Sunday 14 June 2015

Liz Kendall on Trade Unions

In the leadership campaign so far, Liz Kendall has - unfairly in my view - been characterised by her opponents as a Tory. So perhaps more than any other candidate she has to demonstrate her pro-trade union creds, which she did last week. As a firm believer of taking someone at their word until their actions demonstrate otherwise, when she writes "as a proud trade unionist I will fight to my last breath to defend the existence of effective, free and independent trade unions", that should be taken as her considered, sincere position.

Liz argues that her priority is to build an economy that is pro-business and pro-worker. This is a common enough view found in the Labour Party. Business needs labour to make things and provide services, and labour needs business to provide it a wage to live off. Capital and labour therefore should be in partnership with one another. Where trade unions come in is that they ensure fairness at work, to ensure the labour end of the equation is protected from unscrupulous bosses. But more than that, for Liz trade unions can act as an efficient transmission belt of innovative ideas from the shop floor to management and (whisper it) for keeping the workforce disciplined around common objectives.

Therefore, as trade unions are vital for future economic prosperity a future Labour government should use its power to help renew the labour movement. Here, she floats the idea that ballots for industrial action should be conducted online also. As this "practical step" is prefaced with a "such as" perhaps she has more views in mind. Pledging to undo the new restrictions on trade union activity the Tories are wanting to implement and going further to roll back workplace laws that stayed on the books during the Labour years would be welcome and confound expectations of the others. To have the leadership frontrunners outbidding each other on trade union rights and protections is one argument I'd love to see.

The rest of the article is about the necessity for trade unions to recruit in the insecure and low paid sectors, and start making inroads into the private sector more generally - particularly those sectors where small and medium-sized enterprises predominate. Liz is right, of course, but then again it's not as if unions don't employ paid organisers to try and recruit from these sectors.

As a fan of the symptomatic reading - the idea what goes unsaid can be just as significant as what is - there is still serious cause for concern if Liz wins the Labour leadership. Once again, what we're not seeing is any understanding of the link between the party and the movement that founded it. She says trade unions are a Good Thing, but that's it. Like a liberal, Liz has internalised the formal split between economics and politics. There is still no comprehension that in really-existing reality, not the bubble simulated by Westminster and its media amplifier, that the unions and the party are a constituency and a movement possessing certain interests and moving in certain directions.

I'm not criticising Liz for not being a Marxist, though one doesn't have to subscribe to historical materialism to see that the interdependence of capital and labour is inescapably contradictory. What she does need to understand, as do the other candidates, is that only by recruiting millions to the unions, strengthening workplace organisation, and making sure policies deliver for them and our people can Labour ever hope to survive and thrive. The Tories never make the mistake of kicking their constituency, and neither should we. Labour should be in the business of prosecuting the interests it stands on, that is the only way we can supplant our enemies as the natural party of government.


asquith said...

I met her champion, Hunt, yesterday. He was introducing William Dalrymple and making the latest in his series of failed bids to interest people in his book. :)

jim mclean said...

Andrew Carnegie

The right of the working-men to combine and to form trades-unions is no less sacred than the right of the manufacturer to enter into associations and conferences with his fellows, and it must sooner or later be conceded. I - See more at:

Boffy said...


You say,

"though one doesn't have to subscribe to historical materialism to see that the interdependence of capital and labour is inescapably contradictory."

There is a contradiction, but its not a contradiction that is "inescapable". In The Grundrisse Marx describes the basis of the escape from the contradiction in which Labour is no longer "not capital", and capital is no longer "not labour".

In Capital Volume III, Marx writes more specifically about the resolution of the contradiction within Capitalism, as the process of transition between Capitalism and Socialism - as he makes clear that the process of dissolution of the former just as with its development would be a long drawn out one.

He writes, that the joint stock companies as much as the co-operatives should be viewed as the transitional forms of the one mode of production to the other, with the contradiction between capital and labour being resolved negatively in the one and positively in the other.

I understand that Kendall is a supporter of the Co-operative movement. That doesn't mean too much as what people have in mind in terms of co-operation can vary from Liberalism to Communism. It does indicate the extent of the need for some new thinking with open minds.

At the weekend, Chuka Umunna got it right about Labour's history and the deficit, though his comments about how small Labour's average deficit was compared to the period under Thatcher and Major, but left the door open for his words to be distorted by the Tory media, who only repeated statements about needing to clear the deficit. Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn avoided that weakness, but only by being limited to a repetition of old statist, failed solutions of the past.