Monday, September 24, 2012

What is the point of the labour movement?

With the Government continuing it's social blitzkrieg against the poor, the sick and the disabled (the real targets of which are all workers, and organised workers in particular), what is the point of the labour movement, and in particular of Labour Councillors?
Because the Government have very deliberately focused the worst of the spending reductions afflicting local Government on the areas of greatest social need (which tend - of course - to have Labour Councils), those local Labour politicians who are best placed to exemplify Labour's different approach are in fact amongst those implementing most rapidly and vigorously the worst of the Tory austerity.
Particular Council's manage to implement the occasional progressive social, economic or employment policy (such as free school meals, or the application of the London Living Wage to contracted out staff). However, to the extent that there has been any debate about the strategic approach of Labour to local government under the coalition it has been stuck in the rut of argument between damage limitation and refusal to set a balanced budget.
Owen Jones offers one answer (http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/come-on-you-local-councillors-resist-these-cuts-8166546.html) which is for Councillors to get together to discuss some co-ordination of opposition to Tory policies. This is a modest (if sound) proposal and the fact that it even has to be made speaks volumes about how far we have come since the 1980s (and not in a positive direction).
The number of Labour Councillors who have spoken out against Labour Council cuts since 2010 is fewer than the number of Labour local authorities lined up to fight the Thatcher Government at the start of the ratecapping fight.
At that time the movement debated various options other than refusal to set a budget (including, for example, majority opposition). Now our Labour Council's are one trick ponies who have only Neil Kinnock's rusty old "dented shield" (even if they have painted it and - in some cases - written the word "cooperative" on it).
Being a Labour politician - at any level - ought, at the moment to be primarily about being part of the social and political opposition to the class war policies of the Millionaires' Government. However, the defeat of the ratecapping fight, and its legacy, has so comprehensively tamed and neutered Labour's local government leadership that it's hard to see how they can grow back into their necessary role.
Those of us whose primary area of labour movement activity is in the trade unions are generally in no position to feel superior however. The industrial defeats of the Thatcher era, compounded by the even tighter legal shackles forged by the Major Government (and retained by New Labour) have also worked their magic upon our leaders in the "industrial wing" of the movement.
Our trade unions have also been tamed - it's hard to see us soon achieving a victory on the scale of that won by our Potuguese brothers and sisters (http://strongerunions.org/2012/09/23/portugals-unions-stop-wage-cuts-big-blow-to-austerity/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter).
Nevertheless, this is the labour movement we have and the labour movement which, since it will not be replaced, has to be transformed.
For a start, let's get everyone out on the streets on 20 October - and then let's try to turn our movement into the weapon our people need for defence.

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