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Labour and the unions

The move to the right is shaking the link between Labour and the unions, argues Dave Stockton

Labour’s violent swing to the right caused outbursts from the Labour funding unions. Paul Kenny from the GMB, which bankrolls Labour to the tune of £1.6 million a year, wrote a letter to other union leaders saying, “It is now time for careful consideration and thought before the wider discussions begin on the long–term implications this new stance by the party has on GMB affiliation.”
Unite’s Len McCluskey voiced his outrage in the Guardian;

“No effort was made by Labour to consult with trade unions before making the shift, notwithstanding that it impacts on millions of our members. It is hard to imagine the City being treated in such a cavalier way in relation to a change in banking policy.” Indeed, Len, but what conclusion do you draw from that? He stormed on;

“Where does this leave the half a million people who joined the TUC’s march for an alternative last year, and the half of the country, at least, who are against the cuts? Disenfranchised.” Indeed.

What he fears is that the old Blairites, the “Blue Labour” MPs and the media rat pack, having changed spineless Ed’s policy to one of open support for austerity, will now move on to get rid of the leadership that the hapless “centre left” union leaders placed all their hopes on.
However, the conclusions he draws are the usual weak–kneed stuff. “It is time for those who want a real alternative centred on investment, job creation and public intervention to end the slump, and a Labour Party that will articulate that, to get organised in parliament and outside.”
And where will this new Labour Party come from? That was the little detail missing in McCluskey’s article. There also have to be serious doubts whether Kenny will follow through with his threat in the GMB. The trade union leaders may moan about Labour policies and leaders, they may even threaten to withhold funding, but they always accept the logic that it is better to pay the devil–you–know and exert some pressure, no matter how modest, than be cast out of Westminster altogether. The Labour leaders know that the union chiefs have no alternative, so they are happy to keep kicking them.

A step in the right direction was taken by Jerry Hicks, who won 52,000 votes in the 2010 election for Unite’s general secretary and who is a leading figure in Grassroots Left, the rank and file trade unionist campaigning body. His response to McCluskey’s moaning over Miliband’s betrayal was;
“There is an alternative, and my position is clear and consistent. Unite should only fund the Labour Party when it supports our union’s policies. I say to McCluskey “Stop wringing your hands, stop moaning and stop funding them! This should be the day we say ‘Defy the cuts, confront the anti–union laws and follow the lead given by construction workers, by supporting demonstrations, walkouts and occupations.”

Whilst it is a right to put demands on Labour we need to go further and start building alternatives.

As Workers Power has said since Blair went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq and launched the privatisation binge that began the break up of education and health – the working class needs a new party.

In times of crisis like these the working class needs a political party that can fight for its interests. That is why we need a campaign to break Labour’s control over the unions.

In affiliated unions, activists need to make the case for disaffiliation or, if we cannot win in some unions, for temporary withholding of all further funding. Ultimately, the unions, all unions, need to put their money behind building a new fighting, socialist party. The unions without political party funds should set them up, not just to fund candidates in elections but to build up an activist presence in every workplace and working class community.

This party must be democratically controlled by the hundreds of thousands of working class militants who are fighting the cuts, defending their jobs and wages. It must be a party whose aim is not to court the selfish individualism of the middle classes but to lead the working class in a struggle for power. This must be a struggle not to “renew” or “reform” capitalism but to throw it into the dustbin of history.

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