Miliband is failing the workers

LEFT-WING Labour members who allowed themselves to hope that party leader Ed Miliband might be a genuine improvement on the “New Labour” leaderships of Blair and Brown are feeling bitterly disappointed after hearing his proposals for modernising Labour. Most important was his call to the unions to drop plans to strike over public sector pensions this Thursday. Miliband claims the public sector unions need to do more work on winning public support for their fight to defend their pensions.

But it seems from public opinion polls that the general public already have sympathy for the main cause of the strike. The chief argument in the Con-Dem Coalition’s armoury seems to be that because private sector pensions are now so much worse than they used to be public sector workers should reconcile themselves to getting much worse pensions. It is like saying that just because your neighbour had had their life savings robbed you should not put up any resistance when the same thing happens to you.

It is not the fault of the public sector workers that private sector workers were unable to put up a better fight. It is the fault of the greedy bankers and their spokespersons in the Government who committed the robbery.

The argument does not even make any economic sense if the aim is to save taxpayers’ expenditure. As the union leaders point out, the miserable pensions now on offer — and what reason do they have to trust they will get even that from a system that breaks its pension promises? — mean that newcomers to the profession are less likely to join the schemes and the schemes will collapse, leaving hundreds of thousands of workers with no pension schemes, no savings and dependent taxpayer-funded top ups on their basic state pensions.

The unions have rejected this divisive nonsense that seeks to set public and private sector workers against each other and so should the Labour leadership.

And the strike is about much more than just pensions. It is the first skirmish in the battle to get rid of the Con-Dem government and all the cuts and cruelties against the working class that are now being implemented.

If we want to have an NHS at all in a few years we must get rid of this government now. If we want a decent standard of care in our old age we must get rid of this government now. If we want people with disabilities to have rights to support and care to enable them to have a decent standard of living we must get rid of this government now. If we want access to justice to be for all and not just the rich we must get rid of this government now. And if we want equal access to education for all, regardless of wealth, we must get rid of this government now. If we want affordable roofs over our heads we must get rid of this government now. And now doesn’t mean standing about dithering and waiting for the next election.

All the millions of people in this country now being hit by cuts in their income, by losing their jobs, by losing their benefits and their rights know this. And millions more are about to realise it when their turn to be hit comes.

The pressure on the union leaders to act is coming from below and it is rising. Union leaders who fail to respond are likely to find themselves swept aside as this battle gains momentum. And Miliband too will be swept aside if he tries to keep sweet with the bosses and bankers and tries to divert the tide that is rising.

Miliband says he wants to restore internal democracy to the party; yet one of his first proposes is to do away with internal elections for Shadow Cabinet members. He also wants trade unions to hand over membership lists — especially those who pay a political levy — so that in future leadership elections the members can be deluged with candidates’ election materials. This would by-pass the vital debates at union conferences to set a collective line for their union to take at party conference — or the new policy-making forum.

He wants the unions to cough up more money while accepting less power within the party. He needs to represent the workers of this country or get out of the way in favour of someone like John McDonnell, who would.