The unions can beat wage restraint by calling for an English parliament

The respective Christmas messages of Alex Salmond, First Minister of the Scottish government, and Gerry Adams – President of Sinn Fein, which shares power at Stormont in Northern Ireland – shows the extent to which the British state has become decentralised and is threatened with fragmentation.

This year saw nationalists enter government in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Ten years after it won power promising devolution, New Labour – in particular, but the other Westminster parties, too – must adjust to the consequences of maintaining the centralised British state. (Note that it doesn’t make sense to include the Scottish and Welsh parties within “New Labour” – the Welsh party especially, with “clear red water” between it and the Westminster party.)

I believe that there was an alternative. New Labour could have offered each nation within Britain a choice, the outcome at the time would probably have been federalism, saving the British state. But such a process would have involved New Labour giving up power – and having the appearance of weakness in England. (And at the time, it was not a concern of the ruling class – the expectation being that devolution would kill of the Celtic nationalisms.)

New Labour was and is purely concerned with electoral results, providing the ruling class with a stable two-party system of politics. Constitutional and democratic reforms have always been conditional upon cementing New Labour’s position.

So while there may be some vague possibility of the voting system being made more proportional – especially if a coalition with the Liberals is the outcome of the next general election – there is little chance of New Labour conceding an English parliament or even allowing a serious discussion of England’s lack of national political institutions.

It’s always been my view that the small-L labour movement – that is to say, the working class movement – should be concerned with political matters. This means opposing the governing party that is privatising and waging wars even if it is the Labour party and the funding link still exists. It is clear that threats to withdraw funding would not trouble Labour, it can always find a dodgy businessman, or else borrow one of the Tories’.

So here’s my modest proposal: if a union is in dispute with the government and it wants to give New Labour and the whole political class a good kicking, the cheapest and easiest way to do it is to campaign to for extension of devolution to England. Trade union support for an English parliament – with MPs on an average worker’s wage – would really rattle government ministers…

PS: These videos from CongressTV on the “Speak Up For Public Services!” campaign are worth watching. In the first, TUC Gen Sec Brendan Barber is interviewed, in the second it’s Dave Prentis, Unison Gen Sec.

As the blurb has it:

The TUC and its 26 public sector member unions are launching a major new campaign urging the Government not to impose below inflation public sector pay increases.

So the union bureaucracy is finally acting in a co-ordinated fashoin against New Labour’s wage policy. It’s a start, I suppose… More pressure is needed, though.

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