Those who inhabit a world of illusions and fantasy can get a nasty shock when reality comes calling. So after Gordon Brown addressed the TUC yesterday, union leaders staggered out into the sunlight to confess that all was not how they thought it was or should be. Gordon, it was claimed beforehand, was different to that nasty Blair. He was closer to the “movement” and what the union leaders like to refer to as “our people”. Unfortunately for the TUC, the movement that Brown is actually close to has nothing to do their members’ interests. As he made clear in his speech, Brown champions the global market economy. And if that means that public sector workers have to take a pay cut, then so be it. The union leaders sat in silence as Brown told them: "So let me be straightforward with you - pay discipline is essential to prevent inflation, to maintain growth and create more jobs - and so that we never return to the old boom and bust of the past."
This was all too predictable for anyone who cares to follow politics. For the union leaders, however, it was all too much. They expressed “disappointment” at Brown’s speech but still couldn’t quite face up to what had happened. Tony Woodley, joint leader of Unite, who is on record praising Brown, was unhappy that he offered nothing to improve the conditions of agency workers. Paul Kenny, leader of the GMB, warned that his union's members could "walk away" from New Labour unless relations improved. "We sign a cheque every year for £2m for Labour, yet we can't get basic rights for agency workers." Why wait Brother Kenny? There is absolutely no chance of relations improving, and you and your fellow union leaders know that. Hanging on to Brown’s coat-tails is simply a sign of desperation and fear.
Meanwhile, Brown’s government is now shaping up as a combination of pro-globalisation policies combined with a heavy dose of nationalism and the politics of the one-party state. Yesterday, Brown pledged 500,000 “British jobs for British workers” – a slogan that the extreme right-wing BNP has had for years. This came a day after the home secretary pledged to force immigrants to speak English. The docile media described these moves as part of the new PM's determination to “occupy the centre ground”. There was too much even for Nick Robinson, the BBC’s political correspondent, who wrote in his blog: “Ponder for a second how exactly the same policies or phrases would have been written up had David Cameron delivered them. A ‘lurch to the right’ anyone? Or, even, ‘language normally associated with the far right BNP’ Few things better illustrate the strategic confidence of Gordon Brown. He spots the territory - immigration, Britishness... etc - which the Tories are nervous of occupying and plants his flag there. This increases pressure on Cameron from the Tory press and right-wingers to move onto this territory. If he does so, he's accused of, you're there already, ‘lurching to the right’.”
Soon Brown will call a general election and seek a mandate from so-called Middle England, where “fear of crime” is only surpassed by fear of people of a different colour and militant trade unionists. No doubt the same union leaders who expressed dismay at Brown’s speech will be pulled into line by the threat of a return of the Tories and meekly hand over their members’ subscriptions. A World to Win, by contrast, will campaign against a vote for New Labour. This government and the parliamentary state it presides over is undemocratic, unrepresentative, authoritarian and in the pockets of big business. But it’s too much to expect the blinkered, bureaucratic union leaders to understand this harsh reality.
AWTW communications editor