Labour shuns the strikers at its peril

Tom Fox on Milliband's condemnation of the public sector pension strikes.

July 4, 2011
5 min read

On Thursday, 750,000 workers went on strike. Tens of thousands marched across the UK’s major cities to show opposition to the government’s austerity drive, so many that assembly points were crammed and in some cities new venues needed to be found for the final speeches. Since the student protests of the winter, the left has steadily found a voice across the country and is developing an increasing and long awaited confidence.

Yet there was an unsurprising absence from the supporters of the strikes and protests: the Labour Party. The party founded to represent the working class, and funded by trade unions for this purpose, has continued with the aggressive union bashing enshrined in principle by Blair and his entourage in 1994. Anyone hoping for any different from “Red Ed” must have finally had those illusions dispersed last week, when he denounced striking workers as wrong.

The complete lack of substance in Miliband and the party’s position was revealed by the embarrassing and illuminating interview in which he repeated his flimsy opposition to the strikes like a schoolboy who has learned something by rote, but does not understand it. He demonstrated the continuation of one of New Labour’s most unedifying traits: the carefully choreographed absence of both meaning and principle.

Yet more than this, it represents a looming disaster for his leadership and his party. According to a YouGov poll, 70% of Labour supporters expressed their backing for the strike. In the same poll, 39% of the population supported the walkout, while a ComRes poll found that 48% of people supported the strikes. Although still a divisive issue, the population was far more supportive of strikes, protests and unions than most of the media allowed.

This is reflected in the fury heaped on Miliband himself. The response to those 70% of Labour supporters who disagreed with him was little more than a note, with an argument not so much non-compelling as non-existent. The disrespect for those on strike and their supporters is revealed in his complete inability and unwillingness to build a case against the strikes. The result, unsurprisingly, was a barrage of comments from Labour Party members and supporters sick of his being a “spineless jerk”.

Fittingly, on the day after the broad-left began to reassert itself Miliband’s pet project, Blue Labour, reared its head. On Friday John Cruddas and Jonathan Rutherford wrote an article hazily expounding their desire for a “new patriotism”, the subtext being a patriotism defined not as multicultural but instead specific to the white working class. In their eyes, the working class is a caricature obsessed solely with race, immigration and crime, “abandoned to globalisation” and fearing overwhelming social change. They want a return to the stability and safety of communities that foster “social order, family life and common decency”. The “people” are right wing, and therefore so must the left.

Yet if Labour is out of touch, the core of Blue Labour’s critique, it is not with an automatic conservatism or anti-immigrant sentiment, but instead a desire for progress and increasing anger at the unjust distribution of both wealth and political power in this country. The building momentum against the cuts underlines the invention that we are an inherently conservative and docile country, just as the student protests proved the lie that the youth were stupid and apolitical. On top of the Labour supporters and general public supportive of the strikes, 50% of northerners, the homeland of Blue Labour’s fictitious notion of the working class, agreed that those walking out were right. All of this makes it seem surreal that Miliband is shunning the left in favour of the right.

The problem is not that Labour is not “Blue” enough, but that it is far too blue. What is needed is not more migrant bashing, nor more attacking the unemployed and incapacitated, but instead a progressive movement that can properly represent the country’s workers, no matter their income, skills, location, or ethnicity. People are crying out for Miliband and the party to support them, but they are being ignored in favour of continued submission to the right-wing press’s fantasy view of Britain. Labour will not survive if the left decides that it can do better without it, and the last eight months have proven that a more functional opposition than parliament’s can be found on the streets. If Labour continue on their present course, they may find that opposition finally turns against them, too.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank

The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant


6