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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)

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Labour disciplinarians out of control?

What follows is the text of a post which I wrote for the excellent LabourHub Blog following the alarming news that the Labour Party membership of UNISON President Andrea Egan had been terminated;

Just when you think that the unjustified administrative and disciplinary action being taken against socialists in Starmer’s Labour Party has reached its nadir, the adolescent Blairites in charge of the Party’s bureaucratic machine excel themselves once more.

The latest outrage from party headquarters (whereever that is) is the termination of the membership of the elected president of the U.K.'s largest trade union, UNISON. Andrea Egan because she posted links to two articles in the journal “Socialist Appeal”, published by an organisation which has been prescribed by the NEC.

The rules of the Labour Party (disgracefully) permit the termination of a member’s membership in such circumstances without any right to a hearing (although a hearing is possible, after the membership has been terminated, if the former member submits an appeal and waits for many months for it to be heard).

This means that a member can be thrown out of the party for linking to an article published in a little-read journal, which was created some 30 years ago precisely to argue that socialists should be in the Labour Party and vote Labour, and the obvious injustice of this action cannot even be tested in a hearing for months and months.

If on the other hand a member posts a link to an article from a Tory newspaper, or a right-wing journal such as the Spectator, they will face no action. There is no objectivity or fairness in Labour's disciplinary process, indeed the very obvious and deliberate unfairness, which achieves the voluntary departure of many socialists from the Party, is really the whole point.

It won't have been an accident that the latest victim of injustice is UNISON's President. This is plainly a deliberate and audacious attempt to show just how little respect the party machine and leadership have for the trade unions in general and active rank-and-file trade union members in particular. This sends a message not only to the hard left in parliament and beyond, but to soft left MPs who might want to show their trade union affiliations in ways of which the leadership disapproves.

Starmer and his allies are preparing for a Labour Government which may have to go to war with the trade unions in order to implement a watered down version of Tory austerity (which is what you believe to be responsible progressive politics if you are Rachel Reeves or Wes Streeting). A deliberate offence to the lay leadership of the largest trade union is a good start from this point of view.

The only other people who will welcome this absurd attack upon a decent and committed socialist trade union activist will be those trade unionists who are desperate to encourage the exodus of socialists from the Labour Party in the forlorn hope that for the first time in more than a century this will lead to the creation of a new mass party of the working class (spoiler alert: it won’t).

It would, however, be much too simplistic to see this as simply a conflict between the Labour Party and trade unions. This may be how it is seen by those who dream of a Labour government no longer beholden to the organised working-class, or by those who yearn for the exit of all socialists from a party (whether they themselves are within or beyond the Party). The real picture involves officialdom in both of the Party and the unions.

There are not separate bureaucracies of the Labour Party and the trade unions. There is a single labour movement bureaucracy which crosses both wings of our movement. UNISON often employs senior officials directly from the employment of the Party, and the senior officials of the trade union (apart from the small minority still following the Morning Star) generally share the attitudes and mindset of those are in control of the Party.

Andrea Egan exemplifies the best of the socialist activists who currently form a majority on the National Executive Council of UNISON. There will therefore be those, amongst the paid officials and right wing lay activists of the trade union, who will welcome anything which they feel may make it less likely that she is re-elected in the forthcoming elections to the NEC. Their aspiration for the role of UNISON under a Labour Government is to repeat the experience of the New Labour years, when we failed to stop foundation hospitals, student fees and the Iraq war.

Labour’s right wing do not want the absolute destruction of our trade unions. They depend upon them for a reliable source of funding when the billionaires go back to the Tory party, always their first choice. What the leadership of the Party, and their allies in the labour movement bureaucracy, want is a trade union movement sufficiently subordinate to Labour in government that it will not threaten the mass mobilisation of our class around policies in our own interests. 

If we want a labour movement that will defend the interest of our members from both Tory and Labour governments, then our response to the unjustified attack upon Andrea Egan must be to support her fight to remain within the Party and to fight within a trade unions to force the unions to use the influence they still have to defend party democracy and socialist activists.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think the President of UNISON was unwise to do what she did but the sanction imposed was completely disproportionate. How many times have we said that in disciplinary appeals?