Friday, 16 April 2010
Unions should shape election agendas
Unions had the power to reject neoliberalism and change party agendas. Instead, they support Labour as the least worst option
With around 7 million members, the biggest membership of any voluntary organisations, the trade unions could and should be making a much better fist of influencing the election's overall political agenda.
The need to protect members' interests is paramount after the deepest recession in living memory, the huge national debt to bail out the banks and businesses, and the clear intent of all three major parties to cut public services to pay off this debt.
And the unions have the resources to put action behind their words. Nearly all have funds to spend on political campaigning and they have hundreds of thousands of activists to knock on doors and make phone calls. But when it comes to where they line up on the big issues of the day, the vast majority miss the trick.
Fifteen unions are affiliated to Labour, representing 4.45 million workers (or 64% of all members). Of these, Unite, Unison and the GMB are by far the biggest.
These unions call for a vote for Labour to stop the Tories, with little in the way of positive enthusiasm for Labour. Of these, Unite is the most stridently and unambiguously pro-Labour while Unison is more guarded.
But rather than take the attitude of "better the devil you know", or supporting the party whose cuts will be least, the unions together could have influenced the entire political agenda by moving its centre of gravity far away from neoliberalism, the proverbial elephant in the room of this election.
Together, they could have said: "We reject 'the market knows best' where profits come before people", mobilised their members around this, and done so before now. If they had done this, the idea that markets can be regulated to protect the common good would already be part of the popular common sense. And, all the parties would have had to accommodate this. Only the PCS union with its "Make your vote count" campaign and the RMT through its support for No2EU and the Trade Unionists and Socialist Coalition have made any attempt to do this.
Instead most – one way or another – end up endorsing Labour as the least worst option. They think it has the better plans for growth (even though this is essentially from trickledown economics). Their bottom line is pretty much jobs at any price and forget about the type of jobs they are. This is the inevitable result when you give up trying to regulate the market – instead, you become beholden to it.
The tragedy is that Labour is still intent upon further privatisation and marketisation, behind all the guff about "a future fair for all". It is still far more business than worker-friendly. And that is truly self-defeating for the unions.
Posted by Andrew at 07:19