Socialist Worker

The rich give happily to New Labour, but why do the unions?

Issue No. 1993

It is easy to see why you would want to bung New Labour a million pounds if you were a billionaire. A dozen of them lent £14 million to fund Tony Blair’s general election campaign. Rod Aldridge, chief executive of Capita, was one. By sheer coincidence Capita gets lucrative contracts from the government.

New Labour loves the world of wealth and the glamour of rich entrepreneurs.

It is less easy to see why the trade unions should continue to fund Labour to the tune of millions – they get little in return for their member’s cash. Yet trade union leaders urge us to slavishly support a government intent on privatising health, dismantling comprehensive education and destroying our pension rights.

This devotion to New Labour in the face of its free market and warmongering record is the Achilles heel of the trade union movement. Time after time trade union leaders are prepared to broker deals which put the interests of the government ahead of those of their members.

It’s worth recalling how Britain became the most corporate society in Europe. Thirty years ago the unions brought down a Tory government.

It was replaced by a Labour government which argued that the only way to turn Britain around was to accept wage limits, job flexibility and reduced welfare spending. The union leaders accepted this and policed these policies, creating confusion and demoralisation on the shopfloor.

The unity of the movement was broken. Five years later Margaret Thatcher was elected as Labour’s vote slumped.

History does not need to repeat itself. Rather than sticking with New Labour, trade unionists, pensioners, students and community activists need to create a political voice which champions free education, peace, council housing and other policies union conferences repeatedly vote for. On 4 May we have the chance to elect Respect councillors who will do just that.

Pensions action

Strike is chance to revitalise grassroots

Next Tuesday’s strike is crucial for protecting our pensions and those of generations to come. It is also an opportunity to turn around the free market tide and a chance for us to rebuild working class organisation.

We have to organise to achieve the mounting strike action that is vital if we are to win the battle over pensions. And that requires rank and file organisation.We need follow up meetings with pensioner activists across the unions to discuss and plan the next action. But we also need to address the issues that have mobilised people in massive numbers, such as war and poverty.

So it is vital that we follow up the success of last Saturday’s Stop the War demonstration by organising workplace meetings on Iraq and the danger of a fresh war with Iran.

And in the build-up to the May local elections we can invite Respect candidates to union meetings and discuss who we should back in order to further our interests.

Not everyone who strikes on Tuesday will be against the war or see how the attack on pensions is the sharp end of a global neo-liberal offensive.

But growing numbers do – and many of them will be striking for the first time on Tuesday. We need to bring the vitality of the anti-war and anti?capitalist movements – and the spirit of unity manifested on the streets of France this week – into our workplaces and our unions.

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What We Think
Sat 25 Mar 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1993
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