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)

Monday, August 29, 2022

What is going on beneath the surface?

As our movement experiences a strike wave unprecedented in recent times, because our class faces a cost of living crisis which will echo in misery and death throughout the winter unless we fight back, there is (of course) another struggle going on, hidden beneath the surface, in the darker recesses of the movement.

Those for whom the labour movement is essentially a source of power, prestige or employment are diligently protecting their interests from those activists who are fighting for the movement to be primarily a source of hope and empowerment for our people.

As is pretty much traditional when right wing officialdom launches an attack on left-wing activists in the workers’ movement, many victims of the witch-hunt are mischievously accused of bullying or harassing officials of the movement. This is not at all new. 

Hard as it may be to believe, even someone as sweet and reasonable as your humble blogger has faced the threat of disciplinary action for having criticised employees of the labour movement (even when that criticism was for the most egregious breaches of the rules of the trade union which employed them!)

There are two reasons why allegations of bullying or harassing staff are commonly made when concocting disciplinary cases against socialists in the labour movement (or three, if you include the fact that being held to account by ordinary members is sometimes experienced by some of the "paid ones" as aggressive). 

First, an allegation of bullying disarms potential supporters of a victimised activist. Because bullying at work has increasingly been recognised as a significant problem over the course of the past generation, and all the more so during the period of austerity since the last financial crash, we are all used to the idea that it is important to listen attentively to those who allege bullying or harassment. 

As labour movement activists we tend to start from the position of believing and supporting an employee who alleges that they have been bullied or harassed. This approach, which is only sensible when dealing with an employee of a private or voluntary sector organisation or of the (local or central) state, can easily lead us astray when we are considering cases within our own movement. Bullying is the abuse of power. When the powerful accuse their critics of bullying, wise observers look more closely to see what is really going on.

Secondly, it can be easier to secure a disciplinary sanction in cases in which allegations of bullying or harassment of staff are made against activists. Recent changes to the rules of the Labour Party (set out in Clause I, Part 5.B.vii of Chapter 2 of the 2022 Rule Book) have defined “threatening or harassing" staff as a "prohibited act" for which a member may have their membership terminated without the right to a hearing of the evidence against them or the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses.

UNISON also has a separate "fast track" disciplinary process which is applied in cases where complaints are made by staff against activists (the original version of this, which used to be set out in appendix 2 to the UNISON Rule Book, was introduced in 1997 after the union lost an employment tribunal claim and was intended to apply only to cases of alleged harassment, but revisions made in 2017 broadened the scope of the process considerably).

The device of using allegations of bullying to attack left-wing critics also enables those who wish to support the status quo in our movement to jump on a high horse and pompously denounce anyone supporting victims of the witch-hunt for defending bullies. 

This has the added benefit that it does not require those sitting on the high horse to think too much about what is actually going on, as that could give them quite a nasty headache.

Whilst the most important struggle facing us is unquestionably the struggle against the Government and employers to defend the standard of living of our people, we cannot abandon the victims of witch-hunting within our own movement, nor can we remain silent when those with power in our movement use administrative means to settle political differences.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

TUC - the triumph of hopelessness over experience

I really should have known better.

After several years of advising Labour Party comrades to be careful what they share on Facebook, I fell, hook, line and sinker, for something of a scam yesterday.

During the day, I noticed that the TUC were advertising, on Facebook, an announcements to be made at 10:30 pm that evening.

As a hardened cynic, and Labour historian, I really should've known better, but I briefly thought (in the context of a strike wave unprecedented in recent years) that this might be an important announcement about some action being called by, or in the name of, the General Council of the TUC. 

I can console myself that many others drew a similar conclusion, but I don't have the excuse of lacking either experience or understanding of the history of our movement generally, and the TUC in particular.

When it turned out that the only announcement that was made (on Twitter, and only five minutes late on Facebook) was that the TUC was to start campaigning for an increase in the minimum wage to an hourly rate of £15, there was considerable disappointment expressed online.

I really had no business being disappointed. If anything, I ought to be happy that the TUC is doing anything at all. The history of the TUC is not a history of coordinating action by trade unions and providing leadership to struggle. It is a history of presenting itself as an “honest broker” between unions and Government.

The General Strike of 1926 was not called off because it was insufficiently supported, but because the leadership of the TUC were terrified of what they had unleashed. During the public sector pensions dispute of 2011/2012, if reports received by the UNISON NEC are to be believed, the TUC "office" was even more keen on an early settlement, on almost any terms, than the leadership of the large trade unions who eventually led us into an unsatisfactory settlement.

One of the many amusing features of my 14 years on the UNISON NEC was to hear, from time to time, reports from our officials about the dastardly goings-on which were the responsibility of the "office" of the TUC (although nothing quite matched the sheer hilarity of the anger expressed by the General Secretary upon his return from the Congress of the Public Services International (PSI) at which our candidate had been unsuccessful in an election and, as it was reported to us, the staff off PSI had been less than neutral (and not to our advantage)).

The officials of the TUC are an "ideal type" of a trade union official. If union officials generally are fairly well insulated from direct accountability to the membership of their trade union (and all the more so the larger the union and the more diverse its membership in terms of occupational groups) then the officials of the TUC benefit (if that is the right word) from a sort of double insulation. They are not even accountable to the officials of the other trade unions!

This insulation may serve as some sort of soundproofing. This would certainly explain why Congress House appears at the moment to be listening to the struggles of our class with a tin ear. As laudable as it no doubt is to campaign for a minimum wage to be set at the level of £15 an hour (although it would be better also to demand some form of indexation, perhaps like the "triple lock" on the state pension), there can be little doubt that what workers taking strike action across the economy at the moment are looking for is leadership in their fight for higher pay to address the cost of living crisis.

The challenge which faces comrades on the General Council of the TUC, and delegates attending next month’s Congress, will be not simply to agree the excellent motion from UNISON which sets out what needs to be done, but to ensure that it is acted upon.

I will end with one piece of friendly advice for Congress house.

Don't advertise statements in advance when they are only going to disappoint the people to whom you have advertised them. 

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Huffington Post misleading on UNISON membership

I was struck by a report in the Huffington Post about falling membership of GMB and UNISON. The report was clearly based on the annual returns submitted by each trade union to the Certification Officer, but had used the total membership figures rather than more important figure of the number of members contributing to the general fund (i.e. the number of members in employment paying subscriptions).

Being interested in such matters (as regular readers of this blog, Sid and Doris Blogger, are well aware) I thought I would look at these more important membership figures for our trade union over the past decade or so (since the commencement of Tory austerity);

Table One: UNISON membership 2010-2021


Membership (millions)

Annual percentage change





































These figures do not tell the tale that the Huffington Post was telling. UNISON’s total membership did indeed fall between 31 December 2020 and 31 December 2021, but only the laziest journalist would describe this as a "slump in the membership" if they were aware of this historical background (which can be accessed online in a matter of minutes).

If anything these figures demonstrate a return to the gradual decline in UNISON membership which has been a feature of the period since 2010, following an increase in membership in 2019, and particularly during 2020. This might not have given a “clickbait” headline, but it would have been an accurate piece of reporting had it been reported.

As a general union organising across a number of sectors, the aggregate membership increase or decrease in UNISON in any given year will mask quite different experiences in the different sectors and regions of the trade union. However, the figures submitted to the Certification Officer are an authoritative source for our aggregate membership figures.

The real membership challenge facing UNISON in the coming period is to make UNISON membership feel relevant and important to members during the cost of living crisis. If UNISON is not seen to be fighting to defend our members standard of living, then many members may decide that their monthly subscription is one of those expenses on which they will cut back.

In fact we need to go beyond "making members feel" that UNISON is fighting to defend their standard of living, by actually fighting to defend our members standard of living. In the period since 2010, UNISON's approach has generally been one of symbolic opposition to austerity in order to recruit and retain members. Not only has this approach coincided with a dramatic fall in real pay for our members, it has also seen a 10% fall in UNISON membership.

Now is the time to lead our members in a fight for higher pay.

Friday, August 19, 2022

What should socialists do in response to the decline in Labour Party membership?


As I blogged on Wednesday, I have been thinking about the massive loss of membership experienced by the Labour Party in the period since Kier Starmer has been our Leader. Serendipitously, I have also been reading Mike Phipps’ excellent new book "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow", which tackles the vital question of how socialists should respond to the current situation in our Party.

One response, which has clearly been made by thousands, if not tens of thousands, is to leave the Labour Party. Those who have taken this path may well feel vindicated by the data which shows that they are not alone (although, by and large, once they leave the Party they are more or less alone and their political activity appears to consist largely of commenting on social media).

As Mike Phipps observes; “those who advocate leaving the Party entirely seldom treat the issue in terms of how it affects the needs of people the Party should represent, and instead frame it almost as an individual lifestyle choice.” 

Phipps quotes Jeremy Gilbert approvingly in relation to those who choose to leave the Labour Party because they feel it no longer reflects “who they are”, saying that this “seems to express a passive, ahistorical, consumerist, retail understanding of politics. The Labour brand identity no longer matches yours: time to shop elsewhere . .”

Phipps also quotes Momentum co-founder and Jeremy Corbyn’s former Head of Strategic Communications, James Schneider, who, interviewed in Socialist Register, offers a more informed perspective on the nature of our Party than that which has guided those who joined when it made them feel good and left as soon as it made them feel bad; 

“The Labour Party is an institution within society that has one foot within the progressive forces of society and one foot in the state, and therefore part of its role is to prop up the existing power structures of capitalist society and part of its role is to challenge that power. That conflict takes place within the party by definition. It’s a site of struggle.” 

Anyone who has had the misfortune to read this blog occasionally over the past 16 years will appreciate that this has very much been my view of the trade union movement, as an active member of which I spent my working life (and still hope to spend such retirement as I have ahead of me).

In a capitalist society, the labour movement (which includes both the trade unions and the Labour Party) is both a vehicle for the organisation of our class and a site of struggle between those seeking the transformation of society and those for whom politics and trade unionism are all about participating in the existing society in order to mitigate its worst features.

The latter generally hold the whip hand over the former within our movement (were that not the case capitalism would hardly be a stable system). They are never above the illegitimate use of administrative means to settle political disagreements, whether that is through the unjustified expulsion of UNISON activists in the past or the current purge of socialists within Labour Party.

Serious socialists do not have the option of abandoning the site of struggle which is our labour movement. Although we can anticipate that we will more often lose than win, we have to continue fighting in the interests of the people the movement was established to represent. This means that we cannot keep our heads down in a difficult time, but nor can we be cavalier about our positions in either our trade union or our Party.

Since the Labour Party machine began victimising socialists on an industrial scale (around the time that it became clear that Jeremy Corbyn stood a good chance of winning the leadership of the party), there have been two equally misconceived responses, each of which is the mirror image of the other.

From the beginning there was some who saw the "witchhunt" as the most important issue around which to organise. Having themselves been expelled from the party, some comrades felt that their cause should be the priority of all. The organisation "Labour Against the Witchhunt" arguably exemplified this approach.

At the other extreme were those who hardly wanted to mention the abuse of the Labour Party’s rules and procedures against socialists, whether because (during Corbyns leadership) they sought compromise with the right-wing or because (subsequently) they feared themselves becoming a target. The leadership of Momentum prior to 2020 were among those who appeared to have taken such a vow of silence.

Neither of these approaches are satisfactory. 

As is made clear by Mike Phipps, there is much more for socialists in the Labour Party to focus upon than simply the disciplinary action being taken unjustly against some of our number. We need to continue to build upon the policy gains of the Corbyn period, recognising that the right wing of the Party have a policy vacuum at their heart. We also need to build our Party locally as a campaigning organisation reaching out to the people we should represent, beyond a narrow electoralism. These are both higher priorities than waging internal battles.

However, it would be equally wrong to ignore the injustices being done to fellow socialists by the Party bureaucracy. If we hold onto our Party cards but keep our heads down, we will be avoiding the error of those who allow their individual discomfort to lead them away from the site of struggle within the Labour Party, but we will not be engaging in that struggle, and we will be giving carte blanche to our adversaries within the Party. Whilst the resistance to the victimisation of each individual must be guided by that individual, we must not see the current witchhunt as being essentially about the individuals under attack. This is a concerted effort to weaken socialism within the Labour Party and the individual socialists caught up in this have an obligation to do all they can to defend themselves, if only to tie up the resources being used for this illegitimate endeavour.

The decline in Labour Party membership has been positively welcomed by Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, expressing the honest opinion of those on Labour's Right who are happy to have a smaller and more manageable party. The effectiveness of the political witchhunt, from the point of view of those supporting it, is not to be measured just in the number of those directly terminated or expelled. The victory of the witch hunters comes if, for every individual victimised, they can rely upon another dozen, or hundred, to express their precious individuality by resigning their membership.

From the point of view of the Labour Left it is important to remember that, for all the setbacks we have experienced since the last General Election we remain in a stronger position within the Labour Party than we were at any time this century prior to 2015. 

The least thing which each of us can do is to back the Grassroots Five candidates in the NEC elections, in which everyone should by now have cast their votes. Beyond that, we need to rebuild organisation on the Labour Left. The organisations which we had before 2015 are unlikely to be adequate to meet the challenges of 2025, and Momentum still has a lot to do to prove it's worth when it is no longer a fan club for a socialist Labour Leader. 

Part of this process of rebuilding organisation must include supporting resistance to the ongoing witchhunt.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

LabourList misleading on massive fall in Party membership

Our Labour Party has
lost 90,000 members over the past year. The party’s statements revealed that the number of Labour members fell by 17.4% from 523,332 in 2020 to 432,213 at the end of 2021.

Although our current membership is well below its recent peak of 575,000 in July 2017, it remains a great deal higher than the 201,000 members we had going into the 2015 General Election. 

Apparently, “LabourList understands that the fall in membership is in line with the usual trend experienced between elections,” but this understanding is simply not borne out by the data as reported by the Party to the Electoral Commission;

Table 1: Labour Party Membership, 2010-2021


Membership at 31/12

Annual percentage change





































In the two years after losing the 2010 General Election we lost fewer than 6000 members, which was less than 3%. In the period after losing the 2015 General Election our membership increased massively, as a result of the two leadership elections won by Jeremy Corbyn. During 2018, the year after we lost the 2017 General Election, our membership did fall by a little more than 45,000 (8%). However, in the two years since we lost the 2019 General Election we have lost almost 100,000 members (18.76%).

Quite how LabourList can conclude that the catastrophic decline in party membership in 2021 is normal in a period between elections is difficult to work out. I guess it must be the combined effect of lazy journalism and disingenuous sources.

Another way of looking at this data is to say that Ed Miliband held the membership of our party steady, Jeremy Corbyn massively increased our membership and Kier Starmer has overseen continuous decline.

Tomorrow, I will think a bit about the political implications of these statistics.