Tuesday, 28 September 2010


'I know thee not old man.': Prince Hal in Henry IV [part II]

IT was like a play by Bertold Brecht when two weeks ago Dave Harker, of North East National Shop Stewards Network, declared to a large fringe meeting on the Blacklist: 'Anyone who asks us to vote Labour must be living in Cloud Cuckoo-Land'. This was met with spontaneous applause much to the dismay of the left-wing MP on the platform: John McDonnell. Mr McDonnell MP had urged voting Labour in the midst of his oration to the campaigners against the blacklist and another speaker on the platform went on to say it is 'a pity he was not one of the candidates for Labour leader'.

But 'Cloud Cuckoo-land' is still, not an easy realm to escape from for many on the left, and the big unions still spend millions supporting the Labour Party. Will they get their money's worth this time? The political pundits are not yet tipping the restoration of trade union rights to the pre-Margaret Thatcher situation, which is something unions like UNITE have been demanding. The best thing on offer from the new Labour leadership, at the moment, seems to be a 'Living Wage; right to request flexible working for all workers'.

This falls far short of what last March, Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson, the leaders of UNITE the UNION, were calling for when they said the last Labour Government had let the labour movement down by failing to do away with Thatcher's anti-trade union laws. Yet in second quarter of 2010, UNITE gave the Labour Party £1.67 million; this compares with £1.2 million that Unison gave the party and £1.05 million donated by the GMB.

At the TUC Conference in Manchester a local group calling themselves the 'northern syndicalists' issued a 'Trade Unionist Review' arguing that:

'After the General Strike in 1926 the Baldwin Government, like Thatcher in the 1980s, had been eager to exploit its victory and in May 1927 it introduced a bill to amend the Trades Disputes Act of 1906. Its main clause made illegal the sympathy strike or “any strike designed or calculated to coerce the government”... The historian, A.J.P. Taylor, writes of this Act (the Trade Disputes & Trade Union Act) that, unlike Thatcher's anti-union laws, “it was fiercely contested in the house of commons, and its repeal followed close on Labour's victory in 1945”. The northern syndicalist Review adds: 'No such attempt at repeal of Thatcher's anti-union laws followed the election of Blair in 1997, indeed the Labour Government, that was in office with an absolute majority up to May this year, dismissed trade union demands for change in the law.'

Today it would be a rash inmate of the Labour Party realm of Cloud Cuckoo-Land, who should risk forecasting any repeal of the laws that inhibit trade unions as a result of last weekends election of Ed Miliband as Labour leader. Indeed, John McTernan, political secretary to Tony Blair 2005 to 2007, wrote in the Telegraph yesterday that now that Ed Miliband has got the job 'he never needs to do anything for them (the unions) ever again.' Mr McTernan says he should tackle Derek Simpson as the newly crowned Henry V dealt with Falstaff when he came to Court looking for favours: 'I know thee not old man.'

No comments: