Miliband and Labour – no real alternative to Con-Dems

Editorial of the Socialist

Miliband and Labour – no real alternative to Con-Dems

Ed Miliband became the first Labour leader since Neil Kinnock in 1989 to speak at the Durham Miners’ Gala. He was immediately attacked by Tory peer, Baroness Warsi, herself under investigation for fiddling her expenses. She has lambasted him for “cosying up to his militant, left-wing union paymasters”. Is she correct? Does this represent a break with the past? Has Ed become red?

The fact that he went at all has marked him out from Blair and Brown – Tony Blair declined to go in 1995 and took his now infamous trip to genuflect at the feet of Rupert Murdoch instead. This was despite the fact that his constituency was a Durham mining seat.

Last year Miliband refused to attend because militant trade union leader Bob Crow was on the platform. This year he declared himself proud to be following in the footsteps of Keir Hardie – but Keir Hardie pioneered the formation of the Labour Party to provide an independent voice for the working class. A party free of the influence of the Liberals, a party of big business.

Would a Labour government be in that tradition? Miliband will not reverse the Con-Dem cuts, he only pledges that Labour’s cuts will be slower. He condemned the public sector pensions’ strike in June of last year. He refuses to promise to increase taxes on the rich.

He does pledge to reverse the government’s changes to the NHS – this is welcome but only scratches the surface. Hospitals are already under threat of bankruptcy and closure because of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). Although this was first brought in by a Tory government it was a main plank of Blair and Brown’s policies.

According to health expert Allyson Pollock, PFI is associated with a 30% reduction in beds, staff, A&E departments and whole hospitals. Yet Labour shadow minister Liam Byrne, immediately defended PFI when it was blamed for the threatened bankruptcy of South London Healthcare Trust. PFI projects with a total capital value of £54.7 billion have so far cost us over £300 billion, which has gone straight into the pockets of big business.

Miliband stands at the head of a party that represents big business and the rich; he has no answer to the profound capitalist crisis in the EU and worldwide, beyond mild attacks on Murdoch, bankers’ bonuses and the rich.

During his speech at the Gala hecklers shouted: “What about trade union rights?” It is Labour’s refusal to contemplate abolishing Thatcher’s anti-trade union legislation that is one of the decisive factors that puts them on the side of the bosses. In 2011, three quarters of Labour’s funding came from the trade unions but this is the complete opposite of ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’.

Reclaiming Labour?

Unite, under the leadership of Len McCluskey, is currently running a campaign of working to ‘change the Labour Party from within’. However, for the trade unions to reclaim the Labour Party it would require a mass influx of trade unionists into the party who would then have to wage a battle to recreate the long destroyed democratic structures of the party. We do not believe that this can be achieved.

Unite had set a target to recruit 5,000 Unite members to the party but unsurprisingly has so far failed to achieve this. This reflects the profound disillusionment with Labour amongst trade unionists.

At GMB conference, another Labour-affiliated trade union, one-quarter of the motions questioned the link with Labour and Socialist Party member and former Liverpool City councillor Tony Mulhearn received a standing ovation in the manufacturing section when he called for a new workers’ party. We argue for Unite and others to stop funding New Labour and to begin to build a new party.

Nonetheless a serious campaign to reclaim New Labour by affiliated trade unions would be a step forward from the current policy of the majority of the union leaders of clinging to the coat-tails of the Labour leadership.

A serious campaign would have to demand that Labour adopts a socialist programme. Key demands would include the repeal of all the anti-trade union laws and opposition to all cuts in public services, not just in words but in action.

At the moment workers are involved in a continuous struggle to fight to defend their jobs, wages and conditions and the right to organise not just against the Tory government but against Labour councils implementing the cuts. For example in Southampton, which has passed from Tory control to Labour following months of strike action and campaigning by council workers.

In the recent local elections, trade unionists that stood under the banner of the Trade Unionists and Socialists Coalition (TUSC), opposed all cuts and called for the formation of a new, mass workers’ party. For this they were publicly attacked by Unison regional full-timers and the now leader of the council. TUSC candidates were asked not to stand in the city.

Now, within weeks of this Labour victory, it is the Labour council carrying out £13 million in cuts, including the closure of a local swimming pool and threatening redundancies.

But pressure from below, by trade unionists and community campaigners, given a voice by the TUSC campaign, has pushed two Southampton Labour councillors to vote against the cuts.

TUSC gives its full support to these councillors’ anti-cuts stance. The effective role of the Southampton TUSC campaign is in stark contrast to the attitude of some others on the left, including the Socialist Workers’ Party, who unfortunately enter uncritical alliances with Labour councillors carrying out cuts, both in anti-cuts campaigning and combating the EDL.

However, one swallow does not a summer make. There are only four Labour councillors in Labour councils nationally who have come out against the cuts. Contrast this with the 1980s when over 20 Labour councils were prepared to resist Thatcher’s cuts.

Coalition weakness

This Con-Dem coalition is on the rocks. The Tory revolt against what they saw as a Lib Dem attack on their privileges in the House of Lords has marked a watershed in the life of this government. The Tory backbench 1922 Committee, which itself was formed to oppose coalition with the Liberal Party at that time, is in revolt against David Cameron.

The government’s economic policy is in tatters with open talk that Osborne will be replaced by William Hague at the Treasury. Miliband had the opportunity to defeat the Con-Dem coalition but once again Labour MPs trooped through the lobbies with the government.

We can’t look to Labour for the fight back. In reality Southampton is a harbinger of the next Labour government. No doubt, like Southampton council, Miliband will protest that his hands are tied – he will say that they have no choice. We say there is an alternative.

The trade unions can fight – victories have been won by determined strike action, as the recent concessions won by the London busworkers have shown.

PCS leader Mark Serwotka received a great reception at the Miners’ Gala. In contrast to Miliband’s speech, workers stood and listened intently to his call for opposition to all cuts; this is a result of the fighting lead that the PCS has given.

The leadership of the main trade unions cannot leave it to Labour, which has no strategy to bring down this government. That is why the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) lobby of the TUC in Brighton on 9 September is so important.

Unions which do not see this as a vital next step are making a mistake. Pressure is building from below – we need to direct it at the TUC to make the slogan of the 20 October demo a call for a one day general strike to unite the public and private sector against the policies of this rotten government.

But there is also the need to give a political alternative. The phenomenal growth in electoral support for the radical left coalition Syriza in Greece shows the potential for a left alternative to Labour in Britain. TUSC, which was unanimously backed by the recent RMT conference, can begin to play that role.

Armed with a socialist programme including taking over the banks and the big corporations under democratic control, a new workers’ party could rapidly build popular support.

The over £750 billion lying in the vaults of big business could be used to create jobs, to build hospitals, schools and houses. Taking over the banks and the big corporations under democratic control would lay the basis for a society that could meet the needs of the overwhelming mass of the population as opposed to a few thousand millionaires and billionaires.