Monday, March 27, 2006

Ou sont les jeunes gauchistes?

Signs of life on the Labour left. I got an email today detailing the launch meeting for a new campaign that will go by the moniker of Public Services Not Private Profit, sponsored by an impressive tally of 14 trade unions.

Backers are predominantly smaller unions with ex-Trot or ex-tankie general secretaries, including RMT, FBU, NUJ and PCS. No surprises there, then. But promisingly, the NUT has also signed up.

The proceedings take place on Wednesday March 29 in committee room 10 of the House of Commons, from seven til nine in the evening. Chairing the meeting - and the campaign itself - will be MP John McDonnell, arguably the leader of the parliamentary Labour left, if anybody merits such a title these days.

Trouble is, the advance publicity makes the affair sound as worthy but unexciting as an invite-only Tracy Chapman benefit gig on behalf of North London Social Workers for World Peace. You can't quibble with the cause, but the prospect of having to sit through the evening does not spontaneously generate a major adrenaline rush.

Billed speakers include no less than ten trade union officials, which perhaps isn't a good sign. 'Listening to trade union officials speechify' could enter the cliche manuals to replace 'watching paint dry' as a descriptive term for less-than-stimulating activity.

Anyway. The press release quotes McDonnell as telling us:

'This joint union campaign is bringing together workers from right across the public sector with supportive MPs and organisations representing those who depend upon our public services to oppose this undermining of the very concept of public service provision.

'We will be tabling an Early Day Motion in Parliament this week and we shall be taking the campaign forwards in the country by holding a mass rally and lobby of Parliament on June 27 at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, which will be attended by thousands of trade unionists from all over the country.'

Er ... good, in as far as it goes. Not anywhere near as good as tomorrow's strike to defend local government pensions, of course. But it's obviously a cause that everybody on the left can wholeheartedly support, and everything that contributes to the overall effort obviously helps.

It would be wrong to prejudge its prospects. But I do wonder just how far it is going to be able to engage people beyond the ranks of existing trade union and Labour left diehards.

The suspicion has to be that it will not be democratically run, and function largely as another tightly stitched-up subsidiary of Socialist Action Enterprises plc.

Even its very name gives it the 'let's do the time warp again' sound of 1980s anti-Thatcherism, except this time there are a different bunch of corrupt neoliberals in government.

So does its methodology, which smacks of dozens of other labour movement campaigns launched over the last twenty years and more. Launch in a Commons committee room, rally at Westminster central hall. Then no life whatsoever beyond a quarterly committee meeting.

OK, OK. Maybe I'm just jaded. I've been at this game far too long. I freely admit I haven't got any better ideas. But judging by the reports that are coming in from across the Channel, we badly need to ship over some genuine French combativity over on Eurostar.

Until a social movement in this country throws up a layer of fresh activists with a more direct action take on politics, the British left will remain more or less where it is now. And that is a pretty uninspiring middle-aged place to be.

Sorry. Didn't mean to be so negative when I started writing this.


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