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Union leaders and Labour must tackle cost of living crisis

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Rather than mobilising against the cost of living crisis, union leaders and the Labour Party support pro-Nato marches and military funding
Issue 2799
Protesters at a cost of living demonstration last Saturday in London

More protests against the cost of living crisis, like this one last Saturday in London, are crucial (Picture: Socialist Worker)

Trade union leaders are turning their backs on the cost of living crisis while they busy themselves supporting a march that will boost Nato’s escalation over Ukraine. No union leader says openly that protests and strikes are wrong at a time of war and disrupt “national unity”. But in practice most act in that rotten spirit. 

Where are the protests over the terrible poverty and hardship that is happening to millions of people? Instead, many union leaders are backing the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign’s demonstration in central London on Saturday. The list of supporters includes the PCS, GMB, Aslef, Bfawu, NUM and CWU unions. The slogans—troops out of Ukraine, no to Putin’s war, Ukrainian refugees welcome—are ones that everyone should support. Although all refugees welcome would be a better demand.  

But by deliberately not mentioning the role of Nato and Western imperialism, the organisers are covering-up the crimes of the West. This is not an accidental omission. It flows from the idea that our own rulers are innocent and that only Russian president Vladimir Putin is guilty. This assists the Western calls for arms, spiralling military spending and sanctions that punish Russia’s people. 

It will help Boris Johnson to escape from his crimes by offering no criticism of Britain’s war policy—except perhaps that it is insufficiently bloodthirsty. And it will be a march for more war. Unions should be exposing and opposing Nato’s role—as the Unison, NEU and FBU unions have done. And they should be hurling themselves into mass protests and strikes over the cost of living. 

The TUC union federation has called a march and rally for Saturday 18 June in London. It calls for “action on the cost of living, a new deal for working people, and a pay rise for all workers”. It should be built as a massive event and act as a launchpad for hard-hitting strikes. But we can’t wait two more months for any resistance. And unity over the war makes class battles harder.

Sam Ord

Starmer tries to face both ways on cost of living crisis

The Labour Party spent last week tying itself in knots over the cost of living crisis and trans rights. Labour leader Keir Starmer thinks the party can gain from anger at the cost of living in local elections next month. Launching the party’s local election campaign last Thursday, he said people deserved better than the Tories’ “pathetic” and “miserable” response to the crisis.

He repeated the party’s call for a “windfall tax” on oil and gas companies “who have made profits they didn’t expect to make.” But at the same time Starmer is desperate to win over those same energy company bosses. He wants to show the era of previous Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said utility companies should be brought into public ownership, is long over. 

Starmer tried to balance the two in a television interview last Friday. “People don’t want a revolution. They do want to know, ‘How am I going to pay my energy bill?’,” he said. “What I want people to do is to look at the Labour Party and see a party that understands their worries and is prepared to put practical plans on the table.” So, expect small measures from Labour—but nothing too radical.

Its “practical plan” meant asking energy companies to “pay their fair share”. Meanwhile, only the very poorest would get the full £600 off energy bills that Labour touts when the average energy bill is set to rise by at least £700. Labour is much keener on funding war and weapons. It called last Wednesday for a major increase in military spending. In the same week Labour also tried to pose as supporters of improved rights for trans people, while appeasing those who want to roll trans rights back.

Starmer said Labour supported reforms to make it easier for trans people to self-identify. But no Labour politician felt able to say outright that trans women are women. “Men have penises, women have vaginas,” Wes Streeting said in an interview—to the applause of transphobes. It was a week that showed while Labour might pose a progressive party for working class people, it is always committed to the needs of the bosses and demands of the right.

Nick Clark

‘Stay and hide’ in Labour 

Labour left group Momentum told its supporters last week to retreat in the face of the party leadership’s latest assault on members. Labour’s ruling body, the national executive committee, last week agreed to ban members from supporting three left wing groups. After the decision Momentum sent an email to supporters advising them to erase any hint of past support for those groups from their social media accounts.

Rather than defy the assault and stand with those who are expelled, Momentum wants its members to abandon them and deny any association. Momentum said socialists should “stay and fight” inside Labour after the right retook control of the party’s leadership. In reality staying in Labour means “stay and hide”.

Labour failed women staff

Two former Labour Party staff were asked to sign confidentiality agreements after making complaints of sexual harassment about a senior official. Laura Murray and Georgie Robertson raised concerns about “inappropriate behaviour” in March 2020. The pair said they were assured their complaints would be kept confidential. But the official was informed without their consent.

Labour suspended the official but reinstated him after the two said they felt “pressured” to withdraw their complaints. They said they had no confidence in the process after their request for confidentiality had been ineffective. They later submitted formal grievances but said their complaints were “never dealt with seriously” after that. They also refused to sign confidentiality agreements and resigned without pay outs.

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