An important part of our party’s work on the industrial front is our role with the trade unions and labour movement. The recent TUC conference has once again highlighted the need for a communist influence to be exerted on what can only be described as the thoroughly reactionary position taken by the labour movement in Britain.
The position of the majority of trade unions and labour organisations at present is that on no account must the Tories take power at the next election. Instead, they say, we must aim for the re-election of Labour for a ‘radical third term’. Most unions argue that more pressure can be applied to government to get it to alter its policies; ‘dignity and respect’ they demand. However, the reality is that there is nothing radical being demanded at all and, furthermore, no explanation of what sort of pressure they are thinking of applying. After all, 2m people recently took to the streets of London with the aim of ‘pressurising’ the government not to invade Iraq!
In fact, the over-hyped ‘radical third term’ amounts to little more than a few minor reforms such as increased holiday entitlement, slightly better pension provision, some state aid for manufacturing, etc. Whilst no right thinking person would reject reforms as a way of improving workers’ conditions, it must be remembered that that’s all they are and, as with all reforms, any slight gains made can be taken away again at a later date. Whether Labour, Tories or LibDems are in power, reform, in the final analysis, acts to strengthen capital’s grip over the workers and society at large, although of course the battle for these reforms is often an important source of confidence to the working-class movement (when this struggle is successful) and an essential lesson in the nature of capitalism (when the struggle is unsuccessful).
In the present climate, and certainly after nearly eight years of Labour government, trade union demands must not be watered down in the interests of preserving the ‘historical link’ between the trade unions and the Labour Party. There has to be a re-evaluation of principles. It is no good resorting to rhetoric from a bygone era. The simple truth is that, in or out of power, Labour has always been a worthy servant of imperialism. If Labour, in the hope of getting re-elected, is prepared to back some minor demands dressed up as ‘radical reforms’, let us remind ourselves of the demands it has turned its back on, which in the old days it pretended to champion: protection from unfair dismissal, redundancy compensation and other employment rights regardless of length of service; the repeal of anti-trade union laws; an end to privatisation of public services, etc.
Since Labour took power in 1997, British manufacturing has been in rapid decline, with 1m job losses – over one-fifth of all manufacturing jobs. Recently, the car manufacturer Jaguar (now a subsidiary of Ford) has announced that it is to close its plant in Coventry – don’t hold your breath for the state aid though. Meanwhile, the financial sector is predicting that over 350,000 jobs will soon be lost from all over Europe, and York-based Norwich Union has predicted that 25 percent of its workforce will be based abroad in the near future. In all, 20,000 finance jobs have been lost in Britain since 1999, just one example of the importance to the bourgeoisie of installing a ‘Labour’ government – the Tories could never have presided over such a high rate of closures and job losses without a massive backlash from the industrial sector.
Pensions have also been attacked under Labour, and there is now a £27bn savings gap that has seen retirement income plummeting. The demand to restore the link between pensions and average earnings has yet to be fulfilled after seven years of Labour government, but the best the toothless TUC leadership can do is demand that Labour honour its “moral commitment” to Britain’s retired workers.
Also from next year, primary care trusts, which are responsible for 75 percent of health spending, can divert up to 15 percent of their budgets to the private sector. The government record on asylum/immigration is a poor one also, with various government departments assisting the media in their frenzied attacks on ‘asylum seekers’.
The government’s record as an employer is equally shameful. Ask the miners, whose pension scheme has come under attack by Labour, what they think of the government. Ask the 104,000 civil servants about to be sacked what they think of their employer. On issues of health and safety there is a history of acquiescence. In 2001, the government gave a commitment to reduce deaths at work by 2010. Since then, however, deaths in construction have been on the rise and were in excess of 300 for the year ending March 2004, yet still no law has been introduced to charge employers with corporate manslaughter. So when TUC leaders argue for “morals, dignity and respect” let’s be sure just who we are dealing with.
We trust that the reader is not going to conclude that this is simply open season on the government. Far from it, our message is clear: the problems are of global proportions not specific to any one country, or indeed continent, and cannot be resolved until we challenge the rule of the bourgeoisie.
Since 1997, Labour has been responsible for major wars in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of ordinary men women and children have been slaughtered at the behest of this ‘Labour’ government. Labour has once again shown to us all its truly impeccable imperialist credentials.
If our party is to influence the trades union and labour movement, these are the sort of issues we have to fight. Whether it be ‘radical reforms’ at home or the slaughter of human life in our name abroad, Labour has as much, if not more blood on its hands than any other government that has been the vehicle of bourgeois dictatorship.
As communists we should not be put off by assertions that ‘to break the historic link between Labour and the unions is a backward step’. It is out of necessity we call for this break. After long and careful study and in the name of the working class we call for this break. It is our internationalist duty that we call for this break. For as long as the capitalist system exists, the inevitable consequence is further decline, whether it be jobs being exported, manufacturing demise or endless wars of aggression. Capitalism doesn’t hold the future of humanity – that future is toward a socialist and communist world.