Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Unions and Labour's chances of a second century?

The decline in trade union membership seems to have bottomed out in the last couple of years, but the membership of “our” political party is in freefall. After 100 years, who is betting on a second century?

What is the New Labour response to this crisis? Why it is to set up glorified focus groups to create the illusion of popular involvement in decision making. Anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of “consultation” from an employer knows just how real and meaningful that popular involvement will be.

This top down “loyalty card” politics purports to be about asking people what they want and then giving it to them, but since it is combined with an attempt to remake centre-left politics by those who believe we live in an age in which the state can achieve almost nothing of substance, it will inevitably come to be about shaping people’s perceptions around the choices already made by leaders incapable of believing that they are wrong.

Party membership should be the route for informed and committed supporters of left and centre-left politics to take an active role in shaping Party policy and thereby influencing the practice of the Party in Government. Now that victories at Party Conference (such as on health and housing) are not just routinely ignored by the Government but provide a justification for attempts to restrain further union influence in the Party, it is clear that the last thing the Labour Party leadership want is an active and engaged membership giving them direction (reminds me of some union officials I know to be honest...) ;)

That is why we need to build rank and file organisation across the Party and the unions. I know that there are many in the leadership of the unions who think that we will isolate ourselves from influence if we line up with the hard left. If their caution was ever justified it is not now.

It is not just that we have so little to show for our influence over the past year. New Labour is marching towards a political future in which membership based political parties are a thing of the past, and in which any democratic channels for rank and file influence by the organised working class over a Government have been closed.

We have the opportunity to support an alternative – but only if those Members of Parliament who choose to be associated with our Union use their power to nominate leadership candidates to ensure that our members are given a choice. If the union leadership choose to abstain from this democratic process for fear of losing their influence over a future leader who is our most dangerous adversary we will be perilously close to the end of the road for the union-Labour link in any useful form.

I should have thanked Daniel for pointing me in the direction of the news stories btw. Thanks comrade and Happy New Year!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nae bother Jon :)

D