It is the interlinked problems of class, gender, and sexual identity that have beset Labour politics for a generation. On their own, the latter two factors have been awkward but feasible to assimilate. But allied to class, these questions of identity and consciousness assume potentially revolutionary import. The rights of woman should not be predicated upon the passing of warm words of empathy, as New Labour was skilled in uttering, but upon obligations on society to respect rights at work, in training, and in caring, backed by real economic support. Impose flexibility on them – the ruling class – not on our class … let’s see an end to the `reserve army of labour’ and the beginning of real rights for all.
I make no apologies for failing to assess the impact of intra-British nationalism in detail, save that in its feeling of detachment from the machine politics of the Westminster elite, I suspect the good folk of Nuneaton feel as distanced as do those of Dundee. Nonetheless, the SNP is clearly discomforted! Another push for independence may divert attention from their poor economic policies but increasing Labour’s democracy and involvement will do a power of good in this context.
Indeed, the problem has been the failure to champion the democratisation of the electoral system, to control the power of the billionaire media machines, to reform parliament and local government so that they connect with real life, The fix-it mentality that passed for internal democracy forced on Labour as the so-called `soft left’ realigned with the right, has alienated the movement’s natural rank-and-file leaders for long enough!
It is perhaps now clearer to those beyond the scope of readership of the Morning Star that these factors dominate what is an open class war being waged by the elite, their politicians, and media voices against the working class.
Take the Trade Union Bill, which would make trade union activity ineffective if not impossible if enacted. This is not just about having an independent workers organisation but there are politics of the world as well as the workplace involved here. We’ve had this before. Ted Heath’s ill-fated attempt made it to the statute books in the form of the 1971 Industrial Relations Act. The several unofficial general strikes before the imprisonment in Pentonville jail of 5 dockers led to the TUC calling an official one; before that the government capitulated. Mass action made the act inoperable.
The long period of Tory government before New Labour saw the introduction of anti-union laws that changed the landscape, mainly in the private sector. Blair’s US-style union recognition laws, a sop to unions in his first term, has hardly made a dent in the rising level of non-unionism, as have the best efforts of union organising departments.
Now the Tory Party and their mass media lectures us once again but it is they who disregard international conventions and covenants on workplace rights. At root, trade unions give workers a voice in the workplace that would otherwise be denied them in what we might tentatively term the dictatorship of the boss, who can hire and fire with ease, refuse pay adjustments, and discipline as they will in the absence of workers solidarity. But they also engender collective confidence and often lead to greater understanding and deeper consciousness levels.
It’s no accident that Sajid Javid’s Bill has some remarkable similarities with the 1970 Industrial Relations Bill. Writing at that time, Communist Party National Industrial Organiser, Bert Ramelson, called it the most vicious piece of politically motivated class legislation since the Combination Acts of the early 1800s.
A class response to the Tories would call for restrictions on the ’rights’ of management to close down whole workplaces and throw hundreds and sometimes thousands of workers on the scrap heap. A level playing field would see the financial link between the Tories and business broken. Boards would have to obtain the agreement of company AGMs to have a political fund. Businessmens’ facility time would be strictly regulated. Strike-breaking, or to give it its technical name, scabbing, would be criminalised.
Oddly, there are no provisions in the Bill which insist that employers should inform the union of what measures they intend to take to defeat a strike; or require the police to pass this on to a union. Union leverage campaigns on the supply chains will now be illegal as ‘causing fear and intimidation’ but threats to close down a business unless a workforce does as they are told will receive industry awards.
Unlike the early 1970s the leadership of the movement, including the TUC, has made clear its outright opposition to the Trade Union Bill and has called for the widest possible protest even if an RMT motion called for “the possibility of assisting in organising generalised strike action should legal action be taken against any affiliate in connection with these new laws” was queried as being insufficiently clear.