Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Zero hours? We barely have more time than that to save Labour

Although I'm on holiday I'm still reading the papers.

As so often Seumas Milne hits the nail on the head (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/06/david-cameron-britain-dockers-line-up-back) - zero hours contracts take us back 130 years to crowds of men scrabbling for work on the docks. This is what the triumph of Thatcherism looks like.

Milne is equally right that we have to fight back - and need both stronger trade unions and a Labour leadership willing to fight. The New Unionism of the 1880s, which saw the Docks strike that was the birth of the TGWU (now the heart of UNITE), was also a vital moment in the process which led the trade unions to seek and find a political voice in Parliament.

We need such a voice again - and that means that any attempt to destroy the collective affiliation of trade unions to the Labour Party must be resisted and defeated (not accommodated to or compromised with). Without collective affiliation the Labour Party might remain (vaguely) of the Centre-Left, it might even continue to advance the occasional social democratic policy objective - but it would not be (even potentially) the political voice of the organised working class. We would no longer have even the hope of such a voice from Labour.

The trade unions need to stand together to defend the political gains of the past - and as by far the largest affiliate, the greatest responsibility falls upon UNITE. That's why it is so important that leading members of UNITE are signing up online to the "Tolpuddle statement" in defence of the Labour-union link (http://defendthelink.wordpress.com/). It is though a responsibility upon all of us to mobilise to defend the existence of a Party of Labour - and I hope all readers will sign the statement.

The most important question confronting the labour movement in the UK in the summer of 2013 is whether, come the summer of 2014, there will still be a political party which (at least in principle) aspires to represent the interests of the organised working class, with which it is organically linked. This question is more important even than who will be Prime Minister come the summer of 2015.

Any trade union - any trade unionist - who would collude in the breaking of a Labour-union link founded upon collective affiliation so as to avoid facing down the Labour Leader we hope to see in Downing Street in 2015 would be a sorry fool. It's not just that the maintenance of a trade union voice in Parliament has an importance that transcends this or that General Election - it's that Labour won't win in 2015 without adopting the policies advocated by the unions (and it won't do that if we allow it's Leader to pursue the Blair/Progress agenda of taking UK politics back before 1900).

We won't fight back against zero hours contracts with zero political influence for trade unions - and while we have more than zero hours in which to wage this fight, we don't have long...


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