a letter to The Commune by Bill Butlin
The impending public expenditure cuts look like being a key issue for trade unionists at the next general election. The Labour Party and the Tories both maintain that cuts are unavoidable and that no alternative exists to their implementation.
In an interview with Andrew Marr at the beginning of January the Tory leader was gung ho on this issue. He maintained that the cuts identified as necessary by New Labour were not stringent enough. Clearly any pretence by Cameron that he represents the acceptable One Nation face of the Conservative Party, and one that has left Thatcherism behind, is challenged by this professed policy objective. An objective that will not only see public expenditure cuts but further privatisations and a parallel attack on public sector trade unionism.
This attack on trade unionism could well see further attacks on the right to strike in the public sector and an attempt to break the strength of workplace trade unionism. The public sector remains a bastion of shop steward resistance. The attempt to attack terms and conditions in this sector will see the annual pay rise either diminished or becoming a relic of the past as the Tories attempt to cut the cost of labour power in this sector.
In the face of this Tory attack the clear lead from socialists is that workers need to rely on your own strength to beat back this attack. And that we need to organise sooner rather than later in order to do this
However there remains the difficult question of how socialists should vote in the next general election. The two traditional responses to this by the left both seem inadequate.
The first of these is the ultra left view, long held by the more exotic sects in the labour movement, maintaining that there is no difference between the Labour and Tory party and that workers should support neither one at election time. The other advises a Labour vote on the grounds that the Labour Party may be bastards, but at least they are ‘our bastards’ and part of the workers’ movement.
Both of these arguments seem to me to ignore the important changes that have taken place in the Labour Party in recent years. These have moved it further to the right and have arguably made it no longer a traditional social democratic party. The abandonment of Clause Four and the retention of the Tory anti union laws, which are now New Labour anti union laws, are obvious examples of the way neo-liberal ideology has infected this party.
In the face of this, how can we explain the fact that some extremely class conscious workers will be calling for a Labour vote at the next election? Part of this has to be that they realise the extent of the attacks the Tories will be planning after the next election. Another reason is that hatred of the Tories remains strong in the workers’ movement. Another is the belief that the workers’ movement has more influence with a Labour government.
These however are not the only reasons. The call for a Labour vote also represents an implied criticism of the sectarianism of the so called ‘revolutionary’ left and its failure to build any political alternative to New Labour.
The Commune should listen very carefully to what this layer of workers is saying and give them a platform in our paper and forums. We should do this on the clear understanding that the answer to the current attack on the public sector remains in the hands of the working class itself and not the Labour Party. This understanding needs to point to the other side of the debate as well: that is, to the complete political bankruptcy of neo-liberal New Labour and the attack on public expenditure that both Brown and Darling are now planning.