By Daniel Waldron,
Labour must abandon “austerity-lite” policies and put forward a radical, left-wing alternative or face electoral disaster – that’s the message from Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, the largest union in Britain and Ireland. Most significantly, he has said that Unite and other unions will have to consider their relationship with Labour if such a change of direction isn’t forthcoming – including a complete break with Labour and establishing a new party for workers.
In reality, this is a recognition that – despite the fact that “Red Ed” Miliband only won the party leadership thanks to union votes – Labour is fundamentally wedded to the same agenda as the Tories and LibDems – making working class people pay for the capitalist crisis. They freely admit that Labour would continue with austerity policies, albeit with less gusto than Osbourne and his friends, perhaps.
Of course, we experienced 13 years of New Labour government – not a single anti-union law repealed, privatisation across public services, attacks on the NHS which Thatcher could only have dreamt of and, of course, the imperialist occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Since then, nothing has changed. Even now, in opposition, Labour won’t commit to reverse a penny of Con-Dem cuts.
In March, the Parliamentary Labour Party couldn’t even bring itself to vote against the so-called “Welfare Reform” Bill which threatens to bring misery to millions. Across much of Britain, Labour councils are implementing brutal cuts without hesitation. In Southampton, two Labour councillors had the audacity to vote against cuts to jobs and services – and got expelled for their trouble!
McCluskey has said he wants to strengthen Unite’s voice inside Labour, encouraging members to join the party in large numbers and ensure that candidates who are opposed to austerity are selected for the next general election. The Socialist Party sympathises with those who want to reclaim Labour as a voice for the working class – but we think that their efforts will be in vain.
The democratic structures which once allowed ordinary members to have a real say in party policy have been neutered. Instead of being a forum for real debate, Labour Conference is now a US-style, stage-managed media event where the leaders announce policies to the faithful. Labour is now a fully-fledged capitalist party, wedded to the ideology of the market.
One of the few remnants of Labour’s history as a working class party is trade union affiliation and, with it, large amounts of money from union political funds. Unite is its largest donor. Since Ed Miliband became leader, the union has given £6 million to the party, with nothing to show for it! These massive resources would be infinitely better spent supporting anti-cuts candidates and the building of a new party to fight for the interests of the working class.
Left-wing film-maker Ken Loach has recently made the call for a new party to the left of Labour. The RMT transport union is already engaged with others – including the Socialist Party – in the Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition, which aims to popularise the idea of a new mass party of the working-class.
The building of such a party will not be necessarily be straightforward – neither was the building of the Labour Party a century ago. It is, however, an urgent and necessary task if we’re going to challenge the nightmare which austerity threatens for ordinary people. The sooner that Unite and other unions abandon the empty shell of Labour and join the fight to build such a party, the better.