This British perspectives draft document (2008), agreed on February
3rd, has been issued by the Socialist Appeal editorial board as part of
a wide-ranging discussion about the likely development of events in
British society. Such a document is not a blue-print, but an attempt to
understand the underlying processes at work in Britain today, and how
these will be reflected in the class struggle. The document will be
discussed at the Socialist Appeal conference at the end of April.
Industrial perspectives: the present
Class and leadership
67. The past year has continued what, for Marxists, has been
a frustrating period on the industrial plane. The possibility of a breakthrough
was always there. Take the case of the Post Office. PO management have made it
quite clear that they intend to get rid of tens of thousands of Royal Mail
workers. The workers took solid official action, supplemented in some areas
with up to two weeks’ unofficial time on strike. Yet the ‘left’ union
leadership showed themselves desperate to settle with management, with all the
basic issues unresolved and with the threat of mass redundancy still hanging
over their members’ heads. There was a real prospect of a unified movement of
millions of public sector workers against what was clearly signalled to be a
co-ordinated policy of cuts in living standards for all of them. That
opportunity, which could definitely have seen the government off, was fudged.
Different union leaderships called for separate, ineffective one-day actions.
The Unison local authority and NHS sell-outs can be given as an example of the
failure of leadership. The power for a fightback remains latent. The TU
leadership is the problem.
68. How has this relapse happened over the past years? A
layer of leaders (especially over the last 20 years since the defeat of the
miners’ strike, though they have always been there) has come up through the
structures of the unions. They have taken the rep’s job for a number of
reasons, other than political – to get out of work, ‘no-one else wants to do
it’ etc. These individuals have now made it to the tops of the unions. Any one
that shows any ability gets elected. The competition for places has declined.
It just reflects the period and the lack of class struggle.
Today, a lot of the present generation of trade union
leaders have either not been tested or are manoeuvring before any fight starts.
The key issue for them in the last 20 years has been mergers. The decline in
union membership has mainly been in the manufacturing industries. The
overwhelming majority of the present union leaderships are incapable of
recruiting in the service sector because it would mean unionising from the coal
face like in the beginning of trade unionism. This job will become the task of
new layers of young people either politically motivated or faced with no other
choice, who will become political.
69. Those that were involved in politics in the 1980s have a
different leadership style from other trade union lefts. In the past they were
from the Communist Party, organised in the trade unions to take positions, and
then from Militant in the 1970s and 1980s. There is no organised left wing
presence of the same significance now as there has been in the past. This is
general: a number of good individual fighters have come through. Not to become
part of the union bureaucracy requires being backed by and being a part of a
revolutionary organisation, which can explain the bigger picture.
70. The virtual disappearance of the CP as a serious force
in the unions is an important development for industrial perspectives. Though
never a serious force electorally, in the past the Communist Party has had a
significant presence, particularly in the old-established industrial unions.
Their influence went far beyond their actual membership. They managed to gain
influence within the educational structures of the trade union movement, and
acted as the core of the broad lefts. They had a tendency to hide their
politics and concentrate on organisational manoeuvring. But their demise has
left a vacuum. All that is left are Stalinist sects, of no significance in
industry. There is no force at present that can replace them. But that is a
task the Marxists must set themselves over time.
71. The last time the Communist Party was able to act as a
lever on the mass movement was via the Liaison Committee for the Defence of
Trade Unions in the 1970s. Then they were able to strike a chord to the extent
of in effect calling an unofficial general strike (and putting pressure on the
TUC to call an official general strike) in order to get the Pentonville Five
dockers released from prison.
72. Other means such as overtime are being used to solve
individual problems. If workers see no collective solution to their problems,
they will look to an individualistic way out. Working class consciousness is
based on an awareness of our collective power and underlines the need for
collective action. Historically the middle class has been individualistic,
convinced that they can improve their lot by their own effort, raising
themselves above their fellows. Successive governments have attempted to play
on and encourage this individualism in order to break down working class
73. With inflation rising along with personal debt, wages
will be a key issue in 2008 at the same time as the economy is taking a
downturn, and bosses will be least likely to afford higher wage demands. It is
worth stating again that, in periods of boom, wages normally rise. This has not
happened for all workers in the last period. A lot of jobs are topped up by tax
credits – such as those in Tesco etc. Workers have survived because the economy
has grown, food and other goods have got cheaper and credit has been easy to
74. The power of the working class has not changed. What has
changed is that a generation has left education and gone into work where trade
unions either do not exist or are weak or have not resolved young workers’
problems – low pay, exploitation etc. An individual within a unionised
workplace can make all the difference as to how trade unions are perceived.
The last upsurge
the past period of almost 30 years has been one of relapse. In the 1970s the
trade union movement was officially led from the left for the only time in its history. Scanlon and Jones were the
General Secretaries of the two most important unions the AUEW and TGWU
respectively. In 1979 trade union membership peaked at almost 13 million. A
series of strikes involved ‘unorganisable’ sections such as women workers in
action for the first time. Women
workers are now a majority in the trade union movement. Most households are
totally dependent on both adults working to make ends meet. How far away it
seems from the time when we had to argue against the notion that women only
worked for ‘pin money.’
strike struggles of the 1970s
demonstrate that service sector workers were working class and knew it. In that
decade the shop stewards’ movement became a power in the land. A quarter of a
million workers were involved, many with 100% facility time. There was even the
emergence in some workplaces of elements of workers’ control, such as shop
stewards’ control over whether and how much overtime was to be worked. This
powerful shop stewards’ movement is now marginalised, banished to some parts of
the public sector and long-unionised parts of private sector industry. Facility
time was in any case a double-edged sword, as it could serve to separate the
stewards away from the rank and file they were supposed to be representing. Life could become cosy away from the pressures of the
assembly line. But the movement cannot go forward again without the mass
involvement of workers at a rank and file level.
77. Another set of rank and file
institutions that have faded over time are the local Trades Councils. In some
areas these are still worthwhile bodies. But their influence is much reduced
from the 1970s when they were effectively charged with organising the days of
action against the Tories and getting the workers out on strike. With an
upsurge in militancy, they are likely to regain their vitality together with
the trade unions as a whole.
78. There are natural limits to
pure industrial action. The movement of the 1970s was undermined by mass unemployment
after the election of the Tories, unemployment in part deliberately engineered
by Thatcher as a weapon against the trade unions.
79. We draw a basic dividing line,
contrasting the present period with the period of the post-War boom, which had
relatively full employment, steadily rising living standards, and the working
class in a favourable bargaining position on the shop floor. But even within
the earlier period, we have to bear in mind the British ruling class was
becoming increasingly concerned after World War II about its declining position
in the world and more and more determined to settle accounts with the working
class as a way of retrieving its former glory.
80. The first serious attempt to
take on the working class was provided by the election of the Heath government
in 1970, which represented a clear break with the post-War consensus. Of course
Heath was ignominiously defeated but, as far as the ruling class was concerned,
those tasks remained on the agenda.
81. The defeat of Heath in 1974
coincided with the first generalised capitalist recession since the War, and
the beginning of a new era with slower growth and permanently higher
unemployment. Throughout this era the ruling class strove might and main to
roll back the gains the working class had made in the era of the post-War boom.
82. Though this section of the
document is concerned with industrial perspectives, we must never forget that
one of the basic features of British working class struggle is the movement
from the industrial to the political arena. After the defeat of the miners’
strike in 1985, hope was focussed on a Labour government. With the
disappointments of New Labour, disaffection has been shown in the first
instance by strike action.
Indicators of militancy
of trade unions has declined since the 1970s, and has stabilised for the time
being at a little above 6 million members. The reasons for this fall are
complex. They include the timorousness of the trade union tops, general disillusionment
with the leadership in the era of ‘new unionism’ and the difficulties posed by
the abolition of the closed shop and ‘check-off’ (automatic deduction) of trade
union subscriptions from the wage packet. But the main reason membership has
declined is because workers have lost jobs in highly unionised traditional manufacturing
industries, which have gone into decline or disappeared altogether.
steel workers, textile workers and other traditional sectors of the working
class have seen their jobs disappear. In the case of the miners, the reason was
politically motivated spite. In most cases, it was the ‘natural’ making and
unmaking of places of work and the accompanying work force under capitalism.
Often this decline is associated with the disappearance or scattering of a
traditional working class community. These were fortresses of the working class
and their loss is important to us. But these are not defeats on the scale of
the period after 1926, when miners tore up their union cards and company
unionism made its appearance in the pits.
the 1980s these workers (usually)
managed to find alternative employment eventually in new industries that
were unorganised. Rather than just naturally slipping into an organised and
class conscious workforce the advanced worker would have to start completely
from scratch. In the past building and recruitment was much easier because of
the existence of extensive closed shops in employment. And, as we know, the
trade union movement has not yet succeeded in organising the new sectors of
capitalist industry that have emerged or become more important over the past
quarter century. A new generation of workers will storm these redoubts of
non-unionism and bosses’ autocracy.
86. Strike figures have also been historically
low since the defeat of the miners’strike. It is likely that these figures
understate the levels of working class discontent. The ways the figures have
been collected have changed over recent years to encourage under-reporting.
Workers have responded to the legal and other restrictions on strike action by
resorting to short stoppages and to industrial action short of a strike. In the
case of British Airways, industrial action took the form of a mass ‘sickie’.
This shows two things: it shows how the balance of forces has shifted against
workers on the shop floor to mount any form of legitimate protest against their
conditions; and it shows that the discontent of the working class cannot be
suppressed by legal or coercive means.
87. Still the 1984-85 dispute was a turning
point. We did not realise at the time how significant a defeat it represented
for the working class as a whole. It is now only older workers who remember the
strike. It no longer impacts upon the consciousness of younger workers. We do
not hear the argument, ‘If the miners can’t win, nobody can win’ any more.
88. The individualistic reaction after a
strike defeat means that people are inclined give up on collective endeavour,
to work overtime and seek promotion rather than resort to the collective method
of increasing rates of pay as long as the economy is on the up. They cannot
take this option if the economy fails. Then they draw the conclusion that a
collective solution is the only alternative
from strike figures, the Tories’ anti-union laws have given us another measure
of workers’ readiness to struggle. That is the results of strike ballots. These
have overwhelmingly been positive. It is true that workers who vote ‘yes’ may
well understand that does not commit them to immediate and all-out action. But
it is a useful bargaining chip for the union officials. And the rank and file
does understand that, if the chip is to be used in negotiation, it has to be backed up with action.
have been using strike figures and union membership as proxies for class
consciousness. And they are useful indicators of class consciousness. But they
are not the whole story. Trade union density (trade union membership as a
proportion of the workforce) is often taken as a proxy for the strength of the
labour movement. Trade union density is probably lower in France at 8% than in
any other major European country. Yet the French workers have displayed the
most militant traditions in Europe over recent decades. Militancy and
discontent cannot be precisely expressed in figures.
wrote a pamphlet called Trade unions in
the era of imperialistic decay in which he suggested there was a tendency
in the 1930s for the union tops to become absorbed into the state machine. He
contrasted this to the ‘pure and simple’ unionism of an earlier age when
capitalism could afford reforms, and unions stuck up for their members. But of
course the period after the Second World War was not one of terminal crisis for
capitalism. Trade unions in this country remained independent of the state. When
the establishment reached out to involve the trade union leadership, it was
usually in the form of social democratic politicians offering a corporatist
agreement. The successive rounds of ‘incomes policy’ in the Wilson and
Callaghan years usually involved figleaves such as a special deal for the low
paid, in order to try to get the union
barons to co-operate with wage restraint. Since Thatcher came to number 10, no
trade union leader had been invited for beer and sandwiches. The Blair/Brown
government has maintained this tradition of intransigence, in sharp contrast to
the way in which business leaders have virtually been invited in to write
The structure of British trade unions
we know, the first trade unions in this country were craft-based. This was
relatively unusual compared with the normal pattern of union formation on the
continent, which was of politically motivated federations setting up factory
and industrially based unions. The reason was the early development of British
capitalism out of craft traditions in industry. Craft workers regarded
themselves as working class, but as the aristocracy of labour. Craft
consciousness was thus a distorted form of class consciousness. The craft
unions were an electoral prop of the Liberal Party in the nineteenth century.
Railway workers such as train drivers, guards and station porters for instance
were all on different grades. Defence of grade differentials was progressive
against the boss but reactionary within the working class movement.
the end of the nineteenth century the first permanent general unions emerged.
Their appearance coincided with new mass production industries, such as car
production. They organised the production workers, while the craft unions
represented the skilled trades such as engineers and electricians. This is in
sharp contrast with the drive for industrial unionism that developed in other
countries at around the same time. All the workers in a factory were to be in
one big union, though sub-branches could represent craft aspirations.
Industrial unionism was deliberately counterposed to craft consciousness, which
was seen as divisive.
and general unions have persisted side by side in recent decades. More recently
unions have tended to collapse into one another. Often the reasons for
amalgamation are not ones we support. Our basic aim is industrial unity. It seems the trade union bureaucracy are
concerned above all to preserve the revenue base that provides their salaries.
Industrial logic is the last thing on their minds. In many cases, such as the
recent super-union UNITE, the
membership has hardly been consulted, with the whole process railroaded
through. Amalgamate first, work out the constitution afterwards! The danger of
this approach for us is that the battle for democracy in UNITE seems to have
been already set back. The super-unions tend to produce super-branches from the
amalgamated affiliates, which make it more difficult to hold the bureaucracy to
account. But the structure of the unions is not decisive. Bigger unions can
provide opportunities as well as difficulties for revolutionaries. In the past even
the most corrupt and rotten trade unions have been transformed into instruments
of struggle by the movement of the working class. This will happen again
The working class today
determined effort has been made by journalists and other ‘theorists’ of the
ruling class to prove that the working class as a conscious political entity no
longer exists. Of course people still have to work for a living, they admit.
But the connection between workers and class consciousness has disappeared
altogether. Socialism has been abandoned as the goal of working class struggle.
In fact socialists have always been a minority within the working class
movement, except perhaps in pre-revolutionary times. Trade union membership
ebbs and flows.
who are not in a union do not avoid membership because they object to what
unions stand for. They are not anti-union. They are not in a union because the
opportunity for them to join has not arisen. In fact workers in unions are paid
more and enjoy better conditions than workers in equivalent work in
non-unionised workplaces. And non-union workers know this. For the most part
they would like to join a union. Part of the problem is that the effective
abolition of the closed shop means that organising has to start from scratch
every time an active trade unionist joins a non-union firm. Certainly the old
propaganda that unions were ‘holding the country to ransom’ that we constantly
heard in the 1970s no longer strikes a chord.
argument we have to combat is that the working class movement has been
definitively beaten. They say workers are under the hammer; there seems no
protection from the boss class at work; workers have become endlessly
‘flexible’ automata. In fact the reality is more complex. It is true that in
some of the new industries, such as call centres, they have managed to tear up the rule book which
working class strength has imposed on most contemporary capitalists. There are
undoubted cases of paying very low wages to a segmented section of the working
class. But for most workers, real wages have risen through most of the past
period. But so too has the intensity of work. Without the shield of the union,
workers have found an individual way to improve their living standards. Often
this involves working long hours, sometimes unpaid overtime. Workers are more
and more shackled to their place of work by debt. But if living standards are improving
without struggle, why struggle? The period since the defeat of the miners’
strike in 1985 is not dominated by defeats, as the early 1930s was, but by lack
is worth reviewing the conclusions of
Robert Taylor in Britain’s world of work,
published by the ESRC. This body, and the author, are completely dedicated to
the belief that harmony should exist between labour and
capital. His conclusions are utterly at odds with this pious hope. "It is hard
not to reach the conclusion that class and occupational differences remain of
fundamental importance to any understanding of our world of work….we continue
to live in a society and political economy where class differences remain of
crucial importance to our understanding of employment."
notes that occupational and social mobility have actually declined since the
period of the post-War boom. This is a remarkable finding. The government holds
that education is the road to social mobility. It will in effect bring a
classless society, a meritocracy. Yet after the Second World War the ruling
class was forced to promote people from working class backgrounds through the
education system to help them run a modern economy. Now, it seems, the
drawbridge has been pulled up. Despite more than 40% of workers having degrees,
compared with about 10% graduate workers in the 1960s, this is not a passport
to social advancement. The very development of mass higher education has
devalued the significance of a degree as the passport to a lucrative career.
is notable that an increased proportion
of the workforce are skilled compared with the past. They may have a formal
qualification or some form of in-house training and experience that gives them
some bargaining power. Bosses cannnot afford to sack such workers at will.
Since these workers enjoy better pay and conditions than the unskilled in
Macjobs, they are likely to fight to keep what they’ve got rather than just
collect their cards when things get tough.
also records that job satisfaction has declined across the board over the last
ten years, and that long working hours are increasingly the norm. On the other
hand he puts paid to the myth of a totally flexible workforce. Gordon Brown and
New Labour constantly boast about Anglo-Saxon flexibility which brings us
higher employment and economic prosperity. What they mean by ‘flexibility’ is
management’s right to hire and fire at will and the restoration of bosses’
autocracy on the shop floor. This may be an effective way of running firms
based on unskilled tasks such as flipping burgers. It beggars belief that
Britain can earn its living in the world by competing in the world of Macjobs
with the poorest and lowest paid economies in the world. It is also startlingly
at odds with the government rhetoric about a ‘knowledge economy’. In fact from
1992-99 the fastest growing occupation in Britain was that of hairdressing. It
is not obvious how all these hairdressers are going to earn enough foreign
exchange to overcome the massive payments gap with other countries.
fact workers in temporary employment have declined since the 1990s. Likewise
job tenure has actually increased over the past ten years. So it is absolutely untrue that fundamental
changes in the nature of work have taken place over recent decades, though
there is no doubt the pace of work has become more intense.
study The future of the unions paints
a relatively rosy picture of the strength of trade union organisation. He
points out that membership is higher than in 1946, which most people would take
to be a time of working class self-confidence.
union density has fallen from 31% in 1996 to 28% in 2006. But of course most of
the membership fall was recorded before that, during the mass unemployment and
wave of factory closures of the early 1980s under Thatcher. Wilson observes
that the typical trade unionist is likely to be a woman working from an office,
rather than a male in an industrial occupation. (Women are now a small majority
in the TUs.) The increasingly graduate workforce, in cases where workers have
some independence at work, some control over the pace and direction of work and
are trying to build careers, encourages the workers to see the advantages of
trade union representation at work.
is disappointing is the failure of the TUs to crack the new industries that
have grown up – so far at least. Trade union membership is disproportionately
concentrated in the public sector and old-established traditional working class
workplaces. It will fall to a future generation of trade unionists to draw the
workers in these new industries into the ranks of the organised working class.
new opportunity and threat opens up on account of the mass immigration into the
labour force from eastern Europe in recent years. This is a huge movement, more
significant in numbers than the immigration of Asian and Afro-Caribbean workers
in the years of the post-War boom. The only possible comparison is with the
migration of starving Irish into Britain in the nineteenth century.
danger lies in the appearance of a segmented workforce. We see immigrant labour
concentrated in areas such as fruit and vegetable picking, organised by
gangmasters in the way described by Marx in Capital.
We see them flood into construction. British capitalism has for decades
neglected the developing and sharpening of workers’s skills in the building
industry and elsewhere. Now they overcome their neglect by poaching skilled
workers from all over Europe and super-exploiting them in the process. It is
clear that some east European workers do not speak much English because they
don’t work with or mix with British-born workers. They are prepared for the
time being to accept worse wages and conditions in different workplaces and
some ways the alternative is worse. Some immigrant workers are being taken on
by agencies to undercut the wages of workers in existing workplaces who are on
the books. Agency work is casualisation. This obviously poses the danger of a
split in the working class. Organising the new workers is a huge task for the
might be expected there are different prospects for different sections of the
working class. In London there are huge construction works. There are
skyscrapers that will dwarf anything already on the London skyline. Then there
are the Olympics. With a deadline to meet, that gives the workers building them
enviable bargaining power like those electrical workers employed on the Jubilee
Line extension before the millennium. This is a real opportunity for the trade
110. Another thing to watch out for in the next few years
is, if the trade unions fail to organise Eastern European workers, there may be
a backlash against them and the bosses could foment racism within the ranks of
the working class.
The trade union bureaucracy
trade union leaders argue that their moderation is caused by their concern not
to let the members’ assets be seized by the state and the ruling class. The
problem, they say, is the anti-union laws. There is more than a suspicion that
this has become a standing excuse for cowardice and inaction on their part. The
Prison Officers’ Association defied the law in the form of
an injunction and got clean away with it. After all, what were the authorities
supposed to do to them – put them in prison?
anti-union laws are an alibi for the trade union leaders. But they are an
important shackle on the effectiveness of strike activity by the members. Take
the case of the dockers’ dispute that led up to the jailing of the Pentonville
Five in 1972. The dockers were mass picketing (now illegal) warehouses of firms
with whom they were not directly in dispute (secondary picketing – now illegal). Not only were these activities
illegal. They were very effective as a way of winning strikes, and that is why
the ruling class responded so strongly by jailing them. The Pentonville Five
were released after their imprisonment led to a virtual general strike in protest.
But the bosses were determined all the more to make effective industrial action
illegal. Under Thatcher they got their way. The changes in the law have shifted
the balance of forces in favour of the employers. But the laws only remain on
the statute books because of the indecisiveness of the trade union tops in
the miners’ strike we saw a huge swing to the right among the trade union tops,
under the banner of ‘new realism’. The swing went on for a long time, and many
took it for a permanent change. Sir Ken Jackson and other trade union leaders
went so far as to pioneer a strategy of signing no-strike union deals with
employers to get their foot in the door, going so far as to virtually turn
their organisations into company unions. USDAW is another guilty party. Tesco
is now the largest single employer in the private sector. It is unionised. But
that fact means virtually nothing to Tesco workers. The union does not give
them a voice at work.
discontent of the ranks with this subservience was not shown by open rebellion
and strikes in the first instance, but by the election of one left wing trade
union leader after another. The pendulum began to swing back to the left from
the mid-1990s. At this distance in time we sometimes do not realise what a huge
effort it was to get rid of Sir Ken Jackson and replace him with Derek Simpson
as head of AMICUS, for instance. For the most part these left union leaders
were untested in struggle. Their leftism was mainly verbal. This is the key to
explaining what happened next.
question to answer is, what happened to the ‘awkward squad’? The trajectory of
Simpson is probably the clearest case. Elected on a clear repudiation of
everything that Jackson stood for, Simpson has taken over Jackson’s methods and
machinery at the top of the union. Possibly the machinery of the union has
rather taken him over. Whatever, there
has been a realignment at the top of the union, and Derek Simpson has now clearly
come out as a right winger and witch hunter.
Matt Wrack, FBU
left in the trade union leadership is actually split now. There remain a
minority of trade union leaders who remain committed class warriors and
defenders of their members. Matt Wrack, Jeremy Dear and Mark Serwotka are three.
It is not accidental that these leaders were actively involved in the struggles
in the last period of industrial upsurge in the 1970s and 1980s. That was a
formative experience for them. Their stance is now sharply at odds with the
likes of Simpson.
move to the right is not just disappointing for the activists who worked for
change. It has been a big setback for the working class. At the end of 2007 we
see that there was no general movement of public sector workers against wage
restraint. A great opportunity was lost. The government has made it clear that
they offer public sector workers years of real wage cuts. At present the Police
Federation seems more militant about this than the trade unions!
central problem for the movement is the pathetic dependence of the TUC tops on
the Labour government rather than leading independent action. This has given
New Labour a whip hand in dictating terms. The trade union leaders have given
away their powers over policy-making at Labour Party Conference – for a cosy deal with Blair and Brown. In doing so
they are actually helping right wing Labour lay down policies that could lose
the next election. When New Labour rightly stands indicted of institutional
corruption, a defence of the democratic framework by which millions of working
class people take part in the decision-making process of the Party they founded
to defend their interests should not be too difficult.
119. The bureaucracy have exhausted all the
excuses for failing to stand up to the government. Presumably, if asked why
they failed to resist the Brown ultimatum on abandoning their democratic
decision-making rights, they would plead that a general election was impending
in autumn 2007. Now Brown has since backed away from an election, Party
democracy should be put right back on the agenda.
happened to the Warwick agreement? The proposal to give equal rights to agency
workers, for instance, was actually put in the 2005 Labour Party Election
Manifesto. Not only are the Labour leaders ratting on the agreement with the
unions, they are ratting on their promise to the British people, and the trade
union leaders are letting them get away with it. The demand by the sects that a
new working class party be set up based on the trade unions is ridiculous. It
is the TU leaders who have let the Labour leaders get away with so much so far.
bureaucracy are absolutely pivotal to our understanding of British
perspectives. At present they are the main link betweeen the industrial and
political arms of the labour movement. When the sects or frustrated left
wingers denounce the Labour leadership as the worst Labour government ever and
a continuation of Thatcherism by other means, we have no reason to disagree
with them. What we have the duty to point out is that they can only get away
with this because the representatives of the unions on the National Executive
Committee of the Labour Party (who are officials, of course) have sat on their
hands as anti-working class policies, and policies that sometimes mean
wholesale sackings of their own members (as in the case of Royal Mail), have
been discussed and nodded through. The
undemocratic National Policy Forum has been accepted as the main policy-making body of the Party because the trade
union bureaucracy accepted its setting up and the consequent removal of decision-making powers from the floor of
Party Conference. They have accepted their own castration as a force at Party
Conference, giving up using the block vote to defend decisions democratically
arrived at by their own members, and denying themselves (and the
constituencies) the right to move resolutions that determine Party policy. Finally
they connived at the sabotage of the McDonnell leadership challenge, which
would have blown the whistle on right wing Labour’s undemocratic game. All this
they have connived at by squalid behind the scenes deals with New Labour. They
are a central prop of this government and its rotten policies.
122. The trade union leadership could not wait for a Labour
government to come to power because they did not know what to do against the
Tories. They hoped life would be easy under Labour. The Labour government has
moderated the extremes of the Tories on GCHQ union recognition, granted a low
minimum wage, given legal rights after 12 months working and made other small
concessions. But the anti-union legislation is still in place. There is no
legal right to strike in this country. Britain still violates international
legislation by the ILO on union rights. Today the trade union leaders do not
know what to do about the Labour leadership. They don’t want to do anything.
They do not want to raise their heads above the parapet because they would have
to put an alternative. That would either be the Tories or socialism – they want
neither. They don’t want to oppose the Labour leadership and be blamed for
bringing the Tories back. If the Tories did get in, what excuses can the trade
union leadership have not to fight?
cannot say when the industrial situation will break. We do know the pressures
are building up and the present period of relative calm cannot continue