Unite General Secretary-elect Len McCluskey writes a thoughtful article on trade union strategy in the face of the government's plans to dismember the public sector. For his pains he's earned condemnation from a clueless Graun editorial, and, according to Next Left, a slapping down from Ed Miliband. This has been attributed to 'Not-So-Red' Ed:
Ed warned about using overblown rhetoric about strikes in his conference speech and this is a case in point. The language and tone of Len McCluskey’s comments are wrong and unhelpful and Ed Miliband will be making that clear when he meets him in the near future.It makes you wonder whether Ed Miliband, or the mini-me who does his press, bothered reading the article in question. I'd wager they looked at a Graun *commentary* on McCluskey's position and slipped into their default distancing setting.
Of course, some on the far left will take this as proof Labour needs displacing by a new workers' party, yadda, yadda. But as Socialist Unity's polemical thread against the Socialist Party's regrettable sectarian turn demonstrates, this is nothing new. Labour party leaders have been falling short of radical expectations since 1900. Well before the New Labour era leaders and leadership figures were attacking striking workers, condemning demonstrations, betraying working class interests, supporting wars overseas, pandering to racism, sexism and homophobia, kowtowing to capital, and shafting trade unions. And guess what? A section of the membership inconsistently and with varying degrees of enthusiasm have always gone along with this.
Once again, and apologies to readers for labouring the point, short of massive dislocations and insurgent militancy (and probably not even then) a mainstream Labour figure like Ed Miliband is not going to adopt any of the 57 varieties of transitional programmes for socialist revolution. It's therefore nonsensical to criticise him for failing to adopt the key reference points of the far left's frame. Nor will our dear leader be making soothing noises about strike action and trade union militancy any time soon. He and his team inhabits a political universe structured and policed by a cosy consensus of politicians, the media, and other professional opinion-formers. Pressure here is exerted by the unfavourable editorial, the negative opinion poll, the inconvenient think tank report, the disloyal backbench whispering. Within its own terms, trade unions and 'the people' are unwelcome and illegitimate interlopers in the political parlour game. Its one thing to address the wider population as an atomised electorate, quite another to see them as potential political actors endowed with their own interests.
Crucially, since the crisis, the hesitating steps toward Keynes-lite, and the party settling down to life on the opposition benches, the nature of political space has changed. As the Coalition's policies start to bite and the anti-cuts movement takes on more flesh by the day, Labour is increasingly becoming a repository of hopes and aspirations - in spite of its 'official' position in favour of "slow and shallow" cuts. The tens of thousands who've joined Labour since May are the tip of a very giant ice berg that is slowly turning in the party's direction. As a means of putting left wing arguments to a wider public Labour is, once again, an increasingly indispensable avenue for socialist politics to travel. Despite the utterances of its leadership.