Now -read the book!

Here is a link to my memoirs which, if you are a glutton for punishment, you can purchase online at
Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (William Morris - A Dream of John Ball)

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Twelve years ago on this blog - trade unionists must support our Labour Party though it does not support us

12 years ago to the day, I wrote a blog post here in the run-up to the 2010 General election in which, with a more or less heavy heart, I advocated support for Labour under the leadership of Gordon Brown.

After four General Elections, and four Labour leadership elections in the intervening 12 years we seem to be largely back where we started politically, except that, in spite of the fact that we are now more than a decade into Tory government rather than Labour government, we don't seem to be on the brink of ousting an incumbent Government.

The Conservative party, now in government, is deeply committed to attacking the interests of trade union members and working-class people in this country and throughout the world. Their policies and practices plumb new depths of reaction with every passing month.

Our Labour Party, following a brief period under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn when it seemed to be moving in the direction of the progressive policies long advocated by the trade unions, is now very firmly once more the would-be Second 11 for British capitalism, led by someone who makes Gordon Brown look like a charismatic populist.

Whereas under Blair and Brown, the party leadership were generally prepared to tolerate the presence of a small socialist left-wing within the party, as long as they could be sure it had very little influence, the current regime is in the midst of a brutal and absurd witchhunt of socialists intended to ensure that the threat of socialist leadership can never again arise within the UK Labour Party.

Trade unionists faced the same choice on polling day in May 2022 as we did in May 2010. In a small number of cases, would-be socialist alternatives to the Labour Party will stand and receive a derisory number of votes. Serious socialists will cast their vote for Labour against the Tories, now as we did then.

As long as the Labour Party is the party of the trade unions (even if, in practice, this generally means the party of the trade union bureaucracy) then the leadership will never succeed in eradicating the possibility of socialist politics, since this grows from the experience of rank-and-file trade union activism.

Trade unionists are part of a movement which is as large now as it was 12 years ago in spite of the sustained attacks of first the Coalition and then the Tories. We face legal shackles beyond the imagination of the movement I joined in the 1980s, but we are finding ways - and we will find ways - to shake off these chains in the future.

Socialists in the trade unions need to build our movement as a militant, politicised mass movement, the lack of which doomed the Corbyn project to failure. Such a movement would re-create the possibility of a socialist leadership for our party, as well as providing the extra Parliamentary support such a leadership would require. 

Equally, were the right wing of the party to have succeeded in eradicating socialism within the Labour Party (as I do not believe they will) then such a movement would provide a viable basis for creating a new answer to the crisis of representation of the working-class, such as does not exist at present.

This, I suppose, is what comrades in UNISON mean when they say it is "Time for Real Change". There is a lot of work ahead, and I am only sorry that I can't really expect to be part of it for too much longer.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Ten years ago on this blog - exposing today's UNISON hypocrites

10 years ago to the day I blogged here about the failure of our trade union satisfactorily to assess the equality impact of proposed settlement of the public sector pension dispute which had led, five months before, to the largest strike action of my working life.

I was at the time part of a recalcitrant minority fighting a hopeless rearguard action against the forthcoming settlement of those disputes on terms which I, and others, did not think were satisfactory. 

I thought then, and think now, that the failure of our movement to follow up the strike action on 30th of November 2011 with a further action on the same scale empowered the Coalition, and thereafter the Tory government, to continue its assault upon the living standards of our members.

Working together with a number of other comrades I had drafted a series of motions to the 2012 local government conference which were intended to constrain an unsatisfactory settlement of the dispute. These motions were generally unsuccessful, but the motion demanding the publication of an equality impact assessment ahead of any ballot on a proposed settlement was agreed (although, as is quite often the case, the conference decision was honoured rather more in the breach than in the observance).

Since the right-wing minority who are now critical of the new left-wing majority on UNISON's National Executive Council (NEC) will - in the run-up to the forthcoming National Delegate Conference - be launching all manner of hypocritical and disingenuous attacks upon the majority of their colleagues, dishonestly alleging a lack of commitment to equality, I think it worth reflecting upon these events of 10 years ago.

During the three decades in which those who are now a minority on our NEC were a pliant majority, doing the bidding of the paid officials who ran the union, UNISON's commitment to equality was never really even skin deep. We can expect further venomous hypocrisy over the coming weeks and months as the forces of reaction try to regain control over our trade union. Don't believe the hype.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Unions must fight racist Government policy

The Tory government’s plan to fly asylum seekers to Rwanda is, of course, the most appalling racist dog whistle imaginable in the run-up to the May local elections.

It almost certainly isn't intended that this will ever actually happen, it is a device to hoover up racist votes whilst forcing the Labour opposition to choose between outright condemnation (which will please part of our political base but may not appeal to the mythical "white working class") and a feeble position of simply claiming that this racist policy, which has been condemned by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, won't provide value for money.

As with all so-called “immigration and asylum” policies this initiative is also fundamentally dishonest.

The UK economy - and in particular the economy of London - relies upon the availability of a flexible pool of cheap labour provided by foreign workers who lack the documents to prove their rights to work in this country. 

In my years as a rank-and-file union organiser in London, I was, for example, aware of more than one occasion on which attempts to organise the workforce of privatised parking contracts in London boroughs were obstructed because a sizeable proportion of the workforce were working unlawfully with the knowledge of at least some of their management. This made organising that workforce extraordinarily difficult.

Undocumented workers cannot be eliminated from the London labour market, and never will be. No measures can prevent this pool, this "reserve army of labour" from being replenished. The utterly dishonest and hypocritical professed concern at the plight of those who are victims of "people smugglers" is a red herring.

The purpose of racist immigration and asylum policies is both to divide and rule the working-class and to provide a material basis for the super exploitation of the undocumented workforce.

All that having been said, the fact that an incumbent government is formally proposing a policy which in the 1970s would have been at home in the manifesto of the National Front is a remarkable and worrying, not to say frightening, development. 

The labour movement needs to adopt an uncompromising position of opposition to this racist policy, along the lines of the position of PCS. Other trade unions need to follow this lead and then to lead the Labour Party into a stronger position of opposition.

Thursday, April 07, 2022

Marching to the beat of a different drum

I've been on very many demonstrations since the late 1970s.

In particular I have marched against war. I marched against war in Iraq in 2003 when we were in a majority and I marched against war in the Falklands in 1982 when we were in a minority.

Unfortunately, I am not now well enough to attend a demonstration. There is however a demonstration taking place on Saturday which I don't think I would attend even if I were fit to do so.

Many trade unionists, including many whom I greatly respect, will be marching in solidarity with the people of Ukraine. They will be opposing the Russian invasion as well as calling for support for Ukrainian trade unions and for admission of Ukrainian refugees from the war into this country.

I agree with all those demands. However, it seems that only the last demand is one that can sensibly be placed upon the government of the United Kingdom, which is the only government likely to be influenced by a march through the streets of London.

It seems to me that those who have organised this demonstration have allowed their agenda to be set by a mass media which has focused upon atrocities committed upon white Europeans in a way in which it simply doesn't when similar atrocities occur elsewhere in the world.

Our trade union movement - unlike our establishment and ruling class - cannot be accused of hypocritically noticing the plight of the Ukrainians whilst having ignored the plight of the Palestinians. I have been on numerous trade union demonstrations in solidarity with Palestine, which have had a useful purpose of trying to put pressure on our government to influence its Israeli ally.

However, a Yemeni might well ask to trade unions who have organised Saturday's march where they have been for the last few years of bombardment from the Saudi led coalition.

There have been numerous wars around the world in recent years which do not seem to have aroused the media and to have led to such major mobilisations on our streets.

Socialists ought not to take their politics from watching the television (or the Internet) and deciding who the good guys and bad guys appear to be. When the Ukrainian trade unions are, quite understandably, calling for military aid to Ukraine, simply to march "in solidarity with Ukrainian trade unions" is hardly consistent with a long-term and principled opposition to the United Kingdom's leading role in the global arms trade. The more nuanced approach of the statement from the Time for Real Change group within UNISON is to be preferred.

Socialists and trade unionists ought not to support selling arms to Ukraine any more than to any other country on the planet. Socialists and trade unionists ought to stand against war whether that is popular or whether it is unpopular and a minority opinion at any particular point in time.

Wars do not begin when bad people start picking on good people. Wars are fought between capitalist nations over resources. They can also arise out of the competition between nations or blocs of nations, as the First World War arose when a small spark lit the tinderbox of competing imperialist powers.

There is no contradiction between condemning the appalling, brutal, murderous and unlawful Russian invasion of Ukraine whilst at the same time understanding that there is a background to these events which, without doubt, includes the eastern expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation over the past generation.

To comprehend a wider background, in international relations, to Russian aggression in 2022 is no more to excuse that aggression than an understanding of the role of the punitive terms of the Versailles agreement upon a defeated Germany in 1918 and its contribution to the rise of the Nazis amounts to excusing the Holocaust.

In circumstances in which Western Governments, whilst understandably unwilling to commit to the military defence of Ukraine, are using Putin’s invasion to whip up Russophobia, organising a mass demonstration in the way which is proposed amounts to providing cheerleaders for our own ruling class.

In time of war, as at any time, the task of socialists and trade unionists is to focus on the only war which we have to fight, which is the class war. The priority for trade unions in the United Kingdom should be fighting to defend the living standards of our members.

We should certainly demand access to the United Kingdom for refugees from the war in Ukraine, as we should make the same demand in respect of all refugees, regardless of the colour of their skin, because socialism stands for the interests of all workers across the world regardless of nationality.

What our movement should not do is march to someone else's drumbeat, particularly not when that involves taking sides in a war between different capitalist nations. Workers have no country and our job as socialists is to try to explain this in times when it may be easy and, even more so, in times when it may be very difficult.

We should be marching to the beat of a different drum.