The Labour Party is funded by the trade unions and Ed Miliband won the leadership of the party because of their support.
But leading Labour figures are queuing up to pledge their independence from trade unions. They present unions as a special interest group—although they represent over seven million people in Britain today.
The union leaders are on a mission, and it’s not a new one. They want to argue that they can reclaim Labour so that it will represent the interests of working class people. Unite union leader Len McCluskey is leading the way with Unison’s Dave Prentis and GMB leader Paul Kenny.
McCluskey said, “It is time for Labour to once and for all turn its back on the neoliberalism of the past.” He called on Labour to “embrace the radical alternative the country wants, which is the only way—the only way Labour will return to power.”
But Labour is not about to embrace a radical alternative. Its leadership believes that getting elected again means trying to prove the party can be trusted to continue the Tories’ austerity policies.
When Labour is in office, workers are told not to rock the boat. Union leaders say that the Tories would be much worse so it’s better to support the Labour government.
Yet when in opposition, Labour and union leaders say the party can’t offer anything to workers as Labour have to become electable.
Ordinary people face the worst attacks on their living conditions in generations. McCluskey is right that the last thing they need to hear is that a future Labour government may maintain Tory pay freezes and NHS privatisation.
But the idea that Labour can be “reclaimed” has at its heart the myth that Labour was once a party that represented the interests of working class people.
In fact Labour has always been a contradiction between its membership and support, which is rooted in the working class, and its commitment to working within the system.
Millions still look to Labour to stand up for them. But Labour has always failed them. Working class people need independent political representation.
That is why, whatever the difficulties, there is still a glaring need for a socialist alternative to the left of Labour that millions of disenfranchised Labour voters could look to.
But workers also have to look to their own strength and organisation to beat back the Tories’ attacks. That’s why every activist across Britain should be organising to bring the maximum number of people to the TUC demonstration on 20 October.
This can open the door to more strikes and action that will shake the Tories far more than any number of right wing speeches from Miliband.