SATURDAY’S magnificent working-class mobilisation in London behind the TUC New Deal for Working People initiative confirmed a closer unity of the labour movement’s political and industrial wings.
How many times have unions marched, protested and demonstrated for working people’s demands only for ivory-tower “Labour” politicians in Westminster to decry, belittle or ignore their calls?
The death knell for such parliamentary disdain for workers’ rights and living standards sounded nearly three years ago when Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader.
There’s been a hiccup or two since, but the huge increase in party membership and activity has concentrated the minds of many Labour MPs who have dropped their previous commitment to New Labour’s austerity-lite agenda.
Corbyn has shown that, despite a barrage of derision from the Tory and liberal capitalist media, offering a pro-working class perspective need not lead to electoral disaster.
Unions backed different candidates when Corbyn first stood for the leadership, but they have rejected any involvement with backward-looking cabals trying to undermine him.
Unlike his predecessors as leader or his leadership contest opponents, Corbyn has shown understanding and support for union demands.
He never accepted the fallacy that holding down workers’ pay, worsening their state or occupational pension arrangements, cutting finance for essential public services or economising by replacing well-paid permanent posts with a variety of part-time, temporary, zero-hours minimum-wage jobs or bogus self-employment was the best way to repair the damage inflicted on the economy by the private banking system’s reckless speculation.
Whenever Tory ministers are asked about the value of workers’ pay falling by 4 per cent in the decade since 2008, they waffle about minimum wage rises or their fraudulent “national living wage” and tax changes to take the poorest people out of income tax liability.
But they are resolutely opposed to changes that come about through the actions of low-paid workers themselves, assisted by their unions.
That’s why Corbyn’s pledge to the tens of thousands gathered in Hyde Park that an incoming Labour government “will give workers more power by strengthening their rights and freedoms to organise together to improve their lives” is so important.
Raising the minimum wage to £10 an hour and banning zero-hours contracts, which Labour also promises, are important steps forward for government to make.
But the deployment of collective strength, through trade union activity, to demand more of the wealth that workers’ labour creates before being appropriated by the employer class, is essential to reverse the movement’s membership decline.
Successive neoliberal governments’ determination to do away with sectoral bargaining and weaken collective bargaining by restricting workers’ right to take industrial action is designed not only to ensure that the balance of economic power remains with big business and the wealthy few.
It is also about disillusioning those sections of the working class that need effective trade unionism most of all — the low-paid, unorganised, fragmented victims of “flexibility” who are denied decent wages, pensions, paid holidays and sick and compassionate leave.
Labour’s task is, as Corbyn put it at the London rally, “to challenge the powerful and stand up for the powerless.”
In cementing the unity of the political and industrial wings of the labour movement to make it more effective, the proposals put forward by the Communication Workers Union in its New Deal Next Steps Plan are worthy of consideration.
The TUC rally cannot be just another annual mobilisation. It must be part of a process of building real, decisive, progressive change.
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