The election of Jeremy Corbyn, as leader of the Labour Party, has been like a logjam that has been removed which has allowed and facilitated a better flow of progressive views and thoughts, with socialism suddenly becoming in vogue.
The Labour Party appears to turning itself from being only an election machine and into a party with potential to influence progressive movements throughout the UK.
But why did it take the election of a 66 year old parliamentarian, a back bencher for over thirty years, to release this enthusiasm for a clear alternative to austerity, a man who struggled to get the 35 nominations needed to get on to the ballot paper, with many of the so-called trade unionists in the Parliamentary Labour Party failing to back him?
Witnessing the packed halls as Corbyn toured the country, it became clear that people of all age groups, within the Labour Trade Union family, were waiting for this moment, yet like the unpredictability of May’s general election result, the key players within the trade union movement were taken by surprise by the impact that he has had on the nation and are now struggling how to deal with this new found confidence.
Why, with all the resources that the TU movement have, were they not in the position to realise this potential and to release it in a positive manner as Corbyn has done?
Could the reason be, that the Trade Unions are unable to engage its membership? Unwilling to listen, out of touch, close down debate and stagnation of thought? The same reasons why Corbyn’s leadership rivals failed to connect in the leadership campaign.
Since the election of the coalition in 2010, there has been a catalogue of missed opportunities for the movement to respond to. The objectives of privatisation, deregulation and attacks on trade unionism under the name of “austerity”. The consequences of not responding has seen the living standards reduced for the mass of working class people while wealth has increased for the minority elite. with the working class and our communities under such relentless attack, the trade union response has been nothing more than tokenistic.
The failure to build on the mass demonstrations of March and November 2011 against austerity and pension cuts simply highlight the pitiful leadership which has, sadly, led to a lack of confidence among trade union members. The call to look at the “Practicalities of a general strike” at the 2013 TUC, was nothing more than window dressing for an organisation which offers very little for working people.
Figures from the Office of National Statistics, show that nearly one million jobs in the public sector have been lost in the UK since the Tories first came into power with the coalition in 2010 with 84,000 lost in Scotland. Why, with this devastating amount of job losses, there has been no co-ordinated response by the TUC, is beyond comprehension.
The attack on collective bargaining, which many view as a corner stone of trade union strength, has seen the UK trade union movement currently drop to second lowest within the EU, while in other countries in Europe, collective agreement continue to grow. This is both bad for trade unions and the economy itself, and is a significant contributor to the growth of inequality which creates its own misery.
The failure to co-ordinate an industrial campaign against a weak coalition is seen as being symptomatic of the indecisions shown by the Union leadership and will be remembered as a grave error to thousands of workers.
The failure of above giving rise to the election of this reactionary Tory Government.
We now have a Tory Government unchained from its weak coalition partner, intent on delivering the final coup de grace to the trade union movement, and taking the labour further into the Victorian era. The thousands employed on precarious working conditions, a throw back to this era, don’t need people to stand up for them, they need their Unions to protected them from this harsh reality in a so-called modern country with the fifth largest economy in the world.
In this bleak political landscape, the challenge for the movement is huge.
How we deal with this challenge will require strong leadership with fresh ideas, a clear vision to lead the movement, not for the next five years but for future generations with a vision for organising, as well as industrial and political strategies.
Surely the proposals within the trade union bill will awaken the slumbering beast.
Corbyn politics demands “straight talking”, a principle that the trade unions need to embrace. The closeness to the previous new Labour agenda exemplified by the lack of influence during Labour governments of 1997-2010 which left workers in the UK still facing draconian labour laws, the worst in Europe, and where we now fight off a low base when challenging the Tories current proposals.
How has the trade union leadership reacted to the ‘Corbyn affect’? Well, dangerous concessions on thresholds as being suggested by some, could mean that nothing much has changed and for the unions, its business as usual. Surely this position is untenable?
It seems ironic that when the Labour Party is on the rise with huge increases in membership, the supposed bastions of progressive ideas, faces stagnation.
Perhaps like Labour, it’s time for change, and perhaps for individuals within the key affiliates, it’s time to recognise that need and for some to move on, most importantly, for the survival of the trade union movement they claim committed too.
When Greek ex-finance minister Yanis Varoufakis addressed the recent TUC, he closed with the following, “But comrades, to finish on a slightly pessimistic note and a word of caution to what is happening here in Britain, the enemy is always within. The enemy is always the Ramsay McDonalds, the enemy is fear in our ranks. Try to excise it from your hearts and the hearts of your leaders”.
Maybe its time to act before it’s too late.