Tag Archives: Len McClusky

The People’s Assembly Could Be Manufactured Surrender, But It Could Be Something Else

partisans-milanIn parts of the UK, especially some areas of London, there is no sign of the crisis that is currently demolishing millions of lives.

There is no-one holding up the supermarket queue paying for value food with a fistful of vouchers and copper coins.  There are no stressed out mums and dads who’ve dragged kids out in the rain to charge up the electricity key, no arguments in the Post Office over missing benefit payments and no mob-handed gangs of police frisking and harassing defiant teenagers.

For some austerity means at worst one less holiday this year, a dip in the investment portfolio or a slighter cheaper pair of designer shoes.  For others it is just a dinner party talking point, little more than a pose, a nostalgic game of thrift played out in vintage clothes shops and antique markets.

This is the pampered reality for most of those who spoke from the top table at this weekend’s People’s Assembly.  Len McClusky, boss of Unite union, never experiences the chill of fear that accompanies a brown DWP envelope dropping through the letter box.  PCS Secretary Mark Serwotka does not lay awake at night worrying about how he will pay his bedroom tax, or which city he will be relocated to due to the benefit cap.  It is true that unlike some involved in the People’s Assembly, trade unions leaders have all had real jobs at one point.  But it is astonishing how quickly the experience of poverty is forgotten once basic needs are met and how once undreamed of luxuries become everyday normal things as pay packets swell.

This does not mean that their anger is not sincere, or that their political convictions are invalid.  But fighting austerity is part of their job descriptions, it is not them fighting for their lives.  We are not all in it fucking together.  Only the poor are being forced from their homes,  driven to suicide, forced to work unpaid or lining up outside foodbanks after benefits have been slashed or sanctioned.

This is why Len McClusky can call Labour’s recent workfare proposals and commitment to brutal sickness and disability benefit assessments ‘a good start’.  Len will never have to go on workfare or face an Atos assessment.  And that’s why he would have the rest of us believe that Labour, perhaps nudged slightly towards the left (stop laughing), is the best deal on the table.  Vote Len, vote Labour, pay your union subs and leave it to them to negotiate our surrender.

The People’s Assembly was largely organised by Counterfire, a left wing sect which began within the Socialist Worker’s Party.  Many of those involved in Counterfire were formerly active within the Stop the War Coalition which emerged to dominate the resistance to the war in Iraq.  There are two significant facts about the Stop The War Coalition, the first being that they didn’t stop the war.  The second is that despite this, the leaders of the Stop The War Coalition considered the organisation a great success.

There is a danger that The People’s Assembly lays the groundwork for a similar managed defeat in the fight against austerity.  It is not in the interests of the Union bosses, or MPs who spoke at the People’s Assembly, to have the kind of radical changes to society many people want and increasingly need.  That is why so many of them have little more to offer than empty platitudes, largely abandoned one day strikes, and a quiet commitment to the idea that a Labour government will make everything alright again.

And to fight for the Labour Party is to fight to lose.  There will be no end to austerity if Ed Miliband is elected, as he chose to make clear himself in a speech elsewhere over the weekend.  The struggle we face now has little or nothing to do with party politics and everything to do with class war – and the modern Labour Party is on the wrong side.

Of course the People’s Assembly became more than just a crude attempt to rally support for the Labour Party and an attempt to resurrect the glorious failure of the Stop The War Coalition.  The people themselves saw to that.  There have been encouraging reports that when the assembly broke down into local groups, and the celebrities fucked off, far more was achieved than just hot air with some concrete plans emerging for local organising.  Even Counterfire’s proposed day of direct action on November 5th could be a good start,  but only if it is more than a day of theatrical stunts, ten minute walks outs, A to B marches, and yet more political speeches from self-styled leaders.

Strikes, occupations, sabotage and riots have been the real tools of social change throughout history.  Any day of direct action cannot be left in the hands of trade union bosses, journalists, MPs or anyone else who has simply too much to lose from any meaningful confrontation.  A day that will truly make the rich and powerful tremble will not be organised by the ever so slightly less rich and powerful.

The legacy of the People’s Assembly could be manufactured surrender, but it could be something else.  Or it could just be ignored completely.  It will be down to the people themselves to decide.  Owen and Len can nip to the bar and get the drinks in whilst we make our own minds up about how to resist the onslaught we face.

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The Miliband McCluskey Love In And Why It Matters

mcclusky-tweet2There has been some mild criticism of the piece posted earlier this week addressing Unite boss Len McCluskey’s recent support of Ed Miliband’s ‘worklessness’ diatribe.

It may be uncomfortable for those who are involved in Unite’s Community Union – the section of the union recently formed for claimants – to find their organisation on the wrong side of the sanctions and benefit reform debate.  But they are and there should be no squeamishness about pointing it out.

At the end of Len’s McCluskey’s recent statement endorsing Miliband’s benefit bashing speech he is quite clear in his support for Labour’s Jobs Guarantee workfare scheme calling it a ‘good start’.

In case there is any doubt about whether this means Unite support benefit sanctions then this is what McCluskey is praising: “a compulsory jobs guarantee, young people will have an obligation to take a job after a year or lose their benefits”.

Of course this won’t be a real job, but a temporary six month placement funded by the tax payer and pegged at the minimum wage – despite Miliband’s so called support for the living wage for everyone else.  It is unclear whether they will even be paid in full for their work, with Labour only offering 25 hours wages and insisting companies provide an additional ten hours ‘training’.  If young people refuse, or are unable to take these jobs, they will be sanctioned.  These jobs are workfare, backed with benefit sanctions and sadly this is what McCluskey has pledged Unite can ‘help bring to life’.

Miliband also voiced his support for the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) along with the upcoming Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments.  The only purpose to these assessments is to slash benefits and Miliband calls them the ‘right thing to do’.  Just as importantly Miliband didn’t even mention the bedroom tax.  Over half a million of the UK’s poorest people are set to lose their homes or be plunged into debt and poverty, and this wasn’t even worthy of a mention in Miliband’s keynote speech on welfare reform.

And neither was it worth a mention in McCluskey’s gushing response and it is this that damns him.  What Miliband’s speech represents is an all too familiar strategy from the neo-liberal Labour Party.  It is an attempt to anchor the debate on welfare reform away from the demands of claimants and instead offer a pointless choice between Tory or Labour benefit cuts.

To Miliband, the debate on the bedroom tax, the WCA, PIP and other benefit changes is over.  There is to be no discussion about repealing these measures, merely a weak demand that they should be a bit nicer.  Perhaps there might even be a couple less suicides, or not quite so many people will be driven from their homes.  And with Labour’s track record on benefits, they shouldn’t even be trusted to achieve that.

McCluskey and Unite represent, in the popular debate at least. the left, or even far left, of Labour.  For Unite to back Miliband’s statement and ignore his shameful support for Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms means a a job well done for the Labour Party.  It drags the entire conversation away from the current demands of claimants and turns it into a petty neo-liberal squabble about how to fix unemployment by fixing unemployed people.  Whether knowingly or not, McCluskey is playing his part in an attempt to shut down the voices of those who want, and need, the bedroom tax, the WCA, PIP, the benefit cap and workfare scrapped, immediately.

Unite have talked a good game on social security up until this point, even setting up a branch of the union specifically for those on benefits.  This means it is McClusky’s job to represent the interests of benefit claimants.  If they are not prepared to do this then they shouldn’t have bothered wasting everyone’s time and money.  Miliband’s speech outraged most claimants and showed that if Labour are elected then we will need to fight them every bit as hard as we are fighting the current slime.

The head of a union which represents claimants should have been ferocious in condemning Miliband’s speech.  Instead they did quite the opposite, openly supporting workfare, and ignoring everything else. There was no ‘hope’ for claimants in this speech as McCluskey claimed.   If Unite Community Union’s only response to an open attack on claimants  is to call it a good start, then the question needs to be asked, what is the point of the Unite Community Union?

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid