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Was the glory of the labour movement just a crazy dream?

16 September 2011

8:05 AM

16 September 2011

8:05 AM

Watching the footage of the debates at the TUC this week can’t have been a happy
experience for anyone on the left. I understand the leadership’s decision to hold an “austerity Congress”. I can also understand why the unions want to take the argument on
cuts and pensions to the government. It is their job to protect the interests of their members using tactics up to and including the withdrawal of labour.

The trouble is that the scaled-down version of the once-mighty Trades Union Congress just didn’t feel grand enough, heroic enough or scary  enough, despite the apocalyptic tabloid
headlines. The threat of a mass walkout in November and allusions to 1926 just drew attention to the pint-sized nature of the event. Somehow I don’t feel the pictures of Len McCluskey voting
for strike action sitting in a plastic chair in what looked like a school gym will have sent a chill though the bones of the ruling class. A snigger perhaps.

Ed Milband’s staged confrontation with the TUC and his scripted response to the TV cameras outside just added to the impression that everybody involved was just playing at being grown-ups.
This impression was compounded by the international debate and the absurd motion 71 (Peace in the Middle East/South Asia) proposed by Andrew Murray, chair of Stop the War and “chief of
staff” at Unite. It is worth reading it in full:

“Congress notes that the “war on terror” is still continuing and has failed, after ten years, to bring the promised peace and stability to either the Middle East or the
wider world. Congress believes it is time Britain disengaged from this conflict and in particular urges the rapid withdrawal of British forces from Afghanistan.

The occupation there has brought devastation to the country, cost the lives of thousands of civilians and hundreds of British soldiers and destabilised nuclear-armed Pakistan. The future of
Afghanistan can only be determined through talks between the parties in the country itself.

Congress believes the attack against Libya has been misjudged and, while holding no brief for the Gadaffi (sic) regime, believes military action should be halted immediately and that
international efforts should be focused on securing a peaceful political settlement to the conflict. Since there can be no peace in the region without justice for the Palestinians, Congress
endorses the call for the recognition of the State of Palestine and urges the British government to take all actions appropriate to help achieve this objective.

Congress calls for immediate, unconditional negotiations between the Israeli government and the representatives of the Palestinian people to secure peace.

Congress reaffirms policy adopted in 2010, particularly the instruction to the General Council “to work closely with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to actively encourage affiliates,
employers and pension funds to disinvest from, and boycott the goods of, companies who profit from illegal settlements, the Occupation and the construction of the Wall.”

So the TUC now officially opposes the UK intervention in Libya and has adopted a policy which links the removal of Gaddafi to the war in Afghanistan and the Israel/Palestine conflict.  This is
an intellectual and policy black hole that creates a conspiratorial mush from the Maghreb to the Khyber Pass.

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