asks John McAllion
"THINGS fall apart; the centre cannot hold..."
We might not yet have reached the stage where the words quoted above can be applied to "the great alliance" that once existed between the Labour Party and the Trade Unions in Britain.

Yet it is difficult to remember a time during the past century when that relationship has been under greater strain than now. There are a number of reasons for this.

The Labour Party was brought into existence to be the political voice of the organised labour movement across Britain. They were in parliament to defend the interests of that movement and the working class the movement represented.

Somewhere between 1979 and 1997 the Labour Party gave up any pretence of being that kind of party. In the words of the recently deceased author Iain Banks: "Labour gave up being Labour."

Anti-union laws

The embrace of the harshest anti-trade union laws in Europe by the Blair and Brown governments was the most obvious signal of New Labour’s change of direction.  There were many others.

Illegal wars, privatisation, deregulation, welfare cuts and attacks on civil liberties are some examples of Labour’s drift to the centre right ground of politics; and of its drift away from the socialist and collectivist principles that had traditionally defined the labour and trade union movement.

Labour’s affiliated trade unions were powerless in the face of this betrayal.  Within the parameters of the British state they had nowhere else to go. Bad as Labour had become, the Lib Dems and the Tories were even worse.

The unions may have hated what Labour Governments were doing.  They were more frightened of what Lib Dem or Tory Governments might do if given the chance.  Events were to prove them right.

The onset of the financial crisis in 2008 first ended 13 years of New Labour Government and then ushered in a ConDem Coalition committed to a programme of austerity that threatens to destroy everything "the great alliance" had ever stood for.  In particular, it threatens the one part of the economy where the unions remain relatively strong - the public sector.

One senior union official recently told a pensioners’ conference that more than 50,000 public sector jobs in Scotland had disappeared in the last four years and another 250.000 were set to go over the next four years.

The trade unions’ key role in electing "Red Ed" Miliband as Labour leader was meant to signal the beginning of fight-back against austerity, a break with New Labour and the hope of a steady return to the collectivist and egalitarian ideals of "the great alliance".

This flight of fancy was soon brought crashing to earth as Miliband and Balls, in true New Labour style, announced that they would honour the Tory inspired spending cuts, cap social security spending and erode universal benefits through further means testing.

Anyone looking for an end to austerity under a Labour Government would look in vain.

Political funds

So where do trade unions turn now? 

The argument for trade unions to have political funds rests on them being able to use the money to campaign politically on issues of social justice that affect their members - full employment, rights at work, decent public services, the eradication of poverty and inequality and so on. 

How then can any union continue to fund and support a Labour party that is committed to austerity policies that threaten all of these socially just ends?  The only credible answer to that question is that within the British state there is no electable alternative to Labour.  Scotland, of course, is different.

We now have an historic opportunity to break with a British state that has remoulded what was supposed to be a party of labour into just another prop for a deeply conservative political culture.  The challenge facing the leadership of the Scottish trade union movement now is to face up to that uncomfortable reality.

The STUC and its Labour affiliated unions claim that social change and not constitutional change should be at the heart of the referendum debate.

If they mean what they say they must recognise that the social change their members need cannot be achieved through a Labour party thirled to the British state but only through the break-up of that British state.

It really is time to think again.

This article appears courtesy of the Scottish Socialist Voice


# Evil Gazebo 2013-06-26 06:30
And here we have another story regarding Labours trust in the unions,& the people of Scotland.
# Edulis 2013-06-26 07:11
What we must get across is that Westminster is thirled to the City which is a positive for London and the South East but bad for everybody else. Westminster has been shown to be incapable of even minor change when what we need is revolutionary change. Ergo, the only way to go is to break free.
# brh206 2013-06-26 07:45
The Labour Party started to die under Kinnock although he looks like a true communist compared to the Likes of Blair, Brown, Miliband and Balls. The Labour Party is Dead, the members just haven't noticed yet and more fool them. The Unions have also got to wake up, I stopped being a member of a Union in the early 90s in my teens when I soon learned that they were as bad as the Labour Party and were not representing poor people. There is the SNP in Scotland and thankfully that is something but fear is winning the argument, the Unions need to come out for a firm YES if they want to truly embrace social change in a modern left of centre nation where everyone matters.

# ituna semea 2013-06-26 08:20
For a start let's hope they cease trying to suborn local constituency parties.
# bringiton 2013-06-26 09:10
Unfortunately,t he Labour party still represents the only vehicle available to trade unionists who wish to pursue a political career.Any change in policy with regard to constitutional change will have to come from the grass roots as it isn't likely the leadership will do so.
# Jo Bloggs 2013-06-27 14:44
Quoting bringiton:
Unfortunately,t he Labour party still represents the only vehicle available to trade unionists who wish to pursue a political career.

Why? Why not the SNP, Scottish Socialists, Greens?
# Clydebuilt 2013-06-26 09:33
John McAllion should be on the board of YES Scotland. another great socialist voice. what about John getting to speak at the March in Edinburgh.
# curley bill 2013-06-26 11:32
This is a seriously good article - well done Mr McAllion.
# pmcrek 2013-06-26 11:37
Unfortunately the top layer of many unions suffer from the same malady as Labour.
# cuckooshoe 2013-06-26 11:48
What has New Labour ever done for them?

"The unbearable sadness of the Welsh valleys"
# farrochie 2013-06-26 12:45
In Scotland, the Labour Party is obsessive in its opposition to independence, regardless of whether this would improve the lot of Scotland's people. It is obsessive in its desire to keep Westminster in charge of Scotland's affairs, happy to provide Scotland entire revenue stream to Westminster in return for a "grant". Its current leadership, for all its root and branch review, delivered no change. A party unembarrassed by its coalition with Tories to "save the union".

Today we see a weak Scottish Labour leader, unable to articulate policy positions, ineffective at FMQ, and with no say in the real decisions of the party, the Falkirk debacle being the most recent example.

Labour has made a fundamental error in not backing independence and will pay a penalty in future elections, whether a YES or NO vote in the referendum.
# clootie 2013-06-26 13:39
We have to return to the founding principles not the distorted picture of the 70's and 80's.

We need a living wage / decent pensions / good employment laws etc for the simple reason that it is the right thing to do.

We also need strong businesses which can adapt to changing circumstances. A flexible workforce delivering quality products.

All employees need to be focused on the companies success - unfortunately this was not always the case as we had management looking to maximise profit margin at all cost and trade unions trying to enforce restrictive practises.

When the employees can benefit in share schemes and profits. When the gap between top and bottom salary is closer to 20X in major companies. When industry is looking at the long term investment in a country and not short term profit we will start to get there.

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