The Tensions Between the Green Party and the Trade Union Movement…
The Tensions Between the Green Party and the Trade Union Movement…
Whilst the right like to claim that Ed Miliband is a union symbol of the ‘ Old Labour’ movement, it is clear from his recent actions, he is definitely not ‘ Red Ed’ . Ed has tried his upmost to distance himself from the left, whilst contradictorily claiming to move Labour to the centre, which most people would recognise involves a “ lurch to the left” considering the right wing nature of the previous ‘ New Labour’ movement.
Regardless, it seems that Ed Miliband is making it quite clear that he would rather like to distance his associations with the trade union movement. Now, this is a real chance for the Green Party to advance the need for a collective workers’ movement, especially considering the current economic and political climate. We have a chance to promote the capacity of such a movement, especially as we are not afraid to openly admit we are fighting with and defining the rights of ordinary people; unlike Ed Miliband (consider his u-turn regarding the TUC anti-cuts demo).
However, we must not be complacent nor overly optimistic of our ability to form increasing substantial trade union links; there are several obstacles. For one, there is the political levy, which automatically goes to Labour with the option of conversely opting out. Reform to the levy would be desirable, however, theoretically the Green Party can still be affiliated to the trade unions if the executive and democratic processes wish – but this raises the question of whether we want to proceeded with a ‘ democratic centralist’ approach. However, a relevant argument, which was eloquently put at a recent Coalition of Resistance meeting in Leeds, is that reforming the levy would undermine the labour movement. This does have merit, but arguably, reform may provide more confidence and help undermine the “union baron” critique of the right. It may also provide more impetus for calls to reform party funding in general.
Another problem is that environmental issues have been historically associated with the “ new middle class” . The sacrifices to be borne from the environmental decisions, as witnessed by the recent cancellation of the Sheffield Forgemasters contract for nuclear energy, can cause serious unrest amongst the working class population. As the working class form the majority of the trade union composition, the threats to jobs for sectors that produce environmentally damaging energy, for example, can pose as a real threat to the union movement and Green Party link, as well as a general working class link.
In my recent readings, there has been an interesting argument put forward by some authors such as Burkett (1997). Burkett refers to Marx’ s focus upon use and exchange values and argues that they can be utilised to form a pro-environmental working class movement. He argues that as the capitalist system creates a dialectal relationship between the exchange and use values, the working class movement would benefit from a focus on the importance of use values; which would also have a consequential positive effect upon the environmental movement. This is interesting to consider, and illustrates possible solutions to the contradictions that can form between the trade unions/working class movement and the Green Party.
We also have the benefit of being arguably the only party with mainstream recognition, who have been actively campaigning against the cuts – whilst Labour have accepted half of the cuts, which will still be extremely damaging. Again, in much the same vein, Labour were scared to support growth and investment as the route out of the recession, but as I predicted, the right weren’t
supporting the likes of Ed Balls for a joke; as shown by a recent poll – they are genuinely scared by his suggestion of there being an economic alternative. Of course, the Zero Growth aspect of our economic perspective also posses challenges when trying to connect to the working class and trade union movement, who have developed within the context of measuring systems, such as GDP, which privilege growth and include environmental destruction as a sign of “ progress” .
There are many areas of concern and debate when considering the possible connections between the Green Party and the working class movement. These are important if we are to consider developing the party, especially when it comes to expanding into more of the Northern areas to replace the LibDems as the true challenger to Labour. We need to make the Labour leadership realise that they need to respect their union link and working class base; instead of trying to please the Murdochs by their constant distancing.
I appreciate, result in I found just what I used to be having a look for.
You have ended my 4 day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man. Have a nice day.
Hey There. I found your weblog the use of msn. That is a really neatly written article.
I’ll be sure to bookmark it and come back to read more of your helpful info.
Thanks for the post. I’ll definitely return.
Greetings! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I really enjoy reading
your articles. Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same subjects?
Thanks for your time!
Jerry Hicks is running for Unite General Secretary on a one million green jobs platform, those who heard him speak at Green Party spring conference will I am sure agree that we should all be supporting him.
Yup, I think it’s a mistake to regard Labour as anything to do with “the labour movement”. They were, originally, for sure. In government they worked to undermine workers’ rights, and many in the unions backed them right to the end in May.
I’m happy for us to work with trade unionists who get the links between the environment and class/poverty/etc – whose communities do the incinerators get built in? – but I doubt we’ll get the old school to back us in any organised fashion no matter how much we work on their issues.
Individual trade unionists are an entirely different matter. I’m sure we’ll pick them up in increasing numbers, and they’ll start opting out of the levy which props up very right-wing Labour leaderships.
Thanks for the comments Jim and Tom; interesting points and adds to the discussion!
I wont really add anything here, as I agree with what you are saying. I just thought that the transition required for a green oriented society poses some interesting questions for our relationship within the union movement. Food for thought, anyway.
Just toadd to Jim’s helpful comment, two thoughts.
First, the London FBU have been supportive of us thanks to Darren Johnson’s work on the fire authority. The best way to win unions over is to do useful work for them, which usually means getting elected into positions to do this.
Second, we can develop a more difficult but healthy relationship with trade unions by being their critical friend rather than seeking affiliation or automatically supporting them. Jim is spot on.
Third, let’s not forget that it’s the Labour Party, not the Socialist Party. Links with the trade union movement run deep in their veins. Even after 13 years of Thatcherite Labour government, only two of the more macho posturing unions no longer affiliate. I suspect that improving relations with unions will come as a subtle generational shift, won through good local campaigning and supportive elected Greens.
Oh, and it’s worth remembering that many party members are trade union members – I’m with Unison. And don’t forget to talk to the Green Party Trade Union group!
First if we look at three unions that are not affiliated to Labour – the FBU, RMT and PCS there is one common thread – they are the most political unions, not the least.
Breaking the union/labour link takes labour’s dead hand off the politics of a union and those three unions prove that an affiliated political levy is not a safeguard against depoliticisation but rather ensures the most backwards politics dominates.
Interestingly all three unions are unaffiliated for different reasons (RMT were expelled, FBU walked and PCs have never been affiliated).
Second – no political party is ever going to be in a position to agree with the union movement 100% of the time and we have to be preprared to be critical friends.
Labour have been happy to lay people off or confront strikers, even from unions that are affiliated to them, so when a union supports nuclear power or off shoredregging (two real examples) we shouldn’t be afraid to say we disagree with them on this one – because they represent a narrow sectional interest of their members and we, as a politcal party, have a wider perspective.
Thanks for the comments.
Thanks for the comment. I totally agree with you, it is a really difficult debate, and I think that came across in what I said in the article. But I tend to agree that if the Labour Party had to pay more attention to the unions’ interests instead of always just relying on them for funding, then we would possibly be able to re-vigour the union movement.
Thanks for that. Again, I totally agree with you – there is definitely the possibility of creating green jobs. The problems resolve around the transition.
In Ausralia during the 1970 the Builders Labour Federation (BLF) demonstrated that it is more than possible to generate a green consciousness amongst working people. Oddly it is now the top end of the middle classes in Sydney who have benefited from the Green Bans imposed by the BLF in Sydney during that period. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_ban
I completely recognize the conflict of interest there is between the union movement and some Green agendas in relation to industries like vehicle manufacturing which is especially important in Oxford. However I think there are many opportunities for the promotion of a green industrial base in the UK for the manufacturing of equipment for wind and wave energy plus the development of good quality home insulation techniques and technologies. That there is an opportunity to move jobs from the old dirty industries to new green industries.
Great post as always Jane. The political levy is a difficult debate, because a lot of union members see it as better being in Labour, failing to influence it at all, rather than outside. If we tie this into reforming funding, then surely it is in the unions’ interests to scrap the levy, leaving Labour desperate for cash and having to earn that money? Granted, it may help the ‘red Ed’ argument, but it’s surely better than the 10 years of abuse the Unions have suffered within Labour