Monday, 4 November 2013

First Class Conference

"Class" is a think-tank for the Left to bring ideas which can form a manifesto for a future Labour Government. It is the first think-tank backed by the Union movement but is open to all left-minded contributors, such as UckfieldLabour. Its first conference was marked by the openness of Union leaders to academic input as well as party, journalistic and activist. Some strands of the content were:

Union strength is less than it used to be but it remains a powerful asset in countering the power wielded so unfairly by the financial elite. The latter may own the assets of the country but it does not own nor serve the people. This ownership has to be challenged, through repatriation of land and social ownership of the strategic utilities: energy; transport; water, healthcare. This will stop the propping up of inefficient private sector corporates which milk the dividends from windfall assets. It will reverse the erosion of services which the State should provide but which cannot be provided once capacity declines below a critical point, as outsourcing cherry picks the most profitable services.

This can be achieved and the neoliberal hegemony challenged. To do so, economics needs redefinition, to include the wellbeing of society and the environment, ie the collective good. We live in a community, where the strong protect the weak and not a market of self-serving individualists. To do so efficiency needs redescription, to show how individual services interact with each other to form an effective organism to achieve a strong society. It has to be shown how the closure of one plant in the name of efficiency may cause inefficiency on a far wider scale by its impact on other functions.This renewed understanding has to be broadcast throughout society to equip people to challenge the "GDP" mentality and enable argument on our own terms.  This will attract brickbats and derision from the bullying Right but this has to be borne because it is right.

How can the collective strength of Unions be brought to bear for sectors which lack Union representation? Unions need to do more to win members and recognition in call centres, food production, the care sector etc but this will not be effective quickly. A new Ministry of Labour with responsibility for the welfare of working people should be established, mandating Joint Industrial Councils to set and maintain fair terms for each sector, with representation of employers and workers in national rather than enterprise-based collective bargaining, as laid down by human rights law.

Lastly, democracy must be reinvigorated. The Coalition has ridden roughshod over its mandate in its selling off of NHS assets, dismissal of decades of understanding of teaching and privatisation of efficient national services such as Royal Mail and East Coast Rail. No wonder voters stay away when their will is totally ignored. A renewed respect for the voice of stakeholders is needed in work, education and local communities to restore the motivation to vote and ensure that decision-making takes account of all interests, not merely that of the fastest buck.

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