At the Stop the War protest in London last March (Guy Smallman)

The British trade union movement lined up behind Western imperialism at the Trade Union Congress meeting on Tuesday.

It passed a motion that while rightly denouncing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, said not a word about Nato, US or Britain militarism. And it cleared the way for more arms spending by the Tories.

The GMB and Aslef unions proposed and seconded the motion, supported by the NUM, PCS and others.

It included a demand that Russia withdraws to its pre-2014 borders—which means an escalated war to retake Crimea—and a commitment to sending whatever financial and practical aid are required.

This includes weaponry of all sorts and could even extend to backing troops on the ground.

Fortunately, the FBU union spoke powerfully against the motion and voted against it. The Bfawu bakers’ union was the only other union to vote against. Other unions such as the NEU,  RMT and UCU which had originally been expected to vote against in the end decided to abstain.

That’s probably because they feared “isolation” and aggressive headlines in the right wing media about

FBU delegate Jamie Newell told the conference that  Vladimir Putin’s invasion was a “crime”, and his union condemned it. But, he added “While the motion mentions opposition to imperialism and imperialist interests, they exist in both sides of this conflict and the motion supported “UK military intervention”.

Confronting the argument that backing the West in Ukraine was an example of workers’ solidarity, Newell went on “We are proud of our history of internationalism, but we oppose this composite. We do not believe that the escalation of war offers anything to the working class in Russia or Ukraine”.

He condemned the military interventions of the past 20 in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya and argued “The first duty of any anti-imperialist is to oppose the imperialism of your own government. 

“That does not mean endorsing Nato, the escalation of war with Nato weapons, Nato funds or Nato advisers,” he added.

And he offered hope of resistance to the war—“Remember that a bayonet is a weapon with a worker at both ends,” he said.

The TUC’s support for imperialism is a disgrace. But it’s not a surprise. It didn’t support the march of 2 million against the Iraq war in 2003 and has never given a lead against imperialist war under either Tory or Labour governments. 

The trade union bureaucracy, like the Labour Party, accepts the argument that what is good for Britain is good for workers. It elevates nation over class and that means at key moments it lines up with the state and its wars. 

The Stop the War Coalition said, “The victory for the pro-war motion on Ukraine, even in a diluted form, at the TUC congress marks a bad day for the trade union movement. It will give comfort to the government, the arms industry, and those who want to prolong the war.

“The original motion from the GMB union was clear that it supported sending arms to Ukraine, in line with its motion last year in support of increasing ‘defence’ spending. The composite omitted all but the vaguest talk about such support, and much of the general calls for solidarity were uncontroversial. However, the GMB mover in summing up reiterated the need to send arms.”

Trade unionists must keep up the arguments against imperialism East and West.


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