Sunday, 2 March 2014

Where is the Workers' Party?


Yesterday's Labour Party special conference in London voted overwhelming to renounce the century's old traditional relationship of the British labour movement with an industrial and political wing.

This occurred in the same week that the Tory party, with no sense of irony whatsoever, attempted to re-brand itself as the workers' party.

Thus we need to seriously ask which mainstream political party clearly and evidently places the interests of working class women and men squarely as a core value, and seeks to represent these values through Parliamentary and other representatives drawn primarily from this constituency.
Where is the British workers' party?

My personal view is that the Labour Party has capitulated to a right-wing assault on the trade union movement, a view neatly captured in a recent article by Seumas Milne in The Guardian. His piece cogently compared the opaque donations to the Tory party of corporate lobbyists and big business with what is arguably the cleanest, most transparent and honest money in British party politics - that from trade unions and from the membership fees of trade union members.

Miliband has essentially used the allegations of trade union manipulation and/or bullying tactics at Falkirk and Grangemouth as a smokescreen to smash the only real direct link the Labour Party has to the mass working class. As Milne argues:

That is the context of the permanent onslaught on Labour's links with the trade unions, the only force still connected to mainstream politics which sits outside the corporate merry-go-round and gives political access to working class people. That's why the media keeps up its Orwellian denunciation of elected union leaders as "bosses" and "barons", while company bosses are described as "business leaders" – and why every strike is treated as tantamount to high treason.
It's also why the only media and Westminster test of Miliband's Labour reforms is whether they cut union influence enough. At the moment they're not entirely sure, perhaps partly because most reporting of the issue is so wildly inaccurate. In any case, nothing short of the exemplary arrest of a few union leaders would satisfy some of Miliband's tormentors. (
Whilst a formal relationship will still exist, and trade unions will still be able to make donations to the Party, the decision yesterday to implement in full the recommendations of the Collins report ( means that the Party will have moved away by 2020 from its capacity to legitimately claim that it is a party of the working class - although arguably there are many within and without the party who do not wish that to be so in any case.

A key initial outcome of Collins' adoption yesterday is that individual members of the Labour Party who gain their Party membership and pay their membership fee via a trade union will no longer be able to do so and must now join the Party directly. Miliband's narrative is that this direct democracy will be healthier for the Party and more representative of an approach to "letting people back into politics".

His gamble however omits to acknowledge two inconvenient truths:

1. Party membership via trade union membership does not actually translate into a loyalty to the Party. UNITE and UNISON polling before the 2010 general election portrayed a dominant rejection of Party policy across a significant minority of members who were Party members.

Although this analysis may form part of Miliband's approach here (i.e. we should only have as members those who support the Party), what needs to be understood is that those current Party members who are swing voters (or reject Labour altogether) are not likely to join the Party directly once their membership is severed.

2. The national and international trends are heavily indicative of a movement away from membership of established political parties. I have blogged previously about the phenomenon of millennial momentum ( which predicts a continuing, increasing tendency of people to avoid formal affiliation with organisations, whilst at the same time possibly remaining loyal through voting for example.

I joined the Labour Party when I was 16 and despite a remarkably bumpy ride past 30 years - including a period of suspension linked to what I can only describe as a miscarriage of justice - I have retained my membership regardless of central contradictions in my personal political values and the changing character of Party policy.

I am not sure whether I shall retain my membership, but it is quite clear that yesterday's events will place thousands of trade union activists in Party positions (elected and voluntary) in a very difficult position and which will invariably weaken Party organisation on the ground.

I'll come back to this issue later in the year and confirm my decision at that point.

In Solidarity


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