Democracy requires Jeremy Corbyn to win.

Yesterday marked a turning point in the Labour leadership election.

Neither of the trade unions with a leaning towards the Blairite wing of the party backed Liz Kendall. Community announced that they were backing Yvette Cooper, and Usdaw announced that they were backing Andy Burnham. This follows Kendall’s relatively poor performance in gaining nominations from the parliamentary Labour Party, indicating that the reach of the party’s right wing is surprisingly weak.

It is of course wrong to describe Kendall as a “Tory”, and the jibes about “Blairite Taliban” were ill-advised. The party is a broad church, and the strand of liberalism which Kendall represents has a long tradition within the party. As I have written before, it is wrong to compare Blairism with Conservatism.

Blair did have a distinct social agenda, which was both ideologically and practically progressive, compared to the Thatcherite governments which preceded it. The value of David Halpern’s 2009 book “The Hidden Wealth of Nations”, is the way he details the inherently radical nature of Blair’s social policies, though they were not necessarily derived from traditional social democratic influences. In 1997, NHS spending was at around 5% of GDP, and the conditions had been created by the Tories for an expansion of insurance based private sector; instead NHS spending rose to be around 10% of GDP in 2010. Early years intervention, such as SureStart centres for the parents of potentially disadvantaged young children has been a great success; and working tax credit has enormously increased prosperity and independence of parents in work. Labour repealed Clause 28, and introduced civil partnerships. None of these policies could have come from the Tories. […]

Blairism was founded on the idea of creating a fairer, more harmonious society through an empowering partner state that provides conditions for individuals to help themselves. For all its weaknesses, it is a distinctly different agenda from Thatcher’s ideology of regarding the state as inherently problematic, and that individuals needed to be liberated from its influence.

Indeed, far from being Thatcherites, Tony Blair’s supporters in the party have invested considerable effort to establish ideological continuity between themselves and the more traditional Labour revisionists; for example, Patrick Diamond’s 2004 anthology “New Labour’s Old Roots” selects extracts of centre-right thinkers in the party from Evan Durbin to Giles Radice, and editorialises them into a specious narrative leading inexorably to Blair.

Superficially, Blair’s emphasis on community and mutuality, divorced from any commitment to social ownership is indeed resonant of traditional Labour revisionism. But in truth, Blairism was distinct from both Thatcherism and traditional right wing social democracy.

If we compare Blair’s record with the most authorative statement of revisionism, Crosland’s “The Future of Socialism”, we can see that addressing the inequality of power that follows the inequality of wealth is a concept completely central to even centre-right Labourism; whereas in contrast Blairism falls foursquare within the limits of political liberalism, whereby all individuals are regarded as citizens, and the horizons of government are only to remove obstacles to individual liberty and choice; and empowering citizens to benefit from good choices.

To understand the politics of Liz Kendall we need to recall that there were two characteristic attributes of Blairism; which was only partly a distinct social agenda of boosting social capital while embracing the private sector; because it was also an electoral strategy predicated upon triangulating around the concerns of swing voters in marginal constituencies. This resulted in an inherent conservatism that militated against the radical solutions necessary to address the concerns of working class voters.

It is important to understand that these two aspects of Blairism could work against each other; and therefore that the current seeming abandonment of the policy agenda of Blairism by the right wing in the party is itself an attribute of the electoral strategy of Blairism, which is calibrated to exploiting minor differences with the Tories, and cannot cope with the paradigm shift created by the financial crisis, and Tory austerity. Blairism is no longer fit for purpose, even in its own terms. Tony Blair set targets for the reduction of child poverty, Harman, Kendall, Cooper and Burnham capitulated to the Conservatives over measures that will push children in disadvantaged families into desperation and hardship.

Indeed, the utter failure of not only Kendall but also Cooper and Burnham to oppose the Tory welfare bill shows a fundamental misunderstanding not only of the political situation, but of the demands for opposition in a parliamentary democracy.

Democracy is not only about elections, it is also about the contested evaluation of ideas and strategies for the governance of complex industrial societies. Ideas that are generated not only, and not even especially, by politicians and political parties, but also by think tanks, universities, faith groups, employers associations, NGOs, trade unions, single issue campaigns, magazines and journals and by public intellectuals. Indeed, significant paradigm shifts of political and ideological consensus often occur between elections, and are therefore not necessarily presented as a choice to the electorate. This is of course a point made by the Eurosceptic right, not without some purchase on reality.

The mantra from the right is that Labour needs to be in power to effect change, and therefore has to follow the electorate.

Of course any electoral party needs to address the need to build a potentially election wining coalition, but the Tories only gained the support of a minority of voters, and Labour also lost support to parties presenting themselves as to the left of Labour: SNP, Plaid and the Greens.

Of course, real and lasting change does require winning a general election and forming a government, but that cannot be done by wearing the political and ideological clothes of our opponents. British parliamentary democracy is built upon the foundation that the opposition parties will scrutinise, and force debate upon the government.

By so doing, opposition parties feed the broader democratic debate in civil society, and contribute to a culture of accountability and engagement.

Opposition parties are morally obliged, and by constitutional convention expected, to present a choice to the electorate, and indeed the danger for democracy is that if the mainstream parliamentary parties don’t reflect the actual political divides and debates in our society, then this promotes disengagement with our civic and social institutions.

Liz Kendall’s approach would be to isolate the Labour Party on the same narrow ground as the electorally rejected Liberal Democrats. Andy Burnham is presenting himself as the Greencross man “look right, look left, look right again”, and both he and Yvette Cooper are the continuity candidates with a political strategy that has now lost two elections. None of these three will win back the votes we have lost in Scotland to the SNP, or to UKIP in England.

As Harold Wilson once said “This Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing.” Only Jeremy Corbyn will relight labour’s fire.

Met Police forced to issue apology to Cuba Solidarity Campaign

Rob Miller
Cuba Solidarity Campaign 33-37 Moreland Street London
EC1V 8BB

7th July 2015
Dear Mr Miller,

I am writing in response to your email dated 1st July 2015, regarding associating Cuba with Terrorism during Operation Strong Tower.

I was the director of Operation Strong Tower, which as you are aware, was an exercise simulating an armed terrorist attack in Central London.

This operation was planned in detail for over six months and was the largest of its kind that has ever been carried out. The media were invited to observe activities at one of these venues, which was the disused Tube Station in the Aldwych.

I have viewed the footage which has concerned you and others. Photographs and film do show one of the role actors wearing a T-Shirt under their jacket, which shows the flag of Cuba. This was clearly a regrettable error, which I take full responsibility for.

This has been investigated and the role actor has been spoken to. He genuinely did not think of the significance and implications of wearing a T Shirt with a national flag on it. The impact has been explained, he is genuinely sorry and states there was no intention to cause offence or associate the Cuban people with Terrorism. As a result he has been given advice regarding his actions. I will also ensure that the learning from this will be incorporated into future exercises.

I offer a sincere and unreserved apology on behalf of the Metropolitan Police Service.

Yours sincerely,

DAC Maxine de Brunner QPM Specialist Crime and Operations
Room 1026

New Scotland Yard Broadway

London
SW1H 0BG

Tel: 020 7230 4048 maxine.debrunner@met.police.uk

The Greek people vote ‘Oxi’

B1C3rezCMAIo8HjThe historic significance of this vote cannot be overstated. Despite the huge external pressure levelled against Greece by the Troika – the ECB, IMF, and the European Commission – with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, particularly aggressive in demanding the imposition of austerity on a population and society that was already on its knees, the Greeks have delivered a resounding message of defiance via the ballot box.

Regardless of the ultra left voices that have extended themselves in attacking Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza government, at a time when the stakes involved demanded solidarity, they have delivered a masterstroke with this referendum, successfully and magnificently counterposing democracy to the tyranny of global capital. In so doing, they have provided people across Europe with an education in where true power resides.

The demands made by Merkel on the Greek Government have been astoundingly irrational and almost biblical in their cruelty. Greece’s total debt of 317 billion euros is clearly unsustainable and the only realistic and humane solution is its cancellation. Of the 252 billion euros lent to Greece by the Troika since 2010, only 10% has actually reached the Greek people. Most of it has left Greece again in repayments to lenders, mostly European banks, primarily German banks, which lent more money to Greece than any other country during the boom years.

As for what happens now, it is unconscionable that the Troika will not step back from the brink. The notion of an advanced European country being ejected from the eurozone due to indebtedness is hard to conceive. Merkel and the ECB have overplayed their hand and exposed the iniquity of the EU and its role as a servant of neoliberalism and global capital.

But this is for another day. Today belongs to the people and to Syriza. The forces of reaction have been delivered a message of defiance that will resonate across Europe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The state of the unions today

crocadile tears
There is no doubt that the election of a majority Conservative government in May was a considerable setback for working people. Under Ed Miliband, the Labour Party were proposing a number of positive reforms to employment law that would have improved rights at work, and tackled some of the more pernicious and exploitative aspects of the current labour market: where millions suffer from low pay, zero hour contracts, and bullying bosses.

The new Conservative government has made clear its intent to make it harder to organize lawful industrial action, to quote Professor Gregor Gall:

the Queen’s Speech in late May set out two new rules. The first requires at least half of eligible union members to vote so that a minimum turnout is established. The second is that in essential public services (health, education, fire and transport), there will also be the requirement that at least 40% of all those entitled to vote must vote for action (meaning that non-voters are treated as ‘no’ voters). These reforms (along with others on the repeal of the restrictions banning employers from hiring agency staff to provide essential cover during strikes; ensuring strikes cannot be called on the basis of ballot mandates ‘conducted years before’ and tackling alleged intimidation of non-striking workers) will be laid before Parliament as the Trade Union Bill later this year.

The response from the TUC was apocalyptic:

The TUC’s General Secretary Frances O’Grady said these new laws would benefit the country’s “worst bosses” and that they would “make legal strikes close to impossible”, adding “union negotiators will be left with no more power than Oliver Twist when he asked for more.”

This was a strange and ill advised response from the General Secretary, and raises the question of how unions will recruit and retain members if they are seen as so ineffectual. Of course the proposed changes to the law need to be opposed and challenged, politically, legally and industrially, but unions will always adapt, survive and innovate to overcome obstacles.

Before we consider the current state of trade unions it is worth reflecting upon the fact that the proposed restrictions by Cameron’s government are still less restrictive than the Trades Disputes Act 1927, which was not repealed until 1946, and which made unlawful any strike whose purpose was to coerce the government of the day directly or indirectly, made incitement to participate in an unlawful strike a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment for up to two years, banned mass picketing, banned civil service unions from affiliating to the TUC, or having any political objectives.

Nevertheless, while that draconian act was in force, trade union membership doubled, and broke into new industries which had been considered unorganisable, such as the new aircraft and car factories.long term trade union trends

British trade unions built their strength against far more unfavourable conditions than we have today, indeed we will shortly be celebrating the memory of the Tolpuddle martyrs, deported to Australia for organizing. A battle which the trade unions won.

It is necessary to acknowledge that for many groups of organized workers, meeting the proposed new ballot thresholds will be straightforward.

Where it will be a challenge will be those parts of the public sector where either membership density is insufficiently strong, or where workplace organisation is weak. We will need to give this careful consideration, and in particular strengthen organisation where we can.

It is reasonable to question, for example, the effectiveness of the PCS strategy of continued industrial action against the government on low ballot turnouts, that are poorly observed by the members, and which seem to have limited leverage.

Of course, while industrial action is the indispensible foundation upon which trade union strength is ultimately built, in the modern world, many companies have built substantial investment into the value of their brand, and are susceptible to bad publicity. The Carr report, commissioned by the coalition government to discuss the type of trade union campaigns which Unite have called “leverage” was very interesting.

In evidence to Carr, Pinsent Masons LLP described “leverage” as

“an umbrella term for any action (other than traditional forms of industrial action) by a trade union which aims to put pressure on an employer to settle a trade dispute or otherwise meet the union’s demands. Leverage tactics may be used in addition to or instead of traditional industrial action, and may be used for example before a trade dispute is officially declared. Leverage tactics typically seek to pressurise and commercially embarrass employers through targeted campaigns aimed at shareholders, customers and business partners, suppliers and the general public.

Employers regard such tactics with trepidation, as “extreme”. Again giving evidence to the Carr inquiry

The Engineering and Construction Industry Association (ECIA) offered the following description: “‘Leverage tactics’, which can also be ‘extreme tactics’, seek to extend the intimidation and disruption to those parties indirectly involved, such as shareholders, suppliers and customers; and seek publicity through the media to make public the discomfort they are causing – in attempts to embarrass and further intimidate.”

Industrial action is an important component of any trade union’s armory, but often it is necessary to look for other weaknesses to incentivize an employer to change their position.We need to understand that no particular form of action by a union is more virtuous than another. As Von Clauswitz observed, war is diplomacy by other means, but the meaning of that aphorism is the acknowledgement that every war results in a negotiated settlement, once the war itself has altered the various bargaining positions of the combatants.

Interestingly, the Carr Report discussed Unite’s campaigns but not GMB’s, and I think that this is partly attributable to the more media savvy approach of GMB, that taking a slightly humorous, or cheeky approach makes it harder for the employer to pose as an aggrieved victim.

For example, when AA was taken over by the asset stripping private equity boss, Damon Buffini, and GMB were derecognized in favour of a scab staff association, the current Southern Regional secretary Paul Maloney, responded by lobbying parishioners of the Holy Trinity Church, Clapham Common on the asset stripping activities of Damon Buffini. They were accompanied by a live camel. This was to illustrate that biblical quotation about it being “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven”. Buffini was associated with this church and was then estimated to be worth between £20/40 million.

The result was to push a complex story of private equity into a media friendly format, for example in the Daily Mail

the GMB purposefully chose to personalise the issue. The ins and outs of private equity finance are highly complex, but by directly linking the millionaires at the top with the newly-jobless at the bottom, it has managed to catch the public’s attention.

Paul Maloney is the GMB’s National Organiser for the AA and makes no bones about the campaign he has overseen: ‘Before we found out about Buffini, he was a hidden man. He’d just made thousands of people redundant but nobody knew about him. He was the spirit behind the evil, as it were. So we decided to make him the focus of our campaign.

The Carr report interestingly includes the views of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) that for protests which are not pickets there is no distinction between protests associated with an industrial dispute, and protests which are not. It is therefore extremely challenging for the government to restrict protests by trade unions without curtailing those civil liberties consistent with the exercise of freedom of speech and association in a liberal democracy.

One of the achievements of the Paul Kenny era in the GMB, is the GMB@work strategy, which recognizes that there is a fundamental and ultimately irreconcilable conflict of interest between employers and employees, and therefore trade unions need to be always organized to conduct lawful industrial action, if necessary. Of course this does not preclude modern, professional and constructive relations between the union and employers to their mutual benefit of securing harmonious industrial relations, but this is a relationship of equals, and therefore the union needs teeth behind the smile.

As with any culture change, the implementation of GMB@work has not been uniform across the union, and indeed the relative rates of growth of different GMB regions allows a comparison of the effectiveness of GMB@work. It is in Southern Region where GMB@work has been embraced, which has involved standing up to tough employers, and often organizing low paid workers in precarious employment. GMB has shown that this can be done, for example we recently achieved recognition with an employment agency exploiting workers in the Marks and Spencer supply chain in Swindon.

Following continued membership growth in June, GMB Southern has now become the second largest region in the Union with 82,447 members. This follows a period of record growth where the region has increased its membership by 9837 members (Equivalent to 13.6%) since September 2012.

The growth in membership has followed a series of high profile campaigns within the Region, for example:
Leading the campaign against low wages and poor treatment of staff in Next
• Protesting against tax evasion and poor treatment of staff by Amazon and Starbucks
• Winning an 8.7% pay rise and full Agenda for Change Terms and conditions for caterers, cleaners and porters at Woolwich hospital
Leading the campaign and petition against Michel Gove’s planned teaching assistant cuts
Achieving the living wage for cleaning staff at the University of Arts London
Winning a campaign against redundancies & poor wages at an NHS contractor in Brighton. The Contract is now returning in house
Preventing the privatisation of London Fire Control centre in Merton
Seeing off cuts of £4000 a year to refuse workers wages in Brighton
Winning legal action to prevent wage cuts of up to £16,000 a year for care workers employed by Prospect housing in Surrey
Forcing the MOD to stick to their deal with Gurkha staff
Taking legal and industrial action to support staff employed at Swindon Hospital by blacklister Carillion

To quote Paul Maloney himself:

“The growth of 10,000 members since September 2012 is no accident and followed a process of dedicated organising by everybody within the region. This has been achieved solely by the efforts of members, activists and staff and shows that where we take on unscrupulous employers we will win and grow the union in the process.
This is good news for GMB, good news for the movement as a whole and shows that there is no need for any union to be managing decline. ”

Dreamers, survivors, builders

Mark Perryman argues the need to revisit and reclaim Labour ’45

Bevan 1945 quoteThere is an astonishing moment during Ken Loach’s warmly-received documentary The Spirit of ’45. Winston Churchill is addressing a public rally during the 1945 General Election campaign and he is drowned out by the near universal booing. Not far left adventurists, these were ordinary working class men and women who in Winston saw a great wartime premier trying to turn the socio-economic clock back to the way things were the instant the peace treaties were signed.

There is not much mistaking 1939-45 as an era when anti-fascism fused with a popular internationalism. Mosley and his British Union of Fascists in the 1930s let us never forget enjoyed the “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” support of Viscount Rothermere’s Daily Mail and widespread other establishment endorsements too, including many suspect the newly crowned King Edward VIII. To suggest Mosley was on the verge of state power is of course bordering on the fantastical but fellow-travelling with the Nazis and appeasement certainly were widespread on the Tory Right and beyond. At the same time an undiluted anti-semitism was used to stoke up working class support in areas such as London’s East End by exploiting genuine grievances with false and hateful solutions.

This was an era that Eric Hobsbawm famously described as The Age of Extremes. Fascism was confronted by a mass communist party with a genuine working-class base combined with significant intellectual and cultural influence. But on their own, as they would painfully learn during the doomed class-against-class period, even the most militant and heroic of Communists would have been no match for Mosley. Rather they sought the broadest possible opposition both against the Blackshirts and for Republican Spain. A popular anti-fascism which while not enough to decisively shape World War Two for either the combatants and the home front was nevertheless a vital feature throughout. Most important of all was the increasingly evident role of the Red Army on the Eastern Front, the legend that Stalingrad, Kursk and other battles would become, the Atlantic Convoys criss-crossing the North Seas loaded with vital supplies. Campaigning for the second front to be opened to relieve the pressure on the Soviet Union and destroy Hitler via a pincer movement placed the Communists at the core of a sentiment that was a near-universal solidarity. Nowadays we are almost immune to the casual dismissal of the Red Army’s role in the defeat of Nazism, few in ’45 would make that mistake including George VI who replaced as King his younger brother following abdication. On his orders a sword, The Sword of Stalingrad, was presented to Stalin engraved “To the steel hearted citizens of Stalingrad, a gift from King George VI as a token of the homage of the British people.” Was our Royal Family a secret enclave of reds under the regal beds? Hardly, yet the act was indicative of a huge shift in British public opinion that Labour in ’45 was best-placed to take advantage of following VE day in May and the July General Election.

But Labour was bold too, not content to simply campaign on the basis of its outstanding role in the wartime coalition government, nor a sour-faced ‘we told you so’ against the 1930s appearers and apologists still represented in the Tories’ ranks. Win the Peace was the connect to a visionary future Labour made. Rehousing, nationalising the railways, mines and public utilities, comprehensive education, establishing a National Health Service, creating a post-war Welfare State. Today those policies are largely outside of the political mainstream, with the exception of Jeremy Corbyn who in Labour’s Leadership Campaign would we identify with this kind of legacy? Yet the two principle architects of Labour’s ’45 plan were Liberals, Keynes and Beveridge, not socialists. The genius of Attlee, Bevan and others was to be part of a process that shaped a majoritarian consensus around a politics which changed the face of Britain for the benefit of the many, not the few and decisively affected the balance of class privilege. The tragedy was that this became a conservative defence of the consensus which mistook the virtues of defending what we had for the necessities to deepen and extend that shift as a permanent evolution. It was the emerging inadequacies that Thatcher by the mid 1970s was able to exploit and in the end with new Labour’s muted assistance break up almost all that remained of the post-war consensus by the end of the twentieth century with nothing close to becoming any better put in its place.

Bevan 1945 t-shirtLook back in hope? Bevan’s three-line philosophy for Labour in ’45, “We have been the dreamers. We have been the sufferers. And now we are the builders” helped to inspire and create most of what was good about post-war Britain, an achievement that should give us every cause both to celebrate and to oppose the enduring ideological assault under the guise of the necessities of austerity. There is no alternative? More than any other single individual in British politics Bevan in ’45 helped proved absolutely the case, there was and is.

The Bevan ’45 We Have Been the Dreamers T-shirt is available from Philosophy Football