Friday, April 16, 2010

Vote Lesser Evil?

Gregor Gall today makes cogent criticisms of the limited political ambition (and effectiveness) of the (leaderships of) the large trade unions in the context of the current General Election (http://m.guardian.co.uk/?id=102202&story=http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/apr/15/unions-election-labour-neoliberalism).

He rightly points out that the big three in particular are essentially pursuing support of Labour as a "lesser evil." Unison's attack on the Tories is a good example (http://www.unison.org.uk/asppresspack/pressrelease_view.asp?id=1831). We appear to rely on unconvincing claims that we have secured implausible commitments from Labour politicians who have spent thirteen years disappointing us - together with more convincing claims about what the Tories will do.

The essence of Gregor's thesis is together, the unions "could have said: "We reject 'the market knows best' where profits come before people", mobilised their members around this, and done so before now. If they had done this, the idea that markets can be regulated to protect the common good would already be part of the popular common sense. And, all the parties would have had to accommodate this."

Gregor points to the PCS "Make Your Vote Count" campaign and RMT support for No2EU and TUSC as exceptions - which they certainly are. I have often heard Mark Serwotka explain that if you only ever support a lesser evil then you always end up with evil. That argument cannot be faulted.

However in a choice right now between a Labour or Tory Government it does make sense to choose the lesser evil - and I think we need to chart a course between the "lesser evil" path and the "plague on all your houses" approach (which is what tacit support for minor left parties amounts to).

Unison's "Million Voices" campaign could potentially have mobilised the sort of effective political pressure for which Gregor Gall calls - and the TUC supported Peoples Charter (having the potential to mobilise across the whole movement) would have been an even better bet. Both have been hamstrung by the fear that through such campaigning we will deliver sticks to beat Labour to those on the left promoting an alternative. This fear compels us to campaigns so vacuous that they cannot be a vehicle for effective mobilisation or influence.

Instead of making the most of the full range of Unison's progressive policies at election time we make the least of them.

We don't have to translate our affiliation to the Labour Party into the subordination of the trade unions to the Labour Party in this way.

We could see our affiliation as a tool to gain influence - but only if we are prepared to be critical even when this may do the Party electoral damage.

If we could have had the spirit and commitment of the campaigns of PCS from a major union affiliated to the Labour Party we might have shifted the Party in Government leftwards in a way which would have defended our members' interests and made the Party more electable.

Just as our members deserve better than the choice between Tories and New Labour, so we all deserve a better choice than that between reluctant but uncritical support for Labour as the "lesser evil" on the one hand and de facto support for marginal political groups on the other.

Which is, now I come to think of it, one of the reasons I'll be voting - after the General Election - for Paul Holmes to be Unison General Secretary.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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