With a new Conservative (= Republicans in the US) government, there are some changes in the British Labour Party. In some ways the Labour Party is similar to the US Democratic Party, but it has a different tradition. It was built by the unions there, which made it a workers’ party in the past. Now, as the Labour Party moves further to the right, there are increasing pressures for the unions to split from the LP and build a new party. If the unions, or any one or two major unions, do that, it would start to raise that issue here in the US.
Dan Armstrong writes:
The UK media have already talked themselves into a panicky campaign about the support for Andy Burnham as the new “front runner” in Labour’s upcoming leadership contest. Not that Burnham is a leftwinger but he has had the temerity to “talk” to Len McCluskey, leader of the large Unite union. Burnham has been at pains to emphasise that he would unite all wings, i.e. labour and capital, in the LP if he were elected.
Meanwhile a propaganda campaign is underway to warn of the dangers of thousands of union members joining the party as individual supporters which would give them a vote in the coming leadership elections.
There is unfortunately at present no candidate worthy of support by socialists but if the unions do succeed in establishing a majority of votes, any future leader – and indeed individual sponsored members of parliament
– would necessarily be subject to working class pressure and run the risk of being voted out at the next opportunity.
Roger Silverman comments:
How shameful that Blair’s former health minister Burnham looks like the least worst option! Every one of the candidates for the leadership of the Labour Party is chanting the same sickening mantra about the need to stop speaking up for the rights of “the poor”, to become the party of “aspiration”, to distance the party still further from the trade unions, etc. As one of them put it before the election: “Labour is not the party of people on benefits“. The reason that there is no left candidate standing for the leadership is that apparently there are only 18 Labour MPs who might even consider nominating one – and 35 is the minimum number required. It is certain that under a new leader, the Labour Party will drift further right than ever.
Under this Tory government, the working class will suffer even more ferocious attacks than under the coalition: welfare and benefit cuts amounting to a further £12 billion; a virtual legal ban on strikes; the scrapping of the human rights law; accelerated privatisation of health and education; the dismantling of all the last surviving relics of the postwar settlement. And it can expect no serious resistance from the Labour leadership.
The class tensions within the Labour Party can’t be reconciled; sooner or later it has to come to a split. The workers have no choice but to fight back; they need a political voice. If Labour MPs refuse to represent them, then the trade unions will have to find another route, just as they did more than a century ago.
Last April, the General Secretary of Britain’s biggest trade union Unite, Len McCluskey, threatened in so many words to disaffiliate Unite from Labour and launch a new workers’ party if Labour lost the 2015 general election. Yesterday he repeated his warning that Unite’s affiliation to Labour could be “reconsidered” unless it showed it was the “voice of ordinary working people… the voice of organised labour… It is up to them. If they don’t, if they kind of inject more disillusionment in the party, then the pressure will grow from our members to rethink.”
So far this is mere words. No doubt McCluskey is hoping to exert enough pressure on the new leadership to avoid the need for a decisive break. But there is no room for compromise. The demands of the capitalist crisis are unrelenting.
Comrades have asked whether people are apathetic about politics in England. Yes, of course; how could they become interested when they see no substantial difference between the only alternative parties, and when no one speaks up for them? Look at the dramatic contrast in Scotland, where 85% of the electorate voted in the independence referendum – a full twenty percentage points higher than in the British general election.
Once Unite and some other trade unions make a decisive break from the Blairite clique in the Parliamentary Labour Party and place themselves firmly on the side of the millions of workers on squeezed wages and zero-hours contracts, the nearly two million unemployed, the million relying on food banks, the dispossessed welfare claimants, the students weighed down with debt, the homeless, etc., that’s when politics in Britain will get really interesting!