by John Spellar
John Healy has produced an excellent article on the unpleasant Tory group launching an attack on trade union rights and their ability to represent their members. Also this week, Jim Sheridan, chair of the Unite group, rightly expressed his concern at what he sees as “some within the party constantly looking for ways to break the link”. So the trade union movement and its links with the Labour party are once again under serious attack. It’s déjà vu all over again.
My only difference with Jim’s analysis is that there are also those on the ultra left who are looking at ways of weakening the link, and they always have. Both they and the latter day Jenkinsites have a very weak grasp of the realities of progressive politics, and not only in Britain. The Jenkins heresy always lamented the breach between Labour and the Liberal Democrats at the beginning of the last century. He harkened back to what he saw as a “progressive century” in the nineteenth century. Actually looking at the years in government of the two parties that century, and even regarding Palmerston as a progressive, he was wrong, but the most important error in his analysis is that it implied that the creation of the Labour party as a sovereign party, was a critical mistake.
On the other side, the ultra left, excepting their entryist phases, have always regarded the Labour party and the trade union bureaucracies as obstacles to their Leninist fantasies. The reality for working people today is that under a major onslaught from an economic tsunami and a vindictive and incompetent government, it is now more than ever that they need effective unions at the workplace, strong union campaigning in national issues and a Labour party in, or preparing for, government; and they very much need them working together.
The reality is that in every country with a successful Labour, Social Democratic or even Democrat Party is that there are strong longstanding links with the unions. They are founded on our shared history, values and interests.
There may be nuances in the detailed constitutional arrangements, but they are far less relevant than the community of Labour. So it is right for us to make clear the indissoluble relationship between us. After all, the clue is in our name. So let’s have done with the delusions of both these groups and reaffirm our determination to “keep the link”.
John Spellar is Labour MP for Warley and a shadow foreign office minister.