In the aftermath of the row over the selection process in Falkirk, Labour leader Ed Miliband has gone on the offensive, calling for the weakening of the union affiliation to the Labour Party. Workers and trade unionists should respond to these calls by defending the Union-Labour link and actively fighting for socialist policies inside the Party.
In the aftermath of the row over the selection process in Falkirk, Labour leader Ed Miliband has gone on the offensive. In a speech sure to please Progress and the Tories, the comically mis-named ‘Red Ed’ called for the weakening of the union affiliation to the Labour Party, and the introduction of US-style ‘primaries’ for candidate-selection, open to anyone who has registered as a ‘supporter’ of the Labour Party.
Ever since Neil Kinnock moved against the Militant in Liverpool, the right-wing of the Labour Party have been on a constant march to purge the Party of all vestiges of socialism and working-class representation. The modern Parliamentary Labour Party is stuffed to the gills with the most rotten middle-class careerists, with no interest in seriously fighting the Tories or their Liberal stooges. It is in this context that we must try to understand this latest speech by the Labour leader.
What do these proposals mean?
Whilst Ed Miliband dresses up these proposals as an attempt to ‘clean up’ politics and introduce ‘fairness and transparency’, the reality is very different. Miliband accuses Unite of trying to ‘rig’ the selection process in Falkirk, by recruiting 100 members to the local Party without their knowledge. This is flatly denied by Unite leader Len McCluskey, and Ed Miliband has ‘mysteriously’ declined to furnish us with any evidence to back up his accusations.
Like Tony Blair before him, Miliband is trying to reduce the party’s dependency on the unions for political and financial support. He hopes to prevent the unions intervening in the Labour Party as an organised force – individual, atomised members pose less of a threat than an organised opposition.
However, he risks bankrupting the Party in the process; even Blair’s attempts to secure big-business funding blew up in his face with the cash-for-honours scandal. Miliband will be forced to rely more and more on the financial resources of Lord Sainsbury’s Progress, who have dominated the parliamentary selection process for many years. Not once does he criticise this shadowy, undemocratic organisation – he has no problem with such people controlling candidate selection.
As for his proposal to introduce primaries, the creation of a loose network of ‘supporters’, who never attend branch meetings or take part in political discussions, will serve to undermine the democratic organs of the party. ‘Supporters’ can be corralled into door-knocking and phone-banking at electiontime, without all those inconvenient democratic rights and political discussions that ordinary members might enjoy.
Why is the Labour leadership proposing this?
Many will wonder why Miliband is prepared to risk losing millions of pounds of donations to the party, and hock it to millionaire businessmen like Lord Sainsbury. In order to answer this question, we must understand the wider context of these events.
The Labour Party will most likely find itself in power after the next election, either with an absolute majority or in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. This is because the Party still enjoys huge reserves of support from the working-class: despite everything, it polled over 10 million votes in the last general election, and over 64,000 people joined in the months after the coaliton government was formed.
However, the current Labour Party leadership have said they will continue the Tory programme of cuts and austerity. All across Europe, the social democratic parties are dancing to the tune of the 1%, promising (and delivering) hammer blows to the 99%. Even the leadership of Syriza – the radical left party in Greece – have moved sharply to the right.
Why are these parties of the working-class carrying out programmes that are bound to alienate the people who vote for them? The answer is that all of these parties accept capitalism, and there is no alternative to austerity under capitalism.
We know that big business in Britain alone is sat on top of a £900 billion cash surplus, which they will not invest. Why would they? How could they invest profitably during a worldwide capitalist crisis?
As we have explained before, this crisis is fundamentally a crisis of overproduction. On the one hand, capitalists are driven by competition to produce more, cheaper goods than their competitors, and to constantly revolutionise technology and productive technique. On the other hand, because the profits of the capitalists are essentially the unpaid wages of their workers, the workers can never buy back the commodities they have produced. This fundamental limit to growth can be temporarily overcome by opening up new markets, or by expanding credit. Both of these processes have their limits, however, and sooner or later the ‘excess productive capacity’ must be destroyed.
The crises of the 1930s and today are much deeper than those of Marx’s time, since the world market has expanded to cover much of the globe. It took the Second World War to destroy enough of the productive forces to allow the post-war boom, and even serious capitalist analysts, such as those at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, predict that the current crisis will last past 2020.
Today, the programme of big business is to plunder the state, drive workers to starvation and strip them of their right to fight back in order to get out of this crisis. Faced with implementing such aprogramme, Miliband must ‘soften up’ the Labour Party, and remove all political tendencies that will oppose it. The unions are currently a long way to the left of the Labour Party, closer as they are to their working-class base, and the rank-and-file membership of the Party is a long way to the left of the leadership. That is why Miliband seeks to emasculate both.
How should we fight this?
The statements of the Labour leadership represent a serious attack on the working class and our right to political representation, and all remnants of Blairism and right-wing cliques in th Party must be opposed. With depressing predictability, many of the sects on the fringes of the movement have responded with calls to disaffiliate Unite and the other unions from the Labour Party, with the slogans calling to “Break the union link with Labour!” That people on the ‘left’ should echo the slogans of the Tories and Labour right-wing is disgraceful. Such antics will not be taken seriously by the workers in Unite or any other union.
One does not respond to attacks by the right-wing by surrendering abjectly. Blairism and any pro-austerity policies of the Labour leadership must be fought. Motions should be taken into every trade union branch, and every Labour Party constituency and ward meeting. If the current Labour leaders are not willing to fight against the cuts and for socialist policies, then they should be pushed aside and replaced by a leadership prepared to fight for the working-class, and not big business and the city.
The Labour Party must adopt a socialist programme, nationalising the banks and big monopolies under workers’ control, using their profits to fund a massive programme of investment in jobs, public services and housing.
- Defend the union-Labour link!
- Oppose Blairism and the right-wing in the Labour Party!
- For a fighting socialist programme!