AUTUMN has arrived ahead of schedule and with it the impending TUC and Labour Party conferences. And although the rank and file soldiers of the Labour movement have remained busy throughout the summer marching in Tolpuddle, Durham and Burston and campaigning locally against the Con-Dem cuts and in defence of the NHS, there has definitely been a serious lull in trade union leadership activity.
While they have been away the political landscape has changed. After last month’s riots no one will ever again say that the working class in Britain are tame and apathetic and will knuckle under whatever cuts the ruling class throw at them.
But those riots were unorganised, spontaneous outburst of youthful anger from those who have been on the receiving end of cuts from all angles that have excluded them from employment, education and social life.
Now the Con-Dems are busy restructuring the penal system to lock up as many as they can of these disaffected youths. The unions and the labour movement as a whole need to reach out to these young people to guide their anger and their boldness into a strong, close-knit army capable of striking back effectively at the ruling class. To paraphrase the Chartist leader Ernest Jones: “Educate, agitate and organise — but the most important of these is organise!”
These young people will take inspiration from union leaders showing a proper lead in the fight, challenging the cuts and the anti-union laws with all-out strikes in defence of pensions, jobs, wages, the NHS and education.
The NHS Bill is back in the House of Commons after the Con-Dem “pause for thinking” basically unchanged in all important aspects. But its passage through the House is not guaranteed as many Liberal Democrats are still unhappy about it — especially since veteran Lib Dem Shirley Williams revealed correspondence showing that the Government is preparing to negotiate with German private healthcare companies who want to buy up many of our NHS hospitals.
If this flagship Bill falls, Cameron’s government will be severely weakened so there is everything reason to fight harder than ever to defend the NHS.
It is time to renew the fight for public sector pensions — an area where a real victory is possible and the existing anti-union laws cannot be used to stop industrial action.
But the Con-Dems are plotting yet more anti-union laws and there will come a point when unions will have to stand up and defy them. They need to start planning their financial structures now for that inevitable battle.
Not all the attacks are coming from the Con-Dems. Labour’s new leader, Ed Miliband, wants to change the party constitution, to do away with the difference between members and supporters. This is an attack on the membership.
Over previous years, from Neil Kinnock to Tony Blair the strength of the influence of the membership on party policy in Parliament has been whittled away. But traditionally being part of an organisation, paying dues and joining in the activities in an organised way entitles members to a say in the policies.
If Miliband says he is going to listen to the “consensus” of supporters as well as members the result will be so vague and contradictory that he can basically just choose to do what he wants anyway and claim he is following what people want.
He is also working on reducing the influence of the unions, who created the party to defend working class interests and are still its major source of funding.
In effect he is trying to liquidate the party. A bitter disappointment for all those with fond illusions of a real change at the top, Miliband is proving no better than Blair.
Again, it is for the union leaderships to show some real leadership and defend their party from liquidationism, rather than making great speeches and then going and negotiating a dodgy climb-down deal behind the scenes.
Union delegates and rank and file need to make it clear to their leaders that the holiday is definitely over and it’s time for battle.