By Mark Sandell
We have all heard angry bullying parents say to children: "Do you want a smack?" Tony Blair's cronies are snapping something like that now at the unions.
The latest Blairite impudence comes in a soon-to-be-published paper from the Institute of Public Policy Research. They have, so they claim, a blueprint for "sorting out" the union block vote at Labour Party Conference, where the unions still have a 50% voice in what is decided.
The Blairites have, of course, already destroyed most of the power in Party affairs of Annual Conference. The Blairites are using the threat to reduce union power at
conference as a stick to get union leaders to back off from the current small but significant protests, including industrial action, against Government policy.
The irony of course, is that the union gave birth to the Labour Party and in this case it is the child threatening its own mother with "Do you want a smack?"
Blair's gang now have near total power over the Labour Party. They have maimed and mutilated a party created by the unions into a bought and paid for party of the bosses.
Union leaders have in the past bowed before such threats. Some see challenging a Labour leadership as treachery; others fear that Blair will completely sever Labour-union ties. But union leaders are being driven into limited revolt by the anger and frustration of their own members. Some of the new union leaders, like the civil service union's Mark Serwotka are happy to lead such battles. Others, like UNISON'S Dave Prentis are still trying - Prentis at the last UNISON conference for example - to damp down and undermine militancy against privatisation in the public sector. Neither use nor ornament, they discourage action; they sell out disputes.
Given this situation some socialists ask, "Does it matter if the Labour leadership breaks the union-Labour link?" Yes it does!
In fighting for workers' rights, the trade unions are not just pitted against one boss but also against the bosses as a class - the capitalist ruling class. The capitalist class administers society and its agents control the state machine. The Labour Party was founded by the unions to be a voice for the union movement in politics, to affect and control the administration of society - to change laws and government policies in the interests of the working class.
Labour was never seriously a socialist party. When Clause Four of the party constitution - Blair removed it in 1996 - committed it to work for public ownership of the means of production and exchange, this did not affect what Labour governments did.
In 1945, Labour did win serious reforms for the working class. The link between Labour and the unions was a channel, sometimes narrow and sometimes wide, for working class concern allowing union concerns to flow into the Labour Party and by way of the Labour Party into the broad political system. Blair's revolution in the party has effectively shut down all these channels.
If the unions push Blair hard enough he might break Labour decisively from the unions. Such a break would be good for working class politics only if it led to a new trade union-based party being founded.
The sorry truth is that the unions have not taken on Labour's leaders over their anti-working class polices.
What have they done to force Labour to respond to anti-trade union laws introduced by the Tories?
Nothing! Socialists should push for the union leaders to seek a showdown with Blair and his cronies.
Solidarity believes this should be combined with support for Socialist Alliance election challenges that gain union support and prepare the ground for a union split from Labour. Labour remains the main beneficiary of union political funds.
Some in the Socialist Alliance believe that socialists in the unions should advocate
dividing the union political funds, so that a little money goes to the Socialist Alliance.
Such an approach has two dangers. It detracts from the demand to get the union leadership to fight for union policy using the union presence inside the Labour Party; and it open the way for other parties "to the left of Labour" to get financial support from unions - the Greens, Scots Nationalists, Lib Dems etc.
Some on the right of the unions now argue that the unions should move away from all concerns with having an independent party of the working class and, instead, use the political fund to influence any party willing to play ball. This is particularly dangerous.
In the USA, the unions mostly support the Democrats but also give cash to Republicans and others. The unions are just one political lobby buying influence with venal politicians.
The unions should respond to the threat of the loss of the Labour link by raising the flag of "Old Labour" against the Government and its attacks on workers.
Socialists of course want more than Old Labour. Union members want to see the unions use every lever on and in the Labour Party and take every opportunity outside and inside the Labour Party to fight the anti-worker, anti-union policies of Blair.
This latest threat of a smack from the delinquent party should not frighten the unions but stir them into revolt.