RMT votes to let branches reduce links with Labour

Bob Crow says Blair has betrayed working people and calls on members to back other political organisations
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The Independent Online

One of the unions that founded the Labour Party left itself open to expulsion from the movement last night after it threatened to fund other political groups and described the Cabinet as "war criminals".

One of the unions that founded the Labour Party left itself open to expulsion from the movement last night after it threatened to fund other political groups and described the Cabinet as "war criminals".

Yesterday's decision by the RMT rail union embroiled Tony Blair's government in one of its worst crises since it came to power in 1997.

The union voted overwhelmingly to flout the Labour constitution and allow branches to affiliate to other organisations after registering its deep anger at government policies on Iraq, public services and employment rights. Bob Crow, the hard-left leader, said workers had been "betrayed'' and urged parts of the union north of the border to affiliate to the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), which was formed out of the Trotskyite Militant Tendency. He said the RMT was likely to form links with Plaid Cymru at the election.

Mr Crow said that if ministers continued with their policies he could not envisage his organisation being part of Labour in five years' time.

The decision could be taken out of his hands. A senior Labour official said that such a move would breach the constitution. One senior official at the RMT said the union was "heading into the wilderness" because neither the SSP nor Plaid Cymru had political influence.

The annual meeting of the union in Glasgow voted by 37 to 13 to half the affiliation fee paid to the party from £25,000 to £12,500, having cut it last year from £180,000. The 52 delegates voted for a resolution declaring that the union would back Ken Livingstone financially in next year's mayoral election in London. Mr Livingstone will be standing against Nicky Gavron, the official Labour candidate.

David Triesman, the party's general secretary, warned that affiliates that actively organised or funded a candidate or organisation standing against Labour would be "beyond" the organisation's regulations. "In that situation the rules have to be respected and upheld."

However, it was clear that Mr Triesman and Ian McCartney, chairman of the party, want to avoid expelling the union. They emphasised that they were not issuing an ultimatum. Mr Triesman said: "It's not what an affiliate say they do, but what they do that matters."

Mr McCartney said the party "passionately" believed in the union-Labour link and he pointed out that there was no "serious Labour figure in the union movement who is in favour of ending our historic link".

So far other big unions have fought shy of forging financial links with other parties. Both the Transport & General and GMB unions will be reviewing their relationship with Labour.

If the RMT carries out its threat to back other political parties and Labour fails to take action, it risks other affiliates following suit.

In a fundamentalist speech to delegates, Mr Crow said that Labour had treated trade unionists with "outrageous contempt. He said: "They don't like us and they don't want the unions to have any power. They are in favour of keeping it a boss's party.

"Like a marriage that comes to an end, sometimes it is better if there is a divorce. People say: do we want the Tories back in again - I say, how would we know?" He said of the decision to topple Saddam Hussein: "What we have got is a Cabinet of war criminals."

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