Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Last month The Times presented GMB leader Kevin Curran as a wild card in the trade union pack. He was reported as coming to the end of his patience with New Labour and hinting at the need for a new political party. In fact, he had simply reminded everyone that it was the unions that created the Labour Party and that they could, if they wished, find a new political partner. For the moment, however, he is more interested in returning Labour to its original values.
Curran strikes me as a man with a long-term game plan. He comes over as someone who is confidently moving on to new political and trade union territory. Increasingly, he makes it his business to cross the traditional labour movement divide between the industrial (the responsibility of the trade unions) and the social and political (the responsibility of the Labour Party).
I caught up with him as he made a highly political speech, laying into the government’s pro-market philosophy, at the Defend Council Housing fringe meeting at last month’s TUC. In his view, unions must move into the social sphere abandoned by New Labour. ‘It’s important we take up local issues affecting our members,’ he says. To this end the GMB has played a leading role in anti-fascist activity, in community unionism like the living-wage-inspired Telco movement in east London, and in the Workers Beer Company and the Left Field at the Glastonbury festival (see ‘The people’s republic of south London’, September 2003).
And Curran recognises the significance of the social forum movement. ‘The important thing about these young people,’ he says, ‘is that they put people before the market. When I was young and looking for ways of overcoming injustice, I became a socialist. These people take a more pick and mix approach, but they are committed to people and we want to work with them.’
The GMB has also taken a first step towards changing the union relationship with Labour. ‘If members assess their local MP as diametrically opposed to what the unions stand for, they can withdraw the union’s money and spend it elsewhere. We are back to the days before the Labour Representation Committee, when unions supported the candidates that supported them.’ In other words, Labour can no longer take union support for granted.
The significance of Curran’s challenge to New Labour is all the greater because it comes from a loyalist. GMB members on the left remember him staunchly defending the government’s acceptance of Tory spending limits. He believed that the key thing was for Labour to win a second term: then it would pull a radical social democratic rabbit out of the ministerial red boxes. ‘The new ministers had no experience of government; they were up against Thatcherised civil servants. We thought we should give them time to acquire the skills of management.’
No rabbits appeared. ‘We have nearly finished a second term, and there is no sign of a radical direction.’ Now Curran talks about how New Labour has moved in a direction with which he has nothing in common. The result is increasing disengagement from the party and an erosion of its vote. He fears the worst: a depoliticisation of the unions on the one hand, and electoral defeat on the other. ‘The vote is very soft.’
What’s the solution? He’d like Tony Blair to go, but does not rest his hopes on a new leader. ‘There’s nobody who excites me particularly.’ Instead, he holds up the model of unions pressurising Labour’s leadership to engage with the wider party. It worked at July’s Warwick University meeting of the party’s National Policy Forum, leading to agreements on rights at work; though Curran is not as enthusiastic now as he was in the immediate post-Warwick euphoria. ‘Much has been undermined by the [return] of [former health secretary Alan] Milburn,’ he remarks with a grimace. ‘But we got them to the negotiating table. If [the unions] stick together we can make them listen.’
The emphasis is on exploiting the bargaining power of the big four trade unions: the GMB, the TGWU, Amicus and Unison. Ask Curran whether his union might back alternative candidates, and he sits up straight. ‘Trade unions are disciplined, united organisations. We will support no other candidates.’
For the moment, therefore, it’s a matter of pushing the existing structures of the Labour party to the limits. But you get the sense that after the election, whatever happens, a new phase in the game plan will open up.
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya