Monday, May 28, 2007

Deputy leadership hustings

Last Saturday six of us from Swindon joined the Stop the War Coalition protest outside the Labour Party deputy leadership hustings in Bristol. We were expecting Gordon Brown to be there, but I don’t think he turned up. It is always nice for me to go to Bristol and meet up with comrades who I worked with in the past.

There were about 40 people present outside, and unfortunately the policing was unnecessarily heavy (Peter Hain is Northern Ireland secretary). Although, I estimate only half were members of the SWP, the fact that there were too many Socialist Worker placards and paper sellers gave the impression that it was a SWP protest, which is a bit of a counter productive image to project if trying to have a relationship with the Labour Party, and more than one non-SWP member expressed discomfort about it to me.

The logic of standing against Labour in elections has also seemingly undermined the strategic understanding that SWP comrades had about the Labour Party. As one Asian labour councillor drove past he was castigated in hostile terms for the fact that he had stood on an anti-war ticket to get elected, but was not active in the anti-war movement. This seems exactly the wrong tack to take: he should be encouraged for standing as an anti-war candidate, which is in itself a form of participation in the peace movement, even if he doesn’t go on demonstrations.

According to the report in the Morning Star 250 trade unionists attended the hustings. This seems unlikely to me, I had a chat with one of the stewards from Amicus and had a look at his list, and from that I estimate attendance nearer the 100 mark.

The most unequivocally right-wing candidates, Alan Johnson and Hazel Blears, are both stressing their links with the trade unions, but not calling for any change in policy. Bizarrely, the Shop workers union, USDAW is backing Hazel Blears, seemingly simply on the basis that she is an USDAW member. But USADW also claims that: “Gordon Brown’s … brilliant management of the economy and undoubted leadership skills [show he] is the right choice to build on Labour's achievements since 1997 continuing to build a prosperous Britain and secure a fourth term Labour Government”. Britain’s fifth biggest union, with 360000 members, USDAW is clearly sending a message by backing Blears that there needs be no change of direction. Privatisation and PFI, growing inequality, no repeal of Tory anti trade-union laws, deregulation, attacks on civil liberties, wars of aggression, a housing crisis, and Labour’s vote falling to its lowest ever level are all signs of success for USDAW.

The other deputy leadership candidates are all to one degree or another wooing the activist vote. Hilary Benn has called for new legislation to bridge the pay gap, and improve flexible working rights, and has on that basis been backed by the tiny ceramics union, Unity, which has only 9000 members mainly in Stoke on Trent.

Peter Hain is being backed by ASLEF, BFAWU and UCATT. Hain himself is playing a funny game, both backing and opposing privatisation of the NHS for example. “As a very general principle I believe public services should be publicly provided unless there is a very good reason why not. For instance in Northern Ireland I used the private sector to clear a massive waiting list backlog, and that was absolutely the right thing to do

Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas is backed by UNITE, the newly amalgamated T&G and Amicus. Unite joint general secretary, Derek Simpson said: "Jon Cruddas' stated policies mirror our members' desire for better job security, decent pensions, affordable housing and public services provided by the public sector. Jon is unlike any other candidate standing for the deputy leadership - he alone is calling for a change of direction in order to reconnect with the Labour party's core supporters."

There has been some criticism of UNITE for backing Gordon Brown, and interestingly I seems to have been a decision of only the GEC of the T&G and not Amicus who agreed to do so: “The Unite amicus section's political committee agreed .. that they would back Mr Cruddas, while the Unite T&G section's decision to nominate Cruddas and Brown was taken by its General Executive Council.”

Too much can be read into union leaderships supporting Brown, as I wrote back in February : “The union leaders want influence, and also want a change of direction. They will reason that backing Brown keeps them close to him, and they could maximise pressure on the new PM by backing a deputy leader closer to the unions’ agenda. As has been shown at the last two party conferences, the union leaders are very disciplined (or spineless, depending on your perspective) at sticking to their own agenda, and not supporting left initiatives over Iraq, etc. Cruddas himself has a good prospect of being not the “left candidate” but the “unions’ candidate”, in the same way that Callaghan was for leader. I think those union leaders wanting to pull Labour towards their own agenda may back Brown and Cruddas.”


Louisefeminista said...

USDAW either live on an alternate universe or are just plain right-wing, think the latter myself.

Ah, but Hazel Blears/wax in her ears/we don't like her/even if she thinks she is a class fighting leather-clad biker.

And now she has the gall to emphasise her working class street cred (her and Johnson). So bloody what. It is what she's done that matters and she's a traitor to the working class in my opinion.

AN said...

Maybe with their experience of the retail trade they thought Brown and Blears may come as a BOGOF offer?

Louisefeminista said...

More like bargain basement deal. Maybe USDAW believe they have a "sale on return" deal.

I have my LP CLP Leadership and Deputy Leadership Supporting Nomination meeting this wk. Ha!

The pretence of a democratic discussion over the Leadership position or as the secretary laughably states (I am still in stitches over it... side splitting hilarity he should be a stand-up comedian...maybe he is):

"This is the first time in its history the LP as a whole is choosing not only a new leadership team but also a new Prime Minister..."

AN said...

The last leadership election I was actualy in the LP for was Kinnock/hattersley, the so called "Dream Ticket"

If that si the sort of dream you have, then you shouldn't eat cheese before going to bed.

But ironic that hattersley is now a "left" critic of Blairism, while Kinnock supports every rightwad lurch.

Louisefeminista said...

Ahhh, Kinnock the architect of New Realism (not new and certainly not realistic!)..Yes, the nightmare ticket. Funny how Hattersley has become all rebel like.

I was a supporter of the Benn/Heffer campaign in 1988("That's the Ticket"!)Still have the badge somewhere.....

AN said...

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Benn had not lost Bristol East in 1983, he would have been eligible to stand for leader against Kinnock. Indeed wuld Kinnock even have had enough backing from the left to stand?

AN said...

And Lousie: Blears is a traitor to the working class in my opinion.

There is htat old joke that Tony Blair is the first labour leader not to be a traitor to his class ;o)

neprimerimye said...

Maybe USDAW is simply bureaucratised and ha a low membership participation rate? In which case the left stands culpable for not placing the emphasis of propaganda work on the workplaces.

AN said...

I sorta agree Mike, except that I wouldn't particularly stress propaganda work what is needed is also shop floor trade union activism. Nor would I restrict the work to the workplaces, but also we need to engage with the unions' structures at every level.

BTW - you in particular may be interested that of the SWP comrades at the picket, I would say that they fell into two categories, with only a couple of exceptions. Those who have been in the party 25 years, and those who have been in the party for six months, and what was most striking is that the party's industrial implementation has deeply suffered. I didn't know that Phil had lost his job due to victimisation in Gloucester Council - one of their best implanted trade union militants. In addition to which Jo B has retired from BT, which has ended her long carrer as a CWU(E) militant, and taken away the SWP's toehold of influence in this key section of workers. And of course Jer Hicks lost his job at RR.

I cannot see these roots among organised workers being easily replaced given their current trajectory, which is a tragedy.

Charlie Marks said...

USDAW's political line is likely to be compromised by the close relationship it has with big business, Tescos for example.

susan calder valley CLP said...

If Benn had not lost his seat he would have been Leader in 1983. No doubt about it.Re NOW: Tbanks to spineless , craven PLP have no-one to vote for.Not repeating whatI've said about cruddas elsewhere but the man's a very bad joke. Maybe we should have stood a Left deputy leadership candidate too ......

AN said...

It would certainly have been interesting, I am less confident than you he would have won, because it would have meant the big unions would have need to back him - but the fact that we can even speculate about it illustrates how far we have fallen.

The question about today though is that I have been arguing for some time that the rule changes that the right have won are irreversible, and the raised PLP threshold is a good example of that.

What is more, the victory of ther rigt is self-sustaining, becasue as a result of their changes, and Balir's policies, a lot of the left simply resigned from the party.

As I have pointed out before, in my union brnach, out of 50 odd shop stewards and ativists I don't think there is a single member of the LP.

pb said...

I am already bored of Blears saying 'growing up where i did, you grew up tough' and also 'my brother drives a Manchester bus'.

And Harman saying she wants to 'review the Trident programme' just two months after voting to replace it.

These guys are hilarious.

Louisefeminista said...

Yeah and well Blears did star as a "street urchin" in the film A Taste of Honey. So she does indeed know all about the "tough" life....
Oh and I missed the Newsnight hustings but was told by a work colleague that Blears came across as "very scary"..

AN said...

Yes it is interesting that apart from Blears and Johnston all the candiidates are trying to appear as left as possible.

And those two are instead stressing how working class they are.

None of them really shone on the newsnight debate, though Cruddas did stand out by making an unequivocal statement in support of withdrawal from Iraq.

AN said...

Ok, whe I wrote: are trying to appear as left as possible

I meant, as left as possible without actually opposing the right wing policies of the government!