Two flames burning in the human heart: Now we must take those flames and rebuild within the unions

Now is the time to go back to our roots socialism and the unions

Jeremy Corbyn: The Flame of hope.

The election to the Labour leadership of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 opened many doors for the Left, Union leaders once again had the ear of the political wing of the Labour movement. For a brief moment, there was hope of a new beginning a vision of fairness, equality and liberty.

With Jeremy Corbyn, the chasm of an unfair society looked like it could be bridged. Tony Benn so often referred to the flame of hope, for many Jeremy Corbyn embodied that flame. Corbyn struck the right chords with the masses, washed and unwashed. His slogan for the “many, not the few” embraced the people. Corbyn was an oasis in a very dry desert. Mainstream politics had found a populist politician within its stale confines.

A new movement had formed around a Labour leader Corbyn was everything Blair turned out not to be. This movement became the majority of the Labour Party or at least the membership. Unfortunately, the mainly right-wing Blairite parliamentary Labour party did not see it that way. The right-wing PLP the Labour Party’s very own MP’s battled and connived for four long years to remove hope from the people.

After attempted political coup’s and one long slow coup, the PLP finally got what they wanted on Thursday 12 December 2019, election day. The cost to the Labour Party far exceeded the devastating general election result. The true cost for many was to see the flame of hope extinguish in the person that carried that hope so well for millions of people it came when Jeremy Corbyn announcement that world he no longer lead the Labour Party.

The Labour movement needs to act now it needs to understand that while ever the dinosaurs of Blairism remain within its ranks it will always be at war with itself.

If the Labour Party could be bullied or persuaded to denounce its Marxist, the media -having tasted Blood-  would demand next that it expelled all its Socialist and reunited the remaining Labour Party with the SDP to form a harmless alternative to the Conservatives, which could then be allowed to take office now and then when the Conservatives fell out of favour with the public.

Thus British Capitalism, it is argued, will be made safe forever, and socialism would be squeezed of the National agenda. 

But if such a strategy were to succeed… it would in fact profoundly endanger British society. For it would open up the danger of a swing to the far-right, as we have seen in Europe over the last 50 years.

-Tony Benn

The official History as yet to reveal why the movement failed.

They will say it was an unreachable socialist agenda, the right-wing MSM, bad policies, an unelectable leader. However, for the majority living in the here and now, we know full well that Labour’s U-turn on the 2016 referendum promise gave away the election to the Tory Party. With their mantra of ‘Get Brexit done!’ There are no doubts it was the shadow Brexit secretaries Sir Keir Starmer’s Second referendum policy that lost us power and gave him the Leadership.

That u-turned pushed upon Corbyn by the centrist of the party and a remain membership many blind to the fact the leaders of the so-called people’s vote who promoted this vote loser had sworn to work every day to remove Corbyn from his tenure as Labour Party leader and they did using fear of the unknow and fear of change.

The result of the 2019 general election dulled the flame of hope for many leaving the political wing of the Labour movement diminished and in effect impotent in the face of such a Tory majority. This has been in the making for a generation.

Decline in working class politicians, shifted Labour towards right wing policy

Since Blair and his so-called ‘New Labour’ cuckooed the Labour Party we have seen the Parliamentary Labour Party become less representative.

Research, published in Comparative Political Studies, examined the policy preferences of working-class and career politicians within the Labour Party both pre and during Tony Blair’s leadership of the Labour Party.

The study shows that working-class MPs were substantially more in favour of traditional welfare policies than their careerist colleagues. During the Blair era there was a considerable drop in working class politicians. At the same time, there was a shift towards more centrist polices around reforming welfare.

The report finds that career MPs, categorised as politicians that come from a background in politics or a closely related profession, are more likely to adopt policies for strategic political reasons to win over swing voters and win elections. In contrast, working-class MPs, categorised as politicians that have a background in manual and unskilled labour, are more likely to support policies that benefit working class communities

Study author Dr Tom O’Grady, Lecturer in Quantitative Political Science, (UCL Political Science), said: “Political parties across the developed world, particularly European Social Democratic parties, once consisted of politicians drawn from a broad range of classes and occupations, including manual trades. Today, many political parties are dominated by middle-class professional politicians with little experience outside of politics itself. Working-class people find it increasingly difficult to enter politics.

“Before Tony Blair came to power there was only a modest difference in working-class and careerists positions on welfare reform. But our research finds that during his premiership – the influence of working-class MPs dropped while there was a rise in the influence of careerist politicians.

“The former had a stronger ideological attachment to welfare provision because it benefits working-class voters, whereas the latter’s greater concerns for electoral success and career advancement meant they were more likely to support welfare reforms. The findings suggest that the large shift from working-class MPs to career politicians in the British Labour Party considerably weakened the representation of working-class voters’ interests. Put bluntly, careerist MPs are much more likely to blow with the political winds.”

When the Labour Party first achieved electoral success in the 1920s, more than 70% of its MPs were drawn from working-class backgrounds. This has declined drastically from the mid- 80s and today just 6% of Labour MPs are working-class.

Working-class have been replaced one for one with careerists, a rare phenomenon up until the 80s when career MPs made up just a 10th of the party. Careerists are now the largest occupational group, outnumbering MPs from public and voluntary sector, private and financial sectors and professional backgrounds, such as lawyers, doctors, journalists, engineers and academics, whose representation has remained consistent over the past 30 years.

The dramatic reduction in working-class MPs is partly a result of political recruitment; the decline of traditional trade unions and access routes into politics for working class individuals. In addition, the profession now requires greater resource of time, effort and money.

The Labour movement needs to go back to its roots to reconnect with the working class. 

Anyone who thinks the people are now powerless in the face of such a Tory majority should understand the Labour movement is much more than the political wing and representation at Westminster. The Labour movement very foundations come from the strength of the union movement. The unions have been the bastion of both our workers rights and working class struggle the unions should now be the fortress in which the working class resides giving protection from any Tory excess while they dominate parliament.

Our unions and community’s are our best hope. Unity can only be obtained when we the people come together in a common objective and that must be to bring about a fairer society. The Left need to get back to basics, to build a real grass roots movement. We should organise through our unions and community to ensure this Tory government has real opposition, in this we should look across the channel to our french comrades who will not be cowed by neoliberal policy and threats to their livelihoods. If the establishment and the Blairites will not allow socialism to flourish if they insist on monopoly capitalism and greed then we must take up that second flame Tony Benn so elegantly talked off, that flame of anger against injustice.

If you fear the Tory’s know that even with a weakened opposition people have strength, people have power and that comes through both our communities and the unions.

The People: The Flame of anger against injustice

The Flame of anger against injustice

From the beginning of time there have been two flames burning in the human heart.

“It sounds very innocent,” said Tony Benn, shortly before he died in 2014, “But if you have given people confidence that they can do something, that is a real achievement. I look back and think: ‘Have I always explained things to people truthfully? Have I always said what I meant and meant what I said?’ And as a result of that, have I encouraged people to have confidence in themselves? All I would want on my gravestone would be: ‘Here Lies Tony Benn: He Encouraged Us.’”

He summed up his political career with these words:

From the beginning of time, there have been two flames burning in the human heart. The flame of anger against injustice, and the flame of hope you can build a better world. And my job is to go round fanning both flames.

A little bit of history often helps.

Skilled workers in Britain began organising themselves into trade unions in the 17th century (preceded by guilds. During the 18th century, when the industrial revolution prompted a wave of new trade disputes, the government introduced measures to prevent collective action on the part of workers.

The Combination Acts, passed in 1799 and 1800, during the Napoleonic wars, made any sort of strike action illegal – and workmen could receive up to three months’ imprisonment or two months’ hard labour if they broke these new laws.

Despite the Combination Acts, workers continued to press for better pay and working conditions during the early part of the 19th century, and trade unions grew rapidly. Finally, after violent Luddite protests in 1811 and 1812, Parliament repealed the Combination Acts in 1824 and 1825. Trade unions could now no longer be ignored as a political force, though employers remained reluctant to treat workers’ representatives as their equals.

The Tolpuddle Martyrs

In March 1834, with the connivance of the Whigs, six agricultural labourers who had formed a trade union in the Dorsetshire village of Tolpuddle were arrested on trumped-up charges and transported to Australia. The unfair treatment of the ‘Tolpuddle Martyrs’, as they became known, triggered brief public protests throughout Britain. But the harsh sentences discouraged other workers from joining trade unions, and many of the nationwide organisations, including the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union, collapsed.

Rapid trade union growth

Although trade union membership continued to grow during the next two decades, up to around 1850 they tended to be overshadowed by political movements such as Chartism. But in the improved economic conditions of the 1850s and 1860s the foundations of a powerful trade union movement were established and membership rose from approximately 100,000 in the early 1850s to around a million by 1874.

The trade union and socialist movements learnt that the route for social change had to extend into the political field. The Reform Acts were a series of British legislative measures (1832, 1867–68, 1885) that broadened the voting franchise for Parliament and reduced disparities among constituencies.

It became clear that a new political party to represent the interests and needs of the urban proletariat, a demographic which had increased in number and had recently been given franchise needed representation that extended beyond the workplace.

A new party for a new century.

The Labour Party was born at the turn of the 20th century out of the frustration of working-class people at their inability to field parliamentary candidates through the Liberal Party, which at that time was the dominant social-reform party in Britain.

Its formation was the result of many years of struggle by working class people, trade unionists and socialists, united by the goal of working class voices to have representation, a voice in Parliament. The Labour Party was formed and funded by the trade union movement to bring real social change for the working class.

It was this aim that united Keir Hardie and the colleagues who gathered for the famous inaugural meeting of the Labour Representation Committee at London’s Memorial Hall in February 1900. Ignored by the Tories and disillusioned with the Liberals, they gathered together to push for change.

Having grown out of the trade union movement and socialist parties of the 19th century. In 1900 the Trades Union Congress (the national federation of British trade unions) cooperated with the Independent Labour Party (founded in 1893) to establish a Labour Representation Committee. The first election campaign in 1906 saw 26 MPs elected to Parliament, together they chose the name Labour as the official Party name.

This was the beginning of the working class political representation

That early growth continued, with more MPs elected in the years to follow, leaving Labour well placed to challenge for power by the time of the 1924 election. It was this election which saw the first Labour government in our country’s history with Ramsey MacDonald the Party’s first Prime Minister.

1945 – 1959: A united front

By the end of World War II, the British public were crying out for change. Labour would lead that change.

When Labour swept to power in 1945, the party and the unions that funded it were considered two sides of the same coin. The trade union activist turned government minister Aneurin ‘Nye’ Bevan was still delivering stirring socialist speeches at the Labour Party conference in 1959, urging the movement not to abandon their socialist principles in the teeth of successive Conservative election victories.

Our manifesto ‘Let us Face the Future’ laid out a bold vision, pledging to destroy the five ‘evil giants’: want, squalor, disease, ignorance and unemployment. It was a message which captured the imagination of the country and took Clement Attlee into Number 10 on the back of a landslide, winning 393 seats.

Attlee’s Labour government wasted little time enacting visionary change, introducing social security, bringing key industries back into public ownership and introducing a major programme of house building, providing safe and secure homes.

But it was the Attlee government’s introduction of the National Health Service which will rightly go down as Labour’s greatest achievement. Spearheaded by the Health Secretary, Nye Bevan, the creation of the NHS has transformed our country, removing the anxiety of illness from millions of families. To this day the NHS is a national treasure and Labour will always protect it.

1970 to 1974: Union superstars

Labour lost the general election of 1970 and the Conservatives quickly introduced the Industrial Relations Act to curb the powers of the unions.

By 1974 however, Labour were back in power and the trade union movement had become a hugely visible part of British public life. Union leaders became household names, even appearing on primetime TV chat shows to ruminate with stars of stage and screen on the state of the world.

Trade union activist Jimmy Reid quotes The Mask Of Anarchy by Shelley while debating the nature of freedom on Parkinson

1984 to 1985: The miners’ strike

As Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government bedded into power in the 1980s, trade union membership grew and their actions hit the headlines.

In 1980, British trade unions had 12.2 million members, while the government had a Prime Minister determined to curb their influence over British industry. The miners’ strike of 1984-85 came to be seen as an ideological battle between the trade unions and the Conservatives, but it also proved a defining moment in their relationship with the Labour Party. Leader Neil Kinnock was critical of Arthur Scargill’s failure to ballot members for strike action, and both saw their influence wane.

The miners’ strike brought violent battles to the TV screens and saw tensions develop within the trade union movement
1985 Kinnock gets tough on ‘the grotesque chaos’
The aftermath of the miners’ strike saw further fractures develop within the wider labour movement.

Never was the dispute so public as at the Labour Party conference of 1985 in Bournemouth. Leader Neil Kinnock, installed in the wake of a disastrous general election defeat in 1983, took on the left wing of the party’s membership in an impassioned speech that was met with competing choruses of cheers and boos.

“Outdated, misplaced, irrelevant” – Neil Kinnock pulled no punches with his ‘hard left’ hecklers at a boisterous Labour Party conference in 1985

1992 to 1994: Blair Cuckoos the nest

After a fourth consecutive Conservative victory at the 1992 general election, this ‘New Labour Party’  sought a new direction if not leaving both its working class and union roots behind pushing them to the outer rims of the family photos like some shameful relation an embarrassment and reminder to the Party’s working class beginnings.

’New Labour’ was created in 1994, but the ideals underpinning the party’s overhaul were evident as far back as 1983. Even on his first day as an MP, over a decade before he became party leader, Tony Blair was adamant that Labour needed to create a “more dynamic, more modern” image. He was also clear that he saw the traditional distinction between right and left as increasingly irrelevant: “What I do think is, that it’s a matter of style.”

1995 New Labour weaken old ties. As part of their plan to improve electoral performance the Labour Party pursued a new direction, one which diluted union power.

In 1997 the election of New Labour heralded a departure from the left-wing politics of 1970s Labour and the rejection of the true socialist ideology. Nothing characterised this more than the removal of Clause IV from the Labour Party Constitution:

Tony Blair continued the plans of his predecessor, John Smith, to amend Clause 4 of the party’s constitution. Adopted in 1918, Clause 4, confirmed the party’s commitment to nationalisation. Blair succeeded in amending the constitution, despite some vocal union opposition. It marked a shift away from the brand of socialism advocated by the trade unions and a move towards the political centre.

To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.

Clause iv

This moved also paved the way for EU integration, Clause 4, flying in the face of EU articles on competition and monopolies.

Shifting union power structure. After 1997, frequent visits by union leaders to No 10 Downing Street were now consigned to history as New Labour appeared to distance itself from the labour movement in an attempt to re-badge as the party for all, covering the middle ground pushing the Left to the extremes of the broadchurch until the public could tell no difference between New labour and the Tory Party.

Now is the time to go back to our roots.

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