The question we really should ask is when wouldn't a Tory party attack the right to collective action?
George Osborne's latest gaffe as some are calling it reveals the true agenda of the Conservatives. They have always fought hard against the right of workers to combine in order to improve and defend their hard earned terms and conditions. After 11 years of a Labour government you would have thought that workers would have cast iron legislation to protect them from the worst excesses of national and international capitalism.
Sadly workers I believe are in a much weaker position economically now then they ever had been in the last 30 odd years.The original laws set in place by the Tories to curb the power of organised labour plus the breakdown of industry and working class communities by their policies, has created this flexible world where workers are at the complete mercy of employers. The Tories know this and with Labour languishing in the polls its time to go for the jugular.
What is to be done?
Calling for the formation of a new workers party, while a bold and noble suggestion, is not going to stop Osborne getting his way at the next general election which will be within the next couple of years. It completely unrealistic and will take valuable activists away from the struggle to keep the Tories out.
Asking for left Labour MPs to break from the Labour Party and to be some kind of 'beacon' to attract votes is unrealistic either. For a start the non labour left themselves struggle to find enough activists as it is and unfortunately are seen as much too divided. The net result of left MPs splitting away would be that we lose these voices in parliament as they are crushed by the main parties.It wont stop Cameron and his clowns.
Currently the only show in town are the Trade Unions themselves and their political voice , the Labour Representation Committee. As as much as it pains me to say it, especially when I hear people like Hutton, Brown, Blears and Miliband etc, Labour has to be kept in if only to play for time while trade unions build up their strength to oppose the Bosses economically and to strengthen their voice politically. Workers must use the power they have through the Unions in their affiliation to the Labour Party, to fight for their policies even if it is through the National Policy Forums.
If that battle ground is what at the moment is what is left of the Labour Party, and yes it is in a sorry state, then so be it.
Just remember if the Tories do get in we could see the wheels taken off the current resurgance of working class militancy. If they do get in it will be if nothing had changed since 1997.
Think Australia, Howard and his Work Choices but without the effective campaigning which eventually kicked him out because the Tories would have pushed through legislation tobreak the link between the TUs and is political wing.
Sunday, 13 April 2008
A proposal will be before this year's Annual Conference to change the rules governing leadership elections. It is a modest proposal. It will only have an impact when there is a vacancy for the role. But, small though it is, it is of the utmost importance.
There are members who could have been in the party for nearly 15 years who have never had the opportunity to vote in a leadership election. What happened last year was not just bad for us, bad for supporters of John McDonnell, bad for the left - it was bad for the party, it was bad for all party members, it was bad for Gordon Brown. It is very important that it cannot happen again.
There are other ways to ensure a contest.
You could take the Tory approach - so the membership always get to choose between two candidates. But why restrict our role so greatly?
Some will say - it shouldn't be difficult to find a candidate who can persuade an eighth of the PLP to support them; they should endear themselves to their colleagues, etc, etc. Fine. Fair enough. But why should it be just up to MPs to decide who that endearing, 'credible' candidate is? The whole reason we have a preferential voting system is so the voting itself makes that decision, not cabals of powerful men. Those who make this point would presumably have preferred a different left candidate for the leadership. Well the only part of the system where 'splitting the vote' is a problem is the nominations: otherwise why not have multiple candidates and let the various rounds in the college decide which is 'credible' rather than twenty-or-so MPs?
Look at the leadership election of 1976. It was bad for many reasons: it didn't involve members, it didn't involve trade unionists. What it did have were six candidates, representing really quite nuanced differences of opinion in our movement. Tony Crosland only got 17 votes in the first round (about 5% of the MPs who voted). Was Crosland a maverick without support who should have been frozen out at the nominations phase? I don't think so. Denis Healey only got about 9% in the first round. Imagine if that election had gone to an electoral college? People would have been musing on whether to give their first preferences to Benn or Foot, Healey or Callaghan, Jenkins or Crosland. It would have given members a real boost, it would have given whoever was successful (and I suspect it may still have been Callaghan, though it isn't certain) a real flavour of what opinion in the party was. It would have involved the unions. Who knows it may even have won us the '79 election?
So, when thinking about this 'little', modest change, you should also think about the potentially enormous difference it could make. Push for your conference delegates to support it!