times, 13 November 1967).
(from Socialist Standard, January 1968)