THE TOUGH talk from some union leaders last week against New Labour reveals the pressure they are under from their members.
Most of the unions’ leaderships have been loyal to Labour.
But as Kevin Maguire noted in the Guardian this week about the Amicus union leader, “Derek Simpson found himself on the wrong end of his rank and file’s fury after writing to his union’s 1.1 million members urging them to back Labour in the local and European elections.
“Mr Simpson received a flood of vituperative telephone calls, letters and e-mails from his members, swamping the union’s central London headquarters.”
That was why Simpson came out with his grudging statement this week criticising Blair.
He said, “The words stick in your throat. ‘Blair has got to go’.” He added, “When it comes to the many key issues that impact on the lives of working people the Labour leadership is listening to others, such as their friends in big business.”
Other union leaders, such as Dave Prentis at Unison’s annual conference last week, have also tried to give the impression that they are standing firm against New Labour.
This is what they did last year at the Labour Party conference when they pushed for a vote on the government’s foundation hospitals scheme, at the same time as taking the heat off the key issue of Iraq.
They won the vote, but the government promptly ignored it. And Blair was relieved that he had escaped from a potentially embarrassing debate on Iraq.
The bitter feeling among working people at New Labour has grown and deepened.
But the union leaders’ continued commitment to the Labour Party means they have failed to shape that bitterness in British society into a collective struggle against the bosses and New Labour.
So groups like the Liberal Democrats or, worse, the UK Independence Party, were able to make gains in recent elections.
That is why it is so important that Respect: The Unity Coalition rallies those who feel let down by New Labour.
In the elections Respect did incredibly well in a number of areas. These include Newham in east London, where Respect got 21 percent of the vote, and in Tower Hamlets in east London, where Respect got 20 percent of the vote.
In two areas where Respect polled well parliamentary by-elections have now been called. The by-elections in Leicester South and Birmingham Hodge Hill, called for Thursday 15 July, are a fantastic opportunity to shape the mood in Britain to the left.
Respect: The Unity Coalition has selected candidates to fight in both constituencies. It is hoping to build on its successes in the 10 June European elections.
Respect is urging its supporters around the country to join the campaign in Leicester and Birmingham over the next two weeks.
Everyone who wants a left alternative to New Labour, and to all the mainstream parties, should get to Leicester and Birmingham in the next few days and be a part of this vital campaign.