Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Labour and the Warwick Agreement: Rip it up and start again

It was encouraging to hear Derek Simpson argue over the weekend that the Blairite political project amounts to ‘a Tory agenda dressed up in Labour clothes’.

Some of us have been saying as much since 1994. But even if the Amicus leader is 12 years too tardy in reaching this conclusion, that mere fact that such a basic political truth no longer has to be uttered sotto voce in Labour circles does point to possible openings for socialists in the coming months.

Not that anyone is expecting Simpson to match his words with meaningful actions, of course. Our opportunities arise because the discontent being expressed at the top of the labour movement reflects even greater discontent at the base. With unions being asked to bail out New Labour financially, many activists will be asking what they are getting for their money.

Despite unbelievably stupid recent remarks from Francis Maude, there are few signs of any ‘pet policies’ on offer. Perhaps with an eye on these developments, Labour leadership contender John McDonnell is proposing an Orange Juice solution to New Labour’s failure to deliver on the Warwick Agreement. Rip it up and start again:

‘The reaction from trade unions should not be simply to voice criticisms of the policies but to work for a radical break with New Labour's programme of privatisation, flexible employment exploitation and anti trade union rights.

‘This requires the development of an alternative new Warwick Agreement setting out the programme trade unions want a real Labour government to pursue in power. Central to this Warwick Mark II programme should be the end of privatisation, the promotion of public ownership and public services, and the implementation of the Trade Union Freedom Bill.’

The call for ‘Warwick Mark II’ strikes me as an effective slogan. McDonnell’s supporters in Brighton have organised a fringe meeting featuring the man himself at this year’s TUC conference, which is planned for September 11. It will be interesting to see how well he goes down with the delegates.


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