Guest post by Mick Rice
A CUNNING PLAN?
|McCluskey: ultra left?|
In 1968 I became a socialist. In 1969 I joined the trade union movement. In 1970 I got a job as a Research Officer for my union, the AEU.
One of my tasks was to prepare a report on what had happened to the union’s policies. In 1969 the union had sent a motion to the Labour party requesting an incoming Labour Government to nationalise the British chemical industry. I phoned the Labour party to find out what had happened. I was put through to Margaret Jackson (subsequently Margaret Beckett ) in the Research Department. Now I have a bit of a soft spot for Margaret Beckett as any politician who admits to ordinary enjoyments (she is a caravan holiday enthusiast) cannot, in my book, be all bad.
She told me – one researcher to another as it were – that the Labour party conference arrangements committee would have merged all such motions into a great big composite. The composite motion would have been written to sound as radical as possible whilst committing the Labour party to nothing whatsoever. The motion would have been rendered meaningless. I was shocked – I was still quite young – that I actually asked why the Labour party would do such a thing. She told me that an incoming Labour Government always sought maximum freedom to do as it pleased. The Labour leadership didn’t want to be saddled with policies decided by members and the unions. She was just telling me how it was and I do not believe that she was a supporter of such behaviour.
I had suspected that the Labour party was not quite “what you see is what you get”, but I was now made privy to the dark arts of political chicanery and double-dealing. Labour, then as now, was a top-down organisation where the members do the work to maintain a “Westminster elite”.
If anything it has become worse. Shortly before the 1997 election how we all ached for a Labour Government. Eighteen years of Tory rule had almost been too much – immigration or Dignitas beckoned if the Tories won a fifth term!
After a hard day’s campaigning one of my mates opined: “You know after 6 months of a Labour Government we are going to feel terribly let down”. The tragedy was that we all knew that it would be true.
In government, the Labour leadership maintained a vice like grip over the party machine and ensured that only its supporters were selected as parliamentary candidates. Some of us thought that things would loosen up a bit once we were in opposition – but not a bit of it. In Falkirk the disgraced Labour MP announced that he would not stand again following his arrest for a punch up in a House of Commons bar. My trade union, Unite, sought to secure the nomination for a union friendly candidate.
The Chair of the constituency Labour party, Steven Deans, who was also a union convenor at Ineos, campaigned to recruit more trade union members into the party. The right wing leadership was horrified as this would mean that their favoured candidate would probably lose. In consequence Ed Milliband called in the Police to investigate Steven Deans for potential fraudulent recruitment! The Police found “insufficient evidence” for a prosecution (basically he had done nothing wrong). By this time his employer had sacked him. Clearly Ineos were encouraged in their anti union victimization by the way the Ed Milliband treated Comrade Deans.
As far as I am aware the Labour party never apologised for its treatment of Steven Deans!
Political bodies are never willing to amend their constitutions when they are winning elections. After all there can be no justification for improving internal democracy when the electors support you! But next year in Scotland the SNP are likely to do very well – some polls indicate that Labour will lose 37 of its 41 Westminster MPs!
Len McCluskey, forced a fresh general secretary election last year because he believed that the union should not be distracted by an internal election campaign around the time of the general election. His re-election means he has a further 2 years as general secretary. He also said that if Labour loses that Unite could disaffiliate and support a new Workers’ Party. It is not often that union general secretaries can be criticised for ultra-leftism, but McCluskey is wrong, a thousand times wrong! Instead of asking union members to disaffiliate he should ask Unite’s Scottish levy payers the simple question:
Do you want the Scottish Labour party to be an independent body?
With the “vested interests” significantly cut back through electoral defeat in Scotland the trade union component of the party must have greater weight! Accordingly, most affiliated unions in Scotland would follow Unite’s lead and do likewise.
Even if Labour doesn’t lose the election and forms a coalition with the LibDems, or has a confidence and supply deal with the SNP, who have vowed never to support a Tory government, Unite should still raise this with its Scottish members.
Of course, an independent Scottish Labour party must also mean that the English and Welsh parties would become independent also. At one stroke the Westminster elite of careerists, ne’er-do-wells and apparatchiks that has dominated the party for so long would be dealt a death blow! Of course there is nothing to stop the new independent Scottish Labour party seeking electoral packs with its sister parties in the UK but control would be in Scotland and the leadership would be in Edinburgh! It will be somewhat easier to ensure leadership accountability on a more local basis and it will also mean that power right across the party will become regional.
Just at a time when Labour becomes more amenable to trade union interests, McCluskey is suggesting abandoning the historic party of the labour movement and setting up a new Workers’ Party.
Members of Unite should force him to see sense.
Affiliated unions in Scotland can change the party for good
Given the present state of British politics, and the present state of the Labour Party, it’s safe to say that Labour was never going to win the Rochester and Strood byelection.
Mind you, it’s worth remembering that maverick Labour leftist Bob Marshall-Andrews represented the constituency from 1997 until the last election, and though there have been boundary changes, Rochester is a solidly working class constituency.
But this time Labour knew that the predominantly white electors, with their concerns about immigration and misinformed scepticism towards Europe, were not going to vote Labour in sufficient numbers for the party to regain the seat. UKIP were always favourites to win, but at least Labour could comfort itself with the thought that the Tories were going to be the main losers and suffer the biggest humiliation.
That was until Emily Thornberry, the shadow attorney general, and Labour MP for Islington South, tweeted the picture above, accompanied by the words “Image from Rochester”: the accompanying sneer could not be seen, but was all too obvious.
The wise and perceptive Anne Perkins commented in the Graun:
“It may be the most devastating message Labour has managed to deliver in the past four years. It’s already being described as the party’s “47%” moment – a reference to the observation that nailed shut the lid on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, when he dismissed the 47% of American voters who wouldn’t ever back the Republicans.
“It is really quite hard to come up with a more lethal tweet to send out to the party’s core vote on polling day.”
Mark Reckless’s comments on deporting EU migrants have shown that he is, essentially, a racist and (Farage’s half-hearted denial of this being UKIP true policy, notwithstanding) so is UKIP as a whole. But not all – or even most – of the people who vote UKIP are hardened racists.
To sneer at working class people who choose to display the St George flag and happen to own a white van, is to display a degree of patronising, middle class arrogance that only a particularly stupid New Labour career politician could possibly come out with.
As Ms Perkins notes, “One click, just one click, that’s all it takes. Ed Miliband’s Labour is once again the party of the metropolitan elite.”
P.S: At least Skinner’s back on form as he denounces Reckless and Carswell in the Commons: here
Pete Radcliff writes:
Those who argue that there would be no difference between a Tory or Labour election victory, watch this. If there are any socialists who don’t think they can connect with an election campaign run on these views – if they don’t think our movement will have their hopes raised by such a victory – I would like to know why.
Of course, hope and abstract promises don’t change the world – we would need to organise vigorously to make Labour in power do as much as we can of what we need.
If you don’t think this is the case, let me know. Go for it – I have the day off work (Pete wrote this earlier today-JD)
Above: Neil Findlay
By Vince Mills, Campaign for Socialism and Red Paper Collective
The quote (actually a misquote) attributed to Mark Twain that reports of his death had been greatly exaggerated, could equally well apply to the Scottish Labour Left. The vast majority of socialists in the Scottish Labour Party (SLP) campaigned for and voted “no” in the referendum campaign. This in itself was enough for many in Left groups outside the SLP to consign it to the dustbin of history, rather perversely given the long anti-nationalist history of the socialist movement.
Of course, and here I have some sympathy, this sat alongside other accusations that the Scottish Labour Left had made little impact ideologically on the SLP, was numerically small, and showed little sign of challenging for the political leadership of the party any time soon.
On Saturday 25 October, all of that changed. It wasn’t just that the room booked for the Campaign for Socialism’s post-referendum analysis in the STUC in Glasgow had standing room only; it was the renewed sense of purpose and commitment from so many of the speakers and participants.
First up among a high powered list of political, trade union and local council speakers were Elaine Smith and Neil Findlay, both MSPs.
Elaine Smith argued that the reason for Scottish Labour’s poor performance in its heartlands of Dundee, Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West Dumbarton was a lack of socialist analysis and socialist solutions.
“The root of the problem is class society; the root of the problem is inequality; the root of the problem is in-work poverty; the root of the problem is unemployment. The root of the problem is avaricious capitalism and our job and the job of the Labour Party, surely, is to root it out.” Neil Findlay spoke next, suggesting in some detail how Scottish Labour might go about the tasks that Elaine Smith had outlined arguing that Scottish Labour had to commit to:
• a policy of full employment;
• establish a national house-building programme to build
council houses and social housing on a grand scale;
• set up a living wage unit in the Scottish government that
would use grants, procurement and every lever of government
to raise the minimum wage to the living wage;
• re-democratise local government, financing services,
freeing councils to set their own taxes again and be held to account
for doing and so beginning to reverse the 40,000 job
losses across Scottish councils;
• end the social care scandal by making social care a rewarding,
fairly paid career and ending the indignity of shorttimed
• create quality apprenticeships and new college places
that set young people up for life and develop an industrial
policy that promotes manufacturing and new sustainable
• undertake a wholesale review of the Scottish NHS — recruiting
enough staff and rewarding them to ensure an NHS
for the 21st century and ending the increasing spend on the
• and, finally, build a charter of workers’ rights and new
legislation on equalities.
Neil Findlay’s contribution was all the more important given the announcement on the day before the conference that Johann Lamont, leader of the Scottish Labour Party had resigned, citing unacceptable interference from the UK Labour leadership, and ensuring a Scottish Labour leadership contest.
Neil Findlay has since announced his intention to stand for the vacant position, allowing the Scottish Labour Left to test the support for a Left agenda in the wider party. The anticipation of this challenge on 25 October generated considerable optimism. Since then, the respected left-wing MP Katy Clark has announced that she will stand for Deputy Leader alongside Findley.
This left programme is far from the Utopian promises of the Yes Left because it is actually deliverable and this Labour Left is far from a historical footnote. It may actually be on the verge of its most important hour.
Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski sums up Cameron’s attempts to undo European integration:
“It’s either a very badly thought-through move or, not for the first time, a kind of incompetence in European affairs. Remember? He fucked up the fiscal pact. He fucked it up – simple as that. He is not interested. He does not get it. He believes in stupid propaganda. He stupidly tries to play the system …
“His whole strategy of feeding [the Eurosceptics] scraps to satisfy them is, just as I predicted, turning against him; he should have said fuck off … But he ceded the field to them that are now embarrassing him.”
Sikorski is, believe it or not, considered a political ally of Cameron’s and (like the Tories’ bête noir, Jean-Claude Junker) a thoroughgoing reactionary. But, of course, that’s not the reason for the rift between Cameron and the Euro-Tories of the centre-right EPP. They agree on most aspects of economic policy.
Nor is it – despite Tory demagogy – anything to do with the elitism, bureaucratism and lack of democracy of EU institutions.
In fact David Cameron’s attempt to veto the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker to head the European Commission is no stance against elitism, nor an attempt to make EU institutions more democratic. Within the highly-limited standards of EU democracy it is the exact opposite.
Juncker is the preferred candidate of the conservative political bloc which won the largest chunk of popular votes in May’s European election. But Cameron isn’t bothered by the tally of the popular vote. He prefers bureaucratic manoeuvring and nationalistic special pleading. Cameron, with an eye on his UKIP rivals, wants to be seen to be “fighting for Britain”. No matter that there is no great difference on economic policies between Juncker and the British Tory party.
It would be a whole lot better if the political semi-union of Europe, which Cameron choses out of political expediency to object to, were more democratic, more transparent and were not tied to a drive to make workers pay for the crisis.
But it is still a big step forward for working-class people around Europe that barriers between nations have been drastically reduced.
At a time when migrants are being scapegoated we need those barriers to stay down.
The semi-dissolution of the barriers has made it easier to fight the class struggle across Europe. If the labour movement leaders of Europe had any imagination they could run powerful Europe-wide campaigns. For instance they could organise a Europe-wide struggle for a decent Living Wage, one which would could generalise much needed solidarity to existing struggles of low-paid workers.
Unfortunately there are a few on the left in Europe (but notably not the Greek radical-left party Syriza) who oppose the existence of the political union of the EU: in the UK it is the No2EU campaign. The logic of their campaign is to advocate the resurrection of national barriers. In this way they add to the increasing toxic nationalism of UKIP and Cameron. But No2EU are, in the main, a bunch of brain-dead Stalinists whose fanatical little-Englandism stems from a visceral hatred of Germany and a bizarre, anachronistic perception of the EU as a threat to the USSR (by means of a time-warp, presumably). The derisory number of votes they picked up in the last Euro-elections means we don’t have to take them seriously – though RMT members may well be wondering what the hell their leadership was doing throwing away the union’s money on this reactionary irrelevance.
Much more serious – and worrying – is the present stance of the Labour Party. That pompous prat of a shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, has instructed Labour MEPs not to support Junker. If that was because Junker is an anti-working class, pro-austerity right-winger, then we’d agree. But no; the wretched Alexander has made it clear that the Labour leadership supports Cameron’s quest for a less “federalist” (ie: more right-wing) candidate: “There can be no excuses. David Cameron has a clear mandate from political parties here in the UK – including Labour – to build consensus across Europe for an alternative candidate for president of the commission.”
What a disgrace! Or, as Mr Sikorski might say, what an incompetent, badly thought-through, fucking fuck-up.
The picture below should shame anyone and everyone in Britain (and the rest of the West) who doesn’t bother to vote …
Men show their fingers after the ink-stained part of their fingers were cut off by the Taliban after they took part in the presidential election, in Herat province June 14, 2014.
…but even more, it should shame those on the so-called “left” who have ever expressed (publicly or privately) any degree of sympathy for the rural fascists of the Taliban. You know who you are (and so do we), you scum.
Words of wisdom from Dave Kirk at Workers Liberty:
Above: UKIP’s appeal to angry British workers
It is true that there is an understandable revulsion against the politicians and parties whose policies and ideology accelerated the effects of the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s.
Tom Walker talks about that anger in his article for Left Unity.
Walker sees UKIP’s support as primarily a repository for anger with the mainstream that is channelled against migrants, minorities and Europe by UKIP. He argues that a strong “populist” party of the left could channel that anger to progressive ends.
Other left commentators have argued a similar thing about the nearly two thirds of voters who abstained in the election. That many of them could be won over by a convincing left party, if it existed.
I think this is dangerous wishful thinking that ignores ideology. Neo-liberal, pro-austerity and anti-migrant ideas are the ruling and largely unchallenged ideas of the age. It would be patronising and wrong to think those working-class voters who voted UKIP were duped into voting for a neo-liberal anti-migrant party. They must to some degree be convinced by, share and reproduce those ideas.
We would also be kidding ourselves if we thought that non-voters shared a form of left wing anti-austerity politics rather then reflecting the balance of ideology amongst those who do vote.
We can win these people to independent working class politics, but we must face facts squarely. Those who vote UKIP or are so despairing that they do not vote are much further from socialism then most Labour voters or Green voters.
Anger is not enough to win people to socialism. We must consciously build a socialist mass movement, a socialist press, a system of socialist education.
To do this the fight to transform the existing organisations of the working class, the unions, is key. It will also require a fight in the political organisation most left-wing workers still look to, the Labour Party.