It came from the 80s - Union militancy strikes again

Posted on: 19 January 2012 by Alexander Hay

Forgetting the lessons of history, the trade union movement declares war on the Labour Party and in so doing, betrays its members in a way not seen since Scargill

Ed Miliband, yesterdayIt is perhaps too easy to get nostalgic about the 80s. The hair was awful, the clothes silly and it nestles in tone somewhere between 1970s despair and 1990s nihilism.

Politically, of course, it was an interesting time, as what was left of the post-war consensus was blasted to pieces, levelled and turned into a call centre. 

The main clash was over the kind of nation the UK was going to be by 1990. As we all know, the unions lost the argument decisively, having fatally weakened their position by overuse of strike action during the decade before and then being the best off-hand PR Margaret Thatcher could have wished for. This was just one of many divisions that undermined left wing politics in the UK - including the electoral chances of the Labour party. 

So, presumably, having seen what it was like to have its main political ally, the Labour party, stuck in the political wilderness for 18 years, the union movement would have learned its lesson and avoided infighting, yes? Actually, no.

Britain's third largest trade union has raised the spectre of disafilliation from the Labour party as the backlash against Ed Miliband grows.

The Labour leader is facing a growing trade union rebellion after the GMB and Public Commercial Services unions, key players in the 30 November national strike, joined the condemnation of the party's support for a public sector pay squeeze.

The GMB general secretary, Paul Kenny, warned that backing a 1% pay cap could have a "profound impact" on the union's relationship with Labour. In a letter to union officials, Kenny said a weekend speech by Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, could have negative consequences for the union's affiliation to Labour...

It's a bleak state of affairs to find oneself finding common cause with Ed Balls. Still, that was what the trade unions were really good at - making themselves and Labour as unappealing as possible. By contrast, 'Blinky' looks quite adorable. 

What do the unions hope to gain, however? It is unlikely that Labour will u-turn away from the pay cap, and piling in on the party leader as he looks vulnerable is pure opportunism. It is this blindspot - an inability to see how dreadful it looks to outsiders - that the unions should have abandoned long ago. 

Instead, it's like 1983 again... And the grim possibility that the self-serving and ideologically skewed Conservative party will ditch its Lib Dem coalition vassals and win another term in office in 2015 grows ever likely. Quite why the unions think failed politics from the same time period as the C5 Spectrum will work this time is debateable. It's almost as if they don't want to prevail, needing perhaps most of all the purity that comes from being perpetually in opposition.

None of this, of course, takes into account the very important role the unions played in stitching up the vote in Ed Miliband's favour back in 2010. Shocked to discover that they had backed a politician, they now seem desperate to continue playing backroom politics at the cost of their members' interests. 

Still, it would be fitting if Miliband fell by the same intrigues that won him the party leadership, and union myopia once again denied it a say in national politics. Perhaps that way they will finally learn their lesson.

[SOURCE: The Guardian]

 

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Alexander Hay

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