Get ready for a big fight between Labour and the unions


4:22 pm - January 17th 2012

by Sunny Hundal    


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Ed Balls’ speech to the Fabians immediately attracted of the usual unions such a PCS and RMT (both unaffiliated). That was entirely expected.

But today the big Labour-affiliated unions have also come out swinging, led by Len McCluskey in the Guardian. Paul Kenny of GMB has even gone as far as saying they might re-examine their Labour link.

Sabre-rattling or not, don’t expect this war of words to die down soon.

To state the obvious, it’s in Ed Miliband’s interests to look like he is willing to take hard decisions on spending cuts and stand up to public sector unions to make that happen.

Public sympathy will be on his side too – most people will ask why public sector worker pay should be protected from cuts while other areas won’t.

On the other hand, it undermines Labour’s own view that raising pay of workers is the best long-term route to solving the debt crisis.

The public sector unions (I highly doubt private sector unions will get involved) also have an interest in a loud, public fight with Labour. They can’t be seen by the membership as going along with whatever Labour party hierarchy say.

Ed Miliband won’t back down – his team think they need this fight. The question is whether it’s in the interests of the unions to permanently damage relations with the first Labour leader in a generation who wants to over-turn neo-liberalism.

I’m not going to take a side on this issue. I think unions have much to gain on matters other than pay, from the Responsible Capitalism agenda. For example, they’re now looking at worker representation on pay committees unlike in the past, let alone other High Pay Commission ideas.

But Labour won’t gain much – outside the media and political class – from picking a fight with its base either.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


The Blairights can fuck right off. They have become like the Democrats blue dogs. They have done huge damage to the party. There is no point in tory lite. If we are going to have deregulated bankers running the country, and Murdoch bribing the police, and the NHS being sold off , let it be done under the tories.

The thing is – where are they going to go? If we had a proportional voting system (or even AV) then the unions could support a left-wing party, but as it is doing so would just split the vote and mean that the Conservatives got more seats.

I’m not sure I want to intrude into matters of private grief, and I can certainly see why a recent convert like Sunny would want to steer well clear of this… but I’m genuinely interested in what Labour supporters (rather than the broader anti-Coalition movement) think the outcome of all this will be?

Most uf us had hoped that New Labour was dead…but seems it ain’t necessarily so. On the other hand, there seems little mileage in deficit denial, or turning back the clock to the heady days of the Foot era “longest suicide note in history” approach.

What is the Labour party actually for any more? What does it stand for that a) differentiates it from the Coalition, and b) represents a radical and progressive approach to policy that attracts voters rather than scares them off?

At the moment it look uncomfortably like two bald men fighting over a comb.

How things turn. Next, Labour will be suggesting lower taxes for the less well paid…

5. John McArdle

“The first Labour leader in a generation who wants to over-turn neo-liberalism” ?

If his policy of supporting cuts and austerity ‘lite’ and being a slave to the “Masters of the Universe” on the bond markets isn’t classic neoliberal thinking and behaviour I don’t know what is!

‘Labour’ is no longer fit for purpose and democracy is now in a state of utter crisis.

There’s going to be an almighty backlash

“…most people will ask why public sector worker pay should be protected from cuts”

Part of the reason is that ‘most people’ get their – for want of a better word – news from sources which, although seemingly independent of one another, are under the effective control of one narrow, sectional interest group. This makes it easy for one particular line to be pushed from a number of supposedly disparate directions to the point where it becomes a ‘given’. It’s what has to be expected when media ownership is about as regulated as the casino-banking business is.

The other point is: if real-terms pay cuts over a period of years (I work in the civil service, and haven’t had a pay rise which reached even CPI for the better part of a decade), along with the fiddling of performance-pay systems to exclude all bar a few lucky crawl-arsers, is being ‘protected from cuts’, I can’t imagine what would happen if the cold, foetid gusts of free-market logic were actually allowed to blow unhindered.

As for McCluskey and Kenny, I’m afraid that in the end they will soon enough be turned back into bunnies who know on which side their lettuce is buttered by the insincere emotional blackmail of pleas for ‘loyalty’ and no doubt some vague promises, irrespective of the interests of their memberships. For the record, I’m in PCS and our leadership – though imperfect – is in better shape to resist the cuts agenda than any union which whines on about Labour policy whilst enabling it.

When Balls said that his “starting point” is accepting all the cuts – that is to say, making the public pay for a crisis made in the financial sector – that rather badly undermined the notion that Miliband wants to move us away from the neoliberal model. Privitising profits while socialising losses and “externalities” is classic neoliberalism. The Eds have just made a big show of signing up to the second part of that equation.

Everyone knows they can’t write the 2015 budget now. It would have been simple enough to say “we can’t write the 2015 budget three years in advance, but we can pledge now that when we work to reduce the deficit we will inherit, the poorest and most vulnerable will be the very last people we go to. In fact, we will prioritise alleviating the burden on those people, while doing so in a fiscally neutral way, by shifting the focus of fiscal retrenchment elsewhere”.

Instead, they have said the opposite. They have said the Tory cuts are their starting point. I guess accepting cuts like these
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jan/16/welfare-reform-terrified-families-worst
is easier than standing up to the political right.

“Ed Miliband won’t back down – his team think they need this fight.”

I’m sure those disabled kids and their parents will be massively impressed with this show of bravado.

This is starting to look remarkably like a replay of the Labour Party’s debate about Clause IV in the mid 1990s but with the lead characters dressed differently.

It’s one thing for the trade unions, as Labour’s pay masters, to demand policy commitments more suited to their palate but quite a different matter for Labour to get elected on those commitments. From personal experience, Labour activists really believed they were onto a sure thing with that 1983 manifesto – and many polls prior to the 1992 election were signalling a Labour victory up to that rally in Sheffield when the tide turned.

‘public sympathy will be on his side’

You mean the right-wing tabloids such as The Sun, And this is one of the reasons that Labour have lost much of their support, seeing Blair attempting to seduce Murdoch was gut-wrenching, listening to Ed’s anti public sector worker speal is groundhog day with bells on.
Sally – spot-on8

8 Blair loved attacking the left because he could get good coverage in the right wing press. And getting good coverage from the right wing press was his only interest. He was a coward when it came to standing up to the right however.

The world is a very different place to the mid 90s. Deregulated bankers, and deregulated News International did not turn out so great. I am not a career politician, but personally I would rather fight and lose an election rather than win and then have to enforce tory dogma.

If the NHS and the welfare state are going to be dismantled, and the bankers allowed to screw everyone over, and oil wars fought for multinational oil companies, then let it been done by the tories. And then the people will understand who is responsible, and if that is what the people want , then so be it. We have a tory party, and we now have tory lite party which is the Lib dems. We don’t need any more tory lite parties.

Somewhere along the line (New) Labour lost sight of the fact that winning power is the means to the end of implementing your chosen policies, rather than your policy choices being the means to the end of winning power. If all your party are going to offer the public is the Tories, but wearing red rosettes, because the tabloids and focus groups told you that was the way to power, why even bother?

Oh right yeah. The ministerial perks.

@ Galen10

“What is the Labour party actually for any more? What does it stand for that a) differentiates it from the Coalition, and b) represents a radical and progressive approach to policy that attracts voters rather than scares them off?”

All the signs point to a focus on tackling inequality by increasing the share of the GDP pie that goes to workers in the form of wages, at the expense of the 1%. That’s the common theme that links all the talk about the squeezed middle, the living wage, the bankers’ bonus, the 50p tax rate, workers on remuneration committees, etc. I’d be massively surprised if things didn’t continue to move in that direction; apart from anything else, it’s a good example of a theme that can be pursued without racking up spending commitments. (On the contrary, policies in this area are more likely to involve reductions in spending, e.g. on tax credits to subsidise low-paying employers, and increases in tax revenue.)

And I don’t think Ed Balls’ comments this week change the fundamental fact that while the Tories pursue economic growth as a means to fund tax cuts, Labour pursue economic growth as a means to fund better public services.

@ David Wearing:

“It would have been simple enough to say “we can’t write the 2015 budget three years in advance, but we can pledge now that when we work to reduce the deficit we will inherit, the poorest and most vulnerable will be the very last people we go to. In fact, we will prioritise alleviating the burden on those people, while doing so in a fiscally neutral way, by shifting the focus of fiscal retrenchment elsewhere”.

Instead, they have said the opposite. They have said the Tory cuts are their starting point.”

I’d like to hear them say similar, but I fail to see how it’s the opposite of that to say the Tory cuts are their starting point. It’s a plain fact that the next government will be starting from a position in which four and a half years’ worth of Tory cuts will have taken place.

I don’t get it Sunny. It seems that you’ve changed your view since two days ago. You said that Balls’s policy switch was ‘counter productive and a disaster’…

http://liberalconspiracy.org/2012/01/15/labour-and-parking-the-deficit-counterproductive-and-a-disaster/

… absolutely right. It’s simultaneously removed destroyed the ‘alternative’ meme Labour’ve been diligently building and the idea of Miliband being his ‘own man’, rather than a Blairite drone with none of the interesting newness that the Blairites at least had. Really, apart from this catastrophic picking a fight with the unions, show me a better example of history repeating itself as farce.

But then when the unions (with 100% inevitability) defend their members by opposing it, you sit on the fence. Labour started off as a representation committee of unions. If it finally collapses into identity with the Conservative Party then the unions would be idiots to keep being abused in the relationship. Would you continue to pay for something, if that something caused you only pain? And don’t give me high pay commission recommendations. Hilariously little, woefully late.

Think of it politically. Blair was a creature of the right. They trusted him as a reliable conservative. So he stood to gain by feteing the right wing press, as he had a constituency there. Ed Miliband’s constituency (the people that would have protected him against a coup – til now) were the unions and Compass etc. The right wing press will never help him, the Sun will never back Ed Miliband. So politically this is shooting himself in two feet.

This is a watershed. It could end with the split of the Labour Party. It may well have lost them an election in three year’s time. If the unions don’t fight back then they might as well pack up and go home as well. A sad sad day when British politics chucked in the towel entirely.

14. john P reid

8 Bob B, during the Blair years The Unions weren’t Labours pay masters only contributing aobut 40% of the funds.

2 i know The NUM funded socialist Labour in 1997, and Mark Serktowa was in Respect, But have the RMT ever fuded anyone teeh Greens socialst Alliance, etc

7ouch

@10 Sally: “Deregulated bankers, and deregulated News International did not turn out so great.”

I completely agree but it’s going to be exceptionally challenging to resolve those issues. Most agree that Britain’s economy needs rebalancing but we are very short on policies for doing that. Rebalancing is more of a pipe-dream.

New Labour went along with “light-touch” regulation of bankers, the city and financial services because that generated a lot of tax revenue which could be spent on healthcare and education. No one is quite sure what tightening the regulatory screw on financial services markets will do for tax revenues. Given the size of Britain’s budget deficit, that matters. Campaigning to restore public spending cuts regardless of what happens to tax revenues, isn’t politically credible and the bankers have every incentive to play awkward to protect their bonus culture.

Curiously, Labour and the trade unions have long been ambivalent about John Lewis producer cooperatives.

Don’t worry labourites. I’m sure they’ll all kiss and make up, when the party needs money for the rent.

11 Yup New Labours only purpose was to win elections. Trouble was, they had to sell their soul to the devil. Blair was played by Murdoch, although not that much because he actually believed in a lot of that shit. But by the time Murdoch endorsed Blair, (and he really only endorsed Blair not Labour, ) Blair had given away the farm. New Labour was a hollowed out shell.

The global elites don’t care who carries out their agenda, just as long as their agenda is carried out. In fact if they can persuade a few dumb labour/Democrats to go along, it increases the illusion that we live in a democracy. The Lib Dems are currently playing that patsy role right now.

What we don’t know and never will know is would Labour have won in 1997 without Murdoch. Nobody really knows, because Labour enjoyed some very easy media coverage. So much so that John Major was very bitter at the way the media covered him. He got a bit of tory medicine and did not like it. If Milliband thinks the only way he can win is to appease Murdoch he might as well give up now. What is more no political party should be courting the Murdoch empire now.

“Public sympathy will be on his side too – most people will ask why public sector worker pay should be protected from cuts while other areas won’t.” Public sympathy reveals itself to be an ass. No worker’s pay should be cut – but if members of the public employed in the private sector lack the spine to stand up for their rights, why should everyone else be dragged down to their standard? The problem isn’t that public sector workers are prepared to put up a fight. The problem is that private sector workers are only prepared to lie down and lick the shoes of the bosses while singing the praises of the toffs. (I except Unilever workers, obviously.)

20. Leon Wolfeson

Labour has WALKED AWAY from it’s base.

Of course the private sector unions will become involved.
Time for a left-wing party.

@2 – The left are, by and large, not voting Labour. It’s a moot point anyway though – if the Unions chose to fund a new party, Labour is screwed. And it’s time.

“Labour is a moral crusade or it’s noting”. Milliband has picked option #2. So – it’s now an open stage for the people who remember the goals of the left to rise again.

@19 – Typical Tory trolling, that abandoning the left is a minor step.

17 sally, Murdoch wanted to buy Manchester United FC, New labour said No, they had Inquiries into the press during that time,

Remind me when The murdoch press wanted the Mcpherson report, were pro The EU, human rights act, the freedom of inforamtion act, were pro gay rights, Anti Apartied or wanted scottish welsh develution, or were anti fox hunting

It seems the tories get in, no matter who you vote for.

21
Yes Blair did turn down Murdoch’s bid for man utd, but that was hardly a major issue. As for fox hunting he did not ban it. He just kept putting it off until he had the compromise that neither side wanted. Fox hunting continues.

As for the Eu Blair said he wanted to join single currency but he never held the referendum because he knew he would lose. Blair has now admitted that he wishes he had not brought in the freedom of information act. He opposes the constitutional changes he made. The man never stood up to the right wing, and is now a delusional joke. All be it a very rich joke of a man.

And he and his deluded loyal partisans plot, and plan to keep labour as tory lite.

If Ed had added that to show he meant what he was saying,he had called for an increase in MPs pension contributions of at least 3.2% from April this year he may have had some credibility. No that sort of stuff is for the oiks in the Public Sector. MPs being quasi well modos.
Try this tactic Edward. Have some conviction in having a different set of social and economic policies.Ones that are aimed at fairness and giving people a better life,reducing poverty and as full employment as humanely possible.
Try being a Labour leader listen to Common People and take in the lyrics.
Visit the scum up north and stop foisting Southern Achedemic Millionaires on safe seats.

25. Leon Wolfeson

@24 – Oh yes, MP’s pension rises mean that the public sector is filled with rich gits who have massive pensions.

It’s well beyond opinion, and into downright demonization. You’re making people out to be evil simply because of where they work. That they’re lesser simply because of their *employer*.

Typical right-wing propaganda and propagit, in other words.

“Visit the scum up north”

And typical racist shit.

David Wearing:
that rather badly undermined the notion that Miliband wants to move us away from the neoliberal model.

I don’t buy that – accepting some cuts isn’t the same as wanting a highly unequal society and accepting that whatever big sectional interests demand – we do.

You explain how a £100bn + deficit can be filled merely by taxation and your alternative may have some legs.

Jim:
I don’t get it Sunny. It seems that you’ve changed your view since two days ago. You said that Balls’s policy switch was ‘counter productive and a disaster’…

Yes – because it wasn’t a policy people would understand or the party could sell as a simple message.

But then when the unions (with 100% inevitability) defend their members by opposing it, you sit on the fence

That’s because I accept some cuts will have to be made, but can be counter-balanced with a stimulus to create jobs, and a restructuring of our economy to make it much fairer. I’d much rather have that than what the Tories are offering.

And it’s absurd to say that tens of billions in cuts (difference) and a different distribution of cuts makes no difference. It can make a VAST amount of difference – especially since the cuts to DLA alone is worth about £2bn.

27. Leon Wolfeson

@26 – Accepting basically all of them? Pull the other one.

There hasn’t been a suggestion on a topic as basic as housing. No, it’s Tory social cleansing all down the line, never mind that even repeated cuts won’t hold the bill down in the longer term. It’s Newer Labour.

There won’t be a “fight”. Stick a fork in Labour’s relationship with the big unions, it’s done.

28. Anon E Mouse

@11 – Cylux

Labour’s most successful leader in their history – the election winning Tony Blair, knew that being Tories in red rosettes was a way to power and only with power can change be affected.

Which shows that the public in this country (like the rest of the world practically it seems) are essentially right wing individuals and that’s how countries are governed.

Silly university student desires for socialism are fine but they should never have been allowed to infect the Labour Party which is supposed to represent the working classes and people with those views need to grow up or join Socialist Worker.

The Labour Party was designed to help the workers of this country not be a party for freaks trying to force their minority views on us.

As unrepresentative of normal people as Ed Miliband is, the sooner he realises that he should be in support of normal workers and not lazy good for nothing nut jobs the sooner the public may warm to him or his successor…

@28 One cannot push for Tory policies AND help the workers of this country, they’re kinda mutually exclusive. Some workers will indirectly benefit, others will be made jobless. Because the focus of Tory policies is on the bosses and their needs and wants, with workers being reduced to a tradable commodity which they regard as being over-priced.

@22

“It seems the tories get in, no matter who you vote for.”

Not in Scotland apparently 😉

31. Anon E Mouse

@29 – Cylux

I was a lifelong Labour voter until Blair lied and forced Gordon Brown on the country and I disagree with you about helping the workers.

Labour removed the 10p tax rate to punish the poorest in society, hiked up NI again to do the same and the coalition are attempting to get the first £10K tax free.

According to their own man, Andrew Nether, Labour also forced people onto the dole queue by flooding the country with cheap labour – that’s hardly helping the poor.

With Ed Miliband leading the party, a tax fiddling property millionaire who hasn’t done a single days work in his life and a countess toff as deputy I’m afraid Labour are representative of no worker in this country.

The theory is good but it falls at the first hurdle. British jobs for British workers – I don’t think so…..

“To state the obvious, it’s in Ed Miliband’s interests to look like he is willing to take hard decisions on spending cuts and stand up to public sector unions to make that happen.”

Well I think it’s a very poor show. Who are these “Labour” politicians who like to show off how much they “stand up to” unions (i.e. workers)? Aren’t they supposed to be the representatives of working people?

The media class likes to act as if corporate power and union power are comparable and are just two different “vested interests” that noble politicians have to negotiate between and stand up to in the “national interest”. Problem is, that’s rubbish. Corporate power is the power of an oligarchical class, whereas union power is the power of the disenfranchised masses. The task of democrats is to side with the unions and increase workers’ power.

33. Leon Wolfeson

@28 – And the BNPer spews his venom again.

He presided over a massive loss of voters over the years, you mean. And right, because there are no lefties in the world. THE MINISTRY OF TRUTH SPEAKS, MEN!

The 10p tax rate was compensated for, and the 10k tax rise is primarily a tax cut for the middle class, not poorer people. Which you of course know, but your copy/pasted rants ignore.

Your xenophobia and bigotry is quite usual for you as well. Never mind that Milliband HAS declared all-out war on the poor and disabled, no, that’s not enough. Gotta support actively your 1%…

I was a lifelong Labour voter until Blair lied and forced Gordon Brown on the country and I disagree with you about helping the workers.

Given that my critique of the New Labour years was based on the idea that they went on a transformation into red-rosette wearing Tories, and thus inevitably ended up abandoning ordinary workers, I’m not entirely sure what your point is in bringing up Blair and Brown is. That’s kinda my point right there. I mean the Tories brought in PFI, but it was Brown who ran screaming wildly into the hills with it. Outsourcing public service buildings and maintenance to the private sector for massive increases in running costs over the years? Doesn’t sound all that left wing or socialist to my ears.

Labour removed the 10p tax rate to punish the poorest in society, hiked up NI again to do the same and the coalition are attempting to get the first £10K tax free.

As Leon says, the £10K tax cut will benefit the Middle and Upper classes significantly more than the working classes who will see the least gain in their incomes from the cut (indeed those already earning under the current tax threshold can expect to see precisely fuck all benefit whatsoever), and will feel the pain of the services sacrificed to pay for the cut far more keenly. Don’t believe the ‘lifting the poorest out of tax’ spin, G.O. has demonstrated the maths on this website several times previously and shown that Tax Credits (one of the few left-wing ideas to come out of New Labour) would be a far better tool toward achieving that aim than the Lib Dems proposed tax cut.

According to their own man, Andrew Nether, Labour also forced people onto the dole queue by flooding the country with cheap labour – that’s hardly helping the poor.

http://leninology.blogspot.com/2010/02/on-ruling-class-anti-racism.html
“Ruling class ideology on this subject oscillates between two mutually reinforcing poles. On the one hand, there is a patronising concern for the ‘white working class’, which scapegoats migrants, black people and ‘politically correct’ policies for the supposed alienation of white workers from politics. On the other hand, there is a condescending endorsement of the ‘work ethic’ of immigrants, as if their oppression and exploitation was a fact about their personalities or culture. From a different perspective, this attitude also blames immigrants, in this case for being more available for undignified, hyper-exploitative, low-paid labour than their local counterparts. What neither attitude can admit, what the ruling dogma can never allow, is that workers of whatever status have more in common with one another than with their bosses.”

@25

As a northerner,public servant of foreign descent I take exception to your racist shit comment.

I was BEING IRONIC you gomp.

Can I suggets in your less angry moments you read a few Jane Austin Novels and wonder at her subtle Irony

In the meantime would you like an egg to go with that chip on your shoulder

36. Leon Wolfeson

@35 – No, you were failing very badly to do anything except stand up for the 1%. Irony is funny. And do please call a Jew who’s actively worked for tolerance racist, more 1% nonsense…

Leon

I’ll spell it out for you. Firstly,Irony is not funny its Ironic!!!!

Where exactly am I standing up for the rich??????????????????

I suggested that Milliband pays an extra 3.2% towards his pension from April.Like myself and the other thousands of public servants, if hes that sincere about the defecit

I also suggest that foisting rich ex etonians on Labour Voters is wrong

I also suggets that Milliband try coming and paying a visit up here to see what TORY(and new Labour) policies have done for us.We are a safe Labour seat and all they are interested in is the middle English,middle class

What has any of this got to do with being racist…..oh I get because I criticise the Jewish/Polish leader of the Labour party(without any reference to that whatsoever) I must be anti semetic and anti Pole.If thats the case complain to the Police

I suggest that you either apologise for what I consider a very unjust personal insult or just fuck off and take your paranoid mind with you. And don’t call me a Tory either.

P.S I think you may need at least a dozen eggs to go with that humungous chip of yours!!!!


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    Get ready for a big stage-fight between Labour and the unions http://t.co/Wzcn4XOs – I highly doubt Ed M will back down

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    Get ready for a big stage-fight between Labour and the unions http://t.co/Wzcn4XOs – I highly doubt Ed M will back down

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    Get ready for a big stage-fight between Labour and the unions http://t.co/Wzcn4XOs – I highly doubt Ed M will back down

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