Monday, January 21, 2008

Brendan warns Gordon with words. What about deeds?

Brendan Barber is not a happy bunny!

In today’s Guardian he berates the Government for its plans to hold down the living standards of public servants. This is of course fitting in the leader of a trade union centre which now has its last source of strength in the public sector.

However, he does not conclude with a stirring call to industrial action but with a warning about the potential electoral consequences of disappointing six million voters.

It’s a fair point, but one which the trade unions could be making with more force. What Brendan implies is correct – given a Labour Government which attacks our standard of living, public sector workers will, in some numbers, be driven away from supporting Labour.

Some will (foolishly) vote Tory or Liberal, some will (perhaps more understandably) experiment with radical alternatives (some see the nationalists and the Greens in this light). However, there is no prospect of the trade union leadership doing anything whatsoever to focus the political pressure to which they are eager to allude.

Without some conscious effort on the part of the union leaderships to apply meaningful political pressure upon the Government this invocation of the electoral consequences of parsimony looks like nothing so much as an attempt to avoid the hard work involved in organising industrial action, and to appear critical of a Government for whose re-election we will work tirelessly for fear of something worse.

There are those who offer the unions the alternative of breaking altogether with the Labour Party, whether directly or through limited support for other candidates. I am afraid that the recent implosions of both the Scottish Socialist Party and Respect, together with the consistent failure of any other far left force to achieve significant electoral progress make it inconceivable that this argument will make much headway in the near future. I am certainly not persuaded!

Does this leave us to moan about the policies of a Labour Government whilst we continue to write cheques to, and devote energy to the Labour Party without question or influence?

It needn’t.

The trade unions had an opportunity to back a challenge to Gordon Brown in the leadership election and the leadership failed to do so. Yet we still have the option of lining the trade unions up alongside those in the Labour Party who support our policies.

We threw away our right to make policy at Conference – we need to reclaim the right to fight for the interests of our members at every level within the Labour Party, from the branch all the way down to the Parliamentary Party. This means fighting against the Party leadership and alongside the left.

This is not an alternative to industrial action – that is what is needed to take on Gordon Brown’s disgraceful public sector pay policy. However we can obtain greater political influence for our industrial action through the most effective use of our potential political weight.

Hinting that our members might stay home come election day, whilst we remain committed to getting them all out to vote Labour come what may, is a very poor use of the power of our movement. Come on Brendan, buck your ideas up!

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