By Judith Orr
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2457

Trade unionists say to Labour, ‘Stop copying Tory austerity’

This article is over 8 years, 11 months old
Issue 2457
The Labour leadership candidates Jeremy Corbyn is challenging are Liz Kendall, Evette Cooper, Mary Creagh and Andy Burnham

The Labour leadership candidates Jeremy Corbyn is challenging are Liz Kendall, Evette Cooper, Mary Creagh and Andy Burnham

The news that left Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn had put his name forward in the Labour leadership election cheered many trade unionists and socialists.

Blairites from the Labour right have dominated the debate about the way forward after the party’s defeat in May’s general election.

Liz Kendall refused to denounce the Tories’ latest cuts package. Yvette Cooper accused her of “swallowing the Tory manifesto”.

Yet she backs a benefit cap and thinks people on benefits should be forced into compulsory jobs.

Interim Labour leader Harriet Harman even said many Labour voters are “relieved” that Labour is not in government. 

Such views offer nothing to workers looking to Labour to take on the Tories. 

Jim Carlin, a Bfawu union member from Glasgow, told Socialist Worker that Labour should be “more supportive of trade unions and vote for left wing candidates”.

He added, “There needs to be debate in the unions about the future of the Labour Party because the Blairites keep coming to the fore.”

Jeremy Corbyn told Socialist Worker that Labour lost the general election because its “fundamental economic message was that austerity in a lighter form would carry on” (see right).


However Corbyn had won 11 nominations, as Socialist Worker went to press far below the minimum 35 needed by 15 June to in order to stand.

It’s a sign of the weakness of the Labour left that getting on the ballot rests on securing “excess” nominations from other candidates.

Some in Labour want a genuine debate. Others would like to see Corbyn included because they believe it would make Andy Burnham seem a more credible alternative to the Blairites.

Burnham is the favoured candidate of the big unions—despite Corbyn’s record of fighting cuts and supporting workers’ rights.

New rules mean members of trade unions affiliated to Labour must opt in to have the right to vote. 

Burnham seeks to distance himself from the right. But he doesn’t want the label of being the candidate of the left or the unions. 

He has publicly shunned trade union financial support.

GMB union member Scott Robertson from Rochdale was a delegate at GMB conference this week (see page 19). 

He told Socialist Worker, “You listen to Andy Burnham—he is not left wing. Most people in this room would vote for Jeremy Corbyn. But would the Labour Party support him? Probably not.” 

Like many workers, Scott was frustrated with talk of Labour being too left wing.

“Labour needs to put clear water between it and the Tories,” he said. “It needs to say, ‘This is where we stand and we’re not going to change our minds to get a few more votes’.”  

Scottish Labour Party needs to ‘be there for workers’

Labour in Scotland is also holding a leadership election. 

The Scottish National Party’s crushing victory led to former Labour leader Jim Murphy’s resignation.

Mary Finn is a GMB union branch secretary in Glasgow. 

She told Socialist Worker, “I was gutted when the general election results came in—but now we’ve got a new fight on our hands.” 

She said the answer was to “get back to the grassroots”. 

“We’ve got to be there for the workers, not for the government,” she said. “If we’re not for the workers, we won’t get anywhere.”

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