Posts Tagged ‘Unions’

New unionism, not at all like New Labour

20/11/2012, 03:30:32 PM

Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal continue their look at the development of the unions and their role in founding the Labour party

By the mid-1880s, the establishment had got over the initial panic stirred by the emergence of unions. Civilisation had not collapsed and revolution, like coffee in tiny, tiny cups and the ability to pass a football for more than 30 seconds before launching it into orbit, remained strictly a continental phenomenon.

Even the arrival of a couple of actual, real live working class people in Parliament in 1874 hadn’t been too traumatic. From the vantage point of the Tory benches, the Lib-Labbers’, Alexander Macdonald and Thomas Burt, looked respectable enough and it made a nice change to have someone around who could do something about that squeaky door in the lobby.

The calm was not to last.

A new, angry, voice was about to make itself heard on behalf of the unskilled workers. This new unionism was exemplified by three significant groups: the match girls, the gas workers and the dockers

At the Bryant and May factory in Bow, East London, the workers were largely young women who were casual workers. This did not mean that every day was a dress-down Friday. It meant they worked 14 hour days for less than five shillings a week, and had even fewer rights than most other workers.  So less fun even than dress down Friday, then.

On the other hand, they did get to experience one of the period’s most advanced motivational programmes – a range of harsh, arbitrary fines for tiny infractions. For example, turning up late for work meant a fine of a half day’s pay.

On top of all this, the work itself was unusually hazardous. The phosphorous used to make the matches caused yellowing of the skin and hair loss. Worse still was phossy jaw, which may sound like a popular hip hop artist, but is actually a form of bone cancer. The whole side of the face would turn green and then black, discharging foul-smelling pus. And then you died.

Even by Victorian standards, this was a bit much.

Annie Beasant and the match girls strike committee. Yes, they are judging you


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Labour history uncut: “I’m alright Jack” say the skilled working classes

15/11/2012, 04:15:53 PM

Pete Goddard and Atul Hatwal continue their look at the development of the unions and their role in establishing the Labour representation committee (LRC) in 1900

By 1866 the Tories had been out of power for 18 of the past 20 years and were pretty ticked off. What’s the point of being a Tory if you can’t lord it over the little people by being in government?

In the meantime working people had started to organise in earnest. Unions were springing up, Duncan’s horses were eating each other and civilisation was teetering on the brink of the abyss – at least as far as the landed gentry saw things.

Worst of all, there was pressure to extend the vote to the working classes. The Tories failed to see why anyone should be allowed to vote if they didn’t even have enough sense to be born into a wealthy family. But apparently, some people thought otherwise.

Throughout the 1860s various attempts by Liberals to broaden the franchise were defeated by a combination of Liberal splits and Tory opposition.

But it was only a matter of time.

In 1866 the Tories squeaked back into government as a minority administration. After so many years out in the cold, and with a toxic electoral brand, the Tories’ first moderniser, Benjamin Disraeli had a plan.

Previous approaches to voting reform had involved saying “no”, and then when pressed, shouting “NO!” much louder and storming out in a huff.

Core Tory supporters loved this approach and it always went down a storm in the House of Lords, which incidentally was where the core Tory support sat, literally. But, out in the electorate, enthusiasm was rather lacking.

Disraeli’s big idea was to stop saying “no” and start saying “sort of.”

It was going to happen at some point anyway, so the Tories might as well be the ones to do it. They could then claim the credit and still only implement low-calorie suffrage, thus averting the risk that the Liberals might implement something bonkers like votes for everyone. Those Liberals were crazy.

Disraeli, shortly after his appearance on "Pimp my Tory"

Disraeli, shortly after his appearance on "Pimp my Tory"


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The hard left is on the march and in no mood to stop

06/07/2012, 08:00:42 AM

by Atul Hatwal

The first skirmish is over. The unions have drawn blood. On Tuesday, Progress released its statement describing a series of changes to its internal operation. They were all reasonable changes, but this was never about reforming Progress.

If this row had truly been about the governance of pressure groups active within Labour, then a lot of other organisations would have been in the frame.

The Labour Representation Committee (LRC) for one. Founded in 2004 (though bearing the name of an illustrious forbear), the LRC is open to non-Labour party members, affiliated to such sage organisations as the New Communist Party and Permanent Revolution and has the primary purpose of taking control of Labour party constituency parties to help shift national policy so far to the left, the 1983 manifesto would look Blairite.

Nothing to see here guv. No scrutiny needed at all.

No, this was never about the “acceptable standards of democracy, governance and transparency” trumpeted by the ASLEF motion targeting Progress that is still in the process of being submitted to Labour conference.

It’s one of the hallmarks of how far the party has stepped through the hard left’s looking glass that so many Labour commentators have just accepted the assumption that Progress were a problem.

Following Tuesday’s statement,peace with  honour” was the description used by Mark Ferguson at Labour List. Why not go the whole hog, wave a bit of paper about and proclaim “peace in our time”.

In actual fact, there’s no need. “Peace with honour” were the words used by Chamberlain to describe his thoroughly successful jaunt to Munich, when talking to reporters on the doorstep of Number 10.

Strange how that phrase sprang to mind.

Because this was never about the alleged substance of the issue, Progress’ statement will not be the end of the conflict. Why should it? The unions and left have just won a significant victory. Why stop here? The limits of their power have clearly not been reached.


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Party reform: In the hands of the many, not the few

08/08/2011, 10:11:16 AM

by Rob Marchant

So, we are having a debate about the role of unions in the Party. Perhaps Ed, as my Uncut colleague Peter Watt suggests, is on a hiding to nothing: he is paddling against a strong current of realpolitik that dictates that this cannot change, at least whilst the party is taking ninety per cent of its donations from unions.

But, this aside, perhaps we should examine something more important: rather than whether Ed will win, we should look at whether or not Ed is right.

Firstly let’s frame the debate: every time we try to have a debate about the right level of involvement for unions in party decision-making, the familiar refrain comes out from all corners of the labour movement: “man the barricades, someone is trying to break the link!” The siren goes up, we all rush to the defence of the link, the devilish intruders are repulsed, and the debate stops again.

But breaking the link is essentially a straw man: no serious, contemporary party figure is suggesting that we should do such a thing. Most of us are members of, and support, unions, even if we don’t always agree with everything they do. And how would we survive, let alone campaign? It is natural that, in part-funding the party and being linked to its decision-making mechanisms, unions should have a say.

However, the more nuanced debate that needs to be had is: how much of a say? Because, on the other hand, the current system does beg the question of whether or not it is right that three leaders, whose interests are naturally sometimes directly aligned with those of the party, and sometimes not, control a very sizeable block vote.

So, are we comfortable with that? Because perhaps we shouldn’t be, and it’s quite possible that the upcoming, wholly independent study into party funding may not be, either. Why? (more…)

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You can’t cherry pick solidarity

27/06/2011, 07:20:00 AM

by John Woodcock

All of us need to address how we change to meet Ed Miliband’s critically important challenge to reach out rather than look inwards.

His call to action is rightly pitched to all parts of our diverse Labour and Co-operative movement – constituency activists, MPs, frontbenchers, members of affiliated groups and trade unionists alike. As we seek to do more to talk to the public rather than just talk amongst ourselves, we need to remember that most of us need to combine more than one of those roles simultaneously; we know we cannot be at our best as Labour MPs serving the public unless we remain committed local campaigners and trade union members.

There will rightly be difficult and spirited debates about how a more open party should operate and how its structures should change. But we should keep in mind our leader’s other message of recent weeks – that united parties win and divided parties lose.

The relationship between the Labour party and Britain’s trade unions should remain as strong and vibrant through the twenty-first century as it was in the last century in which the party was founded. When functioning well as part of a broad and progressive coalition of support, the trade union link is a sign that Labour at its best can govern for the whole country in a way that can never be achieved by the Tories, whose basic antipathy to unions continues to colour all they do.

That is why I will have no truck with anyone who suggests breaking the link. And it is also why I was disappointed to hear one general secretary, Dave Prentis, suggesting last week that his Labour-affiliated union would start cherry picking which Labour candidates were worth supporting and which were not.

I was delighted when Unison supported me in the Barrow and Furness selection race before the last general election. In the year since I have been elected I have been proud to help lead a high profile local campaign to get a fairer deal for Cumbria teaching assistants, many of whom are Unison members.

I hope we will often campaign together, just as I know there will often be times when Dave and Labour’s frontbenchers will disagree. We cannot accept, for example, that the direction of public service reform set by the last Labour government was wrong because it apparently provided a bridge for the Tories to march over and inflict the chaos that is now blighting key areas. We will remain proud of New Labour’s record in government: in 13 years, during which we reversed decades of under-investment, improved the quality and scope of services and employed many more public servants. By 2010, the British people were being served by 85,000 more nurses, 36,000 more teachers, and 274,000 more support staff and teaching assistants.

Through all those arguments, we should keep in mind that there never has been a time when the Labour party was completely in line with any one group who supports it – nor will there ever be. But it has always been the case, and always will be, that a Labour government is better for those who rely on public services and those who work in them than its Conservative opponents.

And whatever views any supporter may have about an individual candidate at a general election, each one stands on a shared platform with an agreed manifesto. We all share the values that Labour-affiliated unions stand for.  Basic maths tells us that the more Labour candidates that win, the better chance we have of forming a government and implementing that manifesto.

So an organisation that wants Labour to win but refuses to support some of the candidates surely risks shooting itself in the foot. And, to extend the metaphor, it risks shooting in the foot the millions of working people it represents.

There will be many differences of view as we seek to create a more open, more responsive party that is a credible force for the many who rely on a Labour government to stand up for them. There may even be the odd blazing row.

But we are stronger together. Whatever happens, let’s remember that.

John Woodcock is Labour and Cooperative MP for Barrow and Furness and a shadow transport minister.

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The moment to stand up and be counted

16/11/2010, 07:00:12 AM

By Len McCluskey

Millions need trade union help and protection as never before. This is a moment for us to stand up and be counted.

We are in a deep economic crisis. Hard-won pay, conditions and pensions are under threat from Cameron and Clegg.

The government is making ordinary people pay for the bankers’ crash with the most savage public spending cuts ever seen – that’s you, your parents, your children and their schools, your neighbours in difficulties, your daughter’s chance of a home of her own on the line.

And jobs are being blitzed. Over a million more people will be on the dole because of Osborne’s plans. Another “lost generation” looms for young people. The anger students have already expressed is increasingly shared across the country. (more…)

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Labour’s relationship with the unions is not set in stone, says Peter Watt

21/10/2010, 09:00:42 AM

As Tony Blair once said, “I didn’t come into politics to change the Labour party. I came into politics to change the country.”

And that is why opposition sucks.  We all joined the party so that we could play our part in turning our values into practical policies. We want to actually be able to improve the lives of people and their families, raise aspiration, work to strengthen the economy and so on. And you can only actually do that in government. For 13 years we felt that we were making a difference – making a difference at our local party meetings, making a difference at national policy forums and making a difference at party conference.

Oh I know that we complained that we were ignored (and probably we were, although not as much we claimed) but ministers of the crown came to our fundraising dinners, spoke at our events and circulated around the policy discussions and fringe at our conferences. It felt that we were both important and that we were involved in doing something important. And I guess that we can admit this now – we enjoyed it. Even the wine was better at conference when we were in government. (more…)

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Kevin Meagher looks at the new leader’s in-tray

28/09/2010, 09:23:37 AM

THIS week, of all weeks, Ed Miliband will not find himself short of advice. Whatever his critics, myself among them, have said about his campaign, he has executed his strategy expertly. Quite simply, he intuitively understood the centre of gravity in the modern Labour party far better than any of the other candidates.

His appeal to the Guardian-reading, soft left, public-sector urbanites who comprise so much of the party’s grassroots, was perfectly pitched. These are principled, decent people who can be swayed by pragmatic arguments, as they were (initially) by Tony Blair; but ultimately they retain their original, earnestly held views. They saw many of their cherished beliefs battered and bruised during Labour’s years in office and were grateful to have a candidate to vote for in this contest who actually chimed with how they see the world.

The trouble is that their views are not necessarily the views of the broader electorate. Or, indeed, our lost Labour voters. Both Gordon Brown’s former pollster, David Muir and the Open Left team at Demos have made this point in recent days.

So the balance between idealism and hard-nosed electoral reality needs to be better calibrated. And our new leader will not have long to do so. He has to adapt to a fast-changing political landscape with firmness and quickness or risk being on the back foot from the off. To his right-wing media critics he is already “Red Ed” – a rollback to Labour’s Jurassic period.  I am sure we can expect some subtle but firm rebranding in this afternoon’s speech.


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Monday News Review

27/09/2010, 07:56:19 AM

Ed’s first move

So it’s all over, is it? Labour has lurched to the Left, handing the next election to David Cameron. The selection of “Red Ed” Miliband will doubtless have been toasted in illicit champagne by Conservatives on Saturday night. For the Tories, brother Ed is an easier opponent than David, and his victory by machine politics – Charlie Whelan having persuaded six union-backed MPs to switch their second preferences – supports the idea that Ed owes his position to the bruisers. But, in the sober light of Monday morning, the Conservatives should file away their excitement under C for Complacency. For it would be a big mistake to underestimate the new Labour leader. For a start, he is no fool. Like his brother, Ed is intelligent and politically astute. He is hardly going to join a picket line against Coalition cuts. If anything, he knows that he now has to sound tougher on the unions than David would have done. – The Independent

Ed Miliband has sought to convince voters he is not a puppet of the trade union barons, who helped secure him the Labour crown, by insisting: “I am my own man.” He branded the label “Red Ed” as “tiresome rubbish” yesterday and made clear there would be no lurch to the Left under his leadership, declaring: “I am for the centre ground of politics.” – The Herald

Even Ed Miliband’s triumphant supporters will feel nervous awaiting his first speech as Labour leader. Having been selected in the controlled party show room, Tuesday’s appearance will start to tell us how he will perform on the open road of public opinion. A welter of post-victory punditry is pulling him in many directions; he must defend Labour’s record but explain what went wrong; land a blow on the coalition but appeal to disaffected Liberal Democrats; and rally the troops while appealing to the nation. To top it all he must display authority, show humanity, speak to the heartlands and woo middle England. – The FT

MPs and constituency members backing David, union members handing him the crown, is a handicap. The unions whirred into action to Stop David not Get Ed. And the relationship will be fraught – but trade unionists have a right to be heard. The block vote disappeared in 1993 and it was individual workers who voted for Ed. A leader championing fairness and social justice should promise better rights at work, job security and a living wage. To run away from employees because of flak over union support would be the worst of all worlds. Predictions that Labour will lose the 2015 election are silly. Anything could happen. Labour expects Ed to prove his doubters wrong. And will be merciless if he doesn’t. – The Mirror


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Making childish noises at the unions is not the way to lead Labour, says Dan Hodges

16/09/2010, 09:00:56 AM

Re-watching Tony Blair and Andrew Marr earlier this week reminded me of Denis Healey’s classic put down of Geoffrey Howe, in which he compared an attack by the Tory grandee to being savaged by a dead sheep. Perhaps Marr had on off day, or maybe he’s mellowed since his forensic and rigorously sourced examination of Gordon Brown’s mental health. Whatever the reasons, it’s safe to assume that ‘Marr/Blair’ will not be appearing at our cinemas any time soon.

But one exchange was revealing. When asked about his dalliances with business, Blair replied:

“I had far more trouble, if I may say this to you, with union leaders demanding something back than I ever did with high value donors”. (more…)

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