Tuesday, July 06, 2010

TUC General Council - the Labour Lance-Corporals of Capital?

Since being elected to the UNISON National Executive in 2003 I have had more cause than before to wonder about the purpose of the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

September's Congress (http://www.tuc.org.uk/congress/index.cfm?mins=617) won't simply be the last annual Congress, ending a tradition going back to the mid-nineteenth century (http://jonrogers1963.blogspot.com/2010/06/incredible-disappearing-congress.html), it will also - I think - be the first to be addressed by a serving Tory Prime Minister in the middle of a massive attack upon the working class, our public services and our unions.

I wholeheartedly endorse the call from the Communist Party for the General Council to withdraw this ill-judged invitation (http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/index.php/news/content/view/full/92373). I shall refrain from stating in public what I think about the Communist Party's excellent suggestion that - should the General Council not withdraw the invitation - delegates should protest (as that sort of thing has caused trouble for UNISON delegates at the TUC before...)

However what is most interesting about this invitation is what it tells us about how the leadership of the TUC view its role - not as an agent of organisation of our class but as the institutional expression of partnership with Government and employers.

In the 1970s when our movement was much stronger, attempts were made to co-opt the unions through "corporatism" and "tripartism". This period - epitomised institutionally by the National Economic Development Council - was brought to an end by Thatcherism (most obviously when the Government responded to Len Murray's craven "new realism" with the union ban at GCHQ). The TUC though had found in corporatism a purpose of its own, as the organiser of the union involvement in tripartite bodies. It has wanted it back ever since.

Under New Labour, as General Secretaries basked in the warm glow of "access" to Government Ministers - and happily imagined influence they did not have - the TUC tried and tried to get back to the position of power it had previously enjoyed - often by acting as a cut price ACAS to try to broker deals rather than support affiliates.

Now it appears that we still wish to impress even the most reactionary Government in living memory with our desire to listen to them, for dialogue - even perhaps for partnership?

One of Lenin's rhetorical attacks upon social democrat and trade union leaders and officials was to dismiss them sneeringly as "labour lieutenants of capital" (seeking a role as subordinate partners in managing the exploitation of our class). That cannot be said of the General Council's invitation to David Cameron!

This Government isn't looking to co-operate with our movement. It isn't asking for our help. It is simply telling us that it will subject us to years of pay restraint and job cuts whilst undermining pension rights built up over generations.

Never mind "labour lieutenants" there isn't even a vacancy for "Labour Lance Corporals" to be filled from Congress House. Under its current General Secretary the TUC continues its tragic decline into irrelevance.

But what were the members of the General Council thinking of when this invitation to Cameron was issued???
Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent analysis of an appalling decision which brings the TUC into disrepute.

Charlie Pottins said...

I hope it is not too late for this invitation to be withdrawn. Why should trade unionists need to give the prime minister a platform or find out what he thinks?
He made that clear before the election, accusing Labour of being afraid to attack BA cabin crews because of the money it gets from my union, Unite. To ram home what he thought of us the Tories provocatively stationed a lorry with this message down the lane from Bedfont football club where pickets were meeting.
We now learn that not only were the Tories funded by bankers like Goldman Sachs, but a firm which stands to make millions from the Con-Dems NHS shake up has funded the Health Secretary. Nothing shameful about these connections, obviously, unlike links with unions. So why not leave it to them to invite Cameron and co, while we get on with discussing how to resist his cuts?
Some union leaders in favour of inviting Cameron are the very ones whose members are first in the firing line, facing attacks on pensions and jobs. What next? I heard someone wittier than I say the turkeys have invited Bernard Matthews to address them later this year.