The unions’ Trident dilemma

April 10, 2016 at 4:42 pm (GMB, Guest post, labour party, Unite the union, war, workers)

(c) Licenced to London News Pictures 09/04/2015. Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, England. General views of the Devonshire Dock Hall at BAE Systems in Barrow. The Trident nuclear submarine project, which is planned to be built by BAE Systems in Barrow, has an uncertain future due to the potential of a Labour/SNP government. Photo credit : Harry Atkinson/LNP

Above: BEA in Barrow: thousands of jobs at stake 

Guest post by Bill Sharpe 
Arguing against the renewal of Trident must have seemed so simple, an easy win for the Corbyn Labour leadership, swords into ploughshares and we all walk off arm in arm into a Trident free sunset – maybe singing the Red Flag. That may well have been how the Corbynistas saw it playing out, yet right from the outset when they started this particular hare running, the reality was very different. The parliamentary timetable was always against Labour having any real say, it was always going to engulf the Party, and particularly the PLP which was not going to be helpful as the key unions (GMB and Unite) were always going to be for renewal. Everything points to a fudge at the next Labour Party conference and with it inevitable demoralisation among the Corbynistas. My union, the GMB, will be quite happy with this, as we have thousands of members whose jobs depend upon Trident.

The one thing that may change this is how Unite votes on the matter at its forthcoming Policy Conference. Although Unite’s defence workers are fully behind renewal, the conference has a number of anti-Trident resolutions on the agenda and if it were to vote against renewal it would once again change the balance of power within the Labour Party.

Unite is generally seen as the most influential left wing union and socialists will view Unite’s forthcoming debate primarily in political terms – a left vs right `shoot out’: on one side the defence industry workers who are seen (probably rightly) as pro – imperialist, right wing, reactionary etc etc; on the other side the union’s lefts who want to scrap Trident, end austerity and are Corbyn supporters – also probably true. Such a view is to miss the point. The Unite debate will not be a political but an economic, a trade union, matter – or at least I for one would hope so.

Unite Policy Conference delegates have three possible choices: they can vote for `unconditional support’ for renewal, `scrapping only’ if suitable alternative work can be found or `scrapping regardless’ of whether alternative work can be found. For sure, the `scrapping only’ positon will bring together a big majority within the union leaving `unconditional support’ the minority position. There is however a fatal flaw in the ‘scrapping only’ standpoint.

When the Berlin wall fell the defence industry went into free fall with many thousands of jobs lost. In response the unions undertook a number of studies looking at alternative work; some were very imaginative but none were viable. What employer was going to pay top dollar to some of the most highly skilled workers in the county (after space technology putting together a Trident submarine is the second most complex technical exercise humanity undertakes) concentrated in one of the most inaccessible places in the county to build white goods or wind turbines? The alternative work plans were seemingly consigned to the dustbin of history. However some 25 years later variants of these plans were resurrected, finding their way onto Corbyn’s election campaign website as part of his pitch to scrap Trident.

While intellectually lazy and/or self-deluded socialists have tacked onto the end of their anti- Trident arguments the demand for alternative work, so resolving (to their own satisfaction) the problem of mass redundancies and the devastation of Barrow and surrounding areas, workers in the industry have looked into the matter and are telling us there is no such thing as alternative work. Consequently ‘scrapping only’ is in effect a vote for renewal – a position I for one hope the Unite conference will adopt. However many on the left, including it would seem, many in Unite, stand on the ‘regardless’ position.

The problem with the ‘regardless’ position is when the rhetoric and caveats are removed such resolutions are calling on the union to support the sacking of several thousands of their fellow members. For a union to vote for a `scrap anyway’ resolution would be a fundamental violation of its core functions: the defence and enhancement of terms and conditions and the aspiration to organise the entire working class regardless of their political views.

This issue illustrates in a very stark manner the underlying and enduring difference between general class interests, which translate into political interests – in this case the scrapping of Trident – and specific sectional interests which are unions’ economic concerns and in this instance mean keeping Trident.

In saying unions should support ‘scrapping only’ I am not saying a union is always right: such a view would suppress any critical judgement of unions and deny any right to independence of thought by socialists when dealing with unions: it would mean (at best) becoming a more realistic variant of the unions’ house journal the Morning Star. I am, however, saying socialists should recognise that a union must pursue its members’ interests, even when these come into conflict with broader socialist views.

For socialists who wish to be critical of unions there are two possible approaches: one can be characterised as `politicising unions’, which starts from recognition of the division between the political and economic as a given and as far possible attempts to mitigate the sectional and where possible merge the sectional into a more general class interest. This is done within the unions themselves around industrial matters, but more importantly engaging with and helping develop a socialist political culture within the unions.

To begin to undertake such a task one has to recognise the existence of the political / economic division. But in this period of union decline the dominant approach of leftists and would-be Marxists is to be seemingly unaware or indifferent to the division. There are clear parallels here with 3rd period Stalinism. In this approach the left is continually attempting to turn the union into a political rather than an economic entity, they view it as a form of political party and continually demand its programme appropriate to a party – political unionism. Such an approach can only succeed by either superseding or suppressing the union’s economic function of defending member’s terms and conditions.

A ‘scrap anyway’ positon illustrates this point in a very blunt manner, as it inescapably means supporting the loss of many thousands of jobs (an unfortunate by-product of the greater good) and with it supressing the unions function of defending members jobs.

The ‘union as a political party’ approach is also how the best trades unionists tend to perceive (and reject) what socialists are about: it needs little imagination to work through the political lessons defence delegates will take away from Unite Trident debate as they listen to their `left wing’ bothers and sisters explaining why they should lose their jobs.

The Unite Trident debate holds within it two possible ways socialists can approach unions: if their conference can get beyond a debate about ‘scrapping regardless’, which is to recognise they cannot support non-renewal. They will then be in a position to play a pivotal role in taking the alternative work debate forward. At present the demand for alternative work is merely a rhetorical prop for socialists, with no real content – based on present realities it can go nowhere. Unite has the ability to demand that labour links alternative work for the defence industry into a broader call for a rebalancing of the economy which should have centre stage in Labour’s 2020 manifesto.

The ability to move the alternative work debate on is made possible by the space opened up by Corbyn’s victory: it should be seen as part and parcel of the potential which now exists for the refounding of a labour movement. Although in many respects this will be very different from 1900s, now as then, socialists have a choice: either they engage with this or cut themselves of from it: posturing and empty sloganising will inevitably fail, but pursuing the politicisation  of the unions (as opposed to the left’s agenda of “political unionism”) may just offer a way through the dilemma.

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Unite’s Trident dilemma

March 29, 2016 at 4:10 pm (engineering, environment, Guest post, science, Trident, Unite the union, workers)

By Pat Corcoran

The Unite report of its recent conference for members in the defence sector is at: http://www.unitetheunion.org/news/unpatriotic-government-policy-putting-defence-jobs-at-risk/  McCluskey says that his speech is not a nationalist rant. Which is the roundabout way of saying: it is a bit of a nationalist rant.

The book of conference motions for the 2016 Unite policy conference has just been published. There are 13 pages of motions about Trident renewal, ranging from full support to outright opposition. Most motions take the latter position. Unsurprisingly, the motion from the Aerospace and Shipbuilding National Industrial Sector Committee (NISC) does not. What that motion calls for is for Rule 2 to be upheld. Rule 2 of the Unite Rulebook is a commitment to protect members’ jobs and communities. As the motion puts it: “We are not a political party, we are a trade union.”

In fairness, Unite does face a genuine dilemma: Around 7,000 people in Barrow-in-Furness work for BAE Systems Maritime, with up to 10,000 more working for its suppliers. The firm is currently building seven nuclear-powered Astute-class submarines and planning the Successor programme to replace the aging Vanguard-class submarines, which carry nuclear missiles, ensuring jobs for 30 years. The industry is responsible for around one in ten jobs in the  area and if the supply chain is taken into account it’s probably nearer one in five.

In addition, Unite has a long established tradition of respecting the wishes of its directly effected sectors when it comes to key industrial issues.

McCluskey and the overwhelming majority of the Unite EC would genuinely like to see nuclear disarmament, but they face a real dilemma: surely the first duty of a trade union is to defend the jobs of its members? The Aerospace and Shipbuilding NISC has a point about Unite not being a political party.

There is only one way to resolve this dilemma: Unite must commission an expert report into how to replace Trident-related jobs and put serious resources (ie financial resources) into coming up with a detailed, practical alternative jobs plan, just as the Lucas Aerospace shop stewards did in the 1970’s. Corbyn could also be offered support for abolishing Trident so long as assurances are forthcoming regarding a future Labour government safeguarding jobs. Sadly, there is no sign at the moment that McCluskey and the United Left majority on the EC are minded to adopt such a strategy.

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What’s wrong with a “left exit” from the EU

March 9, 2016 at 12:43 am (Europe, Guest post, stalinism, unions, workers)

By Johnny Lewis
(Johnny Lewis is the nom de plume of a leading UK trade unionist)

Those on the left wishing to leave the EU need to be able to answer two questions: whether Brexit will benefit unions and workers in any practical sense, and whether the “left exit” campaign will help develop workers’ consciousness and the left politically. When leaving is put in such sharp terms the idea of a left wing exit rapidly falls apart, particularly around the consequence for unions.

Unions can only progress member’s interests in two ways: industrially and through legislation. As unions’ industrial power has declined so the importance of pro-union legislation has increased. Seen as a totality such legislation creates a floor below which unions and workers’ rights cannot fall. With one major exception (TU recognition) all such post 1980 legislation originates from the EU.

It is the case our floor of rights is weaker than many other European counties, a cumulative effect of the way European laws have been introduced in the UK – the Posted Workers Directive being a case in point. This has often been cited as an example of legislation which divides workers: in reality the Directive gives member states latitude to determine what constitutes the minimum rate of pay. The Blair Government set the rate at the minimum wage creating a two tier workforce while in Ireland they linked the Posted workers rate to the ‘going rate’ set by collective bargaining. While we may blame many things on the EU the vast majority of problems unions have with EU legislation is a consequence of how successive UK governments have enacted EU legislation.

However weak the present floor of rights may be,  post-exit the Tory Government would have the ideal conditions in which to set about dismantling our present laws, further eroding unions’ abilities to defend members and further worsening workers’ terms and conditions. The consequence of this pulling apart of the floor would also fire the starting gun for a European wide race to the bottom as E.U. countries were forced to compete with the rock bottom wages of UK workers. What possible benefit can unions and workers derive from such a development? On this fundamental level of workers’ rights those who wish to leave do not have a leg to stand and so tend to keep quiet on this pivotal matter, unlike the populist right.

The major argument put forward by the exit camp which directly purports to have workers interest at heart comes from UKIP. They argue foreign labour has reduced wage rates, hence ending immigration will resolve low pay. Such demagogy shifts the blame for the decline in wages from the employer and government to ‘the foreigner’ it also writes out any role for unions in bidding up wages.

We can see from the floor of rights question to the populist rights use of the decline in wages there are no trade union based reasons for exit, unless someone wished to contend the floor of rights was irrelevant or believed the Tories will leave it intact. As for those wishing for a left exit, it is inconceivable that could blame migrants for low wages.

Unable to put forward any trade union based rationale for exit those advocating Brexit can only do so from a political perspective. While it’s quite permissible to claim their political reasons for exit ‘trump’ the trade union reasons for remaining, for sure such arguments better be extremely compelling: I’d submit that while the arguments they put forward may be many things, ‘compelling’ is not one of them.

The left’s political arguments for exit are not straightforward as they do so from a number of different political standpoints. Here I consider the arguments advocated by many of the far-left.

Until the late 60’s all of today’s far-left supported what was the Common Market / EEC: but by the 1975 referendum most had shifted their position to a no vote. This about face arose from a desire to relate to the massed ranks of the virulent anti – EEC Labour Party/ CP and trade union left.

Today this rationale has long been forgotten morphing into something far more esoteric. Their argument for exit has two main components the first part holds the EU is an emerging imperialist power and therefore needs to be resisted the second puts forward the view that an exit would precipitate a crisis in the UK and within the EU, making it easier for workers to struggle against austerity.

The ‘imperialist’ argument is bound up with a view of a world divided into two camps the imperialist and anti-imperialists, included in this latter group is Russia, indeed Russia is viewed as the bulwark, the vanguard in the struggle against imperialism. This understanding of imperialism is a continuation of the way Stalinism divided the world between those who supported the ‘Soviet’ block and the imperialist west. This left advocacy of this reworked Stalinist world view removes any critical assessment of what a state or movement’s attitude is towards national self-determination or towards a counties working class and its labour movement, substituting a criteria which backs sates and movements based on their opposition to the west. On a global scale this has seen them back Russian’s imperialist aims in Crimea and support for the butcher Assad.

As a general understanding of imperialism it is deeply flawed, set within an EU context it is risible, once its Marxian flourishes are removed we are left with a prosaic point which boils down to wanting to leave the EU because its capitalist. It should be added that this fatuous view seems to be the cornerstone of all on the left who wish to exit. One may legitimately ask given the EU is constituted by 28 capitalist states who, by and large, pursue neo liberal polices, many of whom, the UK included, are real not proto imperialist powers what else could this institution be other than capitalist?

So if the imperialism rationale fails to run, what of the second element in their argument the idea that leaving the EU will destabilise capitalism? This idea represents the politics of my enemy’s enemy is my friend and is more akin – in its consequences on unions and workers, to anarchism or nihilism than trade unionism, or socialism, let alone a Marxian standpoint.

Although it is impossible to say what level of destabilisation exit will have on capital we can say with certainty it will have a detrimental impact on unions and the working class. Moreover the impact of a serious downturn caused by exit is likely to have precisely the opposite effect to what its left advocates believe will happen. Rather than helping the fight against austerity, attacks on unions and workers will be intensified while the labour movement will be divided and unable to respond as a direct consequence of the political chaos exit will sow within its ranks. In truth such chaos will not be down to the left’s intervention, rather an exit victory will build an insurgent populist right and it is that which the movement, particularly the Labour Party will have to contend with.

Across Europe and North America globalisation is causing a rising level of hopelessness among large sections of the working classes who are being galvanised into activity by the demagogy and programme of the populist right. The common denominator across all these movements, and what roots them in workers consciousness is the appeal to their respective nationalism.

The referendum should then not be seen solely as being about in or out it is also an episode in the formation of this right-wing. Not least because the working class base of the exit campaign are not concerned with which model of capital accumulation best suits the UK, or for that matter the decline in workers’ rights rather the referendum is a lightning rod for hitting back against the causes of their social malaise, whether it is about politicians not listening, their growing impoverishment, or their belief that exit will reverse Britain’s decline not least by stopping immigration. In voting for exit these workers will not have been influenced by the incoherent arguments of the left rather they will cast their vote bound hand and foot to the reactionary leaders of the out campaign.

Once the impact of destabilisation on the working class is grasped and the wider political impact on working class politics is comprehended it is very far from the case that our enemies’ enemy, in this instance UKIP, is our friend, or maybe I fail to see the big picture because I fail to understand the dialectic.

The above is not to endorse the EU as it is today – far from it: those who advocate leaving are right when they speak about its undemocratic nature. In fact those on the left within the unions not only largely agree about the limits of the EU but also know what to do about its shortcomings; our problem is we have not done it.

Organising industrially and politically is our answer, it is our answer to the limitations of the Posted Workers Directive it is our antidote to blaming foreign workers and on a pan European level it is our answer to the present limitations of the EU. For those of us who wish to remain we need to use the existing European wide union and political institutions and networks to campaign not only to democratise the EU but also to fight for our Europe a social Europe. Our starting point however is to ensure we stay in.

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Glastonbury drivel and pseudery from John Harris of the ‘Graun’

July 1, 2015 at 9:58 pm (Guardian, Guest post, middle class, posted by JD, wankers)

By Robert Greenwood:

If, when I go to Hell, I do not wake up in the VIP buttery at Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Club, I will come to post-mortem consciousness sitting on a waterless toilet in a prayer tent at the Glastonbury Pop Music Festival. John Harris, the floppy-haired pseud who used to be on Newsnight Review and who now writes drivel for the Guardian, has written some drivel for the Guardian about how “political” Glastonbury is:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/28/glastonbury-fields-politics-podemos

Read the last paragraph for an abstract of the rest: N.B.: Older readers may be forgiven for thinking that this was written by the late Michael Wharton, “Peter Simple” of the Daily Telegraph’s “Way of the World” column.

 ” I went out into the crowd and chatted to Francesca Scanlon, an 18-year-old sixth former from Whitley Bay. This was not just her first Glastonbury but her first festival. “I think it’s brilliant,” she said, before telling me she had seen the Vaccines, the Courteeners and Florence + the Machine. But then she talked about the festival’s political aspect. “You get a real kind of leftwing, liberal feeling here,” she said. “It’s really free. Where I’m from isn’t like that: it’s quite right wing.” What came next underlined what old-school socialists would call fellowship: the feeling of being among like minds, and taking inspiration from them. “I feel at home,” she said.”

But if where Miss Scanlon comes from is “quite right wing,” how can she feel “at home” at Glastonbury if, at Glastonbury, she gets “a real kind of leftwing, liberal feeling?” Surely where she is “from” is “home”, and “home” is where she is “from?” Also, the buffoon Harris describes exactly what is, and always was, wrong about “old-school socialists” and what they would call “fellowship”: “[T]he feeling of being among like minds, and taking inspiration from them.” “Like minds” do not “inspire.” Only challenging and contrary minds inspire. Whoever had a mind like Marx or Engels? Who has a mind like an 18-year old sixth-former? John Harris, of course

“At good old Glastonbury the new politics finds a home by John Harris…”

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WTF? ISIS flag at London Gay Pride!

June 28, 2015 at 11:01 am (comedy, Guest post, LGBT, London, media, satire, strange situations, TV)

Paul Canning reports:

When CNN International reporter Lucy Pawle stepped out of a store in London’s West End she could not believe what she was seeing. As a dutiful journo, she got out her phone and snapped away then placed a call to her station. Shortly after she was on the air breathlessly reporting her find; a black ISIS flag was on the London Gay Pride Parade! And no one seemed to have noticed!

Not being a mug, not at all, Pawle wondered if it might be that British sense of humour she’d heard so much about as the lettering appeared to be “gobbledygook”.

The CNN anchor then brought on the ‘security expert’ Peter Bergen who pondered why an ISIS flag would be there when the group hurls gays off buildings.

Pawle should have looked closer. No, scratch that, she should have used her brain. No, scratch that, her editor and the anchor and the ‘security expert’ all need eye tests.

The flag is a parody with the ‘lettering’ being images of dildos and other sex toys. I have no idea who made it and what they were trying to say (will update if I find out) but I can guess. I think they were trying to say FU to ISIS.

About an hour after the report went out and Pawle had started to get laughed at on Twitter the video got taken down by CNN, but Mediate have a copy.

Personally I think the flag parody looks hilarious and I guess that those who saw it did too since no one appears to be complaining. But I can see how some might think it disrespectful or something.

What do you think?

************************************
Edit: The artist behind the flag has now been tracked down. The non-anonymous Paul Coombes told PinkNews “the flag of ‘Dildosis’, a conceptual organisation he has set up as a counterpoint to ISIS, established for the advancement of an ecstatic state”.

More about the very brave Coombes at his website http://www.paulcoombs.co.uk/

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Cameron to Tory MPs and cabinet ministers: oh, all right, 1975 rules apply

June 9, 2015 at 1:09 am (David Cameron, democracy, Europe, Guest post, history)

Back to 1975 and Wilson’s handling of the the Common Market referendum: this is what, apparently, Cameron has now backed down and  agreed to:

Vick E Morris's photo.

From the school of offending almost everyone, a Jak cartoon from 1975, showing the curious array of parties supporting withdrawal from the Common Market, the precursor of the European Union. The cartoonist Jak was pretty right-wing, I understand. One could draw a cartoon showing odd bedfellows for staying in the Common Market also.

All of the main parties allowed their MPs to campaign whichever way they liked and there were cross-party campaigns on either side, much as we saw in the recent Scottish referendum campaign. At the front of this – imaginary – march we see left-wing Labour MPs including Michael Foot, Tony Benn and Peter Shore, happily linking arms with Enoch Powell.

Note, also, that the SNP was then anti-Common Market. I think all of them had the wrong political line on this issue but I should point out that they never did march – or share a platform – with fascist opponents of the Common Market [JD adds: I think Michael Foot *did* share a platform with Enoch Powell, but I may be wrong: readers are encouraged to research this].

For an independent, left-wing campaign to stay in the EU!

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Giuliani’s attack on Obama fuels racism

February 21, 2015 at 3:24 pm (Democratic Party, Guest post, Obama, Pink Prosecco, Racism, Republican Party, United States)

6a00d83451b85a69e2017eea56d9c4970d-pi.jpg
Above: Rudy Giuliani

Guest post by Pink Prosecco

The controversy kicked off on Wednesday night when Rudy Giuliani, formerly Mayor of New York, accused Obama of not loving America.

“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America,” Mr. Giuliani said at the event. “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.”
To call this a dog whistle is an understatement.

Now he’s compounded the problem by insisting that his remarks couldn’t possibly be considered racist.

“Some people thought it was racist — I thought that was a joke, since he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people,” Mr. Giuliani said in the interview. “This isn’t racism. This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism.”

Yes, logically, he might be able to claim that he wasn’t targeting Obama’s black/African heritage, but the way his mother brought him up, the milieu in which he was raised. But that’s pretty disingenuous given the way (some of) Obama’s opponents focus on his birthplace and his religion. Many of those gleefully applauding Rudy Giuliani’s speech won’t have parsed them with Giuliani’s own retrospective punctiliousness. The former Mayor has irresponsibly fuelled the suspicions of bigots, while maintaining plausible deniability.

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Free Speech: an apology (I got it all wrong)

February 20, 2015 at 7:55 pm (Free Speech, Guest post, left, post modernism, relativism)

By Dave Osland

Above: Rosa Luxemburg, free speech advocate

Free speech: an apology:

Throughout my 30 years of political activity, I consistently contended that free speech was a core leftist value.

Readily did I bandy about Rosa Luxemburg’s insistence that ‘freedom is, always and exclusively, freedom for the one who thinks differently’. Shockingly, sometimes I even trotted out that cliched crap from Voltaire!

Willfully and deliberately, with malice aforethought, did I listen to a range of opinions on all topics and tried to think logically about issues of contemporary political disputation.

I was, shamefully and utterly, wrong wrong wrong. I now realise that insistence on free speech at all costs is the preserve of liberals and – worse! – the right.

I have learned my lesson and pledge never again to say anything beastly or that anybody could claim to be offended by, even potentially.

There is only one correct position on any issue within feminism or the LGBT movement, as may be determined by Twitter from time to time. It simply falls to me to discover what the line is on any given day.

Likewise, I renounce all my earlier statements to the effect that religious fundamentalism is a threat to workers, women or LGBT people who misunderstand why they are being thrown off tall buildings by anti-imperialists.

9/11 conspiracy theories are unquestionably true, and the ruling class reptilian blood line thesis is at least worthy of serious consideration.

I am junking 90% of the DWEM books that have falsely persuaded me to hang on to outdated metanarratives and will retain only those volumes of Derrida and Foucault that are admissible in public discourse.

All that remains now is to prostrate myself at the feet of those who arbitrate on such matters and beg forgiveness.

Identity politicians of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your brains!

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McCluskey and Labour: a view from Scotland

December 7, 2014 at 7:21 pm (elections, Guest post, labour party, scotland, unions, Unite the union, workers)

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

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Vic Collard, RIP

September 15, 2014 at 10:00 pm (Brum, class, ex-SWP, good people, Guest post, history, intellectuals, RIP, solidarity, unions, workers)

My friend Victor
Guest post by Mick Rice

Birmingham’s engineers march over the hill to shut the gates at Saltley coking works in 1972 (Pic: ©Tony Coult/ http://gallery.me.com/tony3ts gallery.me.com/tony3ts )

Above: Saltley Gates mass picket, 1972

Vic Collard was a friend of mine. We met in the late 1960’s when the heady days of revolt embraced the young. I was a “child of 1968” when the French events demonstrated that different politics were possible. Vic was 10 years older than me and a worker intellectual of the finest calibre. As well as being widely read he was also an AEU Shop Steward! There could have only been a handful of AEU Shop Stewards who knew about Marshall McLuhan never mind being conversant with his theories. Vic knew about the Frankfurt School. He was deeply interested in philosophy and psychology. He knew about Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse.

How much different the world might have been if the Left had concentrated on perfecting the “Orgone Box”! It has, unfortunately, so far, been singularly unsuccessful in promoting world revolution.

Vic once confessed to me about his role in the Second World War. I thought I was going to be entertained by a humorous Spike Milligan type – Adolf Hitler-My role in his Downfall – story. But Vic was ashamed of his behaviour. He had gone out, with a relative, for a walk by the canal. He must have been 5 or 6 years old. Alongside the towpath a group of German prisoners-of-war were clearing overgrown vegetation. Vic, our intrepid Brit, took a run at the first German POW and kicked him in the shins. No doubt thinking the juvenile equivalent of: “Take that you dirty Hun!” The Dandy and other boys’ comics of the time have a lot to answer for as they, of course, were bastions of British Imperialism. Vic had not yet read Marx.

The poor prisoner was probably just a conscripted German worker. However, if Vic felt that he had something to atone for, he certainly made up for it in later years. In the early 1970s the Birmingham East District Committee of the AEU was considering submitting motions to the union’s National Committee. One branch had sent in a motion supporting the boycott of goods to Pinochet’s Chile. If I remember right a Scottish factory with AEU members had already blocked the export of vehicles. Ted Williams, the leading right-winger, was pouring scorn on the motion. “These do-gooders want to interfere with international trade”, he thundered. “They risk putting in jeopardy AEU jobs”. Normally the later point was the ace that floored left-wing opposition as “AEU jobs” was paramount.

Vic played a blinder which completely changed the meeting. “No doubt”, said Vic, “If Brother Williams had been a member of this committee in the 1930s’ he would have been in favour of exporting Gas Chambers to Hitler’s Germany so long as they were made by AEU members”. Yes Vic was great with words and great at thinking on his feet.

Another time the full time officer was singing the praises of equality as he proudly told us he had negotiated an agreement to allow women to work night shifts! Vic had to point out that we wanted equality up and not equality down as working nightshifts was bad for men. It could not be regarded as a giant leap forward for womankind that they were going to be subjected to the same anti-social, unhealthy working patterns!

In the mid 1960’s Vic and his friend Geoff Johnson, were members of the “Labour Loyalist” group. They would go around meetings campaigning for an end to Incomes Policy which had been introduced by the Labour Government. Of course their intention was to be entirely disloyal to the Labour Government of the day. Calling themselves “Labour Loyalists” confused their opponents and, as they explained to me, it was really the Labour Government that wasn’t being loyal to the workers! A neat strategy that put Labour apparatchiks on the back foot! Read the rest of this entry »

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