When I was interviewed on R4 about the LP conference they had some vox pops from ex miners in Yorkshire saying they are going to vote Tory. The point was to terrify the left – oh my god, ex miners are voting for Johnson! But what does it mean to be an ‘ex-miner’? Many of them are older men who probably aren’t in unionised workplaces and have decided sticking it to the EU is the best way forward for them and their communities. They have no real organisation or perspective to challenge that. The old culture of ‘brothers’ and the union meeting hall are long gone in some places.
This fits in with a wider collapse in socialist conciousness since the 1980s – in Britain the twin defeats of the union movement and the collapse of “actually existing socialism” all made a huge impression on people. It culminated in the ‘there is no alternative’ thesis of Thatcher and Blair. The end of history, liberal democracy had won.
Now we can see that this was not the case, there is a global rivival of far right, authoritarian and fascistic views taking place, sadly we are not quite seeing the resurgence of socialist conciousness yet.
What does this mean for Britain? The problem is that for generations Labour relied on the implantation of trade unions in a lot of these communities to turn out the vote for the party. With the massive rolling back of unions and the closure of industries that used to be well organised, these people have no living, day to day connection with the organised working class. The union meetings, the banners the organisers, the union socials and regular contact with various communists and socialists from that movement means that people are left to their own devices, this means they are increasingly prey to the bourgeois media and its anti working class agenda.
What trade unions we have in this country are based largely in the public sector. The private sector has trade unions but they lack density and face vicious anti union managment culture who have the full weight of the law behind them to stop strikes and other independent actions by workers.
You might look at the 2017 election vote and say – “well it doesn’t really matter because we can still get 40% of the vote if we need to anyway.” Fair point. But I am talking about building a solid, working class movement which can not just a deliver a stable vote when the time comes but identifies with the goals and socialist aspirations of the movement. In other words an organised working class.
It goes without saying of course that I believe that the building of such a movement comes first, the votes are a by product of the fight to establish strong unions, co-operatives in struggle against capitalism.
This is why I also think abolishing the anti union laws is the most important startegic gain that could be made under a Labour government, it frees up our class to organise, to fight, to build up its own strength again.