Issue 265 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published July/August 2002 Copyright © Socialist Review
New Labour stooges appear to be incapable of winning a trade union election says The Walrus
Something of a pattern appears to have been emerging in recent elections for the top positions in key unions. For an organisation which feigns indifference to anything which might be going on in such supposedly obsolescent realms, New Labour has developed a fixation with the outcome of these votes bordering on the paranoid. In the process, it has resorted to a degree of trickery worthy of old Uncle Joe.
Behind this meteoric transformation has of course been a whole series of victories for left wing candidates in union elections over the past few years. The first really big symptom of this trend emerged when Mick Rix was voted in as general secretary of Aslef in 1998, and it has continued with votes for Billy Hayes in the CWU, Bob Crow in the RMT, Mark Serwotka in the PCS, Paul Mackney in Natfhe and, to a lesser degree, Tony Woodley in the TGWU.
These individuals all had one thing in common--none of them made any attempt whatever to disguise their opposition to government policy on a whole range of issues, from privatisation of the railways, London Underground, the Post Office and National Air Traffic Services through to global capitalism and the war on terrorism. Most of them, indeed, made their distaste for New Labour's approach on just about everything so blatant, it would take the mind of either a total idiot--or Barry Reamsbottom--to fail to register the message. Maybe the word 'socialist' should have been a bit of a giveaway.
By complete contrast, it's difficult to recall any of the New Labour candidates in any of these elections having very much to say for themselves at all. One of the reasons for this is that New Labour has lost the plot to such an extent in the minds of most ordinary trades unionists that it couldn't find a genuine candidate to put up.
The other main reason, of course, is that if anybody from New Labour had been open about their politics they would have needed to stand on a platform emblazoned with the slogan 'We're the Tories in disguise'. And, despite what Peter Mandelson seems to think, this might not have gone down all that well with the ordinary punters. Like the rest of the Labour high command, Mandelson still suffers from the delusion that the 1997 general election was won through a combination of the brilliance of New Labour's PR machine together with the wholesale plundering of Tory policies-- not that the entire populace detested the Tories and would have done anything to get them out.
Because the level of grassroots support for most of their initiatives is limited to a layer of top business executives and grossly overpaid high flyers in the parts of the public sector, they are left with no option but to adopt a top-down approach. Instead of convincing anybody that what you are up to is a good idea (because you can't) you get things through simply by putting the right people in the right jobs, stonewalling each and every voice of discontent and, when all else fails, activating the androids to disable adversaries.
This has probably been most evident in the otherwise inexplicable determination to drive through PPP and PFI schemes against the wishes of all the unions and the vast majority of employees in the public sector. But it also comes out every time the antics of another spin doctor have been exposed. Virtually every government department now employs enormous gaggles of little oiks like Derek Draper, Jo Moore or Dan Corry--all on fantastic salaries and without the slightest idea of anything much --the basic idea being that you win an argument by manipulation, or 'spin', rather than with anything so wacky as conviction.
So rather than summon up the bottle to carry out policies which would meet with universal approval -- like renationalising the railways or stopping mucking about with the NHS--fortunes are spent on these 'active rebuttal' units, whose entire time is spent trying to justify the unjustifiable. Either that or they are sent out to dig the dirt on people like Pam Warren, spokesperson for the Paddington rail crash victims. Another example of this absolutely scandalous type of behaviour has been the equally disreputable attempt to smear Professor Alyson Pollock, by far the most consistent and effective critic of Private Finance Initiatives in the public sector.
Labour's response has been belligerent in direct proportion to the rise in hostility to government policies as reflected in thumping majority votes for people like Bob Crow and Paul Mackney in the unions. When Bob Crow stood for the position of general secretary of the RMT towards the end of last year he was subjected to a systematic campaign of vilification in some papers ably encouraged by New Labour stooges.
Despite all this skulduggery, there now looms the hitherto undreamt of possibility that the leader of the most important union of all for New Labour--the AEEU-Amicus led by Sir Ken Jackson--might not get re-elected. Hence the truly bizarre antics of New Labour loyalists in the current battle to keep Jackson in charge.
Just to make sure that nothing untoward might happen in this vote the surprise opponent, Derek Simpson, has so far been told by head office that he would have to give up his job as a full time district official of the union before he could qualify to stand against the mighty Ken. Then he was told that he would face disciplinary action if he dared to turn up at the annual conference in Blackpool, even if he took time off his holiday entitlement. Then he was charged with disciplinary action on two counts, neither of which are going to be fully investigated until after the election--mainly because there are no genuine charges to answer.
In the meantime mysterious men in suits had started turning up at union branches trying to win nominations for Jackson, and it turns out that at least one full time official at head office has been involved in tampering with union branch records in an attempt to influence the vote for his boss. This miserable wretch--the hapless Roger Maskell--has since been forced to fall on his sword in the hope that accusations of malpractice will not be taken any further. The government has also pitched in by getting half the cabinet to turn up in Blackpool and show what a big noise Ken is. In a video issued to delegates Tony Blair is reported to have mentioned Ken by name on at least three separate occasions! But the fact that seven members of the AEEU politburo (sorry, national executive) have since broken ranks in support of Derek Simpson gives a real insight into just how far the rot has gone. Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean there's nobody behind you!