28 November 2005
A failure of socialism
The year was probably 1967 and I would have been 11 years old on the day in question. It must have been that year because that was when Parliament voted to decriminalise homosexuality. Obviously the bill was making its way through when I heard a snatch of conversation between two men as I walked down a street in Manchester with my parents: "There'll be puffs walking around if this gets through," said one to the other.
I was old enough to know what they were talking about, but too young to have an opinion about it. For some reason that sentence has stuck in my mind all these years. That fragment of a conversation, heard almost 40 years ago, forms the basis of what I believe is wrong with socialism today.
Working class people join unions and vote Labour for economic reasons. What they want from the Labour Movement is basically economic. Economic security comes at the top of the list; control over the work process would probably come in at a close second. Nationalisation is certainly on the list, but it is unlikely to be at the top. British working people are a pragmatic bunch and have shown no desire to proceed to full-blown socialism over the past decades. I think that it is fair to say that so long as our people have a long-term job, with a decent wage and a union to ensure that terms and conditions improve every year, most of them will be happy with that.
The middle class types who join the movement tend to be people who are motivated by social or moral issues, rather than economic ones. Often this leads to some confusion in their little minds because they assume that as they have some issue with state policy, and as working class people also have issues outstanding with that same state, then all those issues are the same. Well, that is not the case because working class people tend to be economically radical and socially conservative. Middle class types tend to be the other way around, and the time has come when this circle can no longer be squared.
It could be squared in the 1960s, which is when I heard that bit of conversation. It could be done then because there were plenty of issues that could be traded off to keep everyone more or less happy. The types got some of the social legislation that they wanted, and we got more holidays, stronger unions and more control at work. We could live with their agenda because more of ours was being implemented.
The problem only came to a head in the early 1980s when government attacks on the unions, high levels of unemployment and a Labour Party that seemed more concerned about social issues all came to a head. Labour began to lose votes in election after election because the party seemed to be trying to copy the American Democratic Party, and had become a party of conflicting interest groups. Rights for this group or that, be they women, minorities, homosexuals or whatever, all became the buzz words of the day, as indeed they are now. Labour still had an economic agenda, but it got drowned out by the caterwauling of middle class types, as they pursued their own agendas.
Now, of course the Labour Movement must support increased rights for working women, that goes without saying. However, assuming that all woman share the same values simply because all woman have vaginas is silly. Working women may want a creche at work for their children, more time off after giving birth, more flexible working hours so that they can juggle home and work. Alternatively, they may not even want to work. Why cannot a wife and mother not stay at home to care for the next generation, and be paid a wage for doing that? These are the issues that strike me as sensible for a working class body to be discussing. Instead, talk is taken up with the "glass ceiling," and similar non-issues. In the case of minorities, we are told that only a few Asians are members of the boards of large companies and no blacks at all are to be found. As if anyone in the Labour Party should care.
The point is obvious: the glass ceiling is not a problem for working women; it is a problem for middle class whores. Blacks and Asians who sit on the boards of companies are clearly not a part of labour's tribe and we should not even pretend to be interested in their desires. The Labour Movement should articulate the aspirations of working class people, and should state quite clearly that the only dividing line is that of social class: working class people on one side and two-legged cockroaches on the other.
Success at this in the early 1960s meant that Smith & Nephew Ltd, could no longer get away with paying the Pakistani workers that they had imported into Nelson, Lancashire, £6-0-0 a week when the white workers were receiving £7-0-0. The unions refused to tolerate it on the basis of class solidarity. That led to the Labour government being pressured into banning that particular management wheeze, which happened as part of the two Race Relations Acts of 1965 and 1968.
The failure to articulate a clear, class-based ideology has led to the indigenous working class losing faith in Labour as the vehicle for their aspirations. When Labour talks about issues that are only of concern to types, the working man loses interest in a debate that is not about him or his concerns. When councils are perceived as doing favours for one ethnic minority at the expense of the rest, all that happens is that many Labour people cease to believe in the party as a whole. The fact that many of these favours consist of middle class jobs for middle class types only makes the situation worse.
How did this unhappy state of affairs come about? There are obviously many reasons, but the main one to my mind is that types are just better at getting their agenda over than we are. Working people tend to respond to a crisis with strikes and/or demonstrations, but if there is no perceived crisis they tend to get on with their lives rather than go to meetings. Leading on from this is the fact that the people who write for newspapers and work on television tend also to be types. It became a kind of vicious circle as midde class types propounded an agenda in the political parties, an agenda that was taken up by the media and sold back not as the desires of a minority, but as the common sense views of everyone. Working class people responded by switching off from a political process that increasingly ceased to articulate their views.
How to get back the lost millions? Well, for that to even begin to happen, NewLab must first lose, and lose badly. The middle class element that has taken over the party should be discredited by this and then encouraged to go off and seek pastures new. The people who will remain within the party will be its labourite and socialist element who know that people like us have no other home but Labour.
Then, Labour must rally the tribe and that tribe will only rally if the old call goes out for jobs, strong unions to protect those jobs and a programme of nationalisation that can be presented as being about strengthening workers' rights still further. A few social issues can be thrown out as table scraps, just so long as those who propound such issues understand that the days when we took a backseat to them are over. The scraps they can have, but the feast will be ours.