|‘Red Ed’ and ‘Red Len’ – as blue as can be|
Ed Miliband’s decision to break the automatic affiliation for union members to the Labour Party was a historic one – forever and completely smashing the idea of Labour being in some way a party for the working class. That idea goes back to the party’s formation as a vehicle “promoting legislation in the direct interests of labour”, as first leader Keir Hardie proposed. The transformation of Labour into just another ruling class party is now 100% complete. However, Miliband’s supposed opponent in all this, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, is no man of principle. Like Miliband, he seeks to channel opposition to the government behind him, to gain more power and influence. Neither offers any way forward for workers in struggle.
Much remains a mystery about the trigger for all this. Last week, the Labour leadership charged that Unite were using “corrupt practice” to win their preferred person a candidature in Falkirk. Unite denied this, but the police were called in. That investigation is still ongoing, so by making this change now, Miliband is clearly prejudicing the case.
An aspect of the story ignored by all the corporate media I’ve seen is that Unite do have a publicly-published strategy to gain greater influence within the party. This was published last June, with a statement claiming that in previous years:
“…for all the talk of ‘reclaiming’ the party, little progress was made. This has led to great frustration within the union, the more so since the party’s requests for financial support from our union and others have continued unabated. So it is time for a change.”
A key part of this strategy for change was to get Unite members active within Constituency Labour Parties, and “Unite industrial activists need to consider becoming Labour candidates at all levels”, so “Unite will launch a Future Candidates Programme (FCP). We will promote a new generation of Unite activists towards public office.” This was because “That only 4% of the MPs in Parliament are from manual occupations is a notable part of the crisis of working class representation.” Unite hoped that altering the balance would be a step towards “winning the general election” for Labour by “winning back the 5 million lost voters”. In other words, Unite hoped to save the Labour Party from its unrepresentative self.
Ed Miliband has known about this since at least last summer. Within a day of Unite’s proposal being published, the Labour right was sounding alarm about how “The political terms of engagement are being re-written. Money and resources will now directly equate to control.” Sure, the right wing media has seized upon Falkirk, but perhaps that has given Miliband the excuse he has long been looking for. After all, the ‘Refounding Labour’ proposals put forward by the National Executive Committee at the 2011 conference sought to dilute the unions’ power. Tony Blair’s support for severing the union link suggests that this is a direction the Labour leadership has been heading in for years. Falkirk provided the ideal opportunity. Just like Blair’s elimination of the by then largely symbolic Clause Four, Miliband has proved himself a ‘tough’ – i.e. right wing – Labour leader, who will trample of his party’s left in order to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.
But ‘Red Len’ McCluskey is no socialist either – he just plays one in the media. He talked of “civil disobedience” to the Tory-led coalition nearly two years ago, but nothing has materialised. In the meantime he has – in collaboration with other union tops – managed the public sector pensions dispute to a standstill, and has not lifted a finger to save hundreds of thousands of job losses.
Similarly, the Unite strategy document might have talked about “Winning a Labour government which will govern in the interests of working class people and towards a socialism for the 21st century”. But just one month ago, when Miliband and his Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls announced they would deepen the austerity begun by the coalition, McCluskey declared: “If Ed Miliband continues in this vein, then he will win working people back to Labour.” On Labour’s Workfare rebranding, which still involves forced Labour, McCluskey added that “Labour now needs to firm these up, working with unions, as well as employers, because with our connection to millions of working people we can bring these promises to life.”
This sentence sums up the way union leaderships view themselves as a bridge between exploiters and exploited, raking in upwards of a hundred grand a year to sell ever-worsening living and working standards to their memberships. This is because – structurally speaking – workers and union bosses are enemies.
The way forward for the working class does not lie in the establishment’s pet unions, which haven’t won a struggle in decades. And neither does it lie in voting for any political party, because even a magically existing well-intentioned government would have to run a capitalist economy. It lies in seizing control of our own struggles, in our workplaces and communities, and cutting out anyone who wants paying to manage our interests.