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Labour’s complacency is criminal

Labour and the trade union movement

Shadow Treasury secretary Rachel Reeves’s response to the decision by general union GMB to reduce the number of its members that it affiliates to the Labour Party borders on criminal complacency.

According to her, membership of her Leeds West Constituency Labour Party has risen by 50 per cent since the general election.

“We’ve got more members, more trade union activists getting involved in the party because they like what Ed Miliband has to say. So I am confident that more people will sign up, get involved in the Labour Party and come out campaigning.”

The first question that this statement begs is: 50 per cent of what?
Labour membership generally is not up 50 per cent since 2010 despite the hundreds of thousands of members who left the party during the new Labour government years.

If the Labour leadership bases its response to the GMB on Reeves’s knee-jerk cavalier rhetoric, it will sign its own political death warrant.

The only justification for Labour’s existence is as a party speaking out for and representing working people’s aspirations.

Landowners, big business and neoliberal zealots already have two major parties to do their dirty work.

Labour sacrificed millions of working-class votes when it was in government, proclaiming: “Labour means business” and affirming its supreme relaxation at seeing some people become “filthy rich.”

It won’t win the next election by espousing austerity-lite and relying on spin doctors to pass off triangulation manoeuvres as issues of political principle and importance.

Britain’s rich elite hasn’t noticed an economic crisis and certainly hasn’t had to tighten its collective belt.

The cost of bailing out the overstretched private banking system has been borne by working people, pensioners, a million young unemployed and benefit claimants. And we still haven’t seen the half of it.

Labour continues to cash regular cheques from trade unions while treating trade unionists’ concerns with contempt.

The question is not why the GMB has taken this action but why the unions have waited so long to tell the Labour leadership it’s going nowhere rather than simply griping about each snub as it arises.

Ed Miliband announced his decision on Labour’s funding without any consultation with the trade union movement that he was intent on distancing ever further from decision-making in the party.

He went so far as to invite a police investigation into Falkirk CLP because Unite made use of party rules to encourage its members to join and influence the decision on choosing Labour’s by-election candidate.

The party leadership that had connived at decades of parachuting new Labour candidates into working-class northern constituencies and turning a blind eye to the excessive influence wielded by Lord Sainsbury’s Progress outfit went berserk at the prospect of a constituency selecting a non-approved working-class candidate.

Labour still appears to believe that new members and former voters will flock to its banner without seeing any commitment to the bread-and-butter issues raised by working-class voters on the doorstep.

It’s wrong. The party has to respond to concerns over reduced living standards, frozen wages, job cuts, health and education privatisation, the bedroom tax and other crucial questions.

Failure to do so could see the unions moving from reducing affiliation fees to re-establishing the mass party of labour that they founded and which is failing to do the job for which it was created.


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