a labour of love? cut the union link

editorial of The Commune

As the general election nears, millions are worried by the sweeping public sector cuts planned by all three main parties.

Labour and the Tories’ plans are not the same. Gordon Brown’s government plan a more gradual process of cuts in public service provision and jobs.

However, the intention of this policy is to avoid stalling UK plc’s economic recovery by cutting the budget deficit too fast. It is not borne out of a desire to defend or promote free and high quality public services, still less the jobs of those working for them. Labour’s cuts will not seem too benign or ‘gradual’ to the 20,000 council staff due to be made redundant this spring.

Yet rather than organising resistance to this massive assault on working class living standards, which is already taking place, much of the official labour movement seems more concerned with re-electing the current, openly pro-business government.

This is lucky for Brown, whose election fund is mostly union money. Thanks to their affiliation to Labour, in 2009 the Unite union ploughed £3.6 million into party coffers. The CWU, who represent under-attack postal workers, pay £1 million a year.

There have been moves to break the union link: in a consultative ballot in September 96% of London post workers voted to suspend CWU funding of Labour. Yet still, in exchange for half-promises to members – and favours for would-be-MP union bureaucrats – union leaders think turkeys should not only vote for Christmas, but also pay for the privilege. It would be more democratic for branches to be able to dispose of political funds and back candidates as they choose.

Unfortunately, many on the radical left who previously supported moves to stop union funding to Labour have now fallen silent on the issue, since they are supporting the government in the election.

For example the Socialist Workers’ Party believe that re-electing the government will somehow increase workers’ confidence to fight back against the government’s plans. They have cast aside their analysis that Labour is ‘no longer’ a workers’ party.

But they were right before: affiliation serves less as a means for workers to control or ‘reclaim’  Labour, than it does as a means for the union leaders to control their members by shackling our organisations to the government. This means the stifling of collective action, not its politicisation. Indeed, the government will fight the election not only on a programme of ‘slower cuts’, but also continuing the imperialist war in Afghanistan, and anti-immigrant rhetoric often even worse than that of the Tories.

Labour may well appear as the ‘least worst’ choice at the general election. But if workers are to avoid carrying the burden for the recession then we must break out of the cycle of supporting the lesser evil. Securing political and organisational independence for our movement is vital not only to resist the recession but to start forging the type of movement the working class needs.

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