Sunday, 3 October 2010

Labour Representation (1)


Tower Hamlets Trades Council had real influence all of 25 years ago, it was active in many different campaigns throughout the 1980s when I was a T&G delegate, which is nowadays better known as simply Unite. The monthly meetings were always relatively well attended. The council had representatives sitting on the Greater London Association of Trades Councils, and which for some years I was an elected representative, along with about four others including and would you believe it Charlie Whelan, former spin doctor to Gordon Brown, now turned political influence peddler for the Unite union..

It is said that Whelan had run an effective "stop David Miliband" campaign in the trade union movement; which did it in for the elder brother, and delivered the Crown and laurel foliage worn now on the head of Ed Miliband as an emblem of his victory; well that might be a wee bit of a square peg in a round hole portrayal of how this recent Leadership Election was won and achieved from behind the scenes, and orchestrated, masterminded by the power brokers that now run the Labour and Trade Union Movement.

It has crossed my mind more than once, that with the decline of influence and strength of once a mighty movement in the workplace: for had this not its own advantages, and possibly recognised by some in the top upper crust of a far, far different union movement than say 30 years ago. Back then there was a strong network of shop floor activists and stewards, a different type of leadership even at the top. My own experience was in NUPE which is now absorbed into Unison. My recognition of leaders like Jack Jones, Hugh Scanlon, Alan Fisher, Clive Jenkins and others of that era are very much still vivid and bright in my own memory. This was the time before Mrs Thatcher squeaked into Downing Street with a 30-seat majority in 1979.

Oh and how I can still hear the echoing voices, repeating by a shrivelled reflection of having read the Sun or swallowed rubbish that other Fleet Street titles churned-out to a sometimes gullible working class whom at times fell for the lie, that the unions ran or ruined politically and economically the country!”

Now this post is not particularly or specifically about the organizations that call themselves trade unions, but about working class representation in the political arena, or if you like in the amphitheatre of Westminster, and as we have come to know it through the development of the Labour Party from its forerunner the Labour Representation Committee. 

The concern about the need for parliamentary representation as a political weapon for workers’ interests has deep long roots, bedded in a blood drenched earth of struggle not just for representation but first the right to the franchise, the emancipation (may not be the best word) and winning by degrees, universal suffrage, that right to vote.

I have just decided, that this subject will need to be spread over three separate component posts in order that I am able to build a picture, an argument, and a case with a conclusion that takes on board some of the comments and concerns raised recently by fellow bloggers, Harpymarx and Chris H from Lansbury's Lido. I also promise to explain the so-called advantages of power and unaccountable leverage that trade union leader’s use with impunity, and what I believe to be an impurity in the everyday politics of the Labour Movement.

The Chartist movement, emerged in the second half of the 1830s and developed strongly wide support from the new industrial working class, this development must have shaken the very ground upon which the emerging developing capitalist class phlebotomised.

The Chartists had and promoted a six point Charter, of which the movement took its name, these were manhood suffrage, voting by ballot, annual parliaments, equal electoral districts, the payment of MPs, and the abolition of property qualifications.

Their demands and at such a time of early capitalist development must have had its attractions and seemed very well thought-out, but was there a naivety on the part of the Chartists I do wonder?”

Let’s just capture for a moment the atmosphere of those times: ‘Civilisation works its miracles’, wrote the Frenchman, Alex de Tocqueville, who visited Manchester in 1835, and then proclaimed; ‘and civilised man is turned back almost into a savage.’   

I see this savage, roaming about aimlessly without any destination still today, in search of food, shelter and employment. And further more, well its 2010, and really I am not exaggerating, just look at the thousands that don’t have homes that sleep rough on the streets of our capital city, building workers visiting the dole office and soup kitchens doing brisk business.

So when Chartism declined many attempts were made to revive the movement for workers’ representation and parliamentary reform. The important point to note is the formation of the LRC many years later at the turn of the century was the culmination of many different efforts which we will consider in the next post!” 

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