Trade unions bail out bankrupt Labour

While the left press is full of enthusiasm about a new generation of militant trade union leaders threatening to cut support for New Labour and ushering in a new era of militancy, the leading trade unions are actually preparing to bail out the bankrupt Labour Party. They have proposed a £40 million deal over five years, enough to cover a third of Labour’s running costs, in return for concessions on anti-trade union laws. Bill Morris, general secretary of the T&GWU, said he was optimistic that the deal would go ahead, while another top union leader is reported as saying, ‘Labour is the only show in town and we want to show our commitment’.

Nothing could demonstrate more clearly the utterly degenerate state of the so-called Labour movement in Britain. No matter how reactionary and authoritarian Labour becomes; no matter how viciously Labour attacks the working class, no matter what atrocities they commit, the trade unions refuse to break with the party that feeds them their privileged crumbs from the table of imperialism.

Labour hits the poor hardest

Just look at the domestic record of the Labour government the trade unions are defending. In 2000-01, 13.7 million people lived below the poverty line – a higher figure than in 1995-96 and more than double the number 20 years ago. Labour made much of its pledge to cut child poverty by a quarter by 2004-05 and to eradicate it within 20 years. But relative poverty can only be ended by a redistribution of wealth, which Labour will never do. It claims to have made steady progress, but it has done so only through tax credits, which have moved a few children from just below to just above the poverty line. It is running out of easy options and will not meet its targets. Income inequality in Britain remains the worst in Europe.

In 2002 there were still 3.75 million people unemployed and wanting paid work, and the number of long-term workless households remained at over two million, unchanged since 1995 and showing no signs of falling. Any reduction in the headline unemployment figures has been mainly achieved by forcing people into low-paid, insecure work. There are now 2.6 million workers paid at or below £4.30 an hour. Labour tries to hide the reality behind these figures. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has complained that official data on low pay is now only available at the discretion of the government and then only after a substantial time lag and needing complex statistical procedures to derive estimates. But not to worry! Labour has appointed Adair Turner as head of the Low Pay Commission. Turner used to be director-general of the organisation for big business, the CBI. He should know all about high and low pay. Under Labour, the average annual salary for directors in the top 100 companies rose to £1.5 million.

Labour’s Britain – violent, racist and authoritarian
But being poor doesn’t just mean going without money. In Labour’s Britain, people on below average incomes are twice as likely to suffer mental illness; one and a half times more likely to have a disability or chronic illness; their children are more likely to be born underweight and to die from accidents and their young men twice as likely to commit suicide.

Last year violent crimes rose by 28%, the use of firearms by 35% and sexual offences by 26%. The poor are the greatest victims of crime. Half of low-income families cannot afford household insurance. They are three times more likely to be burgled than families on above- average income.

Labour’s Britain is racist and discriminatory. People from Black Caribbean, African and Bangladeshi backgrounds are twice as likely as white people to be unemployed. Young black people are four times more likely to be excluded from school and seven times more likely to be in prison. Under Labour the gap between women’s and men’s pay actually increased last year.

And how does Labour react to this record? Because it has no solutions and the gloss is wearing thin, it lashes out with ever-more authoritarian dictates. Labour’s Britain sends more of its citizens to prison than any other European country. The gaol population is at a record high of over 72,000 and rising. In 2002 there was a record number of 94 suicides in prison, up by 29% on the previous year. Labour was keen to sweep rough sleepers off the streets but not to provide decent housing. In 2002 there were 85,000 households in temporary accommodation; almost double the number in 1997. In 2000-01, 10,000 pupils were permanently excluded from school. The numbers are on the rise again. Labour plans to restrict the right of appeal tribunals to reinstate children. Over 50,000 children skip school every day. Labour’s solution is to expand police patrols in and around schools and slap £50 fixed penalties on the parents of truanting children. Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, said, ‘It is time to restore respect for authority to its rightful place’.

This is the reality of Labour’s Britain. A vicious, racist, authoritarian party ruling over a divided society of obscene wealth and privilege on one side and, on the other, torment, insecurity and poverty. Only the likes of the British left and Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee could ever imagine that such a party of capitalism and imperialism can be reformed. The reality is that capitalism cannot function without class division, inequality, exploitation and an army of unemployed. Ultimately, these things can only be defeated by the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system. It remains to be seen whether the ‘new breed’ of union leaders, so beloved of the left, go beyond their rhetoric to finally break from and take on Labour. We hope so. But don’t hold your breath.

Jim Craven

FRFI 171 February / March 2003


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