Monday 20 December 2010

Ed in 'Not So Red' Shocker

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.


guthrie said...

I'm afraid I dont' understand this. IN the second last paragraph you admit that the leadership are out of touch, undemocratic and not really interested, but somehow in the last paragraph you are celebrating that lots of people are interested in joining the party etc.

So the critical point is, how do interested left wingers influence the party? I'd be tempted to vote for them if they stopped being authoritarian and were palnning on reversing the market madness which is already in the NHS and being planned for universities.

Alex Dawson said...

I can understand the SP position of wanting to portray Labour as an enemy at least as big (if not bigger) than the Tories, as that has been the party position for some years and was when I was a member. It is just a shame that this consideration appears to have now overtaken the pragmatism and nuanced understanding of the political dynamics at play that initially drew me to the SP.

Whether we like it or not, when looked at in the whole, there was a quantifiable difference even between New Labour and the Tories. Blair was forced to enact union friendly legislation such as statutory recognition and right to be accompanied that have totally transformed the landscape for many workers, and union activists in particular.

When the then SSP collapsed so spectacularly in a sectarian quagmire, along with the various failures of the Socialist Alliance, then Respect, I think it really affected the confidence of many union members and left-leaning voters to building an alternative.

Understanding and acknowledging these factors is crucial to understanding why, right now, there is no appetite amongst most trade unionists to setting up an alternative to Labour. Whilst it is true that many union members are angry about a lot of what Blair did, many are also astute enough to recognise the difference and know that the best way to BEGIN to stop all this is to get shot of the Tories.

It is a shame the new workers party line has become such a shibboleth to the extent that it requires many to spout the lie that Labour is now “dead” as a party and that workers “hate it” with a vengeance. The polls, the election results and the evidence in front of us today simply does not support this assertion. Like it or not, many thousands of young people have joined the Labour party since the Lib Dem betrayal in the hope of changing things and stopping this shitty charade, and the ultra-Blairites were subsequently dealt a blow to their control by trade union voters in the leadership election. Small steps I grant you, but infinitely bigger and more quantifiable steps than any achieved by the non-Labour left in the UK since 1997.

Ed will not suddenly come out supporting strikes and spouting lefty rhetoric in public as it would be suicide to do so in the face of our hysterical tabloid media, even though its influence is waning in this day and age.

The point is that Labour has done basically nothing and is ahead in the polls by default as anger against the cuts starts to grow. And short of the revolution itself, this government are here to stay for five years as the liberals know they are electorally finished so want to milk the gravy train for all it is worth. So there is a long game to play.

In that period, political conditions can change to such a point that Ed will be forced to politically attack the cuts and come on board with trade unions.

It is the sort of conditions that could be assisted greatly with a broad-based national anti-cuts movement which could draw mass support and force the political debate back to a position of "no cuts".

It would, therefore, be helpful in winning that debate if the left could come together instead of divisively splitting the anti-cuts movement in three before it is even born. I fear that, yet again, sectarian concern over the preservation of their long-standing bureaucracies and getting some more bodies in the revolving door is taking precedence over the wider unity that the left needs to be displaying right now...

Phil said...

Speaking of Ed Miliband making political attacks on the cuts, I have reason to believe he will be on the (hopefully) mammoth TUC march on 26th March.

Guthrie, it's pretty simple. While opportunities are opening up to influence policy direction what with the organisation review and Ed being keen to consolidate a base within the party vis a vis the neoliberal right, this has never been the sole reason or even the main reason for socialist participation in the Labour party. I joined Labour because I thought the space to Labour's left was closing and there were more opportunities to rebuild the labour movement from with the party that, despite everything, remains its political arm. And I think that's being born out. It might not mean much but of four local new recruits I've spoken to these last couple of weeks - all under 30, and three of them under 18(!) - they are bloody angry about the cuts and want to get involved in conventional and 'unconventional' politics. A ready audience for socialist politics, don't you think?

Boffy said...


I agree with your points, but just to pick up on something Guthrie said, he said, he'd vote for Labour if they stopped being this, that and the other. But, how does he think they will stop being this, that and the other, unless socialists join it, and start fighting to try to change it. That's how any social organisation be it a party or an entire society is changed. It requires people to actually DO something rather than wistfully thinking about what they might do if only the world were perfect!!!!

Phil said...

Sadly Boffy, it's because too much of the far left are guided not by strategic considerations but revolutionary identity politics.