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From: Labour Affairs: Editorials
Date: March, 2012
By: Editorial

Is There A Labour Movement?

Twenty-five years is a long time in politics.  So some explanation is needed as to why a magazine produced for such a long time without interruption should change its name.

It should be said clearly that the name change does not represent a change in the basic orientation of the Bevin Society.  It remains committed to its basic principle of promoting industrial democracy as an essential element in political life.  But, while the Bevin Society remains constant and true in its objects, it cannot be denied that the political and social situation has changed out of all recognition.

In 1987 there was still a Labour Party.  There was still a Trade Union movement with a political input into the Labour Party.  Indeed in 1987 there was still a working class that recognised itself as such.  Britain retained a substantial industrial base.  Social services were in public ownership and control.  There were nationalised industries.  Working class culture remained dominant in society at large.  It was a comfortable time to be a socialist.

Compare the situation now.  We have New Labour in place of a Socialist party.  Clause 4 was dropped from the Labour Party Constitution at the behest of Tony Blair, with hardly a voice raised in defence of public control over the major instruments of production, distribution and exchange.  The Trade Union movement, which established a political party for itself, has lost confidence and direction.  Put on the defensive by a sustained assault from Thatcherism, it struggles to maintain relevance in very difficult circumstances.  It continues to support a party which holds it in contempt. 

Britain is ceasing to produce much of what it consumes:  it imports basic products from abroad and pays for them with profits gained from financial manipulation.  Militarism has been restored to a respected position in public life and Britain is embarked on a new age of Imperialism, under a humanitarian and democratising guise. 

Things have come to such a pass that it is valid to ask, Is there still a working class?

It is certainly the case that there are employees, whose labour is exploited for its surplus value.  But is there a class?

It seems to us that the Thatcherite project of creating a classless society has had some success.  Labour has disappeared as an organised class force:  it has lost track of itself and its history.

There is just one class now that of the finance capitalists, who act on society with solidarity and purpose:  de-socialising services and re-introducing the profit motive into areas of life which had been communalised from 1906 onwards.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, which represented a socialised approach to production and distribution, speeded up the transformation.
Such fundamental change requires a step-change in those who are opposed to such developments.
When the Bevin Society founded the Labour And Trade Union Review in January 1987, there was some dispute over the title of the new magazine.  Some wanted a more amorphous title, such as Political Review.  That was shot down because the Labour Party and the Trade Union movement were the clear agents for change:  our analysis was directed at them.

There was no conflict over the reason for publication.  From being the power in the land a position attained under Ernest Bevin's Labour Party in the 1940s organised labour and working class culture had been put on the defensive.  At the peak of working class power in the mid-1970s, the movement refused to face the responsibilities that go with great power.  In 1977 industrial labour with left-wing politicos in enthusiastic agreement rejected a substantial measure of industrial democracy on offer from a Labour Government.

If Industrial Democracy had been accepted, British capitalism would have undergone substantive modification.  The Unionised workforce would have taken ownership of the production process and thereby developed substantive governing capabilities.  The power of capital would have been diminished, with shareholders being reduced to one of three partners in economic life.  Production would have been re-organised on a new basis.

When the Trade Unions refused the offer of Industrial Democracy, they did not understand that they were making themselves irrelevant that they would not be allowed to continue in a position of negative power. 

The fact is that even the working class got sick of the negativity and industrial decline accompanying unrestrained free collective bargaining.  Mrs. Thatcher was put into power with working class votes.  What was not appreciated was that her solution was to break the Unions by shutting down swathes of industry, by privatising Trade Union strongholds in nationalised industries, and by promoting individualism over social values.
This magazine was established to relate to a Labour movement.  Our first issue could write in 1987:
"This Review will be supporting Labour in the coming election.  Labour is our Party".

But that can no longer be said.  New Labour has ceased to be in any sense a party with which socialists can identify.

So, while the Bevin Society and its objects have not changed, we have come to recognise that there has been a sea-change in British society, conducted gradually over this quarter-century.  Rather than producing an analysis which will be of assistance to a powerful existing movement, what is now needed is groundwork to be done which will regenerate a Labour movement indeed promote the creation of the working class.  It is to mark this appreciation that it has been decided to make a fresh start and relaunch the Labour & Trade Union Review as Labour Affairs.