Will Labour ever take on the power of the rich?
WORKERS from what's left of Fords, Dagenham, on May Day march. Still proud of traditions of workers unity and solidarity, which New Labour preferred forgotten.
I sent a letter to the Guardian last week, after they printed an article by the Labour MP for Dagenham, John Cruddas, in which, while denying any intention of running for the Labour Party leadership, he urged the party to refocus its policies. Cruddas referred to a swing away by skilled workers, claimed immigration had been used as a "21st century incomes policy", and appeared to blame low pay and job insecurity, if not on immigrants (he was talking to Guardian readers) then on Labour's unwillingness to challenge "liberal assumptions and the business lobby".
I think I got his drift. Cruddas, mind you, has been presented as union-friendly, even a possible candidate of the 'Left', and I suppose considering the government we've got now, it is "left" to see anything wrong in low pay and job insecurity. Didn't they oppose a minimum wage, and aren't they intent on sackings, for the good of "the country", naturally?
But seeing where Cruddas seemed to misplace blame, I wrote the following:
It is strange that having beaten off the British National Party, Jon Cruddas MP should fall into the trap of blaming job losses and falling living standards on immigration (Hand on heart, I do not want to be Labour leader.Guardian, May 17).
It was not because of immigrants that the Ford Motor Company decided to cease production in John Cruddas' Dagenham constituency. Nor did their presence or otherwise deter Burberry from moving abroad, or influence the removal of Wedgwood from what we used to call the Potteries. It was not immigrants who took away the jobs of miners in that area.
It is true that some employers profitably exploit migrant workers as cheap labour, but Britain's immigration controls, offering the threat of internment and deportation, have made such exploitation easier. One has only to look at one London college where the cleaners had no sooner organised in the union than they were raided by border controls early one morning.
Workers rights and living standards have been undermined by the freedom which successive governments have given to capitalist employers, coupled with the restrictions imposed on workers and their unions. We saw this when British Airways having outsourced catering to Gate Gourmet, the latter firm replaced members of my union, TGWU Unite, with casual labour, and the union laws prevented fellow-union members at the airport from taking action. These Tory laws, which Labour lovingly preserved, are now once more in the hands of the Tories, and British Airways cabin staff are seeing their rights taken away by the judges. With Tory promises of deregulation in industry, and cuts in HSE inspections it soon won't only be rights that are lost.
John Cruddas rightly refers to the Labour government's decision not to act for the rights of agency workers. Indeed the leaders obstructed parliament even debating this issue. We have not forgotten that one MP did try to raise it, just as he attempted to introduce a modest Trade Union Freedom bill. If there's to be a real contest for Labour leadership, in which issues that matter can be raised, then step forward again the Member for Hayes and Harlington!
That was on Tuesday, and the good news of course is that by the time it should have appeared in print, the man from Hayes and Harlington, John McDonnell MP, had announced he had decided to stand, making his announcement appropriately in a speech to the conference of the Public and Commercial Service Union (PCS), whose members are in the frontline of the fight to defend services and jobs.
John McDonnell, who increased his majority in the general election, is known for siding with workers in struggle, trying to introduce a trade union freedom bill, opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and calling for privatisations to be reversed, bring the railways and public utilities for example back into public hands.
He gets a good response when he speaks to meetings of trade unionists of course. And on Friday evening his views, delivered quietly and with modest humour, seemed to go down well with the audience on BBC Radio Four's 'Any Questions', coming from the Gower, in south Wales.
If, as several people, including latecomer to the action Diane Abbott assure us, John McDonnell has not even got a chance of getting enough nominations from Labour MPs to get on the ballot paper, what would that say about Labour, or at least about Labour MPs?
Yesterday's Guardian had an article by Jon Harris suggesting "The new motto: immigration, immigration, immigration", telling us "Some Labour people have settled on a daft strategy:outflank the Lib-Cons from the right, to satisfy the proles". In other words, if you meet someone on the doorstep, probably a Sun reader, who knows something's wrong and can only think of blaming "immigrants", don't whatever you do start talking to them about capitalism and the banks, just nod along and report you have found the secret of saving jobs - your own, that is.
If a woman in Rochdale asks "where are all these east European workers coming from?", don't answer "er ...Eastern Europe?" (or explain how Labour,having supported the expansion eastward of the European Union, intends to stop Brits buying property there or workers displaced by capitalism coming here). If workers at an oil refinery or power station site protest about employers breaking agreements and bringing in contract migrant labour, treat it as the press did, as a matter of the workers' nationality, not the employers' mendacity.
Whatever you do don't blame the rich.
Let the bankers and gamblers with other people's money and lives sit back and enjoy the fun, whatever damage they have done.
"Labour's danger is not that long-imagined lurch to the left,"warns Harris, but an ugly and reactionary step in the opposite direction".
If that were to happen, it would give Nick Griffin and co. the last laugh, be the ruin of the Labour party, and set the working class back a century, unless it was stopped. The way to stop it now is to give John McDonnell our support.