British Labour dumps fake socialism
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British Labour dumps fake socialism
The significance of the Blairite strategy
What the future holds for the working class

British Labour dumps fake socialism
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At the end of April 1995 the Labour Party held a special Conference to discuss Clause IV of its 1918 Constitution. With a touch of historical irony, if not a faint apology, the Conference was held at Central Hall, Westminster, the same venue where Labour's 1918 Constitution was adopted. It is this Clause IV, or to be more correct, a small part of it, quoted below, which has been held by some as Labour's commitment to Socialism.

To secure for the workers by hand and by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service. Labour Party Constitution Clause IV - 1918.

The new Labour Leader, Tony Blair, has not only campaigned to have this clause changed, but also to reduce the influence of the Trade Unions' block vote. As a counter-weight to the unions' traditional support and funds, he hopes to recruit more individual members, and is unabashedly flattering potential funders in the business sector. Indeed, so successful has he been that he prompted the Financial Times headline «The City can do business with Labour». The Labour Party has now been transformed and dubbed New Labour, to distinguish it from the former and tarnished old Labour Party, in hock to the trade unions. It is claimed that 100,000 have joined the Labour Party since the Blairite strategy was unveiled. We would not be far wrong if we claimed that many are young professionals, busily climbing their own corporate ladders: a goodly proportion on the make. Amid sedate enthusiasm Clause IV was amended, as follows:
To these ends we work for: a dynamic economy, serving the public interest, in which the enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition are joined with the forces of partnership and co-operation to produce the wealth the nation needs and the opportunity for all to work and prosper, with a thriving private sector and high quality public services, where those undertakings essential to the common good are either owned by the public or accountable to them;... an open democracy in which government is held to account by the people; decisions are taken as far as practicable by the communities they affect; and where fundamental human rights are guaranteed; a healthy environment, which we protect, enhance and hold in trust for future generations

One of the Labour Leaders then made the sheepish admission that this was the Clause IV that they had every intention of implementing.

Two of the largest unions, the Transport & General and Unison, voted for the old Clause IV. At a pre-conference delegation meeting to decide on which way the T & G would vote, the issues found their respective champions: Bill Morris the present General Secretary was for keeping Clause IV as it is while Jack Dromey, the head of their public services division, was for the new version. Nevertheless, wry smiles issued from the modernisers when it was pointed out that these two unions had not balloted their members about whether to use their block vote to support the new version - unlike the others who had and did. And to round off the jolly good day the modernisers had had, Arthur Scargill's speech was given a slow hand clap.

The significance of the Blairite strategy
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Some of the media, as well as the Labour leaders, put the change of Clause IV down to making the Labour Party more electable. But this would only be a superficial impression. It is true that Labour are dumping some of its old ideological baggage, the issues which are paraded about as being the basis of some sort of Socialism, but that is not just to make them electable. It is not the electors they need to convince about their policies (so much for the much-vaunted democracy) but leading sections of the capitalist class that their strategy is in the best interests of capital. Gone are all the old policies of spending sprees, nationalising and subsidising industry - now it is a question of being sensible, prudent, making the reforms of the Conservative Government work. Some of the Labour Leaders who had quickly sided with the Blair leadership were in for a shock: a Teachers' leader was jolted into saying that New Labour was even more right-wing than the Tories.

Thatcherism, so sections of the ruling class believe, has played its role, but has run its course. What can be privatised easily has been done so («natural» public monopolies have become highly profitable private monopolies), anti-strike laws have been tightened up, work-forces have been slashed, dole queues lengthened to an almost unimaginable extent, but still the working class has not been forced to take the full burden of the crisis. Speed-ups and flexibility at work is talked about by the bosses and union leaders, but still the workers find their own ways of resisting to the bitter end - price yourself into the labour market the unemployed are urged, but the unemployed have to be regimented and threatened with the loss of state benefits to even go through the motions of searching for work. The Tories present policies have reached an impasse.

Thatcher's notorious statement that there is no such thing as society still appals those who examine what is happening to society. The Rowntree Trust, funded by private capital, has been worried about the long-term impact of poverty. Whole sections of the young have become almost unemployable. Housing conditions are becoming deplorable for increasing numbers. Short-time, temporary work, rather than revitalising the economy can drag it down by dampening consumer demand. Down-sizing (to use that quaint American phrase) by cutting the work-force to the bone may not necessarily restore organisations to profit, but it can riddle it with so many contradictions that it can not see further than the current financial year. That is why free market economics, touted about once every generation or so, has now reached the end of its present usefulness and will be returned to its dusty cupboard, until some other bunch of idiots think they can make it work.

The Thatcherite clique which came to power in 1979 (after large sections of workers refused to accept the attacks of the Wilson/Callaghan Governments of 1974/9) promised to free capital from all its restraints of the unions and strikes - this had been largely achieved after the massive defeat of the miners in 1984-5, but still the workers haven't been completely cowed. Get the state out of business was their promise, red tape and regulations would be done away with - in fact it has increased and nobody seems to be able to control it (capitalism is the real anarchism). Rely upon the financial sector and do away with all those unsightly metal-bashing industries of old - what they have now got is a Stock Market sagging under an ever-weakening pound sterling and a gloriously insolvent Lloyds Insurance Market. Even Barings Bank went bust because of the endeavours of a «rogue trader», the 21 resignations which followed showed that the adventures into the derivatives market (a sophisticated form of gambling) was not confined to a single person. But the real crunch for the Tories has been because they promised to slim down state spending so as to free the economy to expand. In fact, they have not been able to reverse the tendency of the state spending to increase: it has in fact gone up under the Tories. No Government, whether Labour or Tory, has been able to reduce the proportion which state expenditure absorbs of national income to below 40%. Even if the Tories manage to further reduce Income Tax, it is at the expense of the other range of taxes, whether direct or indirect. The paradox of the Tory's results on the ratio of Tax to Gross Domestic Product has been that they have slimmed down the economy without slimming down state expenditure. That is the dilemma they are in. The patience of whole sectors of capital has become exhausted - and this is the time for New Labour to enter the stage.

The existence of the Welfare State has had all-party approval for 50 years. Born of the necessity to convince the working class in Britain that a post-war world was worth fighting for - planned by a Liberal (Beveridge), the education side advocated by the Tories (Butler Act 1944) and finally completed by Labour. It has been these reforms (the pride of British politicians) which are now under threat. Now the talk is that it is too expensive, maybe it was all a ghastly mistake, perhaps it has ruined the survival of British capitalism. Alternatives are being sought. The Tory Right are regularly commuting to the US to find out about what the Republicans there are up to. Others, in the Labour camp, are examining examples of the slimming down of a welfare state, such as in New Zealand, or plain living on church handouts, as in Australia. The agreement among the ruling class is that the welfare state has to be slimmed down, the only question is how and by whom.

What the future holds for the working class
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The ruling class, and all its parties (Labour included), are now convinced that changes have to be made if capitalism has any chance of another small spurt before it is totally exhausted. To do this means that they intend the full burden of the crisis to be placed on the backs of the working class. The attacks on benefit levels for the unemployed, single parents and young adults, has already taken place. The burden of supporting spouses and children of broken-down relationships has fallen on the departed partner through the Child Support Act, many falling into real penury. The old and the sick are being means-tested before nursing homes places are made available - if you still own a house, sell it to pay for the care: and if that is not enough then the dependants will have to make up the difference. The younger adults are being warned that they will have to take out private insurance cover for provisions such as pensions and nursing care for old age, because there will be nothing for them - the politicians expect the state to be broke. The old position of the welfare state providing services, from the cradle to the grave, is being hurriedly buried. The post-war consensus on which the social peace has been founded has come to an end. The working class will be expected to be at the beck and call of the bosses, and take any so- called wages and conditions that will be on offer. But if they expect an old and experienced working class such as the one in Britain to be stampeded into accepting all this, they are living in a fantasy world.

The issue of the «defence» of the welfare state is not one on which the working class as a class can organise itself, despite what leftists may claim. The working class is not the main and only beneficiary of the welfare state - all classes benefit from it, the middle classes especially have received childcare and medical benefits at a cheap rate, compared with what it would cost through private provisions. The benefits to the working class are being cut salami style until there is little to be «defended»: the workers will never have the possibility to alter the conditions they exist in through participating in the bourgeois state. Indeed «new» ideas (in reality old concepts wrapped up in new packaging) are being advanced about what should replace state provisions. From America, where the latest trendy ideas are supposed to originate, comes the concept of «communitarianism» - that neighbours and communities should combine together to provide all the local services, at as little cost as possible to the tax payer, of course.

But the attack the workers face is not purely through the «slimming down» of the provisions of the welfare state - those who work for the state are also under attack. Those who work for the «welfare state», whether for the local authorities, social workers, teachers, etc., or for national welfare benefits, nurses and others, are all feeling the effects of the attacks. Most of these workers are the natural constituent of the Labour Party and have looked to them to continue providing the «jobs and services» upon which their jobs and salaries are based. Trendy Lefty Local Authorities have been experimenting with «brand-new»! Proudhonism, i.e Credit Unions and money-less trading for services, administration subsidised by the local state, and charities, of course.

New Labour represents a break from the former power base it had amongst the public sector workers, who felt that Labour would always represent their interests, even in some sort of distorted fashion. They have often been the social layers who have supplied the membership, and the electoral canvassers, for the Labour Party. The illusion has lingered that Labour is different from (is better then) the Tories. Indeed the final defence is that somehow Labour is still sympathetic to the workers cause. The notion of Labour still being a workers' party, because of the link with the trade unions, has played an invaluable role for capitalism in keeping the workers within the bounds of safety for the capitalist system. It is the disillusionment of these layers of workers, and their defection, which will undermine, if not finish off, the Labour Party. With a bit of luck, Tony Blair will not be the saviour of the Labour Party, but its Funeral Director.

Source: «Communist Left», No.9

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