Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Labour leadership is an issue for all UNISON members

I wouldn’t want to trespass on the territory of my friends and comrades on UNISON’s Labour Link Committee, but it does occur to me that the question of who becomes the next Prime Minister is a “citizenship issue” (as we say in UNISON) and therefore of concern to the whole of our membership, including the majority who choose not to pay into UNISON Labour Link (though I wish they did!)

A lot of energy is being expended in debating who will be the next Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, but since that is a contest to hold a post with no role and no power it ought not to detain us. The Deputy Leadership campaign is an exercise in shadow boxing.

There are three candidates for the Labour leadership. Gordon Brown is an enemy of UNISON members and all that we hold dear. He is the architect of privatisation and stands for the continuation of the policies which have brought support for the Labour Party as low as it has been in a generation. I don’t believe that there is any scope for active support for Brown from the leaders of the big trade unions, much as that might be their inexplicable predisposition. The strategy that has transparently been pursued until now has been to pretend that it would be somehow wrong to express a view “until we know who all the candidates are” and thereby to cede to the Parliamentary Labour Party all power to decide upon whether our members who pay the political levy will be offered a real choice.

Regular readers of this blog (both of you!) won’t be shocked to hear me use the word pusillanimous in relation to the attitude which seems to have been taken to this question in the commanding heights of our trade union movement.

Another declared candidate is Michael Meacher, who offers a purely token “centre-left” challenge rooted in Parliament, in order to provide a suitably dramatic conclusion to a career in politics.

I know of no rank and file organisation of trade unionists or Labour Party members who are backing Meacher – and this seems to me to be an encouraging indication of the good judgement of the rank and file. Rumours abound that supporters of Gordon Brown are pretending to lend their support to the man who stood for Deputy Leader 24 years ago simply in order to see off a real left-wing challenge. If left-wing MPs endorse Meacher as the left challenger to Brown they will be writing an obituary for the Labour Left.

I am much more interested in the leadership campaign of John McDonnell, a stalwart supporter of UNISON and its policies. This campaign seems to me to offer a real opportunity for there to be a candidate on the ballot for Labour Leader committed not only to supporting trade union policies but also to organising in the movement to deliver these policies.

I know that there are those in UNISON who feel that this discussion belongs only to the Labour Link but – as a Labour Link officer and party member for many years – I think that all UNISON members need to be debating this.

Most of our members have our pay set by the Government either directly or at one stage removed. Who resides at number 10 Downing Street matters to all our members regardless of which section of the political fund their subscription income goes to!

We have three choices. Should we;

(A) Provide tacit support to the frontrunner, Gordon Brown, in the hope that he will be less bad than Tony Blair and will somehow wish to reward us should we assist in his coronation?
(B) Lend our weight to the attempt by Michael Meacher to get himself a footnote in the history books by mounting a purely token left challenge to Brown?
(C) Maximise the vote for a candidate – John McDonnell – who has a record of consistent support for our policies and who wants to use the leadership election to broaden and deepen the organisation of those in the Labour Party who share our values?

You may have picked up that I am a little biased. Well I am. I am biased in favour of someone whose candidacy can advance UNISON policies. I would particularly welcome comments – or at least thought – from those at Mabledon Place who consider themselves socialists. The Morning Star can get this right comrades – can you?

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