Workers' Liberty #50/51  


The Independent Labour Network

Ken Coates MEP sets out the platform of the new
Independent Labour Network

The triumph of allegedly “free” markets had already, before the onset of global crisis, brought about a dangerous erosion of democracy, and in Britain has undermined the independence of the Labour Party, with grave consequences for the representation of the majority of British citizens.

The recent Labour Party Conference, for instance, was estimated to have involved two and a half million pounds of commercial sponsorship. Naturally, it was not possible to criticise those who funded this event. Indeed, one charitable organisation was asked to withdraw posters because they were deemed offensive by a commercial exhibitor in an adjacent slot in the Conference foyer. But of course, the commercial domination of the Conference is merely a public reflection of the private commercial domination of policy, with the incorporation of significant business interests at the heart of government.

Meantime, the traditional constituents of the Labour Party, whether they are working people and trade unionists, or whether they are pensioners, disabled people, students or poor people and claimants, find that their interests are not merely neglected, but they are actively targeted and victimised in a wholly unacceptable “reform” of the welfare state. In this matter, as in so many others, the present Prime Minister is a direct continuator of Mrs Thatcher’s work.

The Independent Labour Network was formed in order to bring together people within and outside the Labour Party, who wished to contribute to a renewal of British socialism, on the basis of a thorough-going commitment to greater equality, sound environmental policies, and internationalism.

The priorities of the Network are the defence of the Welfare State, the demand for adequate pensions, opposition to the iniquitous imposition of student fees and the abolition of grants for students, and opposition to the penalisation of lone parents. From the beginning, the Network was actively involved in the defence of disabled people, who came under attack through the Disability Integrity Project.

Network members have been concerned to find the best way to help to organise the defence of these wide sectors of the population who are the direct victims of New Labour’s declared subordination to the market, and the “dynamism of enterprise”.

We have concluded that the appropriate challenge in the European Elections should come from an Alliance of those social and environmental groups who have been opposing the impact of adverse market decisions and greedy entrepreneurs, however “dynamic” they may be. For the elections of 1999, the Independent Labour Network seeks to create an Alliance, as inclusive as possible, which would enable pensioners, students, the disabled, and a multitude of environmental defence groups, to make common cause for electoral support. We do not seek to create a new Party, but we are anxious to compel the Labour Government to return to its roots, and to uphold its long-term commitments to these constituencies.

Thus, we are committed to ending the scandal of poverty pensions, a pledge which every elected Labour representative has reiterated many times before the advent of Mr Blair to the Labour leadership. If our candidates were successful in the European Elections, they would naturally call on the Government to immediately take appropriate action to liberate our pensioners from poverty. If the Government were unwilling to do this, then the Alliance would reserve the right to field more candidates in the next round of elections, until new Labour agreed to honour the promissory note which had been issued by the Labour Party prior to the present take-over by neo-liberals. In the same way, we are committed to a comprehensive education system open to all ages, free at the point of delivery. Making nursery places available to all children, lowering class sizes at primary and secondary level, ending tuition fees for students and restoring grants. Here, too, our abstention from future elections would require a reversal of Government policy.

Likewise, we are committed to rebuilding the National Health Service through democratic control and ownership. Services should remain free at the point of delivery, so that the Government should provide funding at the levels necessary to meet the health needs of the people. This implies an end to prescription charges, and action to make preventative care freely available. Similarly, we are committed to the provision of a decent Welfare System based on the redistribution of wealth through progressive taxation. We are committed to maintaining universal benefits free from means testing and taxation, and to ensuring that benefits are restored to 16 and 17 year olds. Levels of benefits, including pensions, child and maternity benefits and disability allowances must be fixed high enough to provide a decent standard of living. To meet these goals, we need to raise domestic spending levels on social welfare to at least the average enjoyed by our partners in the European Union.

We are committed to full employment by the introduction of a national 35 hour week, ending the casualisation of work, planning the social economy to create worthwhile jobs that meet social needs and protect the environment. Above all, we are committed to promoting a European strategy for job creation, with a new deal for massive investment in the economic infrastructure, and social and environmental recovery. This new deal should be developed in agreement with all the other socially progressive forces in Europe, to prioritise employment over all other economic considerations.

We are committed to action against discrimination and the introduction of enforceable rights for all those sections of society usually faced with discrimination and social exclusion in all walks of life.

We are committed to the introduction of a charter of Trade Union and Workers’ Rights which include the right to belong to a Trade Union, and the right to strike. We support full rights for all young people and part-time workers. And we are agreed that all existing anti-Trade Union laws should be repealed.

We are committed to protect our environment through the introduction of measures to control pollution, damage to health and environmental devastation.

Each of these commitments should be acted upon by the Government, but if no such action can be agreed, then its absence invites further electoral opposition. This, the Alliance should consider at the appropriate time.

As for the Independent Labour Network itself, we are strongly committed to peace and to European Nuclear Disarmament. In Britain this means the decommissioning of the Trident programme and the reduction of the defence budget to at least the average of other European Union members. The savings on military spending could be reallocated to help secure improvements to education and the Health Service.

As democratic socialists we are committed to internationalism. We believe that all people should have the right to self-determination and be free from imperialist interventions. We are in favour of measures to cancel the developing world’s debt and we are opposed to the introduction of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). We are committed to work for a democratic and accountable federal Europe based on democratic socialism. This must be free from racism, xenophobic nationalism, and domination by multinational employer cartels. We are committed to work for democratic control over the Institutions of monetary union and the European Central Bank, so that the new single currency will be used to improve the life and well-being of European citizens rather than provide profits for the rich to the detriment of public services and the environment.

This text has been abridged.

Contact the Independent Labour Network at 8 Regent Street, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire NG18 1SS. Tel: 01623 427622.

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