Above: former T&G leader Bevin and Prime Minister Atlee in the 1945 Labour government
By John Rowe
Introduction: In the wake of the General election disaster we need an honest and clear-sighted assessment of the left’s response to austerity. At present the loudest voices of the anti-austerity movement persist in agitating for the Labour left and the unions to abandon the Party for some, as yet ill-defined alternative – a New Party (NP). These notes are a contribution to this debate. In them I argue our starting point needs to be the organising a truly social democratic tendency within the Labour Party. In putting forward this case I start by looking at the arguments of the NP left.
The NP view of New Labour
The NP left is not a distinct grouping. Rather it is a loose tendency defined primarily by a negative; the call to break from Labour. Inside this tent we find two very different visions. Some understand the new party as the beginning of a mass revolutionary party, a view held by socialist groups within it. Others, mainly trade unionists, view it more as a refounding of Old Labour. Within each sub-set there are myriad different perspectives.
The premise on which NP advocates call for a break with Labour is common to all and founded on a seemingly powerful point: New Labour’s record and policies made possible, according to the NP advocates, by its ability to function largely independently of the unions. Such an analysis is not just factually wrong; it enables its proponents to reduce all the political problems confronting the working class to a simple matter of representation (i.e. the Labour Party), rather than this being just one element in the systemic crisis of labourism encompassing ideology, the unions, and the method by which ‘the movement’ has sought to advance working class interests. Nor are they willing to confront the root cause of this malaise which is located in the changing working class composition.
Rather than starting with New Labour’s record a more pertinent question is what forces enabled New Labour (NL) to dominate? To answer this we need to consider how the Labour Movement functioned and why it is unable to continue in the same way today. In fact any analysis of Labour’s record needs to start not with the Labour Party but with the unions
The decline of union power
Within a decade NL had replaced social democracy as the Party leadership, enabling it to evolve in two complementary ways: while its policies embraced neo-liberalism organisationally the Party machine came to dominate and determine internal Party life. At first sight one of the most astonishing successes of NL was the eclipse of social democracy, replacing its polices with pusillanimous pronouncements about mitigating the worst excesses of Neo-liberalism and trading in its traditions and ideology with a repackaged social liberalism. Read the rest of this entry »
Adapted (by JD) from an article by Theodora Polenta (at Workers Liberty):
Up to Friday 26 June the Greek government of Syriza-ANEL was very close to reaching an agreement with the eurozone leaders. It looked set to abandon its last “red lines” and accept 90-95% of the conditions for a new bailout, including direct wage and pension reductions and explicitly maintaining the framework of the last five years of Memorandum.
The Greek government had accepted the logic that increased tax revenues would be based on VAT increases and the preservation of the regressive property tax; the principle of zero deficit for the financing of the pension system; the gradual withdrawal of the Pensioners’ Social Solidarity Benefit (EKAS), and the extension of the retirement age to 67.
In the end no deal was reached. On Saturday 27th, after a long cabinet meeting Alexis Tsipras announced a referendum. The eurozone leaders would not even cede enough to make a “honourable compromise’ for the Syriza parliamentary group and Syriza’s rank and file and electoral base.
The only talk of debt restructuring the eurozone leaders would accept was a vague reference to a debate on the Greek debt in the future based upon a framework sketched with Venizelos and Samaras back in 2012.
The drama of the negotiation for the last five months has been largely the refutation of the Syriza leaders’ central illusions, of a return to progressive development achieved through rational negotiations and by exploiting the “internal contradictions” within the creditors’ camp. The government’s negotiating team had the illusion that the eurozone leaders were sure eventually to back down, even at the eleventh hour, and concede a poor but nonetheless manageable political agreement, because they feared the economic cost of a rupture and because of their internal contradictions.
The eurozone ministers, accustomed to the servility of Papandreou, Samaras and Venizelos, thought that Alexis Tsipras was a puppy that barked but would not bite.
By John Trickett (re-blogged from his website)
This is a defining moment for the future, and arguably the survival, of the Labour Party. In the coming months there will be much debate about what went wrong and where next.
In 2005 I produced evidence that Labour had lost 4 million voters since the election in 1997. A substantial part of these missing millions were traditional working class voters. This pattern has continued over the last 10 years.
In a minor tidal wave of what looks like pre planned statements, a group of commentators have argued that what lost the election was a failure to tap into the hopes of “aspirational” voters.
However, there is not a shred of evidence for their argument. The explanations for our defeat are deeper than this simplistic assessment.
The truth is that Labour recovered amongst middle class voters but has suffered a cataclysmic decline among working class voters.
It is possible to scrutinise now the initial voting analysis provided to me by the House of Commons Library.
If we compare the election results for our last election victory in 2005 with the result last Thursday and analyse by social class, a very interesting pattern emerges.
Here are the figures.
It is possible here to see that the proportions of AB and C1 voters who voted Labour in the last three elections has held steady. Indeed Ed Miliband’s leadership led to a mild recovery of these voters between 2010 and 2015, (as it did among the C2 group.)
A full analysis of what happened last Thursday is not yet possible but at least one opinion poll has shown that ‘the election result implied by polling would give the Tories 12.5 m votes and Labour 12.2 million. However, in the event the Tories secured 11.3 million votes and Labour 9.3 million.’ There were almost 3 million Labour identifiers that we failed to mobilise.
Labour’s electoral base last Thursday was by far the most middle class we have secured in our history. A strategy based on a misunderstanding of what is happening in our country will not work. We cannot expect to win an election without reaching out to other layers of the population and equally mobilising those Labour identifiers who didn’t bother to vote.
In the coming leadership election, candidates need therefore first of all honestly to demonstrate that they can develop a three-fold strategy in England (Scotland is a very special case):
A) Hold on to and indeed increase our middle class vote
B) Reach out to working class voters, and
C) Mobilise Labour identifiers who did not vote Labour.
I will shortly publish further reflections on what we do next. However, the party should not elect a Leader who cannot concretely demonstrate that they can deliver B) above, since they are the largest group of the electorate whose support we have lost.
Those in the PLP with leadership aspirations cannot remain in denial or ignorance of these facts. They do so at their own peril, but more fundamentally fail to understand why the Labour Party exists.
Above: workers protesting in front of the Iranian Parliament, January 2015
Statement co-ordinated by Codir (Committee for the Defence of Iranian People’s Rights)
On May Day 2015, we, the representatives of trade unions around the world, raise our voice again in solidarity with the struggle of Iranian workers and trade unionists for fundamental rights and better pay and working conditions. In pursuit of our call on 1 August 2013 on the eve of the inauguration of the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, we once again call on him to fulfil the promises he made during his 2013 election campaign to act on the legitimate demands of Iranian workers for a decent living wage and the right to form, join and belong to a trade union of their choice.
We remind the Iranian president that two years after his election on a platform of undertakings to respond to the demands of Iranian people, unemployment is still high and increasing, inflation is sky high, prices of basic and essential goods are out of the reach of workers, wages are not paid on time and destitution has reached catastrophic levels. Conventions on health and safety are openly flouted. Since last July, large groups of workers – including miners, auto workers, teachers, nurses and others, in all provinces – have taken to the streets and demonstrated outside the Iranian Parliament to demand their legitimate rights. These rights are set out in international conventions such as ILO Conventions 87 and 98. It is only by the President and his government responding to these legitimate demands that working people in Iran and their trade union brothers and sisters across the world can be confident that they can rely on his words.
Over the years we have continuously received verified reports of workers and trade unionists being arrested, imprisoned, fired and deprived of their livelihood. Currently, a number of trade union activists are serving prison sentences for the sole ‘offence’ of being trade unionists and campaigning for workers’ rights, decent wages and improved working conditions. We hold that no workers should be detained in prison for demanding their internationally accepted rights.
The trades unions supporting this May Day Call to Action are united in calling upon the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to:
- Release immediately all trade unionists imprisoned for their trade union activities, including Ali-Reza Hashemi (General Secretary, Teachers’ Association), Rassoul Bodaghi (Teachers’ Association), Mahmood Bagheri (Teachers’ Association), Mohammad Davari (Teachers’ Association), Abdulreza Ghanabri (Teachers’ Association), Shahrokh Zamani (Painters’ and Decorators’ Union), Behnam Ebrahimdzadeh (Painters’ and Decorators’ Union), Mohammad Jarrahi (Painters’ and Decorators’ Union), Mahmoud Salehi (Kurdish trade unionist), Ebrahim Madadi ( the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company- Sherkat-e Vahed) and Davoud Razavi ( the Union of Workers of the Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company- Sherkat-e Vahed);
- Halt the sacking of trade unionists and workers’ activists on the basis of their trade union activities and reinstate those who have lost their jobs for campaigning for workers’ rights;
- Remove all obstacles preventing Iranian workers from forming independent trade unions and joining trade unions in accordance with ILO Conventions 87 (freedom of association) and 98 (collective bargaining); and
- Lift the ban on the right of workers to commemorate and celebrate May Day, organise May Day events and mark 1 May as a national holiday.
IndustriALL Global Union,
ICTUR (International Centre for Trade Union Rights),
Amnesty UK Trade Union Network,
PEO (Pancyprian Federation of Labour),
Petrol-Is (Petroleum, Chemical and Rubber Workers’ Union, Turkey),
Tekgida-Is (Union of Tobacco, Beverage, Food and Related Industry Workers of Turkey),
TUMTIS (All Transport Workers’ Union of Turkey),
Deriteks (Leather, Weaving and Textile Workers’ Union of Turkey),
Tezkoop-Is (Union of Commerce Education Office and Fine Arts Workers of Turkey), Belediye-Is (Municipal and General Workers’ Union of Turkey),
Kristal-Is (Cement, Glass & Soil Industries Workers’ Union of Turkey),
Basin-Is (Printing Publishing Packaging and Graphical Workers’ Union of Turkey),
TGS (Journalists Union of Turkey),
CODIR (Committee for the Defence of Iranian People’s Rights).
We’ve put this on Shiraz several times before, but it’s so good I just can’t resist another showing. And today seems the appropriate day:
Enjoy – and learn (or re-learn) the basics, comrades!
This review should appear in the next issue of the AWL’s paper Solidarity, as (I understand) part of a feature on blacklisting:
By Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain (pub: New Internationalist)
Trades unionists have known for decades that employers operated blacklists, whereby records were kept on militants and activists (and, indeed, not particularly militant or active trade unionists) in order to exclude them from employment. The practice was especially rife in the construction industry, where simply raising a concern over health and safety could be enough to ensure that you never found work. Countless working class lives were destroyed by the blacklist.
For many years a central blacklist was managed, operated and sold to major employers by an outfit called the Economic League, which in the 1970s employed around 160 staff and was receiving over £400,000 a year in subscriptions and donations. When media exposure (notably the campaigning journalism of Paul Foot in the Mirror) lead to the collapse of the League in 1993, its work was taken over by an organisation called the Services Group (formed by the big construction companies as it became apparent to them that the League might not survive), and then The Consulting Association (TCA), which obtained the Economic League’s database, and expanded and updated it, with files on thousands of workers, including National Insurance numbers, vehicle registrations, press cuttings and comments from managers.
Again, it was construction companies who were the main (but not only) subscribers, using the organisation as a covert vetting operation to monitor job applicants. All the biggest names in construction – Carillion, Balfour Beatty, Skanska, Keir, Costain and McAlpine – made use of TCA information to exclude job applicants and to sack workers already on site.
TCA was eventually exposed and brought down in 2009 following a raid on their premises by the Information Commissioner’s Office, the body that enforces the Data Protection Act. Blacklisting was not, then, in itself illegal, but breaches of the Data Protection Act were. TCA’s database was confiscated and found to contain the details of 3,213 construction workers.
As a result of the raid, the subsequent publicity and dogged lobbying by the construction union, UCATT (and to a lesser degree, Unite), the Labour government finally introduced legislation (the Blacklists Regulations 2010 – an amendment to the Employment Relations Act 1999) making it unlawful for an employer or employment agency to refuse employment, to dismiss, or to cause detriment to a worker for a reason related to a blacklist and provides for a minimum £5,000 compensation award at a tribunal. But this was , at best, a very small step forward and contained at least one major loophole: as it is civil, not criminal, legislation, it can only be enforced by an individual to bring a claim to an Employment Tribunal; and (as the Blacklisting Support Group pointed out when the legislation was under consultation), blacklisted workers can only bring claims against the companies that refused to employ them, which will often be small sub-contractors, and not the big companies actually doing the blacklisting.
This scandal is described in meticulous detail in the new book ‘Blacklisted – The secret war between big business and union activists’ by Blacklisting Support Group (BSG) founding member Dave Smith and investigative journalist Phil Chamberlain.
Perhaps the most fascinating revelations in the book are interviews with HR managers and bosses involved in blacklisting, several of whom claim that they obtained information from officials of UCATT and the EEPTU. It should be emphasised that both UCATT and Unite (the union that now includes what used to be the EEPTU) have cleaned up their acts and now both take a firm stand against blacklisting. However, the book describes a meeting of the Blacklist Support Group in February 2013, at which a BSG speaker, Steve Acheson, was barracked by senior members of UCATT, who accused him of making allegations of union collusion without evidence and demanded he “name names”: in response, Acheson held up a handwritten note from former TCA manager Ian Kerr and said: “If you want me to name names, I will: the name that appears on this note is George Guy” (Guy is a former senior official and acting General Secretary of UCATT: the book notes that he “vigorously denies” the allegation).
This superbly-researched and very readable book was launched in March at a meeting in Parliament at which John McDonnell MP read out a statement from Peter Francis, a former undercover cop who spent four years as part of the Met’s Special Demonstration Squad. Francis’s statement said he infiltrated Unison, the FBU, CWU, NUT and NUS. He had previously infiltrated anti-racist organisations and the Militant Tendency. The Economic League and The Consulting Association may be gone, but blacklisting, spying and dirty tricks against trade unionists and other activists continues – often, it would seem, by the forces of the state.
By Anne Field (Workers Liberty)
On Saturday 6 March a special conference of the Scottish Labour Party voted by 69% to 31% for a constitutional amendment declaring it to be a party which “works for the patriotic interest of the people of Scotland.”
The bulk of the opposing votes came from Unite and Unison, plus a scattering of local parties. According to unconfirmed reports, the GMB voted for the amendment, and the CWU and ASLEF abstained.
Winning a third of the conference to a vote against the amendment was no small achievement.
Local parties and affiliated organisations had been subject to the emotional blackmail of the need to be seen backing the leadership in the run-up to the general election.
Eight of the nine speakers called from the floor to speak on the proposed amendment spoke in favour of it.
To create the right “atmosphere” at the conference, a thousand people were in attendance, but only a small minority were actually voting delegates.
The constitutional amendment also contained all manner of references to “the Scottish people” and things Scottish and had been presented by the leadership as the way to undercut support for the SNP.
Anyone on the left — apart from those who have pitched their tent in the pro-independence camp —will share that aim of defeating the SNP, but this will not help.
Modelled on Blair’s re-writing of the party’s Clause Four, which had committed the party to the “common ownership” of industry, the amendment was meant to be newly-elected leader Jim Murphy’s very own “Clause Four moment”.
As Murphy put it last December: “It’s the biggest change in Scottish Labour’s history… I want to rewrite Clause Four of Scottish Labour to bring us closer to the centre of Scottish life.”
Blair’s rewriting of the Clause Four was a genuine political statement — it was part of his mission to destroy the Labour Party as the political wing of the workers’ movement. His actions dominated news headlines for months.
Murphy was not even amending Clause Four! He was amending Clause Two of the Scottish Labour constitution, nothing more than a sentence stuck in between Clause One and Clause Three.
Murphy’s announcement created no more than a ripple of media coverage.
Most media coverage mentioned the constitutional amendment only as a footnote to its coverage of the conference. (That includes the party’s own website reports of the conference.) The remaining media coverage (including LabourList) did not mention it at all.
Murphy’s re-writing was a transparent exercise in squalid opportunism.
Despite losing the referendum, the SNP is on course to wipe out Labour in the general election. So, runs Murphy’s logic, the party needs to be more Scottish than the SNP. Yet only a few months earlier Murphy’s Chief of Staff John McTernan had warned that “you can’t out-nat the nats”.
(McTernan himself is hardly best placed to “out-nat the nats”. In 2002 he e-mailed a Labour MSP about to visit Sweden: “I think you’ll really like it. It’s the country Scotland would be if it wasn’t narrow, Presbyterian, racist, etc., etc.)
The new “Clause Four” is irrelevant to reversing Labour’s fortunes.
Insofar as anyone takes it seriously the commitment to “the patriotic interest of the people of Scotland” will be positively damaging.
The SNP lost last September’s referendum. But its great achievement in the referendum campaign, apart from thoroughly poisoning political debate in Scotland, was to push class and social issues to the sidelines of political argument, and replace them with “Scotland’s national interests”.
Instead of poverty and inequality being identified as a product of class and capitalist oppression, they were presented as the product of “Westminster rule” and a distant “Westminster establishment”.
Murphy seeks to challenge the SNP on its own territory: which party is best placed and most suited to representing Scotland’s national and patriotic interests. Given the nature of the SNP as a narrow Scottish-nationalist party, the answer to that question will always be: the SNP.
Apart from reinforcing the nationalist element in Scottish political discourse (and, consequently, the SNP’s electoral prospects), Murphy’s attempt to put patriotism centre-stage is also a challenge to the rationale for Scottish Labour’s existence.
As the one anti-amendment speaker called at last Saturday’s conference put it:
“Patriotism is an essential tool in presenting class interest — the ruling class interest — as the interest of all of us.
“The primary purpose of the Scottish Labour Party should be precisely the opposite of that. It should be exposing the class nature of Scottish society. It should be attacking austerity. It should be increasing redistribution of wealth. It should be promoting equality.
“On the basis of this kind of programme we should be fighting tooth and nail to halt the nationalist offensive.
“So let’s stop talking about about patriotic interest and start talking about the class interest instead.”
NIPSA Hails Support for Public Sector Workers’ Strike
Brian Campfield, General Secretary of NIPSA, Northern Ireland’s largest public sector trade union has welcomed the massive support from public service workers and the community for today’s strike action and protests.
Commenting after today’s march and rally in Belfast he stated:-
“The trade union movement is delighted with the massive response by workers to the call for strike action. The thousands of workers who participated in today’s strike and protests across Northern Ireland have sent a very clear message to the Northern Ireland political parties and leaders that they will not accept the decimation of our public services and jobs.
The next step should be that all the political parties with MPs elected to Westminster at the May general election will declare that they will refuse to support any new government at Westminster which does not call an immediate halt to these unprecedented and damaging cuts to public services. They may well have a critical role in the event of a hung parliament and they must ensure that they use whatever power they have to force a reversal of the UK Government’s unnecessary austerity programme. This is the least they can do in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland.”
Commenting further on the role of the NI Executive Mr Campfield stated:-
“The financial elements of the Stormont House Agreement must be revisited. The £700m borrowing for redundancies should be invested in public services and plans to reduce corporation tax must be abandoned.
The UK Government must be told that Northern Ireland cannot afford these cuts and that the NI Executive must do their utmost to force the Westminster Government to provide an adequate public expenditure settlement for Northern Ireland.”
End of Statement