Saturday, July 06, 2013

Love Labour's Lost

WHEN a party leadership announces it has sent a report on its internal affairs to police, ahead of it even being seen by the members it is about, we may wonder what it is going to be like in government, assuming it ever reaches that office.

WHEN it is the Labour party leadership apparently accepting the Tory jibe that trade union influence is a "scandal", and not only attacking the Party's biggest source of funds (biggest in membership as well as the amount it contributes), but the very relationship which gave it birth, we may wonder whether it even wants to win.

Trade unions have yet to regain the strength they had in the past, when so many workers were employed in industry  (and union block votes were employed more than once by Labour leaders to roll over the Left in the constituencies).  But in the last few years they have started to register a slight growth in membership. And unlike MPs, and despite the hostile media, trade unions seem to be regaining some popularity. They could make a difference at election time in persuading working people it is worth going to vote. Even now Labour's gains in the polls reflects a belief, however mistaken, that it will mean a change, for instance in defending the NHS, and not continue the Con Dem politics of privilege and austerity.

 A report in the Guardian yesterday claimed:
"Ed Miliband is to review the Labour party's historic relationship with the trade union movement amid calls from senior party figures for him to use a bitter row with the Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, to break the formal link. As Labour referred allegations about the handling of the process for selecting a parliamentary candidate in Falkirk to the police and procurator fiscal, senior party aides indicated that Miliband would embark on a bold step of reform in the coming weeks.
The report said Ed Miliband "has made no decisions on whether to break Labour's links with the trade unions, which were responsible for the founding of the party in 1900. But the Labour leader, who raised the possibility of corruption in Falkirk, is understood to believe that he must adopt a consistent approach in tackling 'unaccountable vested interests'.
Labour Party members may note that it is apparently up to one man, and not the party membership or conference, nor even the national executive, to take this momentous decision!  And we in the trade unions are supposed to need teaching lessons in democracy!

We may also note that unjust sneer in quotes at unions as "unaccountable vested interests", similar to something Tony Blair said when he was first elected. And though the report goes on to equate the unions with Rupert Murdoch, we remember that Blair went on to bow to Murdoch, and to other billionaires. Unlike them, Len McCluskey has been elected and re-elected, and he is accountable to hundreds of thousands of hard-working people, from dockers to doctors, draughtspersons to refuse disposal operators, who keep this country going, pay their taxes, and if they expect an influence in return for paying the political levy, don't go in for hacking 'phones, buying politicians, or bribing policemen.     

Len McCluskey was shocked yesterday by the news that Miliband is going to the police with the allegations about irregularities at Falkirk.The union was being "mercilessly attacked", he said "though we have not done anything wrong".

"I haven't even seen this report. We were told when the inquiry was taking place that any allegations against the people who were being accused of things would have an opportunity to respond. They weren't even interviewed. Unite wasn't interviewed. This is absolute nonsense and I would hope that a calming influence could come into this," he said.
As he spoke in a hospital car park in Trafford, Greater Manchester, McCluskey attacked the way shadow cabinet members, including Jim Murphy, have attacked the union for "overstepping the mark" in Falkirk.
"What does that mean? We asked too many of our members to join the Labour party? We should have told them that the Labour party was full up perhaps," he said. "It is a nonsense and I am afraid that the way that this has been handled by Labour party HQ is nothing short of disgraceful," he said.

Incidentally, since it wasn't mentioned in that report nor in what I saw on TV, readers might wonder why Len was hanging about in a hospital car park yesterday. He was at the Trafford General hospital to commemorate 65 years since Aneurin Bevan inaugurated the National Health Service on a visit to the same hospital (then Davyhulme Park) on July 5, 1948. The Unite leader spoke at a rally in nearby Golden Hill park to oppose cutbacks in the NHS. You can please yourself what significance to attach to that, but funnily enough my friends in Manchester who were pleased to report Len McCluskey's presence at their event did not even think to mention his row with Ed Miliband over Falkirk. Just goes to show what the media think important and what ordinary people are worried about isn't always the same thing.

The search for a new candidate in the Falkirk constituency was made necessary when current MP Eric Joyce had to resign the party, and announced he would not stand again. The former Army major had been given a 12-month community order and fined £3,000 after he admitted committing an assault in a House of Commons bar last year.

 But he has not given up politics nor battling, it seems. Accusing Unite of behaving "irresponsibly", he wrote:

"Stephen Deans, chair of Unite in Scotland and a local shop steward, was installed as chair of Falkirk West constituency Labour party (CLP), which covers about 70% of my constituency. In line with wider Unite policy, he immediately began an extensive recruitment campaign at work – Ineos refinery in Grangemouth, and in a local pub, The Broomhill Inn – the aim being to dominate the selection vote for my successor without persuading existing members to support the Unite candidate, Karie Murphy."

 It is claimed some Unite members received letters welcoming them to the Labour Party without being aware they had joined, Unite having paid their subs to convert affilated to full membership. But presumably they could not have cast their votes without knowing it.

On June 25 Labour placed the Falkirk party under special measures, and Karie Murphy, who had already stood aside from the selection while it was being investigated, was suspended from the Party last week along with Stephen Deans. Labour's national elections manager Tom Watson MP, in whose office Karie Murphy worked, resigned from the shadow cabinet, explaining : "It’s not the unattributed shadow cabinet briefings around the mess in Falkirk that has convinced me that the arrangement has run its course (though they don’t help). I believe that the report should be published – in full – and the whole truth told as soon as possible so that the record can be made clear. I’ve still not seen the report but believe there are an awful lot of spurious suppositions being written.

Watson appears to believe he can do a better job of fighting the Tories from outside the shawdow cabinet team:
"I wish to use the backbenches to speak out in areas of personal interest: open government and the surveillance state, the digital economy, drones and the future of conflict, the child abuse inquiries, the aftermath of the Murdoch scandal and grass roots responses to austerity".

Whatever was happening in Falkirk, it may be the focus but it is not the whole story of the row between the Labour leadership and Unite. Some old and discredited names from the last Labour government have been complaining about the union's influence.

An organisation called Progress, founded in 1996 by Liam Byrne, now Labour's shadow Work and Pensions secretary, and fomer Mandelson aide Derek Draper, is keeping up the Blairite legacy with its own annual conference attracting past and present cabinet ministers. It might be considered a "a party within a party", and probably would be challenged as such if was on the Left, which it obviously isn't. Registered as a company, it has received  millions of pounds in donations, mainly from Lord David Sainsbury of the famous grocery family.

Obviously these are the kind of people you want to get on with if you fancy a career, in or out of politics, and there are still plenty of ambitious careerists and wannabes attracted to New Labour's promise of opportunity in some constituency parties.    

Some of these have been getting upset about trade union and supposedly "hard left"influence getting in their way. 

A blogger on the Labour Uncut site complains at how a previously hopeful Anne Fairweather in south London has been relegated from the Party's Euro election list. " Her crime seems to have been to work in business and not be one of the chosen candidates of the unions and the left".

Further light is shed on why those dreadful union people and left-wingers might not have been happy about Ms.Fairweather's background in business:
Although Anne was apparently a hard working candidate in the 2009 election, she is seen as politically unacceptable to a large section of Labour’s electoral support as she used to be Head of Public Policy for REC, the trade association for recruitment agencies, and in that capacity had lobbied against extensions of employment rights to Agency workers, both in the UK (PDF) and in Brussels. Given a strong field of candidates no one individual should have a sense of entitlement, and a candidate who had been aligned with lobbyists for deregulation in the employment market should not be surprised if she is seen by many as outside the mainstream of Labour Party values. Anne left the employment of the REC in 2010. 

Knowing how trade unions like Unite and Labour MP John McDonnell sought to extend employment rights to agency workers, I could imagine there might be some feeling against a lobbyist for the other side, even if she was "only doing her job". But then I am one of those old-fashioned dinosaurs raised on the belief that the labour movement should take sides on workers' rights.

Here's Labour Uncut again, digging out the enemy, and focusing on Unite:
Dave Quayle, chair of Unite’s national political committee set out their priorities in an interview for the website of Marxist fringe group, the Alliance for Worker’s Liberty,

    “We want a firmly class-based and left-wing general election campaign in 2015… We want to shift the balance in the party away from middle-class academics and professionals towards people who’ve actually represented workers and fought the boss.”

Although Len McCluskey has been attacked by some on the Left, often those who only yesterday were buried in the Labour Party themselves, for sticking with Labour, - Unite funds the party to an estimated £8 million pounds - he has made clear that he is not giving the party a blank cheque politically, as seemed to happen under some of his predecessors. He has attacked the Labour leadership's warnings that they would have to continue with cuts, and told Ed Miliband to stop listening to the likes of Blair and Mandelson.

"I want Labour to be re-elected but Labour will only be elected if it offers a radical alternative, a real alternative to the doom and gloom and misery and despair currently offered by this government,” he said.

The contempt with which McCluskey utters the name “Blair” prompts me to ask him about the recent return of the former prime minister to the domestic fray and his warning in the New Statesman that Ed Miliband must not “tack left on tax and spending”. “My message to Ed is to take no notice of the siren voices from the boardrooms of JP Morgan or wherever else he is at the moment,” he tells me. Blair and the other New Labour grandees who have urged Miliband to pursue a centrist strategy are “locked in the past,” he says, describing them as “deniers of what happened in 2008”.

“It may be easy for these people, who are sitting with the huge sums of money that they’ve amassed now – they’ve done pretty well out of it. Remember it was Mandelson who said he was comfortable about the filthy rich – presumably that’s because he wanted to be one of the filthy rich. But the fact is that under Labour the gap between rich and poor increased . . . that’s a stain on what Labour stands for”.
That mention of JP Morgan, the Wall Street bank that once financed Mussolini, is not unimportant. It did not hire Tony Blair a couple of years ago because he is some kind of financial whizz kid. Blair may be a war criminal in many people's eyes, but in Britain as in the EU and the Middle East, he has the chutzpah to go with his Catholic conversion, and knows which palms to grease and which doors to open. Morgans have set their sights on destroying social democracy in Europe.

The struggle in the Labour Party, wherever it may end, is not seperate from the class struggle, but part of it. And we don't have to pretend Unite is lilywhite pure or Len McCluskey always right to know what side we are on.  


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