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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3 Responses to “The unions can beat wage restraint by calling for an English parliament”

  1. hotspur Says:

    How long will it take for the rank and file to wake up?
    The union leadership in England is bent. Actually there are no English trades unions only british.
    Unison North East England gave money to Precott’s regional assembly campaign to abolish England, but they say nowt about cancer sufferers in England that can’t get drugs to save their lives. This government and the trade unions have ratted on England, and our traditions.
    In 10 yearsof being involved in a fair go for England and all our peoples from wherever they come from not one trades union has pointecd out the bloody obvious.
    The question is, who the fuck wants England, the left, the right, or the pope.? at the moment no fucker wants it.

  2. charliemarks Says:

    I have to say, I can’t see Unison doing something similar again. You can understand why it was done – the promise will have been made of jobs, better conditions, etc, etc, with the advent of an English regional assembly. I think we can safely say that elected regional assemblies are dead as an idea.

    Perhaps – and I’m just supposing here – there has been an opportunistic silence on England because of the fact that Labour has historically been electorally dependent upon the Celtic fringe, and the Scottishness of Gordon Brown.

  3. Stephen Gash Says:

    An English Parliament is the only answer. The argument against one is purely anti-democratic. Gordon Brown cries crocodile tears over the loss of Pakistan’s democracy with Benasir Bhutto’s murder, but he precides over a government which denies the English electorate a democratic vote on home rule, and a government which practises flagrant apartheid against the English in education, health and public service pay, to name but a few.


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