The following article is reproduced from the Class Conciousness Project with thanks.
Another week and another exasperating capitulation by the so-called leaders of the so-called ‘left’. It seems like a neverending conveyer belt of promise that always falls into the waste bin that is the Labour party. The RMT‘s Mick Lynch was bellowing his support for Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour party and Sharon Graham of Unite the Union has been toeing the Labour line by cancelling all showings of the new film Oh Jeremy Corbyn – The Big Lie in Unite buildings.
Considering how these two union leaders have been built up by the left, this should be seen as deeply disappointing. It’s not surprising that these two have been standard bearers for British left with the state that it’s in, but will their latest retreats be seen for what they are, or will the left follow like lemmings straight off the cliff?
The legacy of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers union (RMT) is one of fierce militancy, a standard set by the late and great Bob Crow, who was an ardent critic of the Labour leader of the time, Tony Blair, and a strong EU leave campaigner.
Bob Crow even called for all unions to disaffiliate from the anti-worker Labour party and form their own party. This is in stark contrast with Mick Lynch, who used his interview with conservative radio host Nick Ferrari to pledge his support for Labour, as he has done before, only this time even Sir Keir Starmer himself got a supportive mention.
Mick Lynch replaced Mick Cash as general secretary of the RMT in 2021, but his rise to prominence came the following year, as a result of his public and media appearances during a wave of national strike action the railways. Lynch’s victories over hostile but inept British media pundits were a joy to behold after years of being forced to watch media-trained news actors, mouthing carefully chosen inoffensive but empty phrases. His replies were fantastic, and his words resonated with workers all over the country and in every sector of the economy.
A 61-year-old Irish catholic, Michael Lynch looked like the real deal. It was unusual to find that a seeing socialist had avoided the pitfalls of trade union bureaucracy and arrived at such a lofty position in this day and age. He was a breath of fresh air – at least until one started to hear his opinions on party politics. He was consistent and effective in holding the Conservative government to account, but it wasn’t until the beginning of 2023 that we saw that he didn’t continue in Bob Crow’s tradition of believing all unions should remove support, and funding, from the Labour party.
Mick Lynch responded by saying that there was “no appetite” for another party amongst working people. Both he and Jeremy Corbyn want to support and be a part of Labour, he said.
It is certainly true that Corbyn has shown no appetite at all for a real fight for socialism. He seems happy to continue to be Sir Keir Starmer’s punching bag and the neutered pet of the left, rolled out to talk at events to warm applause and then sent back to Islington for a jam butty, but we digress.
Whereas we agree with the assertion that neither Lynch nor Corbyn have any appetite for change, there definitely is such an appetite within the wider working class – an appetite that certainly cannot be filled by installing yet another Labour government. The Labour party is a vital cog in the machine that is British capitalism: appearing to offer the electorate an ‘alternative’ party when in opposition, but never acting as such when actually in office.
Lynch went on to suggest that Sir Keir Starmer would repeal the “poor anti-trade union laws” if elected as PM. “More importantly,” he said, Starmer would “make individual rights for workers available from day one”.
Does Mick Lynch really believe this? Sir Keir Starmer has given no indication that he has any plans to repeal the anti-trade union laws put on the statute books by the government of Margaret Thatcher and left there by the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. He has given zero indication that a Labour government might put workers first in any sphere of economic or social life.
Mick Lynch went on to assert that Labour is a broad church or a “rainbow coalition”, and that this is what is needed to defeat the Tories. In this coalition he mentioned, apparently without irony, left, centre and right-wing reformists. Mick Lynch and Jeremy Corbyn both believe in change via the current system in a party created to uphold it. Just like Corbyn, Lynch himself is firmly set in the reformist camp, which is deeply disappointing to all those who were so encouraged by his apparently militant pro-worker stance.
Sharon Graham was also elected in 2021 as general secretary of Unite the union, Britain’s largest trade union. She was elected after the early resignation of the divisive Len McCluskey, who had been one of Jeremy Corbyn’s most fervent supporters.
Ms Graham came into the election as the hope of the left, taking the lion’s share of the votes to become the union’s first female general secretary. Her elevation to the top post created a great deal of initial excitement, as she proclaimed “Bad bosses beware”. To be fair, she has been far better than most union leaders in supporting her reps and members in the many battles they have been involved in over the last two years.
There was talk of Graham’s Unite withdrawing funds from the Labour party after a disagreement with Coventry Labour council over a pay dispute involving local refuse workers. There were even whispers that Unite might completely disaffiliate from Labour, thus depriving it of its largest trade union subsidy. This would have sent a massive message to all Britain’s unions and could have perhaps been the spark they needed to remove themselves from subjugation to that wretched organisation.
Since those opening shots, however, it’s been back to business as usual for Unite: to critical support for the Labour party and stage pantomime battles with the Conservatives. Graham joined Lynch and a host of other so-called ‘Labour left’, politicians such as Ian Byrne and Zarah Sultana in launching the Enough Is Enough campaign, which turned out to be just another way of keeping Labour voters busy while they got over their Corbyn hangover. Like many projects of the Labour Left, it went up like a firework and came down like a burnt stick.
Sharon Graham’s support of Sir Keir Starmer was demonstrated most clearly this week, with her decision to ban Oh Jeremy Corbyn – The Big Lie from being screened in Unite offices or at any of the union’s events. We wonder what ‘ol’ Len’ would have thought of that?
Graham stated that the film was a “Labour issue”, and that people needed to “move on” and get busy fighting the Tories. While we agree that it’s time people stopped crying over the loss of their ‘Magic Grandad’ and see the Corbyn Project for the abject failure it was, we are far from convinced that this is why the film is being banned by Graham and Unite. Rather, they hope that if their grievances with the establishment-controlled Labour machinery are not stirred up, union members’ short-term memories will kick in and they will vote for Starmer’s Labour on the basis that “at least he’s not a Tory”.
This capitulation is disappointing but hardly surprising. To find oneself in the positions that these two currently hold requires long years of full immersion in the bureaucratic mechanisms of Britain’s trade union machinery. Unite in particular has been a breeding ground for establishment-friendly Labour MPs and councillors.
As ever, we remain ardent supporters of trade unionism and working-class struggles, but while existing trade unions work to keep all our activities safely within the capitalist system, their members will forever be forced to subsist on meagre scraps and penny increases.
Read our Manifesto for the Crisis for our party’s view on the roots of the cost of living crisis, the reasons for the trade unions’ inability to organise a meaningful defence, lessons to be learned from France, what workers’ urgent demands should be, and what kind of motions we should be bringing to their trade union branch meetings and conferences.