Wednesday, January 09, 2013

2013 - the need for political trade unionism

It may not be the best or easiest year in which to be a socialist and trade unionist - but there's little doubt that most years in the past two centuries have commenced less auspiciously and that those who came before us didn't flinch from getting on with the difficult job of building our movement and defending the interests of working people (nor did they sneer for that matter!)

So we have to get on with it. And we have to recognise the difficulties which we face.

The Coalition Government has cut through us like a scythe over the past two years, having come to office to find a labour movement demoralised and disoriented by the defeats and betrayals of the New Labour years. Resistance has been patchy in the sense that arable farming in the Sahara is patchy - it has been very very limited at a local level.

Those of us who hoped to engender a meaningful national fight (which might better have inspired local resistance) have failed because the approach of the national leadership of our movement has been to mirror what they perceive at the base with what might best be described as "qualified despair" - and we have failed to change this (yet).

The public service pensions dispute was our best chance to inflict a setback upon the Government in this Parliament. We failed to do so because of a lack of confidence from top to bottom of the movement. It's easy to be angry with the leadership and their supporters (and I am) but trite to characterise this simply as "betrayal."

The leadership may have been culpable for circumstances in which we did not mobilise our members for action which could win a real victory - but the importance of their lack of confidence was magnified by the weakness of the left and rank and file.

Comparing our circumstances now with those two and a half years into Thatcher's first term (which seems sensible) we have half the trade union members we had then, we have - comparatively - a pitiably weak and marginalised left wing in the Labour Party, a Communist Party which is barely an echo of its former self and a far left which is floundering and without direction (to put it kindly).

In local government, these political weaknesses are reflected in the fact that we have almost no political support for a position of outright opposition to all spending cuts. In 2013 there are fewer Councillors prepared to resist all cuts in England than there were local authorities prepared to take that position in the mid-80s.

The pointless diversion of "building a new workers party" is less relevant now than at any point in the thirteen years of (New) Labour Government, but the important weaknesses and errors are at the top, not on the margins of the movement.

We need a clear focus from the trade unions on building and developing the Labour Party as a focus for our opposition to austerity. We might wish for a different or better political vehicle for our hopes - but we might wish for almost anything. We won't get it. What we have is the Labour Party.

The failed approach of having "influence" over the Labour Party leadership is not, however, the answer, although it may well be what the big trade unions continue to try to do. This was the approach which saw Foundation Hospitals delivered with the votes (against UNISON policy) of UNISON MPs. This was the approach which has done so much to discredit our relationship with the Labour Party in the eyes of the rank and file.

We need rather to see the Labour Party for what it is and has always been - an arena for struggle to promote workers' interests.

Whether or not we believe in class war it is being waged against us. We therefore need to fight back on every front, including within the Labour Party. In 2013, more than ever, we need political trade unionism.

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thank goodness you have never had anything to do with the swp, after reading the transcript of there latest meeting, have they sunk to a all new time low, wife beaters and rapists! what a fine bunch there cc is, just made a batch of copys to give to everyone, why on earth has plod not been given a tinkle, wise to keep your distance jon,