Barry Biddulph argues that Labour will never be on our side
Striking is irrelevant for Ed Miliband. He had an awkward lesson for September’s TUC conference: trade unions should offer better relations with their employers. What Labour needed was a continuation of the partnership between business and the unions. The way forward was not negative strikes, but a positive “new economy” built on the Labourite value of cooperation, not conflict in the workplace.
But this desire for social peace is traditional Labour politics. The Labour Representation Committee originally founded Labour on the basis of Keir Hardy’s resolution rejecting class war in favour of parliamentary constitutionalism. Ramsay MacDonald, the leader of the first Labour Government in 1924, advocated and acted on the commitment to growing capitalist society, not building a working class alternative.
Labour’s perspective has always been to make themselves respectable enough to manage capitalism. Miliband was not even proposing a return to Keynes as a way out of recession. He was simply rehashing the Labour mantra, dating back to 1976 when then Prime Minister, James Callaghan, said to the party conference: We would like to think we could spend our way out of recession. I tell you in all candour that option no longer exists.
Ed Miliband implied that you would like to think you can strike your way out of recession but “strikes are always a consequence of failure”. ‘Red Ed’ was opposed to the pension strikes in June. Even if the negotiation with the unions was not meaningful on the government’s part, strikes were still morally wrong. The Parliamentary Labour Party and its leadership have a long history of opposition to strikes since they are not on the parliamentary agenda. To give a few examples. Labour leaders were against strikes in the great unrest 1910-14, the general strike of 1926, the seafarers’ strike in 1966, and the miners’ strike 1984-85. And so on.
Ed Miliband denied being fatalistic. He was not saying ‘accept whatever the employers offered and do not strike’… well, he was saying that but he was also implying something positive: don’t strike but vote Labour at the next election. There was an unwritten promise to provide a few crumbs of comfort for the trade union leaders.The future Labour government would facilitate more apprenticeships and would negotiate in good faith unlike the Tories. But obviously the trade union leaders would have to do the decent thing and help Britain’s economic recovery, and the cuts which were being implemented throughout the country by local Labour councils would not be restored.
Miliband’s speech to the Labour Party conference was full of the usual bourgeois rhetoric about ‘new politics’. He was bringing ‘new values’ like the youthful Tony Blair in 1997. It was the same old Labourite call for a ‘new morality’ which has been in the party’s DNA since its foundation. He called for an end to fast buck Britain and the quick profit. Even so Miliband is aware he cannot morally regulate capitalism: capitalism cannot be ethically run.Underneath the apparent sincerity is the usual phoney sound bite.
The goal of moralising people at the top of capitalism has never been more than dishonest political posturing. Remember ethical foreign policy and then imperialism in Iraq. And all the hypocrisy about how wrong it is for ordinary hard-working people to be squeezed. All this from the leader of a party that is in favour of cuts to jobs and services. Behind the ethical stance is the respectable financial orthodoxy which has run the Labour Party for a century. No surprise then that, Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, announced a future Labour government would not reverse the Tory cuts.