The Unite union was accused of cramming the Falkirk constituency with new members, a little bending of the rules to install one of its favoured candidates. Nine Unite-supported candidates have already been nominated as Labour candidates for the next election, with 19 more selections still to be decided. Labour leader Ed Miliband has said that he intends to end the automatic affiliation of union members to the Labour Party, making it a positive individual decision to join the party. While this might cut down the union funds available to the party, it is likely that the unions would just increase funding through other means. That’s certainly what the Tories say, and who’s to say that, in this instance, they’re not right?
Miliband’s proposals are supported by ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair. Other proposals, such as the holding of US-style primaries have been saluted as a sound democratic innovation for British politics. Meanwhile, Bob Crow, leader of the RMT transport union, along with various leftists, thinks that there should be a new Left party that represents working class interests. The Unite union claims that its activities are aimed at ensuring that there are fewer middle class and more working class Members of Parliament. Against this, out-going Falkirk MP Eric Joyce said “The people that Unite want to put into those seats are of course, guess what? Parliamentary researchers, middle class union officials and exactly the same type. The reality is this is an ideological fight. It’s not between the trade unions and Ed Miliband, it’s between Len McCluskey and a few of his anarcho-syndicalist advisers and the Labour party”.
All this is good knockabout stuff and guaranteed to fill the columns of the right-wing press, who insist that Labour hasn’t changed, that it’s a monster from the past. The one thing that it isn’t is a dispute over fundamental questions of principle. All the different Labour and union factions are agreed on essential policy questions. Some accept the argument for the cuts imposed by the Coalition, while others have different state capitalist measures that they think should be employed in the running of the British economy. But these differences are all a matter of degree, differences in emphasis on what the capitalist state should do in maintaining social order, ensuring the most effective exploitation of the working class, surviving in the cutthroat rivalry of capitalism internationally.
While the right-wing media tries to undermine the image of Labour and the unions, the left-wing tries to convince us that there is something to be defended in these capitalist institutions. Don’t be taken in. The differences are only superficial.