Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Cause of Labour is the Hope of the World


Whilst I have been busy doing other things, regular readers (Sid and Doris Blogger) may have been unsettled by news of my doings published elsewhere!

This is, I fear, what comes of believing anonymous comments. I learned online that I was supposedly considering my Labour Party membership (just ahead of the thirtieth anniversary of my first meeting of the Labour Party Young Socialists).

Labourism – the specific British expression of European social democracy – has always had significant limitations (follow that last link for a good analysis of some of them). The Labour Party has been hobbled by nationalism, deference and the self-denying ordinance of the trade union leaders who are permanently unwilling to mobilise the strength of millions of our members to pursue our interests through the Party-Union link.

These well-established limitations cannot logically provide a reason to leave the Labour Party now if they did not do so twenty (or thirty) years ago, since they were as pronounced then as they are now. There remains a case to be made for socialist engagement in the Labour Party.

There are some excellent progressive political activists who have left the Party, and Geoff Martin is a recent addition to the roll call of those expelled (I am thinking not only of recent victims but also of the many good comrades in Lambeth Labour Party who were witch hunted in the early 1990s).

I first decided to leave the Labour Party if it ever abandoned the policy of unilateral nuclear disarmament. When that happened I realised that the point of the Labour Party is not what it says it believes in (since no Labour Government has ever followed through on much of this). The point of the Labour Party is what it has been (and to some extent still is) – the political wing of the Labour movement.

The combined effect of three factors may now have brought us close to a turning point. First, the global political implications of the defeat of the only available alternative to world capitalism has worked itself out now for about twenty years. Secondly, three terms of Labour Government in the UK have failed effectively to reverse the decline in the power of our movement achieved by the Thatcher and Major Governments. Thirdly, the immediate political crisis has put electoral reform on the agenda in a way in which it has never been before.

These developments may presage the end of the Labour Party as attempt to unite the left and centre-left around a political agenda rooted in the workers’ movement. It is a cliché to observe that the two great electoral triumphs of the Party (1945 and 1997) depended upon that unity.

I would regret the loss of the possibility of repeating this unity within the institutional form of one political party. If however this is to be lost, then (whilst I can see why those outside the Party are exploring their options) I cannot see why the majority of Party members who vote for socialism should abandon the Party to the majority of Cabinet members (who would not know what socialism was if it bit them).

I don’t want to leave the Labour Party. I want to see the expulsion of hypocrites who persecute the poor whilst stuffing their pockets (not to mention war criminals).

I do want to support good socialist Members of Parliament.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Not a good day to be Labour

It's not a good day to be a Labour Party member. I tend to agree with the Morning Star editorial about the expulsion from the Party of my friend and comrade Geoff Martin.

We might have seen that coming since Geoff has been openly backing "No2EU Yes to Democracy" but it still sticks in the throat to see good people outside the Labour Party when you consider some of what is still floating to the top.

Ann Black has done well to ask Labour Party members our views about the expenses scandal ahead of discussion at the NEC. But since Geoff is not the first good socialist booted out of the Party I also want a political critique of the Party leadership.

The expenses scandal is the perfect expression of the moral and political bankruptcy of New Labour in particular, but it is the tip of the iceberg of the crisis of representation of the working class in this country.

We deserve better - but only if we are prepared to fight for it. Our trade unions need to lead this fight - and to fight for what we believe in.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

PCS thinking ahead

This coming week comrades from our sister union PCS will be gathering in Brighton for their Annual Conference, among the topics to be debated is the future of the political campaigning undertaken by the Union.

A motion from the PCS NEC (available online as part of the Conference Agenda) calls upon Conference to instruct the NEC to;

1. Continue to campaign as an independent trade union, not affiliated to any political party;

2. Step up the Make Your Vote Count campaign;

3. Campaign in favour of proportional representation in line with the report issued to branches;

4. Consult branches on the question of supporting trade union candidates in elections, and on the question of PCS candidates standing in elections, and report to ADC 2010.

5. Participate in discussions and initiatives within the trade union movement on this issue.

This is certainly a far more thorough approach to reviewing the political campaigning activity of a trade union than that which we are being offered within UNISON. UNISON's Rule Book provisions in relation to our political fund and its two sections would preclude our Conference considering such a motion in the immediately foreseeable future.

Personally I would rather see us really trying to make use of our Labour Party affiliation by fighting alongside our true allies (rather than pretending to influence with New Labour Ministers in their last year of office). However we need to have an open and honest debate with the membership of our Union as PCS are preparing to do.

Even allowing for the age profile of our UNISON's leadership I don't think anyone can expect to put this debate off until they retire...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Proud to be UNISON - Proud to be United Left

It was as ever (and this won't shock regular readers Sid and Doris political-anoraks) a pleasure to chair this afternoon's meeting of UNISON United Left (UUL).

A small (but perfectly formed!) gathering of comrades who weren't either in Birmingham or on the Palestine demonstration got through the work that we needed to do.

UUL - with our allies on the left in UNISON - has just run a positive campaign in the UNISON NEC elections (whilst our opponents sniped and smeared from the sidelines).

Organising the rank and file is necessary if we want to build better unions, and if you are a UNISON member I invite you to join the United Left.

Friday, May 15, 2009

UNISON arrives in twenty first century :)

A few years ago now we had our tenth UNISON Conference, with much partying and celebration (as a newly elected NEC member I only narrowly escaped helping to cut a cake I seem to remember).

This year is another important birthday as UNISON turns sixteen and, appropriately enough, since young people are so much more computer literate than us older folk, you can now join UNISON online.

It was reported this week to the Development and Organisation Committee of the NEC that several thousand people already have. Which reminds me to apologise for not having reported on that meeting yet.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Please sir, can we have some more?

I suppose it must be right to be pleased that the Government have not frozen the minimum wage.

Equally, however, the increase is - as John McDonnell says - derisory. 7p an hour is enough for a packet of crisps after a full day's work.

Or a Kit Kat.

That's for real workers who can't claim them on expenses of course!

The shame of this is that a substantial increase in the spending power of low paid workers would provide the effective demand in the economy to boost consumption and encourage investment. Lower paid workers have a higher "marginal propensity to consume" than the better off, so putting money in the pockets of those on the minimum wage makes economic sense.

With the Tories showing their true colours with an attack upon the minimum wage it's time to step up the campaign to save - and improve - it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why we need more than one Kelvin Hopkins!

As a regular commuter myself I was particulary pleased to see this story in today's Morning Star.

It concerns socialist MP Kelvin Hopkins, who manages to commute from his Luton constituency to his London workplace (like real people do). Kelvin stands out as one of the MPs not abusing a flawed expenses system.

Kelvin is a member of the Labour Representation Committee and co-Convenor of the UNISON group of MPs (as well as being one of those MPs who actually supports what UNISON stands for!)

We need more representatives like Kelvin.

The challenge which confronts our trade unions is how to get more such good representatives of our class. The sad mixture of cheerleading and timidity which we currently practice clearly does not work.

Which reminds me to remind you (in what I promise regular readers Sid and Doris bored-with-this-now will be the last such reminder worked in at the end of a post) to remind any UNISON member you meet to vote for the left in the UNISON NEC elections!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Expenses junkies - we're closing in

I won't go as far as esteemed blogger Dave Osler (who admits to the occasional bit of what would now be called "benefit fraud" in his youth) but I do share his distaste for the constant theme of attacks upon "scroungers" in the advertising of the Department for Work and Pensions.

And I share his anger at the conduct of the Blairite Minister in charge - James Purnell has attacked claimants and public servants, all the while trousering plenty of our money in circumstances which can only be described as fascinating.

Somehow (as Dave Osler says) the word hypocrite doesn't quite do him justice.

If he had a shred of decency he would resign - but then if he had a shred of decency he wouldn't be a Blairite!

Mind you it's not just the faux Tories of New Labour who stand exposed - even the Daily Mail has to ask "How many Shadow Cabinet members does it take to change a light bulb?"

As Dave Osler implies in another post, the defence of democratic politics is far too important now to be left to the politicians.

It's time to organise and fight for what we believe in and what - as trade unionists - we know our members need.

New Labour isn't dead - it always smelt this way.

First it was the squalid attempt at anonymous smears and now the "flipping" of "second homes" for personal gain.

Whatever the outcome of the next General Election, unless the Labour Party can cleanse itself of the stench of New Labour's venality we won't be able to climb out of the sewer into which we have been dragged.

The left tried to offer the Party a choice at the time of the last leadership election.

All those who conspired to prevent the possibility of honest debate ahead of Gordon Brown's coronation are culpable in the outcome.

Power corrupts.

Labour Party members and trade unionists who want to salvage something from the wreckage created by New Labour should join the Labour Representation Committee.

Within the trade unions, surely now we have to begin to see that loyalty to the Labour Party, and all for which it should stand, is not only not the same thing as loyalty to this rotten Government. It is in fact the opposite.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

How do we encourage people to vote now?

Clearly it's Tories as well as New Labour Ministers who have been taking advantage of a system for claiming expenses which is, to put it mildly, pretty remarkable (as is evidenced by the ethical gymnastics of Hazel Blears, who seems to be saying that she was right to do something because it was within "the rules" but that the rules were themselves wrong...!)

As a public service trade unionist occasionally negotiating local procedures on claiming expenses in an impoverished South London borough I might as well be on another planet rather than just over the River.

Even as a member of the UNISON NEC (who failed to win friends and influence people a few years ago by opposing an increase in subsistence expenses) I just don't recognise the expenses system that our Members of Parliament have agreed for themselves. A fair system of claiming legitimate expenses is essential if politics is to be accessible to all - but that is very clearly not what has been going on.

As an opponent of the poisonous hatred of the far right I am particularly alarmed that the way this story is developing and will develop will feed an antipathy to politicians in general (and Labour politicians in particular) which will be very welcome to those vermin. The potential damage to democracy has been inflicted upon it by a number of our Members of Parliament.

The trade unions need to ensure that our members vote in the forthcoming Euro-elections in order to stop the far right (as I was saying).

But we also need to set about changing our polity very fundamentally so that it actually offers something to working people. Starting with the idea of MPs on a workers wage. But then maybe moving on.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009