Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/687/12851
Editorial of the Socialist
Pro-business Labour offers crumbs and promises cuts
Urgent: Build a new mass workers' party
Across Britain public sector trade unionists are preparing to go on strike on 30 November, in the biggest day of strike action since 1926.
This week the leaders of the biggest public sector trade unions have been at the Labour Party conference. In 2011 the trade unions affiliated to Labour have provided it with three quarters of its funding. One union alone - Unite - donated a quarter of all money received. This is the exact opposite of 'he who pays the piper calls the tune'.
At the conference, Dave Prentis, general secretary of the biggest public sector trade union - Unison - called on the Labour leadership to back the strike, saying: "It's no time to sit on the fence when this country faces a stark choice between taking on the powerful and privileged, or letting the price be paid by the poor and the powerless."
Miliband responded by repeating his condemnation of the 30 June strike, and refusing to give support to the strike action in November despite being under huge pressure on the issue. This pressure was shown when Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the party, said that Labour would support the strikes if the government remained 'unreasonable'.
In addition, Ed Balls, shadow chancellor made it clear that a Labour government would also slash public sector workers' pension rights - by increasing contributions and raising the retirement age.
Labour's failure to represent working class people has never been starker than it is today. As capitalism lurches into a deeper crisis, and the living standards of the majority fall more than at any time since the 1920s, the majority of society - the working class - desperately needs a mass party that stands up for its interests.
Miliband declared in his speech that "all parties must be pro-business today" and Labour, under his leadership, is a continuation of the pro-big business policies of Labour in Brown and Blair's governments. He explicitly supported the Tories' anti-trade union laws and opposed any return to taxing the rich at 1970s levels.
Liverpool socialists attacked
It is true that Ed Balls promised a few crumbs for working class people - a cut in VAT, 100,000 jobs for young people and 25,000 affordable homes.
These promises will be welcomed by workers but when there are a million young people unemployed and five million people desperate for social housing, they are a very small drop in a very big ocean. Between 1949 and 1954 there was a yearly average of 230,000 council houses built in Britain.
From 1983 and 1987 one Labour council, in Liverpool, led by the Militant (now the Socialist Party) refused to make cuts, taking on and defeating the then Tory government.
That Labour council built or renovated over 8,000 council houses and created more than 16,000 jobs. Job creation and house building and renovation on that scale and more are needed across Britain.
Yet Miliband began his speech by attacking the 1983-87 Liverpool Labour council and implicitly praising the current Liverpool Labour council that has, along with every other Labour council in the country, implemented millions of pounds worth of cuts in public services.
Miliband resorted to 'populist' promises that people in work will have priority for social housing over the unemployed. This is a recipe for division - encouraging working class people to fight among themselves for scarce resources - and is a disgusting policy.
As a result of the economic crisis there are 2.5 million, and rising, unemployed in Britain. Unemployment leads to such desperation, not least the fear of homelessness, that it increases the risk of suicide threefold.
Yet Miliband is saying that workers like those laid off this week at BAe, or the sailors made redundant from the Navy, should have insult added to injury by being put to the bottom of the enormous queue for social housing.
And while Ed Balls said that Britain faces a 'lost decade of economic stagnation' and rightly argued against "piling austerity on austerity, tax rise upon tax rise, and cut upon cut", he combined this with making it clear that Labour would not promise to reverse the Tories cuts and austerity if it came to power, and would carry out more of its own.
Killing off democracy
The proposal to cut the cap on university tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000 sums up Labour's promises - the Con-Dems have cut your whole leg off, Labour would leave you a stump!
The democratic structures, through which the working class was able to influence the Labour Party in the past, have long since been destroyed. At this conference most of the few remnants of the structures were dynamited.
The 'Refounding Labour' document was railroaded through the conference with no discussion. After the top-table's refusal to have a discussion on it, even a Financial Times columnist concluded, "whoever's in charge, it can't be the delegates"!
Elections to the shadow cabinet have now been abolished and steps taken towards dissolving the party structures altogether in a US-style primary system where non-party members have the power to take decisions.
The leaders of the affiliated unions may claim that they influenced the Refounding Labour document because the weight given to non-members is less than originally proposed, and it is spread evenly across the electoral college, rather than cutting only into the trade union vote.
This, however, does not alter the fact that this conference put yet another nail in the, already well-nailed down, coffin of Labour Party democracy.
Public sector workers are preparing to show their strength industrially and on the streets on 30 November. In the last strike, on 30 June, the biggest boos were reserved for Miliband's condemnation of the strike.
The same will be true on 30 November. The need for the trade unions to begin to found their own party - a party which stands in workers' interests - will be urgently posed.
In The Socialist 28 September 2011:
Building for 30 November strike
Jarrow march for jobs
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