The “good old days” are gone

Submitted by AWL on 10 March, 2015 - 5:02 Author: Len Glover

It’s ironic that Andy Forse begins his article “Why I am not voting Green this May” (Solidarity 355) by saying that the world he wants to live in “would have things ... like rail...socialised”. He then goes on to advocate NOT voting for a party that DOES propose the socialisation of the railways and voting FOR a party that not only does not want to socialise the railways but actually ignored its conference policy when it voted for renationalisation!

This party (Labour of course) also continued the selling off of industries started by Thatcher, even the RAF air and sea rescue service wasn’t immune, flogged off last year in a process which Labour began when they were last in office.

Labour backs Trident, initiated the PFI rip-off, encouraged the greed of financiers and bankers that led to the crash of 2008, will probably support the outrageously expensive white elephant High Speed 2 rail project and has yet to come clean on the Iraq war and the reasons why we went headlong into that murderous debacle. I could go on...and on, but how many bodies, how many blighted and ruined lives, how much wasted money does it take before the light dawns.

All that Forse offers, in essence, by way of criticism of the Greens, is that they arsed up local government in Brighton (which they did). No mention of the appalling record of Labour local governments in everything from child protection services to wide scale cuts, capitulation to the interests of big business, sweeping redundancies of council workers and disgusting examples of corruption too numerous to mention (see just about any issue of Private Eye).

So what is Forse left with? He offers up the tired old formula about the so-called “conduit” through which “the specific interests of the working class majority can potentially be channelled” (to parliament). This once masqueraded as the “organic link” between the unions and the Labour Party and was one of the major reasons, much discussed at the time, for the “turn” to the Labour Party which a number of left activists (myself included I must say) went through in the early seventies. This link may have existed once but it is difficult to find much evidence of it now.

It is difficult to see how this “conduit” actually works when the majority of working people are not in trade unions and most worrying of all, many young people are uninterested or hostile seeing trade unions as bastions of self-interest or at best irrelevant. How does the “conduit” work for pensioners, for shopkeepers, for zero-contract workers, for what is increasingly being called the precariat, migrants, for the disillusioned and embittered now turning in their droves to UKIP?

The world is changing and the figures speak for themselves: trade unionism is on the decline and it seems unlikely it will ever revive, possibly membership will “plateau” at something around its present levels. In September 2012 trade union membership in Britain dropped below 6 million for the first time since the 1940s. Nor is the picture abroad that different – in the USA only 8% of workers in the private sector are unionised, while in France the figure is a paltry 8% for all sectors of workers. A number of trade unions are not even affiliated to the Labour Party, the RMT’s break with Labour is probably the best known example but my own union – the UCU – remains steadfastly non-aligned to any party. Even if they are affiliated, a fat lot of good it has done them. Britain has, for a number of years now – under Labour and Conservative governments – been the most anti-trade union country in Europe. Membership figures for the Labour Party are as equally dismal as for the trade unions, from a high of approximately 1 million in 1953, membership (in Jan 2015) was down to 190,000 (although this decline is the same for all the three major parties). It is hard to imagine this figure reviving very much in the future.

In what looks like an act of desperation to bolster up his threadbare argument Forse evokes the memory of the Clay Cross councillors and their resistance to housing charges.

But this was 43 years ago (and just for the record I helped organise meetings and marched through the village in support of them). This is history as nostalgia for a supposed “Golden Age”, not history as a pointer and lesson for the future. Where are the Clay Cross rebels of today? More to the point why was Clay Cross so isolated? Why did other councils, potentially much stronger than Clay Cross, not follow suit? Sheffield Council made a lot of noise as did Lambeth, Liverpool went further (although many criticisms can be made about the role of the Militant here) but ultimately Clay Cross was on its own. The Clay Cross rebels were indeed heroic and inspirational at the time but what about the myriad of other Labour councils around the country? Their record, to put it mildly, stinks.

Forse speculates that “there may well come a time when the Blairite coup inside the Labour Party is completed”. The use of the word “coup” suggests a sudden, unprecedented storming of the palisades but, like it or not, Blair – and Brown – were merely the logical progression of years of Labour hesitancy, timidity, sell-outs and accommodation to the status quo. In other words the coup has been signed, sealed and delivered and no amount of conduits, pipes, U-bends or other types of theoretical plumbing will wish this sad fact away. As Berthold Brecht once remarked (I’m paraphrasing) it’s no good thinking about the “good old days” we have to start from the bad new today.

So, Andy – thanks for the advice, I read your article in best comradely fashion but I find it wanting in many aspects and, worst of all, mired in a world view that is hopelessly formulaic, out-of-date and strangely unconnected to the real world which, actually Solidarity usually reports on and discusses with much intelligence and insight. I will, probably, vote for the Greens although I remain a socialist. If I had a crystal ball I would try to suggest how things might pan out but all I can say, in summary, is that the world is changing rapidly, the Greens are part of that flux and I think they could (as they have in Germany) become an important part of the social and political upheaval we so desperately need. Their politics are actually closer to my socialist beliefs than Labour. You say I should ignore this but how can I when the alternative is so utterly dismal. Political choice and motivation is more than just a cold calculation about “conduits”, it is also, surely, about being inspired, moved and angered by the injustices that permeate the society we live in.

Quite frankly I am more inspired by my cat than Ed Miliband and his clapped out crew of creeps, bribe-takers and toadies. Time will tell and I may be wrong but I do know that I have no wish to follow the Labour Party and social democracy to its inevitable grave.

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