This statement, in Q&A format, appears in the present edition of the AWL paper, Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website. We reproduce it here for the information of readers, but please note that not everyone associated with Shiraz is a member, or even supporter, of the AWL:
In almost every constituency, Workers’ Liberty favours a Labour vote in the general and council elections in 2015. But the Labour Party is committed to maintaining austerity, just like the Tories. Why vote Labour?
It’s not true that there’s no difference. While Labour’s current policy would leave the framework of neo-liberal austerity intact, the Labour Party has been forced to shift on issues like the NHS, zero-hours contracts, the Bedroom Tax, and even public ownership of the railways. On all of those issues, its policy is far less radical than socialists would like, but it is not “just like the Tories”. The Tories are committed to extending anti-union laws; Labour aren’t.
A left that insists there’s no material difference between a government committed to at least partially reversing NHS privatisation and one committed to extending it is a left disconnected from the reality of working-class life.
Those policy differences are empty promises. We’ve been here before.
Working-class social pressure is the key factor. If they do not feel under any pressure, Labour’s leaders won’t implement even the minimal policy commitments it has already made. If there is enough pressure from their trade-union base, they will move. A bit.
Only a tiny bit. Democrats are a lesser evil than the Republicans in the US; Chirac was a lesser evil than the fascist Le Pen in the French presidential run off in 2002. Workers’ Liberty doesn’t favour a vote for the Democrats, and criticised those on the French far-left that supported a vote for Chirac in 2002. Why is this different?
Although its leaders have always had pro-capitalist politics, Labour is not just a capitalist, or “bourgeois”, party. It has historic roots as an attempt by a section of the industrial labour movement to create a political wing that would act for workers in politics as the Liberal and Tory parties acted for employers, and a continuing structural link to the majority of unions in the country.
The Labour-affiliated unions (most of the big ones) can at will change Labour policy by putting proposals to Labour conference and voting them through. Mostly they don’t. Or they do, but stay quiet when Labour leaders ignore the policy. But we should call for the unions to use that political clout, not to walk away and give up.
The US Democrats, or the French UMP (Tories), are, by contrast, straightforwardly capitalist parties. Although the Democrats enjoy funding and activist support from large sections of the US trade union movement, there is no structural link through which rank-and-file trade unionists could even hope to hold Democratic politicians to account or influence the Democrats’ political direction.
The Labour leaders have contempt for the unions. They’re happy to take union money, but won’t do anything in return.
Labour’s leaders want us to see the relationship in purely financial terms : “You (the unions) give us (the Labour Party) money, and we’ll give you a slightly-less-bad set of policies than the Tories.” That’s the relationship the US Democrats have with the unions in the USA; and it’s the way many union leaders see it. But we should change that, rather than passively accept it.
Some on the left like to imagine that the history of the past few decades has been one of Labour-affiliated unions struggling hard for working-class policies, but finding themselves blocked at every turn by the pro-capitalist Labour leaders. In fact, union leaders have blocked themselves by consistently failing to stand up for their own policies within the Labour Party.
In one recent example, Unite delegates to Labour’s National Policy Forum helped defeat a resolution that would have committed Labour to an anti-austerity platform. All the major unions supported the “Collins Review”, which will make Labour Party structures less democratic. Union delegates on the Labour Party Executive, including the RMT’s Mick Cash (now the union’s general secretary), failed to vote against the launching of the Iraq War in 2003.
Surely it’s better to give up on Labour and try to build something new?
Severing, or reforming out of practical existence, the link between the Labour Party and the unions is a long-held dream of the Blairites. Why allow them to fulfil it without a fight?
Our perspective is to transform the entire labour movement. That is, to make our unions fighting, democratic organisations controlled from below, which are responsive to our day-to-day struggles at work and in the community. If it’s possible to make our unions more industrially combative, then it’s possible to make them more assertive in the political sphere too.
The never-affiliated unions are in general no more left-wing or militant than the affiliated ones. Demanding that the unions disaffiliate, rather than demanding that the union leaders fight using every avenue available to them, lets the bureaucrats off the hook.
In the AWL, we are building something new! Only, we do that within the struggle to change the whole labour movement, not by opting out.
Labour leaders have progressively chipped away at union and grassroots influence within the party. The recommendations of the Collins Review, due to come into effect in 2019, will be the final nail in the coffin. The game is up.
If the recommendations of the Collins Review come into effect and are allowed to bed down, the nature of the Labour Party and its relationship to the unions may have to be reassessed. But five years is a long time, and a lot could be done between now and then.
If the unions asserted themselves seriously, the Labour leaders would just expel them, just like they expelled the RMT in 2004.
Possibly. To be honest, the RMT more or less chose expulsion; and if a number of unions asserting themselves politically as a bloc, the Labour leaders could not just expel them.
Maybe the Blairite core of the Labour machine would hive off, perhaps to fuse with the Lib Dems or even the Tories. Maybe the Labour leaders would sever the union link. Labour would split, with the unions taking some left-wing MPs, dissident CLPs, and a minority of grassroots activists with them.
Through a campaign of consistent political self-assertion backed up with industrial direct action, we strive to push the relationship between the Labour Party and the unions to its absolute limits. A split that resulted from such a campaign would provide an immeasurably more favourable platform for the refounding of a labour-movement political party than individual unions disaffiliating one-by-one without any kind of fight.
Even if you want a Labour government, why not at least encourage people to vote for socialist candidates like TUSC and Left Unity (LU) where they can?
Our attitude to Labour is determined by its structural link to the fundamental organisations of our class — trade unions. We have different criteria for assessing far-left propaganda efforts.
Socialist propaganda candidacies are important in building up the activist minority which can then act as a lever to transform the wider labour movement. But then they have be judged on the basis of the quality of their propaganda, whether they do build up a minority, and whether that minority is a positive factor in the movement. TUSC and LU candidates will not so much be making propaganda for working-class socialism as for lowest-common-denominator anti-austerity politics.
If TUSC or Left Unity were:
•meaningfully democratic, with functioning local groups
•explicitly working-class socialist, foregrounding policies about expropriation, social ownership, and working-class rule
•open about their function as propaganda candidacies aimed at raising the profile of radical socialist ideas, rather than pretending to be mass-parties-in-waiting
•clear about the need to get a Labour government to kick out the Tories, and therefore did not stand in marginal seats
… then Workers’ Liberty would be involved. We helped initiate the Socialist Alliance from 1999, and attempted to resist it being sidelined by the SWP when it cooked up the “Respect” project with George Galloway. Some TUSC and LU candidates tick some of those boxes. But, on the whole, their campaigns fall short.
You’re telling left-minded people to vote against their own beliefs, for a Labour Party with neo-liberal politics.
People also vote on the basis of what kind of government they want. A Labour vote for many working-class people on 7 May will not be a vote for Labour’s neo-liberal agenda, but a vote against the Tories, for a party they see as at least minimally connected, if only in a historical sense, to working-class people and our interests. We should not be cynical, or stay aloof from, that entirely legitimate aspiration to kick the Tories out.
True, defeats and setbacks have led increasing numbers of us to see politics (which, for many people, is basically reduced to elections) as an essentially individual, atomised process, a consumer choice.
We want to change that. We want politics — not just elections, but the entire processes of how society is organised and governed — to be a collective experience, which people engage in in a permanent and collective way, through mass organisations. Fundamentally for working-class people those organisations will be trade unions — the only genuinely “mass” organisations in British society, and the only ones which organise workers, as workers, at the point of production.
Getting a Labour government on 8 May will be the beginning, not the end, of a renewed fight for working-class political representation. If, in the campaign to win that government and kick out the Tories, socialists have been able to build up a caucus of workplace and community activists who want to push Labour much further than its neo-liberal leadership wishes to go, we will have used the election time to good purpose.
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
Before the tragic discovery that she has a brain tumour, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, the public figurehead of the CTU’s 2012 strike against the city’s Democratic mayor Rahm Emanuel, was preparing a mayoral campaign for the 2015 election. Lewis’s national union, the American Federation of Teachers (the country’s biggest), had pledged $1 million. A Chicago Tribune poll from August 2014 put her ahead of Emanuel by 43 to 39%. Her victory, or even, perhaps, her campaign, would have been the most significant act of self-assertion by US labour in the political sphere for decades.
In a September 2014 article in Salon, Edward McClelland argues that Lewis typifies the contemporary US labour movement, which, since the 1970s, has become “feminised, professionalised, politicised and regionalised.” McClelland writes: “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most unionised job category is ‘education, training and library occupations’ at 35.4 percent. That’s a field dominated by women, many with master’s degrees. (In fact, the Center for Economic and Policy Research predicts that by 2020, a majority of union members will be women.)”.
He argues that deindustrialisation, and the relocation of heavy industrial manufacturing to America’s south, “a region hostile to unionism”, has meant that the archetypal unionist of yesteryear – a white man working a “blue-collar” industrial job – is now more likely to be anti-union. The archetypal trade unionist of 2014 -15 is a graduate, a woman, probably black (unionisation rates amongst black workers are higher than those amongst whites), and in a “white-collar”, “professional” job.
McClelland also cites a political shift and realignment from the 1970s onwards; where unionised, working-class voters in America’s industrial heartland provided a base of support for Richard Nixon’s 1972 landslide victory (in which he ran what he called a “blue-collar strategy”), now membership of and support for unions is “just another blue state [Democratic] trait”.
The statistics in McClelland’s article are stark. In early 2014, in a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the United Auto Workers (UAW) lost a ballot for something akin to union recognition by 712 votes to 626. In a separate campaign amongst graduate workers in administrative jobs at New York University, UAW won the ballot 620-10. McClelland’s article is an observation extrapolated from those statistics, and not a comprehensive study. But even as an observational sketch, there are some important details missing from the picture. Read the rest of this entry »
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
In memeory of Jimmy Ruffin, May 7 1936 – Nov 17 2014
The Council Collective performing the extended version of Soul Deep live on Channel 4’s The Tube, 14th December 1984 at the studios of Tyne-Tees Television in Newcastle Upon Tyne. In aid of the striking miners this single featured Paul Weller, Mick Talbot, Dee C. Lee, Jimmy Ruffin, Junior Giscombe, Dizzy Hites and Vaughan Toulouse.
Press release from Unite:
No re-run of Unite election as regulator dismisses claims against Len McCluskey
The Certification Officer has dismissed attempts to force a re-run of the election which saw Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey elected to hold office until 2018.
Following hearings earlier this month, Certification Officer, the trade union regulator, rejected claims by Unite member Jerry Hicks, the other candidate in Mr McCluskey’s 2013 re-election contest, relating to the eligibility of some members to vote in that election.
The challenge centred on claims of supposed ‘phantom votes’ cast, but this was overwhelmingly dismissed by the Certification Office who ruled against Mr Hicks on the substantial issues he had complained about.
Commenting, a Unite spokesman said:
“Unite was always confident that we had acted within the rules of our union and the law at all times.
“We are pleased that the certification officer has dismissed the key claims against Unite and we hope that media who gave such credence to claims of `phantom votes’ will now give this legal decision comparable attention.
“Unite’s members have had to endure repeated – and as we now are clear, baseless – smears against their union. With this decision our union’s integrity is upheld, and our focus on the vital task of standing up for working people can continue.”
The decision by the Certification Office concludes a year of legal proceedings on the matter.
Let’s make this the start of a real fightback on pay
Local Government and School workers’ unofficial blog (GMB, Unison, Unite), here