Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Labour and the unions: a love-in?

Gordon Brown has made it crystal clear where he stands on the British Airways dispute. He has spoken out strongly against the planned strike by Unite members. The union is the Labour Party's biggest funder, but the Labour leader feels confident he can take its continued support for granted and disregard the wishes of its members.

Brown's position is a reminder of where his government stands in relation to disputes between cost-cutting employers and those who work for them. This is a pro-business Labour government: the unions' financial support, or the supprot many union members traditionally give to Labour, makes little difference.

It is therefore quite absurd when the Tories make an issue of Unite's financial backing for Labour, implying that the government is compromised from adopting a suitably hardline anti-union stance. It seems to me, though, that Brown is perfectly capable of bashing a two million-strong, Labour-affiliated trade union and siding unreservedly with a large company whose bosses want to destroy union organisation.

I can't help wondering how much longer acquiescent union leaders can tie themselves, uncritically and with no expectation of anything in return, to the Labour Party. This dispute captures how ridiculous it is for unions to continue their slavish support for Labour. Brown's contemptuous dismissal of the strikers puts the issue of political representation centrestage: when a Labour government is so shamelessly hostile to even the most loyal of unions, how can trade unionists have a political voice?

Also, see Seumas Milne's superb Comment is Free article on the government's attitude to the BA strike.

Picture: Gordon Brown and Trade Union Congress (TUC) leader Brendan Barber

This article is also published at Counterfire.

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