“This clear disregard for unions and their members in dispute shows that it’s no coincidence that Starmer’s Labour machine is increasingly led by Blairites such as David Evans, who have long had a dream of breaking the party’s link with the trade unions.”
By Matt Willgress, Labour Outlook
Thursday saw the development of a news story around Unite’s response to the leadership of the Labour Party refusing to back bin workers in Coventry striking for decent pay and conditions against the reactionary policies of a Labour Council.
As Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham said, “It’s time to act like labour – [and] be the party for workers” but support was not forthcoming from Sir Keir Starmer.
The Labour leadership spokesperson’s response was revealing in a number of ways, with them commenting to LabourList “We’re not going to get into the specifics of this dispute. Keir Starmer’s Labour Party will always act in the public interest. These sort of threats won’t work in Kier Starmer’s Labour Party. We would have hoped that Unite would have got the message that the Labour Party is under new management.”
As we have analysed recently in our article on Starmer’s craven support for Tony Blair’s knighthood, this fits a pattern of the “new management” seeking to prove to the ruling class that he is a safe pair of hands for them, even if this means ditching large chunks of the platform he was elected on (including by breaking pledges to work constructively with trade unions,) or by failing to stand up consistently to the Government’s disastrous handling of the pandemic.
Furthermore, this clear disregard for trade unions and their members in dispute shows that it’s no coincidence that Starmer’s Labour machine is increasingly led by full-on Blairites such as David Evans, who have long had a dream of breaking the party’s link with the trade unions. It is also part of the same pattern of behaviour which has seen attack after attack on Party democracy and members’ rights. (In this regard, it is worth remembering that Evans once went as far as to suggest abolishing party membership altogether!)
Many Labour members though do support workers in struggle and would be delighted by the response of left-wing MPs who immediately showed they understood what side to be on, and that this dispute is squarely the fault of a council that is passing on Tory austerity and implementing an unacceptable policy against the wishes of workers and their union.
As Rachel Maskell MP put it “Poverty pay & unsafe working hours has forced Coventry @unitetheunion workers to take action.”
Richard Burgon MP added, “we must stand fully with workers hit by this cost-of-living crisis and left with no choice but to strike.”
And as Kate Osborne MP added, “we must stand in solidarity with those who are striking for better pay and terms and conditions, no matter who their employer is.”
Ian Lavery MP meanwhile posed what should be an obvious question, asking “Why would a workers organisation bank role a political organisation which attacks its workers who pay their weekly contributions for work place protection against bad bosses?”
Rebecca Long Bailey drew attention to the fact that councils should also be guided by core Labour values including trade unionism and solidarity, tweeting that “Labour was founded by the Trade Unions to bring working people together in solidarity to fight for a better quality of life. This is our founding purpose and it should underpin everything we do in Local Government & in Parliament. Forget this and frankly we’ve lost our soul.”
It is also worth noting that for many members, in this context, the dispute – and the debate around it – will also be seen as an opportunity for Deputy Leader Angela Rayner – who was elected with the support of many trade unionists and has backed some recent disputes to – to show if she consistently stands on the side of working people in struggle, although she had not tweeted on the issue at the time of writing.
Unlike Labour’s leader refusing to support these people struggling for a decent living at a time of a deepening, massive cost-of-living crisis, or those councils, Coventry MP Zarah Sultana has been pushing for the workers concerns to be met, telling Coventry Live (January 31) that she has been meeting with councillors and officers in order to urge them to “get around the table and consider a new offer” that would meet striking workers’ concerns and bring the dispute to a close. Like the striking workers, she deserves our full solidarity.
We on the Labour Left must and will continue to back workers in struggle – their fight is our fight, for a society and economy that puts public need before corporate greed.
We leave the final word to John McDonnell MP –“You can understand the anger felt by members of @unitetheunion in Coventry when they are forced to strike by a Labour council for decent pay and conditions. It’s time to remind some that our party was founded by trade unions to be the party of labour.”