Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Has Politics Failed?

I won't try to blog a blow by blow account of the official business of Congress, because you can see it on the telly (and follow debate elsewhere online) - but I will report from the more interesting debates that take place on the fringe.

Yesterday I went to the packed fringe meeting organised by the Institute of Employment Rights on the theme "Politics has failed - so how should unions respond?"

This debate - around the crisis of political representation of the working class - is now unavoidable (although plenty of people continue to try to avoid it - the no-longer-aptly-named "Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions" organised a fringe meeting calling for support for the Labour Party because of all the good things the Government has done!)

At the IER meeting speakers made generally thoughtful and intelligent contributions. Brian Caton from the Prison Officers Association was angry and moving as ever (and all but announced his recent decision to leave the Labour Party for the Socialist Party). Mark Serwotka spoke convincingly about the likelihood that none of the main political parties will adopt any significant part of the programme adopted by our movement.

Len McCluskey was a rarity on the platform for arguing (as I would) that there is still a fight to be had in the Labour Party. John Hendy referred back to TUC policy in the run up to the 1906 election - when the TUC asked candidates in the election if they backed the policies of the trade unions. Those who say that the TUC could not take such action for some constitutional reason should have been there to here this persuasive contribution - the Peoples Charter (which UNISON will be supporting on Thursday) would provide precisely the basis upon which such questions could be put to candidates in the 2010 election, just as we did 104 years ago.

The trade union movement has the opportunity, in rebuilding our strength and political independence to assert real influence.

As a safety practitioner I would have to advise readers not to hold their breath however.

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