Trade Unions: It’s Time to Ditch Labour

September 27, 2013 11:55 am

To paraphrase that other disastrous Labour Party ‘leader’, Neil (now Lord) Kinnock: ‘Now we have the grotesque chaos of a Labour leader – a Labour leader! – scuttling around trying to pander to a rightwing press agenda and falling flat on his face!’

Less than two years from the next general election, where Labour’s ‘policy-lite’ Ed Miliband remains on a personal low in the polls (-20%), what exactly could his vote-winning strategy be?

You got it.

Tony Blair will warn of the risks to Britain of falling to Europe's margins.Let’s attack our strongest supporters and our biggest donors. I mean, the Labour Party is ONLY £9 million in debt, ever since the fly-by-night millionaires who once backed them under Blair have long since ‘backed off’ with their chequebooks – and good riddance, I might add.

In Tony Blair’s heyday, his eradication of even the very mention of the ‘s-word’ (‘socialism’, sssh!) from Labour’s membership card, and his move to adopt Tory policies, had some members of the rich elite creaming their silk-lined panties to back a revamped Labour, the pale pink Tory Party, once known as ‘New Labour’.

However, once Blair’s stock began to plummet – most memorably illustrated by the ‘dodgy dossier’ episode that plunged us into the humanitarian disaster that was the Iraq War – a succession of wealthy backers had promptly jumped ship by the end of the premiership of the ham-fisted Gordon Brown (remember him?)

Despite Blair’s successful electoral record – three election victories in a row, equalling Thatcher’s – his ‘bankability’ faded, even though his personal bank account bulged at the seams (last count saw our Tony raking in a mere £13 million – yeah, and the rest). Amid all the speaking tours, media work, business consultancies, Blair still found time to reinvent himself as the United Nation’s (deep breath here) ‘Peace Envoy for the Middle East’ (yes, I know, you have to laugh, don’t you?).

So why, after three years of a most unpopular Tory-led coalition government, during the worst economic global crisis since the ‘Great Wall Street Crash’ of 1929, where we have seen savage cuts to social security, benefits, local authorities, the NHS, jobs and pay and a 30% rise in homelessness, not to mention the sudden boom in food banks, why is it that the ‘Queen’s loyal opposition’  is offering little opposition at all? Why is it that the Labour Party is a mere whisker ahead in the polls – between 3% and 5%, depending on which poll you believe?

Goodness of their hearts

For long now, the Labour Party has gradually moved its position on the political spectrum from a nominally leftwing reformist party, whose base was the organised working class, but has a liberal capitalist leadership. Time was when ordinary members, whether they were members of constituency parties or through their affiliated trade unions, could have a democratic channel to form party policy from the grassroots level. Often, all too often, much of this was filtered, diluted or ignored once Labour attained office as Labour leaders insisted on ‘managing’ the capitalist system rather than abolishing it.

Winston_ChurchillOnly when there was a strong, viable, mass movement able to apply pressure from below were ‘leftwing reform’ programmes implemented. Such a period emerged after the Second World War. WWII had been fought as a direct result of that same, aforementioned ‘Great Wall Street Crash’ of 1929 that led directly to fascism. This is how important social gains were made such as the social safety net that was the Welfare State and the NHS. A massive house-building programme and the expansion of public services and education brought full employment. Small wonder the millionaire class, their shadows in the Tory Party and the rightwing media, were ALWAYS diametrically opposed to the public sector and the trade unions who defended them.

Our political class, of all shades, have never willingly introduced reforms out of the goodness of their hearts. Ordinary people have had to struggle to gain concessions only to have them slowly whittled away and clawed back at a later date. It is for this very reason why capitalism, as a system, has to be brought to an end. For this, we need a political vehicle, in effect, a new political party.

Labour leader Clement Attlee, deputy prime minister to Winston Churchill in the wartime coalition, much preferred to remain in the coalition when the war ended. It was only the pressure from below that demanded real change. Working and middle class people wanted no return to the ‘Hungry Thirties’ that were presided over by the Tories.  Grassroots members  forced Attlee’s hand to call for a general election in 1945 which saw our ‘great war leader’, the aristocratic Churchill, unceremoniously ousted.

Limited reforms

Devastated and divided Europe was financially underwritten , on the one hand, by the capitalist powerhouse of the USA, and on the other, by the industrial-military colossus of the USSR. The geo-political lines were drawn between the diametrically opposed economic systems of capitalism and Stalinist communism, a distorted non-democratic form of socialism.

The Labour leadership, from then on, sought to fall in line with the USA’s umbrella of liberal capitalism. Labour’s leftwing reformism was a halfway house between capitalism and socialism. Capitalist strategists bided their time until such a period when they could begin to dismantle the post-war settlement because these limited reforms cut into their profits.

That’s why, as early as 1949, we saw a Labour government already introducing prescription charges while expanding military capability to fit in with American global strategy. And so it went. Step by step, right up to the 1970s, each successive Labour government, like the Tories, introduced cuts. They failed to fulfil their electoral promises once in office. Most tellingly, in the late 1970s, they introduced an early form of ‘monetarism’ –  public sector cuts, wage restraints, laws to restrict trade union ability to defend their members. Hence, by 1978, a wave of trade union strikes against the very Labour government that had betrayed them was labelled the ‘Winter of Discontent’.

Labour politician after Labour politician joined in the chorus with those on the right – ‘trade unions had too much power’. How dare ordinary workers refuse to take their medicine. With the electoral successes of the Thatcher governments through the 1980s, we saw cuts in local authorities, massive privatisation and tax cuts for the wealthy, in short, a massive transference of wealth from the poor to the rich, perfectly illustrated by the introduction of the poll tax.

Gatekeeper to Blair

blair americaThe Labour leaders, those under Neil Kinnock especially, drew the conclusion that ‘socialism’ (ie. what they called socialism – in fact, leftwing reformism) had failed. They launched a campaign to eject any semblance of socialist policies. To ensure this, they set about expelling genuine socialists (such as the Militant Tendency) by bureaucratic means, supported and egged on by the capitalist press.

Neil Kinnock, and those around him, believed moving Labour to the centre ground would prove popular. In fact, Kinnock’s actions didn’t win him a single extra vote. What Kinnock did was act as gatekeeper to Tony Blair’s ascent. Blair, instinctively a Tory, had no real traditional links with trade unions and continued Labour’s march to the right with his despatching of  Clause IV of the party’s constitution, which called for equal distribution of profits, in order to make it more acceptable to the political centre, to draw in the middle class voters who had lost faith in the tired Tory administration.

Blair, in reality, offered more of the same. His first government stuck to Tory spending plans and sided with the American ‘New World Order’. And it was this that led to Blair’s downfall. His huge landslide election victories of 1997 and 2001 were squandered by scandals (cash for honours); legislation that favoured big business; lack of restraint of the banking sector that contributed to the financial crash; and by maintaining the most restrictive labour laws in the industrial world that hamstring to this day the ability of workers to defend their living and working conditions.

No difference between the parties

It was clear, by the 2010 election, that the electorate was disillusioned by all three main political parties – none of them could win an overall majority, hence the coalition.

tory labourThe Tory-led coalition has used the financial crisis as a fig leaf to carry out policies they ALWAYS wanted to carry out – swingeing benefit and public sector cuts,  privatisation, lowering of wages. Having ditched even the modest leftwing reformist policies, Labour had nowhere to go but to offer themselves as the better ‘managers’ in a crisis. Bereft of ideas, they have no alternative but to offer the same cuts as the Tories. At best, they offer ‘slower, nicer’ cuts. Hence, as ever, we’re left with that cigarette paper we’re desperately trying to fit between the parties.

To allay accusations that ‘it’s the same old Labour’ that has to (allegedly) dance to the tune of trade union donations, Miliband has turned on the biggest voluntary organisations in the country to make himself look pristine clean. We saw this illustrated by his accusations of members of UNITE the union ‘illegally’ signing up candidates to stand in the upcoming Falkirk by-election. He even called in the police – who, by the way, saw no evidence of wrongdoing – and finally had to admit that the union had broken no rules. Yet, no apology was forthcoming.

The real beef Miliband and the Labour leaders had was that UNITE, and other unions like them, are responding to the will of their members who are calling for a Labour Party that will represent their needs. There is a majority of the public who are calling for the re-nationalisation of the public utilities and railways; to stop the stealthy privatisation of the NHS; to properly fund social services; to build more affordable homes; to create decent paid jobs and apprenticeships; to re-introduce the student grant; and for a fairer, progressive tax system. These are policies that no genuine socialist would disagree with. I would add to that – ALL elected representatives such as MPs, councillors and union reps should only receive the average wages of a skilled worker and be subjected to instant recall if found wanting.

Can the unions ‘reclaim’ Labour, as the likes of the UNITE union hope to do so? Given the outbreak of  hostility over the Falkirk fiasco, I very much doubt it. The only option open, therefore, is to pick up their members’ money from the table, disaffiliate from Labour, and found a new, genuinely socialist party that will implement a programme to benefit the millions instead of the millionaires.

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