17 Days Remaining

Friday 1st
posted by Morning Star in Features

Unlike the Blairites, Corbyn and McDonnell have a long history of defending trade unionists in struggle. In their hour of need we must decide whose side we are on, says DAVE SMITH

JEREMY CORBYN and John McDonnell stood with blacklisted workers in our time of need.

Now their leadership is under attack, every trade union needs to stand with them. Yesterday I joined the Labour Party to fight for the future of our movement.

Less than 12 months ago, alongside thousands of other union members, I voted in the Labour leadership election.

Corbyn’s crushing victory was a boost for all of us fighting against the neoliberal takeover of politics and for a fairer society.

The campaign also brought back mass political public meetings to an extent that hasn’t been seen since the 1980s. This is just one aspect of a wider revival of grassroots activism over the past few years.

The Blacklist Support Group is proud to have played a small part in the resurgence of industrial militancy that has hit the construction industry.

But its not just building workers; there has been increased strike action by rail workers, civil servants, bakers, firefighters and junior doctors.

Civil disobedience has been rediscovered as an industrial strategy.

Road blockades, barricades and occupations of corporate headquarters, which 20 years ago were often seen as alien to the British unions, have now become the norm.

Migrant workers, sometimes hidden from view, have gone from being passive victims to being at the forefront of this new working-class strike wave with carnival-like actions at Sotheby’s, Ritzy cinemas and among university and City of London cleaners.

Whether part of TUC-affiliated unions or localised independent unions, rank-and-file activists have a renewed spring in their step.

What the fight against the blacklist has demonstrated is just what can be achieved when our movement stands together on a matter of principle, even against the biggest corporate interests.

Legislation outlawing blacklisting has been introduced and the biggest multinationals in the sector have now been forced to make a grovelling public apology, while paying out millions in a compensation settlement.

The very term “blacklisting” is now part of the mainstream political discourse. But blacklisted workers could not have won on our own.

We believe the self-evident truth in our traditional slogan that “unity is strength.”

Working side by side with the official trade unions, MPs, councillors, investigative journalists and grassroots activists has been the key to our success.

The demand “Justice for blacklisted workers” has united our movement. And both McDonnell and Corbyn have been at early-morning picket lines, parliamentary meetings, conference fringe events and mass protests from the start.

Our historic victory in the High Court is just one example of what we have achieved, the establishment of the Pitchford spy cops inquiry is another in which undercover police spying on trade union activists is now a core strand.

The tide is now flowing in our direction and who would now doubt that any future Labour government will be forced to introduce a public inquiry, not just into the way International Labour Organisation conventions have been breached by the blacklisting scandal but also at Shrewsbury and Orgreave?

But exposing human rights abuses orchestrated by big businesses with the collusion of the British state has always caused difficulties for the Blairite faction inside the Parliamentary Labour Party.

For decades, unions have known that employers were deliberately victimising activists by denying them work on major projects.

From the Shrewsbury pickets to the Jubilee Line sparks, the situation was obvious for anyone who bothered to look. At the time, the firms denied everything and whenever documentary evidence appeared showing they had kept secret files on union members, the companies simply pointed to the fact that blacklisting wasn’t even illegal in Britain.

This was because the Blair government had gone back on a 1997 manifesto promise to ban the practice.

Tony Benn, Michael Meacher, Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and others in the Campaign Group of Labour MPs, forced the then Labour government to go out to consultation on blacklisting.

Unfortunately, the natural inclination of Blairite ministers is to be sceptical of claims put forward by unions, preferring to believe at face value the spin put out by corporations.

After considerable lobbying by employers, it came as no real shock when in 2003 the Blair government declared: “There has been no known case of blacklisting — covert or overt — since the 1980s. In part these changes reflect the improved state of employment relations today … the government considers it inappropriate to introduce regulations where there is no evidence that a problem has existed for over a decade.”

A decade later, when blacklisted workers showed evidence of police collusion in blacklisting to Chuka Umunna, the then shadow business secretary, he dismissed it as “joining the dots.”

Not wanting to upset the Establishment is a political mantra for those Blairites with an eye on their careers.

It was absolutely right for the Parliamentary Labour Party to call for a vote of no confidence at this time — but it should have been against David Cameron.

When the Tory Party is in turmoil, the entire labour movement should be concentrating all our efforts on bringing down this rotten government.

Instead, 172 Labour MPs launched an attempted coup on Corbyn. If it is true that Angela Smith MP described the 10,000 activists, including general secretaries of affiliated trade unions, who attended a pro-Corbyn rally on Monday as “dogs,” then serious questions need to be asked about the relationship between the PLP and the trade union movement. 

Every trade union in Britain has regular elections for shop stewards, branch secretaries and their general secretary.

It is time those who fund the Labour Party demand the same level of democracy for sitting MPs. 

Anything less than mandatory reselection of MPs before every parliament is now untenable.

Let’s get this straight — none of these MPs backed Corbyn for leader, most of them abstained in the Welfare Reform Bill, many of them voted for the Iraq war and to this day hero-worship Tony Blair.

The 172 Labour MPs are not just trying to change the Labour leader, they are plotting to drag the movement back to a Blairite view of politics.

The vote of no confidence was not just an attempt to oust Corbyn — it was a declaration of war on the entire organised left.

The gloves are off and there’s no going back. Everyone will need to decide: which side are you on? I stand with Corbyn and McDonnell.

  • Dave Smith is co-author, with Phil Chamberlain, of Blacklisted: The Secret War between Big Business and Trade Unionists (New Internationalist Publications).