A debate is growing within Britain’s working class movement. At stake is whether trade unionists maintain the support and funding which has been central to the Labour Party since its inception.
Trade union leaders could not contain their frustration at the lecture Gordon Brown gave them at this week’s TUC Congress. The GMB general secretary, Paul Kenny, warned that his members might “walk away” from Labour. The union was once the most loyal of the loyal in Labour’s ranks.
The grumbling at the top of the unions may remain just that, but the argument is filtering down into the rank and file.
Last week Metronet strikers on London Underground openly discussed the need to challenge Ken Livingstone in next May’s London elections. Respect supporters in the union found a warm response. During the postal strike, workers questioned why they should fund a government committed to privatisation.
It is important that Respect supporters return to this issue to strengthen the radical challenge to Brown and New Labour.
Poverty trap for kids
Social class is the key factor in educational achievement, according to the latest report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
According to the study, “children were highly aware of their social position and the limitations it placed on them from an early age”. It found a clear relationship between confidence, self-esteem and literacy.
The crucial point about the research, however, is that although the education system itself creates barriers for poorer children, low achievement cannot be understood without looking at poverty.
The study found that poor children in Britain “do worse than those from advantaged backgrounds by a greater amount than elsewhere”. After ten years of New Labour, 3.8 million children remain in poverty and relative poverty rose by 200,000 last year.
We need to challenge the culture of testing in schools that labels children as failures. But we also need to challenge the poverty that ultimately condemns millions of children to fail.
Tesco takes over
Supermarkets are going to save society. At least that’s what Gordon Brown seems to think.
In a jingoistic announcement, Brown said that he is going to create 500,000 “extra British jobs”. How? Through “local partnerships” with supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s.
This is just a cheap trick to force people off benefits and into monotonous, low-paid jobs.
Meanwhile New Labour is hoping supermarkets will save them from the embarrassment of sacking 2,200 disabled workers at government-owned Remploy factories. Instead of investing in the factories, the government plans to hand £50 million to firms such as Tesco and Asda to convince them to hire the workers instead.
In March the government announced plans to allow supermarkets to provide GP services.
The message is that we don’t need a welfare state. We just need to convince supermarkets of the lucrative opportunities to make money out of sickness, poverty and discrimination. Isn’t it time to remind Brown that not everything is for sale?