by Daphne Liddle
PAUL Kenny, the general secretary of the general union GMB, last week announced to the union’s annual conference in Brighton a proposed rule change that would expel Progress — a Labour Party faction that still closely adheres to Tony Blair’s New Labour policies — from the union.
And the union also intends to propose a motion for the Labour Party conference this autumn that would expel Progress from the party.
Kenny told the conference: “On Progress let me say this. I know that at this very moment a resolution is written and will be delivered to the Labour Party shortly.
“It is a rule amendment which will go before this year’s conference for next year which, effectively, will outlaw Progress as part of the Labour Party, and long overdue it is.”
This is a surprisingly bold — and welcome — stance from a union leadership not usually considered left-wing or one of the “awkward squad”.
But Kenny has been coming under very heavy pressure from his rank and file members over the Con-Dem Coalition austerity cuts. Many are in low paid public sector jobs which have been devastated already and are in for further swingeing cuts.
The union supplies the Labour Party with £1.4 million every year in affiliation fees from its members and when, in the last few weeks, right-wing Labour leaders declared they would continue with the Coalition austerity cuts rather than reversing them, Kenny knew he had to fight for his members or face a revolt.
There had already been a number of motions to the GMB conference calling for the union to stop funding the Labour Party. Kenny spoke against these and opted instead to launch a move to restore the Labour Party as a defender of the working class.
Since its foundation the Labour Party has been a battle ground between those who represent the working class and those who represent capitalism. Many Labour leaders in the party and the unions have tried, sincerely or otherwise, to project the mistaken idea that the working classes and the bosses have a mutual interest in a thriving capitalist economy.
But it is in times of serious economic crisis like now that the truth of what Lenin described as the irreconcilable differences of interest between the classes become obvious to all — when the greedy rich make themselves richer and richer while the workers, who create the wealth, are driven into destitution and misery.
The Labour Party has always tolerated organised factions within in, like the pro-working class Labour Representation Committee, Compass and others. But there are certain rules they have to keep to and one is that they must not support candidates standing Labour Party candidates.
And Progress seems to have stepped over some lines in its efforts to promote the neo-liberalist economic policies of Thatcher and Blair, especially now in the run-up to the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee elections.
A GMB motion criticises Progress for “undermining” Labour candidates and attacks Ed Miliband for “caving” into pressure on cuts.
It states: “Prominent Progress members have briefed against Ed Miliband to the press, and it was Progress who argued that Labour’s frontbench needed to support cuts and wage restraint.
“Congress regrets that Ed Miliband caved into this pressure. Congress notes with concern the support by Ed Balls and Ed Miliband for public sector pay restraint, thus giving credibility to Tory arguments about the deficit.”
GMB’s move against Progress has been hotly debated in on-line Labour Party blogs.
Progress has come under criticism for being undemocratic and for being supported by some very wealthy people leading to a situation where the party itself has serious funding problems while the faction is awash with money.
Progress member Dan Hodges came in for serious criticism for his open support for Boris Johnson in the London Mayoral election in the pages of the Telegraph.
One blogger said: “Progress are not simply an internal problem for the Labour Party: a faction dominated by Progress members Ruth Smeeth, Anthony Painter and Dan Hodges (to name but a few) has hijacked anti-racist campaign ‘Hope Not Hate’ and sought to turn it into a Tory-friendly factional base…”
The bloggers argue ad infinitum over who has crossed party rules and how factions function within the party.
But from a class point of view the issue is brutally simple: Who stands for the working class and who stands for the capitalist class?
It is no longer possible to pretend to stand for both.