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It is a strength of trade unionism that it functions as part of a movement for solidarity and justice. That is why strikes are not unpopular; people don’t think the championing of rights is self-serving. They value posties, doctors and train drivers. They know strikes are a gamble not taken lightly and that principles are at stake. They know the miners had right on their side and were trampled for political reasons.
But, if unions are solely motivated by the specific interests of their members, to the exclusion of all other considerations, they cease to be part of a movement and become professional associations. The Police Federation, for example, is not a union.
This isn’t to say that unions shouldn’t fight tooth and nail to defend their members’ rights. Just that, sometimes, other criteria come into play. Nuclear weapons, for example, cannot be seen purely as a source of jobs. If you could convince me that they have any defensive or aesthetic value, I might be reconciled to the billions they cost. But if you just say they keep people in work, I will retort that cracking down on paedophiles poses a risk to workers in the confectionery industry. Or, as Mark Serwotka puts it, ‘It’s like me defending unemployment because it keeps my job centre staff in work.’
I’m not being glib about people whose livelihoods are tied up in Trident. It sometimes occurs to me that, if we had the kind of government I long for, I’d be out of work myself. But that kind of government would have the money to retrain people, because it wouldn’t waste it on weapons of mass destruction.
We could make millionaires of all those employed on Trident and still have money left over to turn Faslane into affordable housing.
The collapse of Carillion is only one small part of a larger story of decades of economic mismanagement, writes Jane Lethbridge
Laura McDonald writes that universities should not just be finishing schools for the wealthy or disciplinary institutions churning out docile workers.
A floundering alliance of Blairites is trying to reinvent itself for a Corbynite age. By Tom Costello.
Marienna Pope-Weidemann explains why decades of occupation and oppression have led some people to call Israel an apartheid state.
International Women's Day is set to be marked by strikes from "paid work in offices and factories, or unpaid domestic work in homes, communities and bedrooms."
Laurie Laybourn-Langton writes that measuring the economy is political - and economic measurement dominates politics.
David Scott argues that our prison system represents a human rights disaster, and reformist solutions can't tackle the root problems.
A deeper engagement with culture can strengthen our democracy, taking political projects beyond electoral impact and festival memes into a whole new world of radical, lasting change.
Ruth Tanner writes that revelations about Oxfam's behaviour in Haiti are shocking, but not surprising.
The actions of Oxfam officials are horrendous - but gutting foreign aid funding just puts more people at risk, writes Daniel Gibson.
Stormzy, Grenfell and what it means to be a ‘threat’
The artist is giving a vital platform to a new generation of voices pointing out the deep hypocrisy in which crimes get punished and which get rewarded, write Remi Joseph-Salisbury and Laura Connelly
For All, By All
The latest issue of Red Pepper asks - how do we invite, support and nurture greater public participation so that our cultural capabilities are empowered beyond the crushing logic of market fundamentalism?
‘We are hungry in three languages’: The forgotten promise of the Bosnian Spring
Ruth Tanner looks back at a wave of protests which swept through Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2014.
It’s time for a cultural renewal of the left
Andrew Dolan writes that we need to integrate art, music, films and poetry into our movement, creating spaces where political ideas are given further room to breathe.
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes