Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Time to talk to avoid a bin strike


The Labour Party was founded by an alliance of trade unions and socialist societies in order to give a political voice to working class people. Our trade unions – when they work well – can give us a voice in our workplaces and even up the odds a bit between employees and employers, but to transform this society founded upon exploitation we need a political party.

Our Labour Party and our trade unions are stronger when we bring together the political and industrial wings of our movement – and in the face of the consequences of a decade of politically motivated austerity we need our unity more than ever. Labour administrations in local government face significant challenges but must navigate these without creating conflict with the unions.

That’s why it is so disturbing that the GMB are being forced to progress a ballot for industrial action in Cityclean. The dispute clearly arises from highly questionable conduct from managers who were keeping dossiers on union activists and then denying that there was a problem.

The Chief Executive (whom we pay more than £150,000 a year to lead and manage the Council workforce) should be pulling out all the stops to avert industrial action which would stop the bins being emptied – but the GMB plausibly allege that he has been slow even to agree dates to meet with ACAS to try to resolve the dispute.

It appears that many years of “no overall control” of Brighton and Hove Council has seen the development of a culture of managerial impunity and limited accountability to politicians. That will need to change if we are going to deliver what will be required to achieve the objective of a carbon neutral City by 2030 (a goal shared now by both the administration and the official opposition on the Council).

In the immediate term though, citizens in Brighton and Hove can reasonably expect that, for a hundred and fifty grand, the Head of the Council’s Paid Service will get his managers round a table with ACAS and develop a positive and progressive employee relations climate in Cityclean, where managers don’t keep dossiers on union representatives.

If the GMB are forced to take action, Labour Party members must - and I am sure will - show our support - but if the Council is getting its money's worth from its most senior manager then surely it won't come to that.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Labour Party Disciplinary Rules - and how not to use them?


I have always been interested in the politically controversial application of disciplinary procedures within our labour movement – not least because I myself have been on the receiving end of politically motivated threats of such action more than once.

In a working lifetime of trade union activism I have too often witnessed the (ab)use of internal labour movement disciplinary procedures to stifle radicalism and dissent. Politically motivated disciplinary action is never open and honest but always purports to be about some particular alleged misconduct on the part of those under attack.

A Constituency Executive meeting this evening got me thinking about the related issue of disciplinary action within the Party – as today expressed in the exclusion of Alastair Campbell for having boasted about having voted for another Party.

The Labour Party Rule Book provides that “a member of the Party who… …supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate… …shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a Party member.” (Chapter Two, Clause One, Part Four B).

It is, at the least, highly arguable that appearing on national television to announce having voted Liberal Democrat amounts to giving support (albeit retrospective support) to a candidate who stood against an official Labour candidate. The Party may therefore have felt that it had no option but to accept that Mr Campbell had made himself automatically ineligible to remain a Party member.

However, this was plainly what the miscreant wanted in this case, since it gives the right-wing critics of the Party leadership further opportunities (unjustly) to accuse the Leader of hypocrisy (given his admirable – and in these circumstances irrelevant – history of disobeying the Whip in Parliament) whilst giving undeserved victim status to a calculating Blairite (and those hostile to the leadership will find reasons unreasonably to compare and contrast the swift action in this case with alleged delays in others cases).

Perhaps – in this particular case – the Party did indeed have no choice but to take administrative disciplinary action. Wherever a choice exists though we should avoid rewarding attention-seeking behaviour, and should certainly always refrain from using administrative means to settle political differences.

Socialists in the Labour Party who complain that left-wingers are too swiftly disciplined or suspended by the Party machine often make a good point (about a Party over which socialists still have limited influence), but if the lesson which they draw from this experience is that a left-led Labour Party should be just as eager to take such administrative action against right-wingers then I must part company with them at that point.

I don’t want a socialist-led Labour Party to be a political mirror image of the horrendous organisation which the Party had become in the heyday of Alastair Campbell. We should win political arguments politically – not by the use of administrative measures.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Three weeks are a very long time in politics?


The turnout in the European elections in Brighton and Hove was slightly higher than in the local elections three weeks ago, but not by so much as to make it pointless to look at the results in order to compare them. To a considerable extent, these are results from the same people voting in the same City, three weeks apart.

Party
Share of the vote 2 May
Share of the vote 23 May
Greens
34.1%
35.7%
Labour
32.5%
13.0%
Tories
21%
5.2%
Liberal Democrats
5.8%
22.2%
Brexit Party
N/A
17.4%
Change UK
N/A
4.9%

Although our Green friends and neighbours will be justly proud of an impressive performance once again (and one which was also reflected elsewhere in the country and in Europe) what is really noticeable is that almost two thirds of those who voted Labour on 2 May, and more than three quarters of those who voted Conservative, did not stick with the Party they had chosen for the local Council when voting for the European Parliament.

These votes went to Parties not really in contention in elections to Brighton and Hove City Council but which had simple messages either for or against Brexit, either the Liberal Democrats (and – to a much lesser extent – their soon-to-be partners in Change UK) or the Brexit Party.

The contemporary volatility of political opinion may reduce the extent to which one can speak of “Labour voters” as a defined category, but looking at votes cast earlier this month and then last week, we can see that the large majority of those Labour voters did not vote Labour in the European elections, because these European elections were being treated as a surrogate (if constitutionally ineffective) referendum on Brexit.

The fact that – within three weeks – the results of local and European elections can be so dramatically different demonstrates that we cannot predict General Election voting from either set of figures. However, we cannot ignore the evidence that our approach to Brexit (focusing on the interests of the 99% rather than either the 52% or the 48%) has largely failed to appeal even to our own supporters.

We need to contemplate the sort of change of approach which John McDonnell has suggested today, which does not amount to any attack upon our Leader (a challenge to whom would be both futile and damaging). 

The Tories will respond to the surge of support for Farage by heading towards the disaster of a “no deal” Brexit. Any Brexit will be contrary to the interests of working-class people in the United Kingdom, but a “no deal” Brexit would be catastrophic. Circumstances dictate that Labour must shift clearly in favour of a confirmatory public vote, in which our only conceivable campaigning option would be “remain and reform.”

We also need to engage with our mass membership in order to start now our campaign for the all but inevitable General Election, which will be called when the next Tory Prime Minister cannot get their preferred Brexit option through Parliament.

And to start that we need our National Executive to allow constituencies throughout the country to get on with selecting candidates around whom we can build a campaign for socialist policies.