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Taking a broader perspective…

#No2AV is not ‘in crisis’…..

By Darrell Goodliffe.

Rupert Read, writing yesterday, seems to think the #No2AV camp is somehow ‘in meltdown’. How he reaches this conclusion because some wires got crossed over precisely who supports it is beyond me. If we take the most notable cases, the ‘loss’ of both Barry Sheerman or Michael Gove, they could well have been down to faults on their part as much as any problems with the campaign. Sheerman distinguished himself during the last government by being a disruptive influence and seems clearly to have at least been partially responsible for the confusion over his position. At first he denied he had ever spoken to the No camp then admitted his inclusion on the now infamous list could be down to an ‘informal conversation’ with No2AV organiser, Jane Kennedy. So, comrade let’s get this straight; you have never spoken to the No campaign except when you have had an informal conversation with one of their organisers? Gove’s record at Education doesn’t exactly scream decisiveness either so I can well imagine he would give off mixed signals. Similarly, though it does look like there are instances of genuine and foolish mistakes other factors influencing a retraction could be behind the scenes pressure. The size of the ‘No2AV’ list had the spin-off of making the PLP looking, once again, at a significant variance with a leader it did not elect therefore its not inconceivable that this has played a part.

Even if this isnt the case and in this instance the No camp was guilty of some sloppy research that does not equate to a ‘meltdown’ and to insist it does is the height of melodrama. Far more serious is this charge:

Maybe the problem is in part that the No campaign are in fact run by a bunch of right-wing nasties from the Tax-Payers Alliance and the Tories. Maybe that is why they have no accurate idea about what is going on inside Parties such as Labour and the Greens in terms of AV, and why they therefore not-infrequently, deliberately or as a result of cock-ups (as seems to be the case in this case), spread misinformation about the matter…

Ignoring the unnecessarily personally pejorative nature of Rupert’s remarks (‘nice’ people can have ‘nasty’ politics and vice versa) this is obviously the way that the ‘Yes’ camp will attempt to spin this incident. Of course, Rupert is ignoring the fact that leading Labour figures are on the organising committee of the No campaign and two of Britain’s three biggest trade unions, the GMB and Unite, are committed to the ‘No’ campaign. It would be nice to see the trade unions take a quasi-autonomous role in the campaign and produce their own literature as this would I feel aid the campaign in certain constituencies. Also, it would be nice if they contributed phone banking resources; phone canvassing being something that the No camp should be doing but clearly isn’t on the scale of the Yes campaign.

Rupert is trying to create ‘guilt by association’; a game we could easily play by asking him how Nick Clegg and his discredited Party are getting on as they desperately try to conceal their presence in the Yes camp so as to avoid completely guaranteeing defeat even before a vote is cast.  Speaking personally, I am quite proud to be associated with a campaign being supported by two of Britain’s leading unions (including my own) and have no problem working with those whose politics I do not share on this single issue. Divide and rule wont work and nor will trying to guilt trip the British people and progressives into accepting this truly ‘miserable little compromise’.

Filed under: Electoral Reform, Labour, Trade Unions, , , , , , ,

Tainted love – Labour and the unions….

By Darrell Goodliffe.

So, Ed Miliband has finally broken his silence which during the Conservative conference was deafening. However, rather than to attack the opposition it was yet another chastisement of the trade unions, this time over public sector pensions. Ed is playing a very dangerous game in setting himself up as the unofficial head of an ACAS off-shoot; something Labour never has been nor should it ever be. No doubt this is to further distance himself from the ‘Red Ed’ tag. However, there will come a time when the unions will totally ignore what Ed has to say and they would be right too. It is not their place to install Ed in Number 10 as their top priority nor is that the election of a Labour government. It is too their members and the protection of their interests that must be the unions first duty  and while they are no doubt better served by the installation of a Labour government the two things are not one and the same and it would be arrogant of Labour to say they automatically are. Sadly, these two things are driven further apart by an attitude within the Labour Party not just amoungst the leadership but also some members that sees the unions as the bad guys.

Let’s be frank. The unions got things wrong in the 70s and 80s and yes in some ways their actions were damaging to the Labour Party. It is precisely the ‘electoral wilderness’ years that make union bashing as likely amoungst older Party members (those who are not traditionalists and union friendly) as it is amoung the younger who have no real experience of the unions. However, an inability to move on from something that happened 30 years ago and recognise changed realities is a sad thing indeed. Being blunt; now is the time to let go and get a grip of where we are now. The unions are not the ‘reckless’ force of old, not least because the law no longer really permits them to behave that way, they are fighting for their members livelihoods and in turn those members, who pay the fiscal price, do not take strike action lightly.

The notion they do is complete and utter rubbish and Labour leaders have to stop unthinkingly repeating it. They also have to address the question of assessing the unions position in a more balanced way; something that they currently do not do. All Ed Miliband is thinking about currently is his own political positioning and he is not sparing a single thought for the merits or otherwise of the unions case. Unions are now more likely to be middle class than cloth-cap and this is one reason why pensions are a big issue, particularly with this countries aging demographic, and its not surprising the unions should want to protect public sector ones. This is especially true when, as anybody who listened to David Cameron’s speech to the Conservative Conference will testify, this government is pursuing an ideologically motivated attack on the public sector.  If we cannot recognise the Cameron agenda for what it is and start to legitimise it with talk about ‘sensible’ reform rather than expose and attack it then Labour is on the wrong road.

In the name of fairness and balance I would say that the unions have some lessons to learn when it comes to changing Labours attitude too. If they are to fight the passive aggressive hostility of sections of the membership they need to engage fully as equal partners within the Party itself and this means things like promoting trade unionists as candidates but above all making sure union members are also Labour members. This will undermine the attitudes of those who see the unions and the link with them as an electoral problem as opposed to an asset and expose younger members to the benefits a union and solidarity can bring. It will move from the mutually antagonistic relationship we have at the moment to a mutually beneficial one and together Labour and unions will be able to ensure the years of opposition are not long and lonely this time around.

Filed under: Labour, Trade Unions

The NUS and far left strategy….

Zain Sardar is LSE Green Party Society Chair and masters student. GPTU and Barnet TC youth officer.

The National Union of Students as a whole is more and more splitting into two great hostile camps, into two great factions directly facing each other: Labour Students and the far left. Despite the eloquence of the above statement it is a bit naughty of me to portray the far left as a homogeneous amorphous mass when in reality it is divided and subdivided into itself- a distinction Marx would make between the ‘genus’ and ‘subspecies.’

However, the same is true of Labour within the NUS except not on the same tragicomic scale. The ‘Organised Independents’ are a faction within NUS that hold a thinly veiled pretence on being politically independent; when the faction itself was set up by Labour students in the first place in order to build up a façade of democracy or a semblance of political competition (a poorly keep secret).

This was mainly because on a circadian basis the far left present themselves as the sacrificial lambs, at NUS conference’s full time officer elections, to be slaughtered year on year at the sacred alter of the Gods of political moderation.  This perpetual circle and soap opera, a kind of inverted and perverse permanent revolution, is the structuring principle of NUS conferences.

During last year’s NUS conference at Gateshead, Newcastle the then outgoing president, one Wesley Streeting, tweeted that he and another sabbatical were perceived as playing the part of ‘pantomime villains’ for the far/ hard left. It seems in one sense he was right – there are ‘pantomime villains’ in the NUS, but it is the far left itself that continually takes on this role. When far left candidates stand in NUS full-time officer elections; their demands for such things, God forbid, such as free education become concurrent with some devilish trickery which would signal the political end of the NUS as a credible political force. Ordinary rank and file students at NUS, if anything, are mobilised and polarised to vote in order to keep these characters out.

As a man of the far left I would like to think we on the far left of NUS are open to new and innovative ideas. What I recommend we do for this year only, by way of experimentation, is do nothing at all. Of course we continue – SWP, Student Broad Left, the left in the Labour party, the Green Party etc. to fight the cuts, and convince students of the need to fight the cuts; firstly university cuts and then them all. However, what I am proposing is an amnesty- that we refrain from running for full time positions within NUS for this year only.

This would be a strategic move par excellence which is an exemplar of Slavoj Zizek’s notion of ‘passive aggressivity.’ He elaborates on this-

‘passive aggressive behaviour…is a proper radical political gesture, in contrast to aggressive passivity, the standard ‘interpassive’  mode of our participation in socio-ideological life in which we are active all the time in order to make sure that nothing will happen, that nothing will really change. In such as constellation, the first truly critical step is to withdraw into passivity, to refuse to participate- this is the necessary first step that, as it were, clears the ground for a true activity, for an act that will effectively change the coordinates of today’s constellation.’ (Slavoj Zizek, The Universal Exception, pp. 223).

The effect of this would be subvert NUS full time elections in order to change the relations it enjoys with ordinary rank and file members at NUS conference. This limiting of choice and quite graphic emptiness on ballot slips will correspond with the raising of consciousness and doubts in students’ minds of the health of NUS democracy.

This year can be a fresh start for the far left in the NUS, a chance to be active against the cuts, while withdrawing from NUS democracy in order to highlight the superficial, anti-pluralistic and Labour Students hegemony within it. It is only when we ‘go on strike’ so to speak that the NUS will really appreciate the far left’s contribution within it and we can start to draw students afresh to our politics once again.

Filed under: The Left, Trade Unions, , , , , ,

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