Wednesday, 29 December 2010

A split that will benefit the left

Ed Miliband has proposed introducing a ceiling of £500 on the donations that any individual backer can give to political parties. The ostensible result of this is that it will reduce the ties between the Labour Party and the trade unions. If this is the case, it is something we ought to welcome with open arms.

The stated aim of these proposals is to take "big money" out of politics. We should be under no illusions whatsoever that this will happen.

If this measure passes at all, then you can guarantee that there will be loopholes and technicalities to exploit. Not to mention that, with corporate control of the media, and the power that big business and lobbies such as the CBI wield due to the sheer weight of capital behind them, "big money" will always have the casting vote. Politics will always be the shadow cast on society by big business, within a capitalist social order.

As to what this means for the unions, Len McCluskey is in no doubt;
What Ed needs to understand is that the trade union movement created the Labour Party. If there are people who just see us as a cash cow, the dotty aunt and uncle who are... just brought out to sign cheques, then that's not going to happen. We want to make certain that our views and beliefs are listened to.
The only problem is that trade union views and beliefs are not listened to.

Currently, the only reason unions account for 80% of Labour funding comes from the unions is that the Cash for Honours affair drove away a lot of the big business connections Tony Blair had collected. Even now, "Red" Ed Miliband has condemned the fire strike, called on BBC workers not to take industrial action, and declared McCluskey's call for co-ordinated strike action "wrong and unhelpful."

I've written on why Labour are no friend of the working class several times before - most recently when they offered membership for a penny. But this is a long-running argument, and unfortunately the unions' position is entrenched. McCluskey at al are "not for leaving the Labour Party."
Thus, we can hope that Miliband gets his wish. Members will reap the financial benefit of no longer having their subs fund a political party whose interests always have lay with the ruling class. And the fight against austerity will lose the dead weight of having a significant sector - rank-and-file trade unionists - weighted to the moderating, pacifying influence of Labour.

This is not to say that, out of the blue, unions will become militant fighting forces. Trade union bureaucrats are at least as demobilising on their membership as the party many of them funded. But the shift will give significant weight to the argument made by those of us who believe that austerity and capitalism must be fought using direct action, that electoral politics is a dead end road, and that we must fight our own struggles rather than seeking out leaders.

Already, libertarian ideas are taking hold and Labour cutting off the unions may well serve as the tipping point. Those of us who want to see an effective working class fightback ought to hope so.