Monday 20 June 2022

Banning Solidarity

How is not turning up on rail workers' picket lines "showing leadership"? I ask, because this is the argument Keir Starmer used in a memo circulated to shadow cabinet members banning them from public displays of solidarity with strikers. It goes on to instruct them to "speak to members of your team to remind them of this and confirm with me that you have done so", having said the party already has established "robust lines". Because decrying strikes while half-heartedly criticising the Tories for provoking the dispute is what firmness looks like.

Labour Party politics come in two kinds. It either leads public opinion, which is always heavily manipulated, or tails it. Considering the right wing press have fallen behind the Tory line and their coverage is repackaged and spun by the BBC as faux "real concerns" about kids doing their exams and patients travelling to hospital appointments, as with so many other issues Starmer's "leadership" is a capitulation to pro-Tory framing. While this might be thought in terms of grubbing extra votes from imagined Sun readers who dwell exclusively in Leader's Office heads, distancing is him telling Briton's bosses that when push comes to shove, no government of his will back groups of workers against employers. Yes, he's promised some enhanced trade union rights but the responsible thing is for industrial disputes to sort themselves out, with the state - his administration - aloof from the fray. They have nothing to fear from Labour.

Let there be no doubt. "Showing leadership" in this situation is standing up against the government, rebutting Tory lies that fixate on drivers' wages - even though they're not striking, demanding to know where the Covid subsidy that kept rail afloat during the most acute phase of the pandemic went, and associating Labour with organised labour taking action to defend their livelihoods - and the network itself.

But Starmer's cowardice has a lineage that long pre-dates him. Remember, it only became standard to expect senior Labour politicians on picket lines during the Corbyn interlude. Before then, overt support from Labour MPs outside of the left were few and far between. During the Blair years, ministers almost relished industrial disputes as a means of showing how tough they were. In its actions and rhetoric during the firefighters' dispute of 2002-3 for instance, there was little to nothing separating New Labour from their Tory forebears. And throughout the long years of Conservative rule, disavowal and distancing from strike action was the norm, not the exception.

The inglorious tradition stretches back further still, and recalls the contradictions of Labourism. Once the party broke into the mainstream and sent parliamentarians to the big house, from the get go there was always a fraction not just temperamentally suited to the constitutionalism of procedure, but much preferred it to the messy business of winning advances on the industrial front. They wre a cut above, looked down on the people who put them there, and believed themselves superior to them. From their exalted positions they could see the way forward and they knew best, not those whose horizons ended at the factory gate and were mired in sectionalism and getting a few bob on the wage. They started seeing themselves as statesman, and their proper constituency was the national community, not a section of it.

These ideas are embedded in Labourism and persist not just because politics and economics are kept formally separate in the party/trade union split, but how aspirant politicians, even at the local level, are often cut off from and pay no heed to unions - and this is rewarded by the party. The lily-livered "leadership" of Starmer is reproduced by the conditions so many careerists encounter as they work their way up the greasy pole. Starmerism and its, at best, equivocation over workers in struggle is not new. It's an unwelcome throwback to the past.

Image Credit


Robert Dyson said...

Yes, Corbyn was a leader. Now we have con men.

Anonymous said...

It's a bit off-topic but that photo does look like Starmer's trying to make Corbyn's head explode via telepathy in the manner of David Cronenberg's 'Scanners.'

More on-topic: Drakeford's decision to leave it up to individual Senedd members showed a greater trust in their own judgement compared to Starmer's clumsy imposition of a 'line.' He'll end up sacking people as a result. That might be what he/his allies want, but it's completely unnecessary unless it's to try and convince the media - yet again - how he's 'not Corbyn.'

Dipper said...

we recently had a two year period where for much of that time the country was locked down. Enormous amounts of public money were spent whilst many people receiving that money did no productive work.

Do you think Lockdown was free?

Do you think rail drivers should be immune form the economic consequences of lockdown?

And if some groups are immune from lockdown, who should bear the economic consequences of lockdown and why?

Anonymous said...

Starmer really is a class A pillock isnt he?

B lissex said...

«From their exalted positions they could see the way forward and they knew best»

Ah the usual: accusing Starmer of top-down Labourism seems to me still missing the point, because there is a significant difference between the process, top-down or bottom up, and the politics. They are somewhat related, but in principle independent.

The labourists in theory have the politics of the interests of the lower classes, workers etc., even if they pursue them top-down.

But while Starmer and the Mandelson Tendency have a top-down political process like the labourists, what matters most is their politics, and they are those of their target constituency, thatcherite voters.

The labourist politics are those of the interests of the workers and lower classes, and are thus top-down social-democrats, however mild, but Starmer and the Militant Mandelsoncy would be horrified to be misrepresented to voters as being social-democratic, even top-down, and however mild.

The great divide in the UK is not between between top-down and bottom-up political processes, it is between thatcherite or non-thatcherite or anti-thatcherite politics. That's the first question about an UK politician: are they thatcherites?

Anonymous said...

If I went round saying “no child should be ill “ would that make me the worlds greatest paediatrician?

Jon Vagg said...

Not being a Labour member and having no insider info, I can only guess what Starmer's thinking. His background is law and he *may* be thinking that Labour needs to be the RMT's 'advocate' and therefore can't support it outside the political debates in the Commons. He *may* also be thinking that if he's openly behind the strike he'll get pilloried by the right-wing press.
I agree with your comments on leadership. Showing leadership isn't just about doing forensic takedowns of Boris in PMQs. Starmer needs to start driving public opinion not staying behind it. And since Boris' shine has become tarnished with a lot of the right-wing press, he can exploit that.
On a wider front - we're heading into stagflation. That's notoriously difficult to solve and it comes on the back of over a decade of falling living standards - not just the RMT but the NHS, civil servants, teachers and other. So this is just the first part of a situation where many unions, one after the other, will be striking for substantially higher pay and that will ultimately drive inflation. Boris' approach is basically to argue that workers should just stay poor and compliant, which is very neoliberal of him. If I were Starmer I'd be reaching out to economists to get their policy advice. Ann Pettifor is an obvious choice but also, the other 82 economists who backed Labour in 2019 (see
And finally - while Boris will never admit it, much of the current problem has its roots in Brexit. So that, and what to do about it, also has to stay on Labour's political agenda.

Karl Greenall said...

Thank you. You have hit the nail bang on the head. It's the choice between the continuity of Thatcherism, or a reversion to the path of social progress she blocked. Underneath it all, the fundamental issue is that the Thatcherite dispensation of the past is well, well past it's sell-by date, and apart from a full tilt into fascism, the Thatcherite have nothing up their sleeve.
Corbyn represented the first challenge to this, hence his rapid undermining.
The question is, who will pose the next challenge, armed with the knowledge gleaned from the Corbyn experience?

PurplePete said...

It's been great fun watching Mick Lynch make a monkey out the media lackeys. The Sky interview with Kay Burley was a hoot.