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The Labour Crisis

A series of discussions recently in both Ireland and Britain have thrown into relief the crisis in the labour movement and specifically the crisis of political organization in relation to the respective Labour parties. The most reactionary perspective was put forward by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions at its Belfast conference. 

In essence ICTU and Irish labour operate in tandem. They are to the forefront in planning and carrying out the austerity, boasting that the pain is reduced because they operate; "a scapel rather than a knife." They are frantic supporters of Keynesian economics, which they understand correctly as a purely capitalist programme, and see their role as patiently convincing the capitalists that they have adopted a mistaken strategy. 

The left of this current is occupied most prominently by UNITE. They voted against Croke Park l , II and lll and a special conference in Belfast they voted to withhold contributions to Irish Labour. However UNITE do not dispute that the Labour Party should continue as the political representation of the working class. 

The resolution is meant as a form of left pressure rather than as a challenge to Labour. 

The situation becomes clearer when we look to parallel developments in Britain. The British TUC's response to austerity is clear cut: "Re-elect a Labour government!" The fact that the Coalition government's austerity plan was largely identical to that developed by Labour's Alistair Darling made this a dodgy proposition. It became even dodgier when Miliband rebranded Labour as the inheritors of Disraeli's "one nation" toryism and dodgier still when he announced that a Labour government would continue with the Tory cuts. The TUC were left with a policy no different from their Irish counterparts, of supporting the austerity and lobbying for "better, fairer" cuts. 

Yet again it was UNITE that provided the left voice. Len McCloskey, having played a key role in the election of "Red" Ed, called a snap election in UNITE to cement his hold on power, and donated £11 million to the Labour party, mobilized members to select an "old" labour candidate for the upcoming Falkirk by-election. 

This unexceptional activity led to accusations of criminal conspiracy by the Labour leadership and immediate steps to end any possibility of union influence inside the party. If this were not enough to demolish McCluskey's strategy, the immediate capitulation of himself and other Labour lefts would have done so. 

There is an evident need for a new party of the working class, yet there is no such party and attempts by socialist groups to build "broad" parties normally end in disaster. The fact is that in time of trouble the workers cling desperately to their traditional leaderships. A complex spiral develops where the existing leadership strangles mobilizations at birth and the resulting demobilization leads to apathy and a turn towards individual adaptation for survival. 

This is not a situation that can last indefinitely, and it is when the workers begin again to advance that the possibility of a new working class party will move to the fore. Socialists should be preparing for and encouraging this shift in perspective. 

We must provide a coherent analysis of the crisis of capital. If workers believe the austerity is a temporary phenomenon or that an alternative Keynesian form of capitalism waits in the wings, then they are unlikely to revolt. 

On the basis of our analysis we should put forward a socialist alternative. On the basis of existing knowledge that involves absolute repudiation of the debt and steps towards the revolutionary transformation of society. 

The mechanism for such a process is not one of relying on debate in Irish Dail or British parliament or persuading the state to help the workers. Rather it is a process of calling for and supporting the self-organization and self-activity of the workers at every level. 

A larger and more coherent socialist movement would greatly aid this process, but only if it organises around the points above. Apolitical or electoralist unity that in practice remains tied to reformism is worse than useless. 

A genuine regroupment around the flag of revolution would be a great gain.


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