The leaders of Britain’s three largest unions last week denounced Labour’s Ed Miliband and Ed Balls for supporting the Tory austerity agenda.
Unison’s Dave Prentis joined Len McCluskey of Unite and Paul Kenny of the GMB in attacking them for backing the public sector pay freeze.
This came only days after Miliband and Balls said they could not commit to reversing Tory cuts if they won the next election.
McCluskey asked, “Where does this leave the half a million people who joined the TUC’s March for an Alternative last year, and the half of the country at least who are against the cuts? Disenfranchised.”
Prentis said, “Our members needed hope and a reason to vote Labour. They have been snatched away.”
Kenny talked of the “long-term implications this new stance by the party has on GMB affiliation”.
This is a very serious breach in relations between the party and its traditional supporters in the trade union movement.
Yet Balls’s response showed how much Labour simply takes workers’ votes for granted.
He said, “I don’t think any trade unions are going to disaffiliate. I don’t think they should, but that’s their decision.”
Labour should be riding high in the polls, but instead it is slipping further behind. The Tories are on 41 percent while Labour trails at 36 percent—the Tories’ biggest lead since late 2010.
Union leaders are right to attack Labour for supporting Tory cuts. But they don’t mention the pensions battle in these exchanges. This is a classic separation of politics and economics.
But there is a direct connection between what happens in parliament and the attacks that people face. Prentis, McCluskey and Kenny should blast Labour—but they also need to show some resistance themselves.
As the Tories mount new attacks bitterness is growing. Millions of trade union members have shown their willingness to take on the Tories.
No wonder many are asking why they should pay subs to a party that is failing them.
Miliband was seen as the trade union candidate for Labour leadership, and was supported by McCluskey. The union vote and support was critical to his victory.
What did the unions get in return? Nothing but insults.
Trade unions should not automatically hand over members’ subs to support Labour. That’s why the fight to democratise union political funds is so important.
Unions should be able to give financial and political support to candidates who genuinely represents the interests of workers.
Sometimes this may be a Labour Party candidate.
But workers need an alternative and they need to be able to back other parties and organisations who will stand up for them.
A key test for Labour will be the contest for London mayor and the May elections.
If Ken Livingstone loses and Labour does badly, Miliband’s days as leader may be numbered. But it is the Blairites who are circling to replace him, not the left.
What can change the situation is the deepening of class struggle.