In an article in The Guardian on Monday, UNITE General Secretary, Len McCluskey, is reported to have launched a ‘strident attack’ on Labour Leader Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, prompted by the party leadership’s weekend decision to endorse a continuation of the government’s public-sector pay freeze, as well as not to promise to reverse a single Coalition spending cut if re-elected to office at the next General Election.
A significant part of the article, however, is not so much an attack on, but advice to the beleaguered Labour leader, presumably if he wants to save his own neck, that such a policy shift, which isn’t really one at all, but rather a public admission of Labour frontbench thinking for some time “…represents a victory for discredited Blairism at the expense of the party’s core supporters.” He says it “… challenges the whole course Ed Miliband has set for the party” (Editor’s Note: I can’t see what McCluskey is referring to here!) and claims the Blairites will seek to capitalise on their policy coup and come for Miliband himself, a path he says “…will lead to the destruction of the Labour party as constituted and certain election defeat”.
Whether there is a great deal of truth in this or not, both Miliband and Balls have already made it clear that they have no intention of listening to any of McCluskey’s advice. A crushing defeat by Labour at the polls as a consequence, is a real possibility. Ed Miliband getting the bullet before that, despite the alleged policy shift, is as equally likely.
The result of it in the meantime as McCluskey suggests will be: “Unions in the public sector are bound to unite to oppose the real pay cuts for public-sector workers over the next year. When we do so, it seems we will now be fighting the Labour frontbench as well as the Government.”
From “Things can only get better” to “Heaven knows we’re miserable now!”
McCluskey does however go on to say: “The political elite that was united in promoting the City-first deregulation policies that led to the crash is now united in asserting that ordinary people must pick up the tab for it. It leaves the country with something like a ‘national government” consensus where, as in 1931, the leaders of the three main parties agree on a common agenda of austerity to get Capitalism – be it “good” or “bad” – back on its feet.”
The only justification offered for supporting the pay freeze he says is that “…jobs must be the priority, thereby buying into the hoary old fallacy that increasing the wages of the low-paid risks unemployment. The view that deficit reduction through spending cuts must be a priority in order to keep the financial speculators onside has been the road to ruin for Labour chancellors from Philip Snowden to Denis Healey.”
“This is the last gasp of the neoliberalism which led to 2008, and the final point on the arc of ‘New Labour’ politics – from ‘Things can only get better’ to ‘Heaven knows we’re miserable now!’ and will be for the foreseeable future.” It is an approach, which McCluskey says “…leaves half the country disenfranchised, as well as the 500,000 demonstrators on the TUC March for the Alternative last year.”
“The real points of differentiation between Labour and the government on the economy are now very hard to identify, the more so since Cameron and Clegg are cutely, if insincerely, positioning themselves as proactive on tax avoidance and executive pay.”
Contributors to this Blog have of course been pointing to the Labour leadership’s intentions in this direction for some time – since Miliband became leader in fact – as being essentially the same as the Coalition’s and the ‘same as it ever was’. That Labour will be remaining just like the Tories and the Lib-Dems a party which looks after the interests first and foremost of the Bankers, Big Business and the ultra-rich, and which supports the maintenance of Capitalism – rather than being the party of organised Labour, the wider working class and mass of ordinary folk it was allegedly set up to be over a century ago, and which it still claims to be.
It is good that Len McCluskey should now be publicly saying something similar to us if somewhat belatedly, having supported Ed Miliband’s leadership bid, given him £100,000 of members money so he could campaign to become Labour leader, and having urged its 1.3million members to vote for him, even if he has not yet stated exactly what he proposes UNITE do if what he is saying continues to go unheeded by the Labour leadership, which is what it is likely to happen.
Len McCluskey’s ‘Left’ rival for the post of UNITE General Secretary Jerry Hicks, who came second to him in the 2010 poll for the job, says his position on the issue is clear and consistent: “Unite should only fund the Labour Party when it supports our union’s policies. I say to McCluskey – stop wringing your hands, stop moaning and stop funding them!”
Given Labour’s frontbench has shown a complete willingness to take on board UNITE’s policy which rejects the Coalition’s cuts are ‘too deep and too fast’ and the so-called ‘dented shield approach’, and which is against ALL cuts, UNITE breaking its link with Labour has to be the answer, as is the union committing itself to the creation of a new party of the unions, the working and the mass of ordinary people, as we have also been calling for.
CRITICISMS BY OTHER UNIONS
Up until now, criticism of Balls’s painful endorsement of the government’s clampdown on public sector pay has prompted only attacks from unions not affiliated to Labour. For example, Mark Serwotka, the leader of the PCS union, said “Labour’s new stance ‘guarantees’ that Labour will lose the next election ‘and lose badly.” RMT boss Bob Crow added: “Ed Miliband has jammed Labour’s self-destruct mission into top gear. This betrayal of millions of Labour’s core supporters sets him and his party on a one-way ticket to oblivion.”
UNITE are the single biggest funders of the party and the Unions are responsible for 92 per cent of Labour funds. Since the election, UNITE has given Labour £7.6million, while the GMB has handed over £2.6million. Last night Ed Balls admitted: “I don’t want the GMB or UNITE to disaffiliate from the Labour Party. Of course I take the threat seriously.”
This latter comment was in response to GMB General Secretary Paul Kenny having said “It is time for careful consideration on the long-term implications this new stance by the party has on GMB affiliation.”
I think those of us within UNITE who are sick of Labour’s sell-outs, should be pushing for an end to UNITE’s affiliation at this year’s Conference of our union.