From the archive: Unions need to answer UKIP

Jon Rogers /   April 5, 2013 at 8:34 PM 2,494 views


Our Party is not where it needs to be now to win a General Election in 2015. Opposition to austerity is being drawn around Farage (our very own Poujade), and around the poisonous nostalgia of the populist right. UKIP is clearly an “English” manifestation of the anti-political feeling expressed elsewhere is support for the Five Stars or Syriza. The labour movement needs to find a way to articulate the anger and disillusionment which UKIP are channeling – which means that we need a clear and assertive statement of the progressive anti-austerity policies supported by the trade unions – in opposition to the neoliberal policies of both this Government and its predecessor.

The polished moderation of “Progress” types in suits is the exact opposite of what we need from the Labour Party – but we may well be consigned to more of that if the trade unions continue to be as useless in influencing the Party as we are now. UNISON’s laughable approach of backing any UNISON member going for a Parliamentary selection, regardless of their politics, is simply one expression of the almost apolitical nature of the practical intervention in the Party by the big unions.

There’s no point making headline-grabbing speeches to win votes at Party Conference if the unions aren’t populating the Parliamentary Labour Party with people who will fight to put policies into effect. With so many thousands having voted for the right-wing populism of UKIP, unions like UNISON also have to recognise that some of our members will have been among those voters.

If the labour movement cannot articulate the anger of our members with a progressive voice, criticising the political establishment from a working-class point of view, then we’ll cede that role to the populist right. We need to embark upon a self-confident programme of political education to build support for our policies, to politicise our trade unions and democratise our political work.

On several occasions since the General Election we have caught a glimpse of the potential political power of our labour movement (in March 2011, October 2012 and – above all – November 2011). It is because we have repeatedly failed to capitalise on these opportunities or to sustain the momentum of our struggles, that we have allowed the political space to be created in which anger at austerity can be translated into votes for a return to an imagined 1950s.

The sense of identity to which UKIP speaks and from which it draws strength is reactionary, xenophobic and homophobic. It’s “little Englandism” shades into racism and is socially conservative in every way. Yet it clearly appeals to many whose interests would be better served by the progressive policies of our movement.

The trade unions must become more vocal, more radical and more assertive if we are to draw people – including our own members – around a positive alternative to austerity.

Courtesy of Jon Rogers of Jon’s union blog

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